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Thursday Things: Identity

Thursdays used to be a day where I used my blog to share what was in my head, or random things that were happening in life. Well it's Thursday, so here goes...

I've been thinking a lot about identity lately and how mine has changed over the years. For 36 years I have been a daughter. For the past 23 years I have been a Christian. I was a student for 16 years, and have been a wife and also a graphic designer for almost 15 years now. I have worked part-time, from home, for the last 6 years. And most recently, I have been a mom for a little over five years.

These identities are all very different but also intertwined with each other, making me me. There are other pieces too... world traveler (36 years), outdoor enthusiast (maybe 23 years), YMCA member (12-ish years, spanning 15 years). All of it, it's all me. The hardest identity for me, thus far, has been motherhood. It was an identity I chose, but it has not been what I expected, and not really something that I actively prepared for. It has been both more and less that what I thought it might be.

I have the privilege of choosing to be home with my kids, and I can't imagine it any other way, but there is a difficulty in that too. When I have ongoing freelance design work, I seem to function better. It's like the more balls I have in the air, the more I can accomplish – both professionally and personally. But when my work dries up, as it has been in recent months, I struggle. I don't know what to do with myself, so I let things slide. I drop the balls. I love being with our kids and raising them, but I struggle with the mundane parts. I struggle with the loads of laundry and cleaning, the endless dishes and lunches to make, the bathrooms that don't clean themselves. All of it really.

Jack recently started a conversation that was along the lines of telling me that I didn't have a real job. When we pressed him on what he meant, he said, I didn't do important things like help people. He went on with an example of my sister (a nurse) having an important job which helped people all the time. And he is right. I don't have that same kind of job. His words didn't bother me, they were more an echo chamber of something I sometimes feel. Motherhood is important and stay-at-home moms (parents) provide many services but it isn't work in the sense of how our culture views work, and that can be frustrating and confusing. I spent years preparing for a career in graphic design, but almost zero time preparing myself to change diapers, manage a household, or teach children how to be good human beings.

Malcolm Gladwell has a theory that one needs to spend 10,000 hours doing something to become really great at it. In the working world, that probably translates to about 5 years (of 40-hour weeks) to excel at what you do. I remember my early days as a graphic designer, they weren't pretty. I needed time, years really, to hone my skills. I think parenting may require more than 10,000 hours – it is always changing, and you do a lot of it in the early years with less sleep than you might hope for. As soon as you think you have a handle on it, things shift again.

Intellectually I know that this current phase will not be like this forever. My identity will probably change many times in my lifetime. My kids will need me less, and help around the house more. Perhaps I will rejoin the workforce, maybe my career path will change. Who knows? For now I am floundering along, trying to fit myself into this current identity of motherhood – both the good and hard parts.

Evidently I was in a similar funk four years ago when I wrote this blob post: More Than Just a Mom


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