Monday, August 1, 2011

The Mommy vs. Non-Mommy Divide (Part 3: The Mommy/Non-Mommy Identity)

Struggling with own my feelings over the Mommy and Non-Mommy Divide, I asked over a dozen of my girlfriends to weigh in...  with some interesting revelations!  Here's Part 3 in this blog mini-series.

Part 3: The Mommy/Non-Mommy Identity

I wasn't going to write about this initially, but I got so much feedback from my questions that this whole idea merited a section of its own in the series.

One thing that kind of bothered me initially when my friends started to become Mommies was the replacement of their Facebook profile photo to be a solo picture of their child.  If you haven't had a picture of yourself as your main photo in a year, what does that say about your identity?  You could take a photo WITH your child and post it, right?  And then there were all the posts about breastfeeding, cervixes, potty-training/diapers, etc.  I just didn't understand it at all.  So for me, I felt there was something going on there with identity and motherhood... and I wasn't the only one who had something to say on the subject!

Are Mommies losing their own identities?  Responses varied on this one...

Amanda:  You just can't help it. I love everything my son does and I want the world to know it!! But like I said before you do tend to lose yourself and just become your child's mother.

Carrie:  No [I don't think Mommies are losing their identity.] Pre-baby: you live for yourself.  Post-baby: you live for your child.  It's not to say that you shouldn't maintain your own hobbies, interests, etc.  I could never spend 100% of my time devoted solely to my child.  That said, your child is part of your identity - if I post a pic of my son as my profile pic, I'm not mommy brainwashed.  I also don't think you have to be a ambition- driven career women to be fulfilled or considered a successful person in society.

Vickie:  Losing your personal identity will only happen if you let the role of Mommy or Non-Mommy consume you.  You alone define who you are.

Jo:  I think that Moms are so proud of their offspring that they want everyone to notice. What better way than to put it as the first picture everyone sees of you? Plus, becoming a Mommy has been the most rewarding, yet exhausting experience of my life. Rarely is there a picture taken of me that I feel is ‘profile pic’ worthy, that’s why my profile picture is four years old!

Melanie:  Well, my Facebook photo is still of me, not my kid.  I do find people who have user names such as X's mommy to be kind of pathetic.

Gabi:  One thing I said I would never do is post a pic of my son instead of me on Facebook.  I think people become obsessed with their kids, but people also become obsessed with their jobs too.  It's hard not to sometimes, seeing how that's what you're doing/dealing with all day!  Sometimes all night too!

Emma:  I work hard and it shows. I think I talk about my career/animals as much if not more than some people expound about their kids.

Kris:  I do believe some people do lose their identities. The Mommies are updating their status about their children, not about them. I don’t mind every once in a while an update about your child, but I didn’t become your Facebook friend to know your babies bowel movement schedule, nap schedule… I understand when you baby starts to talk or walk or crawl, you want to celebrate, but I am still interested in you.

Maura:  I think it’s a personal choice how you balance your life. Just because something doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean someone else can’t enjoy it. I think we need to celebrate our differences.

Jenna:  I think very few Mommies have an identity outside of being a mother, homemaker, and housewife. It's part of the transition.

Overall, though there was a variety in the responses, I think it all comes back to finding balance in your life.  Many of the Non-Mommies were in tune to this, and didn't feel the Mommies were in the wrong.  Is it bad to have your child's photo as your Facebook profile pic?  No.  But could you be losing the individuality you had before you had that child?  Perhaps... but you have to remember to find an equilibrium.

Another question came up along the same vein... are we sharing too much information?  I found the responses to be interesting.  I like reading articles of immunizations, cloth diapers, making baby food... but I draw the line at cervix length and status updates while you're in labor & delivery.  Are Mommies sharing TMI?

Jo:  The truthful answer is probably. But I really can’t get enough of my friends' kids, and as much as I try to limit what I post, it’s really difficult.

Ellie:  I guess if it bothers them, there's a fix for that.  Or, as they say, they can get a real problem?  :)  Yeah, it used to bore me to tears all the baby updates from friends.  Now, I thrive on the info/tips/suggestions from other friends.  We're sharing ... with each other ... to help each other out.  Or to brag that we survived a flight with no tears!

