10.5.12

The Mythical Self

There is a huge amount of conversation on my post at blogher, you may remember it, about my choice to stay with Bam Bam instead of take off for a few days for a birthday party. Among the many other themes in the comments are those women very kindly warning me that if I devote all my time to my kids now I won't know what to do with myself once they grow up and leave home, and I will be a shell of a woman who lives a life of regret for the career I never had and the friends I abandoned in favor of my family who will leave me one day anyway.

"You must take care of you", they tell me, "apart from being a mom and wife, etc."

This reminds me of another post I was going to write a long time ago about the angsty days at the end of one's teens and beginning of early adulthood when I wondered who I really was and wished I could just figure it out so I could know what to do with my life after that.

I think the two subjects are related, at least in my mind. I hope you will see how by the end.

You see, finding yourself is kind of a load of horse crap. That's what I will tell every young person who asks me what they should do, and what kind of person they are. In the end you are what you do. If you spend 5 years navel gazing trying to discover who you are, what your purpose is and why you are here, the person you will most likely be at the end of 5 years is a narcissistic, self absorbed little shit who thinks that you are the center of the universe. Spend too much time looking at yourself and you will wind up completely empty, especially at the age of 20. There's nothing there for you to find.

When I was 20 and searching for the mystical answer to the question of who I am and what I want to do with my life, what I really wanted was someone to tell me that I am a rare and special, delicate flower with something special to do, that will be world changing, but won't cost me anything in the way of blood, sweat or sacrifice. Because it was who I was and if I did what I was made to do then it would be easy right? Then I wouldn't have to make any choices for myself, because making choices, without knowing the outcome, well, that's a bit frightening right?



I think the search for self is really just a search for guarantees, for an assurance that life will turn out the way you hope it will if you can just find the magical formula. Of course, my adult self would like to go back and kick my pre-adult self in the rear and tell her to get over herself, make some choices, do some hard work and the "who she is thing" will work itself out along the way.

Who we are is ultimately defined by the relationships we engage in and the choices we make. In the end we look back at who we have become on the road to here and now and we see how this choice and that person affected the result, for better or for worse.

Which brings me to motherhood.

There is this idea, perpetuated perhaps by the women's movements of the last 70 years or so, that surrendering to motherhood results in a lack of self. That right there is a judgement based on an assumption that may, or may not be false. Because the assumption is that nurturing and care giving and what it does to our hearts and minds to consciously choose that results in a lesser human than one who is well read, can carry a conversation about Russian literature, avant gaard art, and the latest economic developments.

Who says that a woman who has simply loved well, and cared deeply and sacrificed more for the sake of others being able to fly is a lesser person? Do I really have to tell you how stupid that is?

Was Mother Teresa's life more, or less, futile than that of a successful business woman?

The problem is not that you lose yourself when you become a mother. I think I found myself much more thoroughly by giving in to the constant demands and the little people and letting go completely of what I felt were my rights to be an autonomous human being who slept, ate and sat by herself on occasion, without anyone pulling at her and embraced, fully the gift that is this crazy life of a mother with small children. I stopped telling myself that I was too smart to be spending my days cleaning up after other people's shit and became able to see the true value in what I was doing, to myself, as well as to my children.

No, the problem isn't losing yourself when you become a mother, the problem is that we live in a culture that doesn't value what it should. Our culture doesn't value sacrifice, doesn't see the point of time spent just being with a loved one, not doing, just being. We don't value the character that is formed from the endless choices of a mother, or anyone else, to say yes to another, and no to herself. We don't see the strength that is required for her to do that, day, after day, after day, and we don't realize just how wise she is for doing that for the many people blessed enough to come across her path.

We want glamor and glitz and six figures and success and we don't see that perhaps real success doesn't look like success at all. Real success may be that woman who has nothing to talk about but her children, and how well they are doing because of what she gave them to get them there. Real success is that person who has standing room only at their funeral because they loved well and were loved by many.

Ever wondered what we might missing out on by grasping so desperately for this mythical self we are told we should have? What do we shut out when we shut ourselves in and gird ourselves tightly so that none of our self leaks it's way out and blends into another and is shaped and strengthened by how we give and receive from them? Is what we have in our miserable tight clenched fists really so very valuable that we are deathly afraid of losing it?

