Motherhood is Complex and So Am I
Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.


The longer I’m a parent, the less of an identity I have other than mom.” I found that quote on a private Facebook group for moms. I read it on occasion for its eyebrow-raising, hyper-granola content. Like, reusable-toilet-paper levels of granola. It was in response to a question a woman had posted about not having anything to talk about with her husband after having kids. Other commenters sympathized, some even responding along the lines of not caring if you’re boring to other adults as long as you’re superheros to your kids. This is a notion I wholly reject. It’s possible to be both a functional, intellectual being and an invested parent.

After becoming a mother, I found that I had to fight to maintain my identity. Not only because taking care of a child is physically and emotionally exhausting, leaving little time for personal growth, but also because your peers begin to treat you differently. Especially if you have your child at an age other than the new normal (30s, mid-career, extensive collection of face serums tastefully arranged on your vanity).

I had my daughter at 24 (recent grad, minimum-wage worker, what’s a face serum?) and, soon after, felt my interactions with associates temper at the mention of my baby. They began to exhibit weird behavior, like apologizing for swearing around me. Not me and my baby. Just me. I noticed that after such an episode, I’d find myself sporting a sailor’s mouth when I normally don’t swear all that much. (My bone structure doesn’t allow for it.) I can only assume that I did this in some weird, pathetic attempt to prove my sense of spirited youth. To dispel this cultural Madonna complex that we ascribe to mothers. A sort of flailing attempt at a, “Moms, they’re just like us!” moment.

Small talk tended to revolve around what the baby was up to these days (usually a combination of not sleeping and being aggressively photogenic) and how they were sorry to take me away from my baby. A comment that, in and of itself, betrays underlying assumptions about gender roles. Then, the conversation would peter out because hearing about a colleague’s baby is not interesting unless you have some emotional stake in the game. I found myself missing the days we’d all cling to the conversational liferaft of weather.

Eventually I stopped telling people I had a baby unless absolutely necessary. A work friend would invite me out for drinks (necessitating a babysitter) or follow me on Instagram, exposing me as a woman who only posts pictures of her kid (but only because she is a super-adorable angel baby who is smart and funny; also, I’m bad at taking selfies), which inevitably would result in a surprised gasp and some form of, “I never would’ve guessed. You don’t look like a mom!”

That particular response would gave me a fleeting sense of accomplishment, chased closely by feelings of guilt. Because it meant that I’d bought into the idea that moms are one-dimensional. That they can’t be interesting, subversive or funny. But mostly, it made me want to call my own mother, a woman who gave birth to NINE CHILDREN WITHOUT AN EPIDURAL, and apologize for being so myopic about her value. Now that I’m a mother, I can see her for who she is. If I dig through my personal Debbie archive (past her bodily accomplishment as stated above), I am reminded of her creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and weird taste in workout music. Who does cardio to DeVotchKa?

A narrow view of mothers is frustrating, but to see it mirrored in my own thinking has been eye-opening. Mothers are just women. I’m ready for the day when I don’t have to remind anyone of that. Including myself.

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  • Nicole Smith

    Thank you for writing about this. I totally relate to the cursing and trying to rebel in order to feel multi-dimensional. I find myself being very self-deprecating or maybe “motherhood-deprecating” to prevent the whole “omg motherhood is transcendent” vibe. My biggest challenge has been making friends in our small Hudson Valley town (we moved there from LA). I feel like other mothers mostly want to talk about mothering (nap schedules, potty training etc.). I am barely interested in this part of parenting my own children. This is a reminder that maybe there are other women out there who also feel like their awesome children are not the end of the rainbow.

  • Vida Rose

    Great piece, thank you

  • Lil

    Love this! There’s definitely a lot of societal pressure on women to forgo everything unique about themselves after having children. I’ve been torn lately because I want children a little down the road, but I’m also secretly extremely terrified because I value my freedom and independence. But your perspective sheds light on the fact that moms are not -one dimensional.-

  • Diana Mendoza

    I do cardio to DeVotchKa, how dare u

  • You’re more than just a mom! My sister also had her daughter at 24 and it was weird for me at first (I’m the youngest) but she hasn’t changed at all after having her. I see her as a woman with a kid rather than a mom, if that makes sense. She still loves travelling, beer/wine, yoga, dressing like a hippy and listening to chill hip hop. Sadly I can’t say the same for other women I know who have become mothers, but women like you and my sister are breaking the stereotype.

  • flamesonthesideofmyface

    The last three lines of this piece are everything. Thank you.

  • I’m not a mum and don’t plan to be any time soon but the potential loss of identity / epic struggle to maintain a separate identity is what scares me most about the whole thing.
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