Carrie:  Tricky. It depends on perspective.  If it's your best friend, no.  If it's an acquaintance, probably.  There are other things that people post on Facebook that are more TMI than stuff about their kids.

Gabi:  Oh yes!  For sure!  Again, I hope that I'm never one of these people.  I think it's less overshare to say "Hey FB, I'm going to be having my baby soon!" instead of "Yep I'm 6 cm now, just 4 to go until I push!"  But there's overshare anyway, regardless of it pertaining to parenthood.

Kim:  I can handle a lot of personal information, even from strangers because I don't mind listening or understanding. I like people, I like different lifestyles and to contrast and compare. Some people might be a bit more reserved than myself and they might like to tune out private details of another person's life for comfort reasons. There's nothing wrong with either way of thinking.

Emma:  It doesn't bother me. I find the whole process fascinating and am not easily grossed out about anything.

Maura:  YES – but both ways. I do not care to see or hear about bodily functions of you or your children. BUT It’s their personal choice to put the information out there on their own pages. If someone chooses to read it, it’s their prerogative. Everyone should celebrate their own successes. We all have the power to “block” it from our proverbial newsfeed.

Becca:  If I have children I don't want people knowing about my vagina! I doubt I even want my mom knowing about my vagina! I don't care how big my vagina is! A simple "the baby is on its way" will do.   Facebook/Twitter have completely changed social structure / etiquette! You mom taught you not to announce that you had to pee when you were a child - unfortunately she didn't teach you not to announce it on Facebook.

I agree with Carrie, it's about perspective and also audience.  Do all of your 600 friends need to know?  Probably not.  But your family, friends with kids, etc.?  It could be appropriate.  Everyone has a choice on whether or not they choose to read it, and I've learned a lot from my friends who are parents.  I post things that may not be interesting to anyone but me... and I don't apologize for it!  The ladies were right in saying just about EVERYONE overshares on Facebook, so maybe it's something we all need to think about.

But let's not just focus on the Mommies... let's move on both groups of women feeling judged for not being a part of the other group.

When I was married, I absolutely resented people assuming children were the logical next step for my life.  I've never planned on having children before age 30, so any little subtle or teasing hints that I should do otherwise were not well-received.  In fact, I can honestly say I turned bitter towards certain people who treated me this way.  I felt judged for my decision to wait... much like women who feel judged for becoming Mommies or maintaining their Non-Mommy status.

Most of the women have felt judgment at some time, regardless of whether they have children or not.

Kris (wants children, coping with infertility):  I feel judged by the people at my church mostly. Unless I’m your friend, I don’t want to go into why we don’t have children. Please don’t ask. It’s none of your business. Usually, after someone asks me if we have children and we say no, they [assume we] must be newlyweds.  Now, some of my husband's co-workers judge him because he doesn’t have children. They ask why not.

Melanie (divorced, single mom):  I had a supervisor that hated the fact that I was a single mom and could not be forced to come into work on a moment's notice (on weekends, evenings, etc.).  He had problems with women in general, but single moms in particular.

Ellie (stay-at-home mom):  I did feel some of this when I was single.  Particularly from my own family.  My sister-in-law comes from a big Catholic family with a lot of young marriages and babies.  I was pretty much outcast as a single sister from "family" beach trips that they all put together with their married siblings (on her side) and married friends.  I also know that my neighbor is desperately longing to have a baby. They live on a street with a lot of kids, and the other neighbors assume this couple "doesn't like kids." It's heartbreaking to see them judged that way just because it hasn't happened for them yet!

Maura (plans on children someday): As an “Army Wife” I am looked down upon for having a career and not immediately producing children. I am very resentful that these “mommies” cannot look at both sides of the line. We are not going to produce children until the right time comes along... I am exhausted of life, especially military life, revolving primarily around people and their children. The rest of us volunteer just as much, or more, of ourselves to the cause. And just because I am practicing responsible family planning doesn’t make me a bad person.