Ever wonder if those old words are true, "He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life... will find it"?

I know I didn't really find my life until I was willing to lose it. I didn't find true joy until I stopped grasping at the shallow illusion of happiness. I didn't know how deeply I could love and be loved until I let go of "I" and embraced "us".



Because I'm not a special and delicate flower. I'm a person who has choices, whether to love and be loved, whether to give or take, whether to hold or let go. I, and you, don't find out who we are, we get to decide who we are and then be that person. What would a strong person do? Then do that. What would a loving person do? Then do that.

If you can see who who want to be, then the rest of your life is just practice to become that person.

I want to be the person who said that a walk with my 5 year old is more important than a pedicure. I want to be the person who didn't put herself first, but who put others first, in love. In order to be her I have to take care of myself and do what makes me strong so I am able to give, this is true. But there is a big difference between taking care of myself and preserving the mythical "I" that I am supposed to have.

I am the woman I choose to be, and what I actually do, every day, is who I am, and the result of the choices I've made, either actively or passively. Every choice strengthens me in one direction or another. I'm not losing anything. I have found who I am, this is the person I choose to be. 



*****

 I have a few people I think of when I decide what kind of person I want to act like and become. Who are your role models? Who do you think of when you ask herself, "How would ____ handle this?" I would like to know.

15 comments:

  1. Amanda Briscoe1:00 AM

    Hi Carrien. Your blog was recommended to me by a mutual friend in January (when I had the pleasure of dinner and conversation with said mutual friends and your husband) and I've been following ever since.

    As a single, mid-twenties girl who longs to be a stay-at-home wife and mom, I get so tired of hearing moms who have (seemingly) everything I want complain about their kids or how badly they want to get away from them. It's moms like you that encourage me that the kind of mom I want to be is possible!

    Also, (again, as a single girl) I've recently noticed a trend in people (especially young men, but I experienced it myself) my age that we spend so much time waiting for God to tell us what we're meant to do with our lives, that we waste years and years not doing anything. I would call this the religious version of the "finding ourselves" you talked about.

    Perhaps this is fed into by the voices that tell young adults that this is "their" time. When I graduated from high school and began fretting that my husband was no where on the horizon, the "encouraging" words I heard most often were that single young adulthood is the time for "you." Well, I believe the time for "me" ended the day I had cognitively developed enough to recognize that I was not the center of the universe.

    On another note, from a girl who was raised by a stay-at-home mom and home schooled from Kindergarten all the way to graduation, I can echo the voices that said you won't know what to do with yourself when your kids grow up and leave. My sister and I were my mom's best friends for high school and some of college and when we started separating a bit (though we both still live at home), she went into a bit of a tailspin.

    But in my opinion, missing your kids is evidence of a job well done. Yes, it will be tough for a bit. But so is a breakup; does that mean we should never fall in love? So is losing your dream job; does that mean we should never invest in a job we like? So is the death of a spouse; should we never get married? We don't invest in people because they give back. We invest in people because that's what Jesus would have us do. And it's usually not ponies and rainbows and roses.

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  2. Helen7:52 AM

    Well put Carrien.

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  3. Yes and amen. Thank you for clearing up the fog so many of us wander around in, even though we know the truth.

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  4. I admire your honesty and your ability to challenge the popular beliefs of our time. In a way, it's reflective of the rise of individualism in our society, at the expense of community. (Random tangent: I also believe this is a first-world problem. My friends from developing countries seem to have very different attitudes about their sense of self.)

    Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Ellen Bragdon7:18 PM

    I'm a mom of young kids, too. They're exhausting and wonderful and heart transforming, and I love spending my days and nights with them. This is a season when I have to spend most of my time and energy giving to them to get us all through, and I am fine with that. It's the most meaningful work in the world, and I was blessed enough to have a mom who truly believed that and taught it to me so I wouldn't doubt it later.

    I figure that one day, I will work myself out of a job. That day will come long before I'll be ready for it. You'll work yourself out of a job, too. They won't be at home with us forever.

    I know that God will gradually give me new challenges and new people to love and serve as my children leave the nest, and I'll pray to embrace that when it comes. I'll just be changing who I spend most of my time serving, but I hope God will have taught me through repetitive practice over the years of having children at home that my life is really about serving...not about becoming a lady who lunches. =)

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  6. Annmarie3:34 AM

    I love your philosophical posts! I'm afraid that many readers will m is something important here: you did not say every mother has to make the same choices you have made. You made the choices YOU want to make and you are encouraging all of us to make the choices WE want to make.

