Identity vs. Role Confusion

“Okay, there are two things that I remember about my childhood…First, I remember being with my dad.  He would get these far-off looks in his eye, and he would say, ‘Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan.’  I just wish I’d realized at the time that he was talking about MY life.”
While You Were Sleeping

I guess in some ways my life is turning out just like I planned…college, teaching, marriage, baby.  But what I did not foresee as I made my little hopeful life map is that it would be a struggle for me to adapt to life changes, even when they are exciting, anticipated, and planned for.  I’ve been thinking hard about my own sense of identity and value lately.  Here’s what it boils down to:  on days when I have accomplished many things (goals accomplished, house clean, quality products to show for hours spent working), I feel like I have been a success.  On days when I have less to show for my time, I feel discouraged, wasteful, and “blah” by the end of the day.

I feel like I am fighting against a semi-lazy nature, and so I over-compensate by trying to be over-productive.  On days when I have less to show for myself, I feel like I have lost the battle.  Normally, I’m forced by contract to put in a long day’s work at school.  This summer, I’ve been able to stay in producer mode as I’ve tackled organizing and decorating projects and as I’ve thrown myself into lesson planning for my first quarter of school.  I’m realizing that I take a lot of pride in my productivity, and that I use the checks on my to-do lists as measures of my own value and worth.

So it’s made me a little panicky as I’m watching the weeks tick by.  Even now, I’m struggling to keep up my momentum as my body gets bigger and the days get hotter.  It’s  harder to fight off naps during the day.  And even if I manage to beat my body and make it my slave, I know that I can’t put off this transition forever.  In August, school will start without me (sort of).  Possibly in the same week, I’ll be introduced to my new to-do: a baby who will have no regard whatsoever for the tasks I hope to complete in a day.

Although I may harbor secret hopes that I’m growing a super-cooperative baby who will be born with a natural sense of schedule and contentment, I am aware that it is likely that I’m facing a new lifestyle where I won’t necessarily be able to measure success by the number of tasks I can check off of my to-do list.  I’ll get to the end of a day of “work” and the baby might still be crying, wet, dirty, and/or in need of feeding…my laundry will still be piled up wet, dirty, and/or in need of folding…my house will bear the signs of my distraction with dishes stacked up in the sink and beds left unmade.

Just thinking about it makes me feel like breathing in and out of a paper sack.  I believe that raising children is a blessing and a high calling and one of the most (ultimately) satisfying endeavors in life.  But I’m still expecting this transition to be a shock to my system, especially at first.  Right now I feel like I’ll be jumping off of a moving train onto the platform.  Gone will be the measuring of days by appointments and tasks, replaced by days measured in less “productive” terms of hours slept,  ounces consumed, and diapers changed.  I’m open to the idea that it will really be more like jumping from one moving train to another, and that Baby Days will not feel as unstructured as they look to me now.  But either way, I’ll get whiplash.

What can I do to prepare myself better for this mental transition?  Maybe some of you can tell me.  Or maybe the shift will happen lots more naturally than I’m expecting–that the actual presence of Turniphead (who, at that point, will have a much more normal name) will help me see my new world with surprising clarity.  Maybe I’ll look back on these summer fears as the final expressions of a mind defined by a pitiably narrow sense of purpose.  I guess we’ll see.  And if you keep following the blog, you’ll find out when I do.

**Disclaimer:  I hope that those of you who are stay-at-home moms don’t feel like I have no respect for what you do all day.  Quite the opposite!  I am imagining my own shortcomings in adjusting to having to create my own schedule, to apply myself to less finite tasks, and to work with little to no thanks or appreciation! I know that the “productivity” that I take such pride in is mainly the result of having someone else holding my feet to the fire, not my own personal discipline.  Those of you who devote your days to your children with joy and satisfaction make me hopeful that I can do it too.  I’m just thinking ahead to making this transition in the midst of rollercoastering hormones and sleep deprivation, and wondering how my little brain will take it.

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7 responses to “Identity vs. Role Confusion

  1. I totally knew that quote before I read the end of your blog. I LOVE it! And I say you should take more naps now while you can. I have taken a nap each of the last three days, it is my favorite part of summer!

  2. Valerie Pearson

    You’ve nailed perfectly the conundrum that plagues every stay-at-home mom I’ve ever talked with. That yes smudgy kisses of appreciation are nice but sometimes it feels nice to have accomplishments that are visible, tangible. No one can see from the outside that on any given day no one peed on the floor or I managed to get an extra load of laundry done. At my job when I worked hard it was evident and for that I found not only intrinsic pride but received external appreciation from someone other than the man who vowed to love me forever and the littles who love me because my name is Mom. While those are supremely important I liked having the external atta-boys.

    What a rambling comment…All in all, you have the right attitude. It will be a transition and knowing that before you begin is half the battle.

  3. You perfectly penned how I felt after I had Sophie. It’s not that I wasn’t ecstatic that I was/am a mother. It’s not that I was unhappy with my decision to stay at home with her. It’s that I measured my day like you do. I had my “things to do” list. I checked off tasks that had been completed and received compliments from my boss and coworkers about how well I accomplished my goals. That’s how I measured my success.

    To switch to being at home all day with a baby is a whole new world. The first couple weeks of Sophie’s life, I would be upset when I did nothing around the house. Some days Sophie would command my attention all day long! I was lucky just to be able to make dinner some days. How I measure my success is definitely getting better, but I’m still working on the transition. It’ll happen – it’s good that you’re expecting the change; however, you can’t prepare for it. It just happens.

    Though it will feel like “jumping off a moving train onto a platform” having a child is the best thing in the world. You’ll love it!

  4. I think your priorities will change. While you will still wish that the dishes and laundry will done, you will know why they are not done. And you will have an excellent reason for not doing them. They are not as important as a clean diaper, or a full tummy for your precious little one.

    Did you get a sling for TH yet? I think it’s a critical purchase if you want to be able to get house work done while TH is still a tiny baby. It meets the baby’s need to be held and allows you to wash dishes, fold laundry, etc at the same time

  5. I love you Abbey! So philosophical…yet let’s get some practical things discussed while we are at it…I think you and I are a lot alike! And to my little mtb…I think that you will re-define “productive,” as well as continuing to find ways to be “productive” according to the old definition as well. Did you know you can read a book while nursing? Vacuum while nursing (even without the new sling inventions)? Call your mom for a chat or go for a walk when your baby is needing a change of scenery and so do you? Why not get a bluetooth so you can use the phone while folding the mountain of laundry tiny babies make? You’ll figure it out…and hopefully learn to cut yourself some slack. I love you!!

  6. Vacuum while nursing? Wow, I am impressed. I couldn’t even talk and nurse at the same time…lol.

  7. One of the things that I love about you, Lindsey, is that you not only acknowledge these ambivalent feelings that you have, but you do so with such articulation and love.

    I also suffer from this same productivity/pride issue and often actually feel guilty for rocking Michael Charles and still sometimes do for playing with him. But a very sage friend who is the mother of one of the best people I know told me once “If your child is well cared for and knows that he is loved, then you have done your job for the day.” Whenever I look at the dust accumulating or the pile of clean clothes on the chair that need to be put away, I remember Jenny’s words and go read Michael Charles a book!

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