Hannah (stay-at-home mom of two, one with special needs):  I am judged for being a stay at home mom that doesn't work.  People assume I have 'extra' time that I do nothing with but eat bon-bons with.  For the last year I had to take my kids to Physical Therapy and/or Occupational Therapy two times a week, EVERY week, including over holidays/vacation times.  Also, a large time was spent coordinating insurance coverage for outpatient dental work for my youngest child.  So I do feel that some people don't understand how kids cause a lot of time loss due to possible medical issues that is kept private and not advertised to the general public.

I really felt like all the women were sympathetic towards each other, despite all of the differences in lifestyle.  Everyone really was concerned about the other group, and all of the Mommies could relate to what it was like to be a Non-Mommy at some point.   I found that when I asked this question about whether the ladies had felt judged about their status, the most personal stories came out.  We've all felt the same way at some point.  I DON'T think any of us are having a crisis of identity, just trying to find a better balance in our lives.

Stay tuned for Part 4: Parenting in Public

P.S.  Have you entered my free jewelry giveaway???


  1. This is great series, Aubrey. As a brand new mom, I'm still trying to figure the whole thing out. We got a lot of flack from our family for waiting 5 years, but I think it worked out perfectly (aside from my husband deploying 2 weeks after birth). Now we have enough disposable income to allow me to get everything I think I need for baby.

    I don't feel like I contribute less to society as "just" a mother because I no longer have a career. I also don't see myself as just a mom, either. I'm still a fitness instructor, grad student, wife, volunteer, FRG leader in addition to my new role. I think it's interesting that so many non-moms perceive that once you have a child, your life ends and you can only be a housewife/mother.

  2. Great post by women with definitive opinions...most seem to have valid points. However, the comment that mothers seem to lack a self-identity astounds me. I run, blog, garden, read, visit friends, and have other interests that I try to incorporate into my daily life. A mommy friend is training for a marathon. Another is actively involved in community theater. Yet another attends Crossfit every day and mountain climbs bcworking out is her thing. To make an overblown statement about most moms losing their identities is ludicrous. Perhaps it's that mommies have to balance their passions bc of our time constraints...and also because we don't think it being all about me, me, me 24/7 past a certain age is attractive or even tolerable.

  3. I think that for me, as a single working gal, something that made a big impact on me was (I know, it's television...) Miranda's story on Sex & the City. Here you had a woman who is one of four single ladies, the steretypical 'career woman', whose life path is (for lack of a better term) derailed by an accidental pregnancy. To me, seeing how she grew as a person was absolutely poignant. Even as she married and began to care for her ailing mother-in-law, her hard outer shell really developed into a selfless, giving human being. Even Magda said she 'learned to love'.

    Now, I will say that there are women who work hard and can 'have it all' as mothers... but sometimes I think you can't have it all at once. I do think some of my Mommy friends could afford to be a bit more selfish, because I do feel they don't give themselves as much attention as they should. I don't think selfishness is a negative thing, unless it rolls over into narcissism. Selfishness to me, as I've learned through my divorce, is taking time for yourself to pursue your interests, take care of your body, and enlighten your mind. And you can do that with or without a baby.

    Still, I applaud couples who know they do not want to have children and have full, exciting lives living in a way some people fantasize about... because the last thing the world needs is unwanted children. Kudos to them for knowing what they want and going after it too.

  4. I believe the identity thing is all dependent on the person. I know lots of moms that make sure that they still have time and interests for themselves but I also know people that don't leave their house unless it is for a swim lesson or trip to the park. They don't talk about anything other than their child and everything they do completely revolves around that child. I know that your priorities change but there seems to be no personal anything in her life any more.

    On the no kids front, being an Army wife that does not want kids EVER, has made me sort of an outcast. When I meet new people, the questions are usually how long have you been in, how long have you been married and do you have kids. My answers are 4 years, 5 years and no. It's almost like you can see the red flag go up. and then the why don you and will you ever questions start coming. My mom has been one of the worst in the whole situation by trying to pressure me into having a child. People just can't seem to understand that my husband and I don't want any children and that it is our decision. It just hurts when I am put down for my choices but I know that is something we all deal with because no one ever agrees on everything.


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