Why You Shouldn't Make Motherhood Your Identity
I have yet to experience something more consuming than motherhood. It’s always there. The relentless demands are physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually exhausting.
My husband and I recently began watching The West Wing, and thanks to Netflix and a general lack of self-control, we knocked out all seven seasons faster than I’m comfortable admitting. In season six, the Deputy Chief of Staff wrestles with an opportunity to run a campaign that would take him away from the White House mid-term. He explains to his boss, Leo McGarry, that he wants to stay until the job is done. Leo looks back at him with a half-grin and simply says, “It’s never done. It just keeps going.”
For perspective, this is a small line in a much bigger story, but it almost knocked me off the couch, because YES! IT JUST KEEPS GOING! How true are those words of my life? Of all our lives?
It never ends. I have not once reached the close of a day and thought, “I’m caught up!” The gifts of motherhood are without measure, but the toll is significant. It takes everything we can give and still asks for more. Before we know it, the identity we once knew seems to be replaced by maternal everything. Our bodies are different. Our brains are foggy (thank you coffee for giving me semi-coherent words to speak to people outside of my house). We lay down our desires daily in order to care for our children who never stop needing things from us.
As women, we often equate our identity with our doing; so when our doing is almost wholly absorbed by children – the cleaning, organizing, planning, praying for, feeding, bathing, disciplining, reading to, budgeting, worrying about, singing with, holding, crying over – how could we not identify ourselves first and foremost, above all else, as mothers?
THEN, there’s this sense of calling, this belief that motherhood is the highest calling women can receive and that all our gifts, desires and experiences were made to prepare us for this above all else. What message does this send our sisters without children, by choice or circumstance?
It isn’t hard to see how we begin to find our identities here. How could we not see this as the whole purpose of our being when it is so incredibly sacred, uniquely transformative, 24-hours-a-day-7-days-a-week consuming? It’s an easy jump to make.
Perhaps, before taking that leap though, we might do well to step back and observe, allowing the space to ask important questions about the implications of such a belief, and about our value and purpose as women.
Being a mom is hard enough without the added pressure that this just might be THE THING we were made to do. What happens when our children rebel? What happens when they refuse to listen? What happens when they run away in Target and hide in between crib displays, while we run frantically through the store crying and screaming their names…hypothetically? (Yes, it was horrible and yes, I completely attributed it to my failure as a mom.) What happens when they grow up and move away? When we define our being by our roles as moms, we set ourselves up to fall under the pressure of an unhealthy, unrealistic expectation.
“Children are a heritage from the Lord. Offspring a reward from Him.” (Psalm 127:3)
I have three sons. They are my most brilliant treasure and being their mom is by far the greatest honor of my life. It is the hardest, most rewarding, most important work I will ever do, but it is not my highest calling. It is not my sole purpose in this world.
If that’s true, if we were made for something even greater than the work we do raising our children, what else is there? Long before we were moms, we were known, loved and wanted. We were loved to the point of death on a cross and adopted as daughters of the King. THAT is our identity. We are mamas, but we are also daughters who have been anointed to do Kingdom work in this broken world.
Yes, motherhood is HUGE kingdom work, perhaps some of the most difficult Kingdom work we could encounter. Never believe the hideous lie that says it is anything less than that; and never believe the lie that says it is your only Kingdom work, because that is something we are called to everywhere, everyday.
There are seasons when this is quite literally it. There are no margins, no spaces to think beyond our homes. But when those seasons pass (and they will pass), what will we do? It may be as unplanned as stopping to talk with the homeless woman on the corner or encouraging the new mom across the street, or it may be as organized as volunteering to serve on a team in your church or using your gifts to create something new.
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)
Here is our calling. To know Jesus and to humbly follow him, acting justly, loving mercy and pouring out his love onto this world – which includes our children, but also includes a whole lot of other people that are not our children – this is the life we are called to, as daughters of the King. We live this out in our homes, at the bus stop, on the Internet, and in our jobs.
Carry on sisters! Being a mom is HARD. It is the most exhausting fun we will ever have, and it is an unbelievable gift; but our God loves us not because we are mothers, but because we are his. What joy we find when resting in that truth!
Cara Joyner is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom living on the East Coast with her husband and three sons. After years of working in student ministry, she has come home to raise her boys and begin tackling grad school. She loves hanging out with college students, watching Parenthood and eating chocolate like it's one of the food groups. In addition to iBelieve, Cara is a contributing writer at RELEVANT and Today's Christian Woman. She writes about faith, marriage, motherhood and intentional living at www.carajoyner.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.