Regardless of what you may read in the newspapers, the term “identity theft” isn’t really new; most moms have known about it forever. What woman, upon giving birth, hasn’t wondered what has become of her former identity or marveled at the little scoundrel who seems to have lifted it? Overnight, our clothes are different (sweats and elastic waistbands), our hair is different (lucky to be washed let alone blown-dry), and even our name has changed. All of a sudden we’re not known as Kathy or Sue or Evelyn. It’s “Mom” or “Mommy” from now on (possibly, even to your husbands!). Our previous selves have been stolen, apparently never to return.
The abrupt change in identity that arrives with motherhood is common knowledge. But what “identity theft” experts may not realize, is it gets even more complex as time goes on, especially if you’re the mother of three, four or more kids, not just one baby. For instance, when I attend Back to School Night each year, I’m not sure whether I’m going as the mother of my outspoken boy, the shy one, or the sly one. The truth is, I’m the mother of three very disparate personalities and sometimes this is baffling. When a teacher approaches, I don’t know if I should apologize for one child’s late assignments or glow because of the other’s leadership skills. (If the three have shared the same teacher, I’m verging on multiple personality disorder. Just call me Sybil.)
For me, the identity problem is compounded by the fact that I’ve chosen to keep my maiden name for professional use. But my married name is the one I employ in Mommyland, so invariably when the two paths cross, no one can figure me out. Then there are those women who’ve decided for whatever reason to hyphenate their names. I like the theory behind this practice, but you have to admit it’s awkward when a child’s three-year-old friend attempts, “Can I have a cookie, Mrs. Wallington-Wasserstein?” Matters are complicated even further for working moms, stay-at-home moms, and moms who work at home. Who are we, really?
But there’s a flip side to this identity dilemma (isn’t there always?) A friend of mine who recently moved and quit her job to stay at home, has found establishing a new identify as a mother to be extremely liberating. No one in her new town knows she was a former school administrator, so she happily goes to PTO meetings, school parties, to fundraisers and Cub Scout meetings, dressed down and sporting her new identity. She’s found a heady freedom in simply being known as “Michael’s Mom.”
Even though we sometimes long for our non-mom pasts, and feel tempted to go out dressed incognito in shades and a trench coat (hoping we won’t be recognized as the mother of the boy who threw apples at the school window or as the mom of the girl who chewed gum during the spring concert) our motherhood is what really allows us to explore who we are.
Finding your true identity within motherhood—trying not to cloak or escape it—is the key to maternal self-discovery. Yes, we’re the innocent victims of a profound and unparalleled identity theft, but we’re also the proud recipients of a new and glorious self, one defined and expanded by the best name on earth: Mother!
It’s coming soon…Happy Mother’s Day!
Excerpted from All About Motherhood: “A Mom for All Seasons" and Other Essays available here. Copyright Kathryn E. Livingston 2011.