Monday, February 7, 2011

Identity in Balance

The identity of one changes with how one perceives reality. 
                                                                      ~Vithu Jeyaloganathan

Being a stay-at-home parent in general equates to a new identity (both as someone who works within their own walls, and as the parent of someone small).  Now I've had a lot of identity changes in my life... adolescence, dating, marriage, college, religion, friendships, travel, the list goes on and on.  A person's identity is always based on who and what they are involved in.

With parenting, I think the identity of the stay-at-home parent can get enmeshed in the identity of the child(ren) so much so that the parent loses part of who they really are.  This is beginning to sound too clinical.

I used to occasionally hear part of 'Dr.' Laura's radio show.  (The Dr. is in quotes 'cuz she's not a doctor of what she talks about - she's a doctor of physiology or anatomy, not therapy or mental health).  She used to tell women to identify themselves as their child's mother.  Though I understood that she was essentially pushing back from the selfishness of some parents who put their own happiness/wants/interests above their parenting duties, I really hated that idea.  Staying home to care for and raise your children is isolating, with years of "waiting" to reconnect with what you used to do in your "free" time.  So many days, I feel I've lost myself within this daily list of tasks and the rather rigid schedules of a young child's life, there seems little room left for Me.

But I've always struggled to maintain my Me-ness.

My own last name is hyphenated.  I love my husband, and his family, and added his last name to my own as a sign of honoring my new membership into their family.  But I am not ever going to be OF my husband's family.  Let me put that a second way.  I am always going to be from my family.  No matter how long I am a part of my husband's family, I will still feel like an 'ex-pat' - like Craig Ferguson is now a citizen of the United States, but will always feel different because he is from Scotland.  He sounds different when he talks, he is passionate about being an American in a different way than I could ever be - because he chooses to be here.  I will always interrupt, speak too loudly, lose my train of thought as I listen to others; all because that is how my own family communicates.  This stuff is normal to my family, but not to my husband's.

Now, another voice has added to the fray of what identity a parent can take on.  Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" brings up many great ideas.  Though I still have her book on my "to read" list, I have discussed the book with many who have read it, and have read countless articles responding to her work.

 I love her idea of not letting a young child decide when it's time to quit an activity (if I would agree to that, I'd be shelling out buckets of cash all over town for sign up fees with the attendance to one or two actual sessions of things my son would then say is boring, makes him too anxious, or whatever).  My own parents allowed me to quit both gymnastics and tap dance when I was very young.  I remember hearing the teachers talking about an upcoming recital or performance for parents, and feeling anxious and self-conscious; and then telling my mom & dad that I was "not going to go anymore".  They let me quit!  What a powerful day for me!  But then, I missed going to those classes, and wished I could go again.  Even then, I secretly wished I would've continued on.  Even if I had missed the big show, I would've loved to learn more about how to confidently move my body, and build it's strength. 

I applaud her for expecting her children to do their best - extra credit, high quality craft/art projects, and well-practiced musical performances.  (How could I ever keep all the drawings, designs, crafts and writing my own children create?  I'd need to rent storage space, and they're only six and three!)  I love that she has set her children up to understand how important hard work, perseverance, and focus are in every aspect of life. 

And I enjoy how she opens her own life up for discussion by those she doesn't know.  She shares her stories with wit and humor - and sometimes shocking honesty.  Kudos. 

My trouble with her parenting style is that she focuses so much of her own time into her children's activities.  I mean, I understand attending a piano lesson here and there, and paying attention to how the child practices at home.  But there is no way I would ever feel comfortable or valuable sitting in on every lesson and then working as the "stand-in teacher" for practicing at home.  It seems to me to be a short side step from home schooling*.  Why bother paying someone else if I need to work so hard to be their equal? 

*I understand that many adults who chose homeschooling for their children do so with only the best interests of their specific children in mind.  These exemplary adults act as champion-advocates for the needs of their children - who would otherwise find failure and frustration in the public and private school options available to them.  I live in an area with high quality public schools, which provide me with the opportunity to work for pay outside my home, and for my children to experience a variety of teaching styles in their community of peer learners. 

I have always fought with myself on what my own identity really is.  And I guess that's why this new book, and the older topics from above, have touched a nerve with me.  I know how much I LOVE being a mom, a wife, a woman.  But I don't want to lose more of myself in the interests and activities of my children.  I don't think I would be doing my children any good by modeling how to be a door mat mom.  And no, I don't think anyone would ever consider Amy Chua one of those.  But I think it's such a fine balance.  A child's interests vs. a parent's.  There are only so many hours in a day - and I don't have any hired help to make my own valuable time any easier to come by.

I don't want to find myself sitting on the sidelines of every practice, rehearsal, scrimmage, run-through, whatever for my children.  I'd need to find something to numb my obvious disinterest, and that would only cause me more troubles (and doctors surely don't hand out Valium like they used to!)

So today, I am thankful that I am aware that I need to continue to place my own interests into the jumble of daily life; along with the interests of everyone else in my family.  I am thankful that Dr. Laura, and Amy Chua are honest enough to put a good part of their identity out there for the world to pick at.  And I am also, thankful to be a Western mom.  I have the freedom to make choices - both as a parent and as a woman - for what my family will do with our time.  And I am thankful that I don't have everything (with myself or the world) totally figured out just yet. 

If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?  ~Chuck Palahniuk

1 comment:

  1. nice. I think the balance of motherhood and self are in constant need of adjustment. to lose oneself is to lose the ability to care for others. if you have no self, you have nothing to give. that is selfishness. making time for self and children and family and faith and community and, and, and, is hard enough without the guilt of not giving 100% to your children. we do not, nor should we expect 100% of our children at all times. that is the purely unconditionality of motherhood that is in balance with self nurturing. we love even though we are neither 100% here nor there.
    Carrie Gamm


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