Identity and Motherhood, Part 4

Identity and motherhood: when humility countsOn Monday, Emily spent some time talking about the different ways we identify ourselves. She mentioned the typically external places that our identity comes from—where you went to college, what your job is currently, or whether you stay home with your kids.

As Emily noted, it is not uncommon to have people treat you differently depending on what these things are. When I am asked the question, “What do you do?” my answer of “I’m a mom” does not get much feedback. I have trained myself to not answer “I’m just a mom” because I don’t want to downgrade that work any more than it already is in our culture, but you can tell from the responses that that answer is usually not inspiring. Like Emily, I have had much different responses when, in different circumstances, I respond with something different.  I was (jokingly) offered a job last year by a stranger after playing the piano for our church service. Nobody has ever offered me a job for my amazing homemaking skills.

In some ways, these different reactions make sense. With a paid job, it’s easy for a new acquaintance to judge who you are, how smart you are, how cool you are by the job you have. They can see your degree, or your employment with an impressive firm, or hear that you run your own business and know that you’re somebody they’d like to associate with. The work of homemaking is much more private, much more out of the public eye, and much harder to evaluate quickly. Along with this is usually the assumption that anybody can stay home to raise children, but it takes somebody awesome to make it through design school, or medical school, or a business program.

As moms, it’s tempting to answer with one of these responses that will let people know you’re awesome, too. Everybody wants to have people respond with raised eyebrows and impressed looks when they describe what they do, and the brute fact of the matter is that mothering and homemaking are not valued as impressive in our culture. But I think we must be careful to guard against pride in this way. The example of Emily’s friend not mentioning her Ivy League degree until Emily noticed the diploma was an excellent one. Telling people that our identities are wrapped up in a job that society demeans is an exercise in Christian humility. When the question, “What do you do?” is immediately followed by, “Do you do anything else?” it can be very hard to respond in a humble way. The temptation is to cull through our backgrounds, looking for anything that will make sense to a dinner table full of our husband’s colleagues (or, in Emily’s and my case, starry-eyed students). But we should view it as an opportunity to practice self-discipline, knowing that we are laying aside our treasure in heaven.

For those of you moms with impressive pre-kid resumes, I would encourage you to pursue humility in this way. Do not assume that your role as a mom is less impressive than the credentials you have. And for those of you who do not have a big-name degree or an awesome career in your near past, do not spend time wishing that you had those things. Let’s make a conscious effort to humble ourselves in this area, verbally putting our children before our pride.

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