When I was a few months pregnant with my first child, I signed up for BabyCenter’s weekly emails on the development of my baby. My husband and I got a kick out of learning which fruit or vegetable the baby’s size matched that week, and I was amused by the cutaway illustrations revealing what miraculous change might be taking place deep in the dark inside me: eyelashes! kidneys! fingernails!
Then I made a naïve mistake.
I also signed up for BabyCenter’s online “Birth Club” for the month my baby was due to arrive. Pitched as a way to connect with other expectant moms, the birth club was supposedly a great source of support and community as we prepared for our babies to arrive.
But I quickly found myself in a strange new world, more mysterious than anything of the wonders of the womb. Peppered across every post on the online message board were bizarre abbreviations and acronyms:
I’m a EBF, CD-ing, CS-ing AP (Translation: I’m an extended breastfeeding, cloth diapering, co-sleeping attachment parent)
Or: FF, WAHM, LO EDD = 8/24/09 (Translation: formula-feeding, work-at-home mom, little one’s expected due date August 24, 2009)
I couldn’t catch on to their jargon. Was this really how moms conversed? My head spinning, I quickly signed off the birth club as quickly as I signed on.
Yet over the years that followed, I came to see how many women defined themselves by their parenting choices, even if they didn’t use an alphabet of abbreviations. Whether or not to offer a pacifier, let your baby cry it out, vaccinate, circumcise, delay solid foods, use a stroller, or allow screen time – these apparently were not casual choices but commitments that defined you as a parent. And as a person.
Frankly, this phenomenon both terrified and fascinated me. As a first-time mom who felt clueless about nearly everything she was doing in relation to her child, I was overwhelmed by the idea that I should pick a “parenting philosophy” that aligned with my beliefs.
But I was also intrigued by this conception of personhood: that you were the sum of your choices, and that the implementation of your ideals defined you.
. . .
I don’t dispute that some of the ways I’ve approached parenting have shaped me as a person. Breastfeeding changed how I viewed my body, for example. Helping my kids develop good sleep habits taught me how much I value rest and quiet.
But I just couldn’t accept the idea that offering my baby a pacifier or getting him on a nap schedule somehow defined me as a mother. Motherhood meant something deeper, more primal, even more universal than the particular choices I made, given my time and place and social location.
I thought about these questions – what kind of mother am I? what defines me as a parent? - as I wrote today’s column for Catholic Mom. Settling into my new identity as a mom over the past few years, I’ve come to see that it’s often the overlooked categories or characteristics that drive my self-definition: I’m a mom who craves community, I’m a mom who loves laughing, I’m a mom who hates clutter:
Labels often get a bad rap when it comes to parenting. Too often they back us into opposite corners, squaring off against each other in rival camps.
We want to say something about the kind of mothering we do – breastfeeding, homeschooling, attachment parenting, working outside the home – but these descriptors can have unintended effects. They can heap another layer of judgment on moms who didn’t make the same choices and feel the need to defend their own.
But adjectives are helpful and important, too, as any good English teacher will remind you. Adjectives bring color to our lives, appeal to our five senses, and let our imaginations run wild as we wonder how to describe the world around us.
Maybe if we get more creative about the ways we describe ourselves as moms, we can break out of the tired divisions and find the beauty in our differences and similarities.
What kind of mom are you? Here are a few ways I can fill-in-the-blank:
I’m a goofy mom. I’m a silly nicknames for everyone, dance parties in the kitchen, funny faces in the bathroom mirror, squawky sounds to make them eat their veggies kind of mom. I’m a making up songs in the car, tickle fests before bath, shouting “boo!” from the stairway to make the baby giggle kind of mom..(read the rest at Catholic Mom)
It’s not that I think our choices don’t impact us. Today I also have a piece (re)running at Practicing Families about the choice to approach parenting as a spiritual practice. How the small decisions we make every day can offer us opportunities to put our core beliefs into action:
The more trips I take around the sun, the more I become convinced that the spiritual life is mostly about two things: paying attention and shifting perspective.
It’s about seeing the abundance of grace in small moments.
It’s about reframing my vision to remember God.
Whenever I do these two things – see differently and re-member myself back to the God who is love – it’s no exaggeration to say everything changes. Or at least all the important things change.
These two practices remind me of how to be in right relationship with all that is around me: my God, myself, the people who challenge me, the tasks ahead of me…
Read more at Practicing Families.
But I still can’t define myself as an attachment parent, even if I nurse my babies till they’re two. Or a tiger mom, even if I believe kids need strict discipline at times.
Theological anthropology teaches me that my deepest identity is as a human being created for relationship, in the image and likeness of God. For me, that means every other part of my identity springs from this communal, created, beloved reality.
So I think about parenthood in these terms, too – as the relationship I have with the children I have been given to raise. How I feed or diaper or carry them can’t change the essence of that love.
(Although can I secretly admit that maybe I love them a teensy bit more when they bless me with the first simul-nap in months so that I could crank out this blog post?)
How do you define yourself as a parent? What choices have been the most important for you?