    For example, I have chosen to get massages instead of spending time with my daughter. I discovered I needed that in order be the Mom and wife I choose to be because other things (mainly my job) were so awful.

    Your post made me think. A lot about my Grandma. I think was an utterly fabulous person. She raised 14 children, loved doing laundry, cooked, and cleaned, and before her kids were out of the house started loving the grandchildren in the same ways. She never had a career for money, but I never thought less of her for that. Maybe more of us would do well to remember the women in our past who were fabulous

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  7. Annmarie3:37 AM

    I couldn't kee typing on my first post. To continue...

    fabulous whatever choices they made. My great-grandmother worked in a slipper factory perhaps throughout throughout her adult life. I don't think any differently of her than of my Grandma (different sides of the family, not that it matters) for being a stay at home Mom.

    Oh, and then theres my Mom. She certainly didn't stultify being a SAHM. When I was in junior high, she got a job she loved and then when I was in college she got her Masters Degree in the field.

    Oh, and maybe some of thnegative people are jealous that you can do this

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  8. Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for introducing yourself.

    I wasted at least a year of my life indulging in the religious version of finding myself, so I know what you mean. I think it may be the fault of all those well meaning youth leaders wanting to inspire with their, "You are destined for great things speeches." Well, not all of us are, actually, going to do anything that looks remotely exciting on the outside. And those of us that do do something to write home about aren't going to get there sitting around waiting for it to fall out of the sy and hit them in the head. :)

    Your last paragraph is right on. It is foolish to not invest in people today in order to avoid pain and loss later.

    Thanks again for your comment, I enjoyed reading it.

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  9. Hi Michelle,

    Thank-you. :)

    It's not a tangent at all. Most non westerners are taught to think of themselves first as part of a community, whose actions affect the good of the whole rather than as individuals who are free to do as they please.
    Both mindsets have strengths, and weaknesses, and we would do well to find our way toward the middle I think.

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  10. These are wise words. I find very useful the Catholic idea of vocation, which is that all of the Christian life is service, and vocation is simply the choice of how, and whom, one will serve.

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  11. I thought I commented on this, but I see I never did! Let me remedy that.

    Basically, I completely agree with you. "Finding yourself" is basically a BS excuse to stall and be selfish and not get to work on whatever is in front of you.

    One of my favorite ideas of Martin Luther's is the idea that vocation is not just for people who are called to serve the church, which is how the term is used in the Roman Catholic Church...vocation is what God calls each and every person to do. And guess what! Your vocation is whatever you are doing. If you're a student, then your vocation is to be a student---and since it's your vocation, your God-given calling, where God has put you right now, then you should be the best student you can be, because that's how you're serving God. Whatever you are---a SAHM, an engineer, a fry cook at McDonald's, a school janitor, a daughter, a husband---that's your vocation, and God wants you to use that vocation to serve Him and others. Period.

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  12. You have a lot of amazing sounding women in your family. :)

    I notice that people made the assumption that because I said I prefer being around my kids I never go out by myself, or have any time for myself, which isn't what I said at all. I too get a massage from time to time, or go to the grocery store by myself on occasion, or sit at night when it's quiet and all the kids are asleep and answer blog comments. :)

    It also seems to me that the people who felt like I was judging them read their own manufactured guilt into my words that I tried very hard to keep from sounding judgmental.

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  13. I did not know Martin Luther said that! Thanks.

    I've been working with that idea for a while, thinking it had it roots in Catholicism, which, I guess it did, in a way. :)
    Have you read The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence?

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  14. Nathaniel & Jessica Moos6:06 AM

    bravo for a post that is well needed.  i too have come to know "who i am" as i've gotten on with life and especially since becoming a mum.  i do love being home with my children and am grateful to have a husband who supports me in this.  by the way, you asked about role models: one of my favourites is elisabeth elliot and another is my sister, younger than me, stay at home mum to 4 children with number 5 on the way.  she married and had children at a younger age than myself and i often have talked to her when having struggles, as i saw her mature so quickly when she had her children.  

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  15. Robin N6:31 AM

    Excellent post

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