A mother's identity

Yesterday my DH told me some tragic news. A good friend of his just suffered the loss of his 4 year old daughter. The young child had some severe health issues, and this week, finally lost her battle with cancer. My husband was quite overwrought. A normally emotional stable guy, he was in tears when he told me the news. I could tell that his friend and the situation remained on his mind throughout the day, and as we were getting ready for bed, he asked the ridiculously obvious question, "Would you be sad if our son died?" I softly told him that yes, of course I would be sad if our son died, and I gave DH a hug. But after we had gone to bed, I lay awake for a while, thinking about what DH had said. Would I be sad? I'm not sure sad is the word. Devastated is a better one. And of course, in the aforementioned tradition of my vivid imagination, I started to go where no mother should go, especially in the middle of the night. I started to imagine what it would be like if my son died. Then I had a realization. Besides being completely emotional devastated, what would I actually do? I mean, DH has a job to go back to, something to focus on, a career to build, people to network, blah blah blah. My days (and still, sometimes nights) revolve around my son. I have a few things in place to maintain some sense of my former identity before I became a mother, but as a SAHM, they are certainly not as substantial as my husband's career. With the death of my son, my only son, my entire identity that I have built over the last 3 years would be gone. Completely. I would have to revamp myself entirely. I could do it--like I said, I've maintained some things that are just about me, but it would be tough. Very, very tough. So I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, this seemingly obvious revelation I had in the middle of the night. I suppose we are always shaping and changing and revamping who we are, but mothers' identities are inescapably tied to their children's activities. Maybe that's why we want so much for them, or get them involved with so many different things. Because we are so connected to them, their successes become our successes, their failures, our failures. Of course that's not inherently true. Our children are their own free agents, and I certainly don't feel like my own mother shared in my triumphs and failures, although she must have felt them on a much deeper level than I ever realized. (And of course, blaming Mom for all my shortcomings and character flaws is awfully appealing at times, but let's save that for another time, shall we?). But I know that when my son is successful, I take some credit for it, and feel proud. And I feel his failures perhaps even more acutely. On some level, they reflect on my own mothering skills, some kind of failing on my part. I don't think that my husband, who is a loving, involved, fun father, feels this same connection, this same definition of his identity. Strange that our identities can revolve around so many different things when you are supposedly sharing a life. So, is this identity meld a good thing or a bad thing? Is it a scary interdependent relationship, or one that is necessary to raise normal, healthy, well-adjusted children? Again, this question, like so many other questions of parenthood, seems to have no definitive answer. And of course, like so many other questions of life, I'm ruminating on it right before I go to bed, which means that my vivid imagination will be working in my sleep, and I'll be blogging tomorrow about the bizarre dream I had about how my son turned into Superhero, only to discover that his cape was gone, and that I somehow ended up eating it for breakfast. I'm sure there's something really Freudian about that somehow, but I'm too tired to go there. Our hearts go out to our friends who have lost their little girl. Our thoughts and prayers are with them tonight.


Blogger Julie M. Smith said...

Great post. I, too, was weepy yesterday and was (still am) spending a lot of time thinking about that mother.

No great wisdom to offer, however.

3/15/2005 11:21:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

If we lost a child, I believe my husband would take it harder than me. And I've already assured and promised him that he can die first since he doesn't want me to.
What I think is important for people to understand is that grief over a child dying can be so difficult to get through that your marriage can suffer.
On Sunday in my Sunday School Family Relations class, a visiting couple attended. WHile making a comment they said that they had sought professional counseling because of their inability to understand how the other was greiving and it was a wall between them.
Losing a child can destroy a marriage because your hearts are so broken. Your chances of divorce go up. I find that fact so sad, and so telling.

3/16/2005 02:37:00 AM  
Blogger annegb said...

Well, I drank like a fish and took a lot of pills for the first six months, then I got religion. I was young and more resilient. When my second child took his life, I nearly lost my mind. I took a lot out on the government. Thank God I had an adversary.

God was with me. I am not over it. I will never be over it. But I have survived, despite all my conviction that I could not live with that kind of pain. Now, I try to use it to help others deal with theirs.

On a really terrible note, I have learned that God truly is no respector of persons and that sooner or later, tragedy occurs to everyone. You young girls, you treasure your children for the gifts that they are and enjoy them. Do not live your lives in fear, there will be time enough to suffer, suffering comes to all. Remember that life is eternal, this life is not all there is, and strive to be happy, joyous, and free. That is the only way to conquer. There is a God and He is mindful of you.

3/16/2005 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Mary said...

My heart goes out for the family who just lost their child. I don't think there could be anything so devastating! I have only been a mom roughly 5 months, but it took us years to get here, so years of my life have been spent focusing on becoming a mom and now being a mom. Already I can see that my identity is so wrapped up in this motherhood thing that even after only 5 months of having our daughter, my world would be turned upside down and it would be difficult to find myself again.

No more scary imaginings! I try to keep myself from even thinking of such things because I can get carried away and it's not a pretty picture! I don't know if that's good or bad, maybe facing it is more healthy in the long run.

Take care!

3/16/2005 02:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's 3:40 in the morning and I just just discovered both this blog and this post after googling "mother identity."

Heather, your comments really resonated with me, particularly that "mothers' identities are inescapably tied to their children's activities."

For the last week or so, I have been struggling with who I am and what has happened to me since marriage and motherhood. I feel like a part of me is gone-- like I'm no longer smart or strong or accomplished-- the things I felt so accutely when I was in business.

Like you, I imagined this evening my son dead and I wondered what I would "do"-- how I would recover.

I'd love to read a thread on how our identities change as we marry and have children, including how we maintain our self-worth when we spend so much time making sandwiches, wiping noses, changing diapers...

Thanks for your entry.

7/10/2006 04:58:00 AM  

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