In becoming wives and mothers, many women give up their identity. It’s not like we’re asked to, but it’s something that seems to happen to almost all of us in a way that it really doesn’t usually happen to men. Does anyone ask us to give our interests and passions up? Does anyone really say, “You’re a wife and a mother, and there’s no room for anything else?” No, of course not. But, at the same time, that’s what tends to happen.
Why is that? Well, all this is pure speculation, but it’s no secret that there are differences in the way men and women have been raised; that women are raised to believe that it’s wrong to say “no,” and that we should, in some way at least, expend a great deal of energy keeping everyone around us happy. I don’t really mean that in a backwards, 1950s-housewife kind of way, I just mean that we genuinely DO feel responsible for the people around us, and care deeply for their happiness and general well-being. This is what it means to be a wife, a mother, and a member of a family. Someone has to be the glue that keeps it all together, right?
Not to mention that the expectations of society have become overwhelming, too. Today’s parenthood has become something of an art, and to properly practice that art requires parents to be versed in all sorts of things. Parents in generations before didn’t worry about carpools to soccer, karate, and gymnastics all while managing a full time job, running PTA meetings, cooking gourmet organic dinners, and dealing with the guilt of feeling like we just aren’t juggling it all well enough. I mean, I wasn’t there or anything—but my dad has told me stories about hunting and running boats on his own as a ten year old! He actually shot a hole in his mattress one time. Of course, my grandparents were quite angry when they came home from work, but that wasn’t nearly as shocking in those days as it would be today.
The bottom line is that we feel a great deal of responsibility for the well being of those around us, so much so that we tend to sacrifice our identity in the name of the family. That is neither asked nor expected of us, and it’s really not realistic in the long-term. There needs to be some sort of balance between what’s good for everyone else, and what’s good for me. The best, most interesting, most inspiring mothers aren’t the ones who give it all to husband and children, they’re the mothers who still make themselves a priority and have interests of their own.
Marriage and motherhood are fulfilling parts of most women’s lives, but they can’t be the only parts. Does this have something to do with the rate of divorce? Sometimes I wonder. Does divorce seem “freeing?” I often hear two perspectives; women who are exhilarated by the prospect of freedom (though, of course, they are still devastated by the major life changes that are occurring in their lives), and women who are terrified that the rug has been pulled out from under them, so to speak.
I think that the lesson here is that it is incredibly important to be a loving and dependable member of a functional family, but that it’s equally important to maintain a semblance of self throughout all the parts of your life. There will be times when that’s harder to do than others, but you have to make yourself a priority. In this, at least, look to your husband for guidance. Has he given up his love of hunting, fishing, classic cars, camping, hiking, golf, volleyball, baseball, basketball, or anything else because he got married and had a kid? Of course not! And neither should you give up your loves, just because you are a wife and a mother. Your marriage and your family will be stronger because you are.