Our identities as mothers are so complex, deep, and rich. We devote countless hours to our day-to-day parenting tasks and loving our children well. We are sometimes spouses and sisters, and we are children ourselves. We are friends, neighbors, and church members; we are business owners, employees, and employers. We have careers and special jobs we’ve done—past and present. And we have hobbies, skills, and talents that we share with our families, communities, and friends. We carry the things we are good at.
So, when it comes times to answer a simple question—perhaps a stranger asks, “What do you do (for a living)?” Or an online quiz poses the question, “How do you describe yourself?” More and more, I am convinced the answer is just not that simple. Sometimes we stumble into answer.
A few years ago, I shared a moment with my toddler that will likely remain part of my profound memories and life-lessons.
He was home with me a lot during the pandemic. Our daily schedule often involved him tuning into a preschool circle-time lesson through a video platform as I navigated working my full-time job from a makeshift office at the corner of our dining room table. I would set up the computer for him in our playroom at a small table that also served as my in-home studio space. An easel sits in the corner amidst an abundance of paint and a scattering of toys, crayons, and books.
One morning, as per the usual, I rushed over to set up the interactive call, typing in the passwords and checking the connections. The teacher welcomed everyone to class. I was just moments away from having a few minutes to myself to get some work done in peace and quiet. A painting sat on my easel behind us and was visible in the distance. The teacher noticed it and asked my son, “Did your mommy paint that?”
“Mmmhmmm,” he replied, “she’s an artist.”
“Among other things,” I quickly muttered aloud though part of me was quietly shocked by the recognition. As if identifying as an artist did not reveal enough about my truest self. Part of me wanted to tell that teacher I was also a lawyer, and maybe that’s because I was in the depths of doing that work. At the time, I’d forgotten all about the easel and the painting.
If I am being honest? Maybe another reason is that I’ve always professionally related to being a lawyer; that’s part of how I came to recognize myself. And because of that self-imposed, limiting principle, I suppose I was not comfortable with my son leaving out other aspects of my “job description.” So much discomfort existed in that space. I realized I was hesitant to acknowledge a version of myself that existed outside that box where I stored the degrees, the power suits, and the corporate charm.
And then the thoughts went deeper still. I realized I was also uncomfortable being an artist. I’d stumbled upon this artistic and creative version of myself in between jobs and by accident. It’s a version of me that continues to grow and evolve. So, inserting myself into that world brings its own insecurities and identity challenges. Up until that point—that day with my son and his online pre-school teacher—I had a hard time embracing the label of artist, too.
But what a great day to put all those insecurities aside, to remind myself that who I am is not my job or career. What a blessing it is to grow into embracing all aspects of self and claiming that we, too, are good, talented, brilliant, and thoughtful. What a powerful lesson to learn. And suddenly I wanted to think on that lesson freely and imagine a version of myself not tied to a label for justification and peer approval. I suddenly wanted to separate from my box.
My then-three-year-old was just watching. He knew nothing of the complex identity of motherhood, how we carry a rich balance of talents, names, affinities, and shades of being. What he knew was what he saw, and the times we’d spent together coloring, painting, and crafting. If anything, art is about seeing, and seeing is what resonates with a growing child. Seeing ourselves as our largest, deepest, and most creative is what matters.
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