How To Be A Mother, A Wife—And Yourself

By

mother and daughter sitting at the beach
Does becoming a mother change the essence of who you are?

As I attempted, nevertheless, to decide whether I had changed... whether I was now a Mother with a capital M... it began to bother me that my husband didn't seem to be experiencing the same internal debate. He got up in the night with the baby. He changed diapers. He became an expert swaddler. But in other ways, he seemed to go on living our old life—working, writing, staying up late to read—while I'd moved far, far away, to Planet Baby. He didn't seem to feel that his essential self had changed, or that it needed to.

I tried to fight the resentment I felt when he had to work late, when he wanted to talk about politics, when he went to his brother's house to record music. I envied him his office job, at a place where I myself had worked before my first book sold, a place I'd been perfectly happy to leave. I couldn't resent him for being unsupportive or failing to respect my career: he watched the baby in the mornings before he went to work, giving me time to myself that I could have used to write, but didn't. What bothered me was that he was mentally, emotionally able to work when I wasn't. What bothered me was that for years we'd had the same priorities, and lived the same life, and I wanted that to go on being true. Whatever had happened to change me, I wanted it to change him, too. I wanted him to be nothing but a Husband and a Father, even as I struggled with the idea that I was nothing but a Mother and a Wife. I wanted him to no longer want to play music with his brother, to lose interest in his fantasy baseball teams, to stop trying to have a conversation with me that wasn't about the baby. Good Dad And Loving Husband: Can I Be Both?

 

It took me about a year to understand that, instead of trying to get him to give up what made him who he was, I shouldn't have abandoned my own defining interests so completely. All along, he kept telling me I needed to go back to writing, and all along he was right. For a year I didn't feel like myself, and then, finally, with him watching the baby in the next room, I sat down at the computer, and there I was again. There are plenty of other activities from my pre-motherhood days that disappeared from my life, never to return: tae kwon do, staying up past midnight, calling people back in fewer than three or four days. That's fine; I don't need those things to be me. But the writing—that I apparently can't do without.

So maybe the trick, the way to find a balance between before and after, is to discover what you do that makes you most yourself, and to make sure that you, and your husband, carve out the time that allows you to do it. For some women, I know that's work. For others it's a social life, it's cooking, it's an artistic pursuit. One friend told me recently that she didn't know how she'd live without the dance class we both take. In much of her life, she's a stay-at-home mom who used to be a math teacher, but in that class she's nothing but a fabulous dancer. She kicks, she steps, she circles her hips. She does something she's good at, something she loves, and for the moment her complicated self is made satisfyingly simple. This, right here, is who she is. 

Leah Stewart is the author of the Husband and Wife, a novel about what it is really like to be a mom, a wife and an individual.

 
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