Defining Motherhood

Brandie Weikle, a long-time parenting editor and writer created The New Family to speak to a new generation of parents. The blog is a resource for today’s modern family and the 1,000 Families Project was born from Brandie’s own modern family and is an inspiring collection of stories highlighting the many ways we can be a family.

Today my story is featured on The New Family and I am grateful for the opportunity. Writing this essay allowed me to reflect on my experiences as a mother and how I define motherhood for myself.   Thank you Brandie!

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I always knew that I wanted to have children, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a mother until my first son was 5 months old.

I was a child of the eighties and early nineties. Latchkey kids were commonplace; I can’t remember a single mother who wasn’t juggling work with raising a family. A frozen pizza pocket and a reminder note to take the dog for a walk is what greeted most of us after school. The few moms who were not bringing home the bacon were buried deep in text books studying for a Masters degree in nursing, social work or education.

When I learned that I was pregnant for the first time, I was heady, simply thrilled that I was growing a life, a little boy half me and half my husband. While I debated the merits of cloth diapers versus disposable, and formula feeding over breastmilk, I never once doubted my plan to return to teaching the fifth grade just ten months after my son was born.

I had gulped down the Kool-Aid, just as many of my key-wearing friends had done. I consumed every ounce, licked every drip.

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Beth-Anne with her son, age 5 months.

Motherhood: The Sacrifice

“But I just want to say here – to lock it forever in print, if only to honor my mother – that an awful lot of my advantages as a child were built on the ashes of her personal sacrifice. The fact remains that while our family as a whole profited immensely from my mother’s quitting her career, her life as an individual did not necessarily benefit so immensely. In the end, she did just what her female predecessors had always done: She sewed winter coats for her children from the leftover material of her heart’s more quiet desires.

And this is my beef, by the way, with social conservatives who are always harping about how the most nourishing home for a child is a two-parent household with a mother in the kitchen. If I –  as a beneficiary of that exact formula – will concede that my own life was indeed enriched by that precise familial structure, will the social conservatives please (for once!) concede that this arrangement has always put a disproportionately cumbersome burden on women? Such a system demands that mothers become selfless to the point of near invisibility in order to construct these exemplary environments for their families. And might those same social conservatives – instead of just praising mothers as “sacred” and “noble” – be willing to someday join a larger conversation about how we might work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised and healthy families prosper without women having to scrape the walls of their own soul to do it?

Excuse me for the rant. This is just a really, really big issue of mine”

~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed

These words written by Elizabeth Gilbert, from her new book Committed stayed with me for long time after reading them.  It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I realized the extent to which my mother had made sacrifices.  Did she have dreams of her own?  Sadly, I don’t know.  I was too busy being a kid.  Absorbed in my own play as a child, in my own drama as a teenager and staking out a life for myself as a young adult.  I never stopped to think about what it was she gave up to be our mother.

Many mothers, myself included, give ourselves up to raise children.  I do it willingly-ish. As Gilbert says, society has branded motherhood as “sacred” and “noble”, so I am laden with guilt every time I want to push the pause button, and re-assess who I am.  What is it that I want?  The problem remains that since having children I have changed, that it is not so much of a question of getting back to the dreams that I had but learning about this new woman I have become and what it is that she needs.

Thank you to Mommy Blogger X who originally posted this quotation from Elizabeth Gilbert on August 13, 2010.

photo credit: http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/committed.htm

How has being a mother changed how you see your own mother?  How has being a mother changed what you thought you wanted in life?