I never planned on being a mother. While other little girls were rocking little dolls to sleep I was spending time in my room doing…well, I don’t really remember what but it was important! I spent hours upon hours of my childhood alone in my room and was perfectly content there. Things were organized to my liking and I could read, daydream and listen to music. Basically, I could be myself.
You see, when I was growing up, I thought that becoming a mother meant that you lost yourself. I was raised by a fantastic stay-at-home mom who sacrificed every bit of herself for her family. She got up early and stayed up late. She cooked, cleaned (sort of) and basically ran herself ragged being a wonderful mother. This was my example and while it wasn’t bad, it gave me pause. I didn’t want to be like that; I wanted to be ME.
It has never been important to me to following others’ expectations or typical life patterns. I had my eldest daughter a month before I turned nineteen. Right out of high school and dating a boy my parents detested, I rebelled and married him just to spite them. I had my daughter in the summer of 2001 and, at the time it was strongly suggested by well-meaning family and friends that I should give her up for adoption. I refused. And while I concede that it is certainly not the right choice for everyone, I knew the moment I found out I was pregnant that I wanted the baby. I didn’t really know why, except that everyone was telling me that I couldn’t do it. And them’s fightin’ words to me! I would prove them all wrong!
I didn’t go to birthing classes, nor read any books; I just had a baby and worked it out. Truthfully I think that was the best way for me. There was no pressure to conform to certain standards because there was so little expectation of my success. So I was just ME, with a baby. I parented the way I lived my life; with many mistakes and awesome comebacks.
The demise of that first marriage came upon the realization that my husband was an angry alcoholic and also using methamphetamines. I just couldn’t stand to see my daughter exposed to that and so I did my next rebellious act and left my marriage. I say it was rebellious merely from the standpoint of my parents, who were initially adamantly opposed to the marriage and, as it turned out, equally opposed to me getting divorced.
I took my daughter and moved 35 miles away from all my family and most of my friends and started over from scratch at the ripe age of twenty. It was during that time, fighting for custody of my daughter for two years, that I really came to understand my full potential as a mother. I had always been someone who was easily intimidated and now I faced down an angry, verbally abusive man for the right to raise my child on my own. It is the times like these, when we are forced to do things that make us petrified, that we understand how much we are willing to do for our kids and then to realize how much we actually CAN do for our kids.
As the dust settled from my divorce battle, I met someone new. I had my second child within the context of a second marriage, and found the experience both wonderfully different and yet distressing all at the same time. For this child I was married first (as opposed to being married nine months into the pregnancy with the first one). People had different expectations of me. I was no longer just the teenage girl who got knocked up and would surely fail at any attempt to parent on her own. Now I was the responsible mother who everyone expected to register for baby gifts and go to ‘mommy and me’ yoga classes. Fortunately for me I was already used to bucking the trend as a parent. While I embraced some of these different expectations, I tossed most of them to the wind. I didn’t need all that societal pressure to conform into the perfect parent! I already was a good parent, with a beautiful and accomplished seven year-old child to my credit.
When my younger daughter was not quite a year and a half I went through a second divorce and, similar to the first time, I plowed ahead on my own. Yet, as is always true, it was different this time as well. I had lived on my own before and raised a child. I could do it again. There were no drugs or alcohol concerns involved and we resolved our divorce amicably, without fighting. This time around I was not nearly as devastated by the divorce because I had already proven to myself and those around me that I could be a good mother even if I was single.
So far, through all the ups and downs of being a parent of now twelve and five year-olds, I have come to the conclusion that I am a good mother because I am ME as a mother. Being a mom has not robbed me of the opportunity to be myself. I am still me. I still like to thumb my nose at the rules and be a non-traditional parent in many ways and in other ways I have found great comfort in traditional methods of child-rearing. I have not ceased experimenting with wild ideas like going vegan for ten months, homeschooling while working full-time, trying to learn Italian, extreme home-cooking everything from bread to condiments and making my five-year-old do her own laundry. I also have strict bedtimes and chore charts and make sure they eat their vegetables and behave respectfully.
The key here is that I have refused to let my own preconceived ideas about motherhood and those thrust upon me by society to define what it means to be a good mother. I am a good mom because God made me to be the mother of my children. In His infinite wisdom He knew that my children should be with me and I with them. He knew that we would grow, learn and fight with each other and come out on the other side exactly who we were meant to be. I have not lost myself; I have gained an expanded version of myself.
From the divorces, custody battles, moves, financial crises and blessings, vacations, snuggle times and every other kind of curve or victory life gives me I have remained ME. The biggest blessing I can give my girls is a mother who is herself! How else can my daughters learn to be confident, secure women who will go out and conquer the world? If they don’t have a mother who is willing to be herself then will they ever learn to be themselves? I must model the behavior I wish them to exhibit and so I have come full-circle. I want to be myself and being myself is ultimately the best way for me to be a mother and being a mother is the best way to be myself.
Sarah is currently living in Damascus, Oregon raising her two daughters the best way she knows how with the loving support of her family and church. She works in the health care field and chronicles her thoughts on faith in her blog, Musings of a Christian Black Sheep.