Motherhood and Identity: ‘I am big with wonder’

I’m delighted to be taking part in the Story of Mum virtual tour on the theme of motherhood and identity. Here is what I came up with… Enjoy!

Motherhood and Identity

by Teika Bellamy Oh, where to start?

I think I could probably write a whole book on ‘motherhood and identity’, but this being a blog post where I don’t want to bore your socks off, I will keep it short (well, I’ll try!).

What motherhood and identity means to each individual mother will be unique to that woman, and what I love about Story of Mum is that it has inspired so many mothers to reflect on this:

‘I’m a mum and a ___________ ’

and to then add her own words to that fragment to make the sentence whole, and unique to her.

I added my own words to that a while back, and you can read about it here in ‘I’m a mum and a book birther.’

I’m about to birth another book soon, so of course I’m still a book birther, but when I gave it more thought, I realized that although ‘birther’ is a noun, it is really perceived to be more about ‘doing something’ (in physical terms) rather than metaphysical terms.

So much of mothering, and identity, is about what we DO. Yet that really only is the tip of the iceberg. All too often a mother’s busyness is mistaken for an inactive, passive mind. And yet there might actually be a huge amount of thinking and reflecting going on in those little grey cells of hers…

I’ve been reading the ‘I’m a mum and a ___________’ articles with great interest; each mother’s complete sentence holds its own fascinating story, but for this post I was inspired by the following words and image as created by Pippa, who is the creative, mama-driving force behind Story of Mum:

For how human it is to make mistakes! (and super-human to admit to them). Yet mothers, in particular, are incredibly hard on themselves. I’m sure that all mothers worry about ‘doing things wrong’ but it’s probably not helped by a society where guilt is an ever-present subconscious human companion — particularly for women who have more of an innate empathic sense of the needs of those around them, and a desire to meet those needs.

And yet how much support do mothers get? It is often said that it takes ‘a village to raise a child’ yet in today’s world we often don’t even know who our neighbours are. So many mothers are doing the intense and time-consuming work of raising a child with little, or no support. Thank goodness for friendly and non-judgemental mother-networks, whether they be in real life or online. Thank goodness for Pippa, and places like Story of Mum (and the NCT, ABM, La Leche League GB…) where a mum can share her worries and doubts, and feel supported by others who have been there and come through the other end.

Old-fashioned it may be, but I like to think of myself as a philosopher (to be precise I think of myself as a philosopher-poet!) for since I became a mother, I don’t think I’ve ever done as much thinking, or reflecting as ever before in my life.

“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”
St Thomas Aquinas

Since becoming a mother I have certainly been ‘big with wonder’ – I am in awe of my children who love with such innocence and intensity. I am in awe of their great capacity for forgiving their parents – particularly when their parents have enough honesty to say ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake.’ (And oh yes, I’ve been there, and received the biggest hugs ever when I’ve apologized to my children for making a mistake.)

I am in awe of my children’s ability to really see things, to be alive to the moment; to not have any fear when trying their hand at creative stuff – unimpeded by ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m no good at this’ type of pre-conceived ideas we have as adults. I love that my daughter can instantly paint a picture of me, without hesitation or restraint, whereas I struggle to paint a picture of her because I am fearful of making a mistake; of it not being ‘good enough’.

As well as all this, I am also in awe of the great power contained in mothers’ bodies — for the ability to conceive and bear a child, to go through the marathon-like work of labour, and then to produce milk that is unique – and perfect – for their child IS pretty amazing. And then to summon the energy to do a 24-hour job day after day after day (sometimes on little or no sleep!) and still have a heart full of love and patience to keep going is pretty amazing.

So whichever word (or words) that a mother chooses to add to:
‘I’m a mother and a ___________’

the words ‘and amazing’ really should be added as a postscript.

High Heels and Lipstick

I’m so pleased to be able to share another excerpt from Musings on Mothering. Many thanks to Rachel O’Leary and Rosie Evans for giving me permission to share their contributions over at Story of Mum.

I’ve always thought Rachel’s piece ‘High Heels and Lipstick’ powerful and thought-provoking. Do women compete a lot? Do we make too many assumptions about how we’re coping with the challenges of motherhood compared with other mothers?

If you’re not aware of Rachel’s piece already, do take a moment to read it… the picture she conjures of a mother ‘drowning in isolation’ is so, so vivid.

Feel free to share away. Thank you.