Identities that Define Me

{Our most recent writing assignment was about unpacking the different identities that we feel define us. This is what I wrote.}

Woman

First and foremost, I identify as a woman. Or maybe I’m aware that everyone else first recognizes me as a woman. Immediately upon seeing me, my gender is identified and assumptions are made, assumptions about what I should look like (attractive, put together), how I should act (polite, gracious, quiet), and what I should want (a man, children, a nice house). In many ways, I am defined by society by what’s between my legs.

My vagina is also a prerequisite for most of the roles I identify with. One cannot be a mother, wife or daughter without checking the “female” box on overly detailed forms. My womanhood is the foundation upon which everything else is built.


Mother

Is there a role that has been more exhaustively showcased, discussed and debated in our culture than that of “mother”? Do we hold any other person to such impossible standards, require such elaborate selflessness and demand such unattainable perfection? Do we ask anyone else to shoulder such a heavy burden as the raising of well-adjusted, content, productive people? The very future of our society rests in the hands of mothers (at least that is what the headlines would have you believe).

I am acutely aware of all that we expect of mothers because I fail at most of the responsibilities. I don’t often offer my children fresh, organic, well-balanced meals, partly because I know they wouldn’t eat them and partly because I don’t want to make them. I don’t maintain an immaculately clean house, in fact most of the time it’s a chaotic mess. I read to my kids regularly and expose them to academic language every day, plus I provide appropriate emotional support, but most of the time I feel like I’m failing at motherhood in all the ways society deems most important.


Wife

There are repeating themes woven into the roles women inhabit and the most common is that of caretaker. Mothers care for their children and wives care for their husbands. I’ve already admitted to the myriad ways I fail to care for my children (healthy meals, clean house) and I suppose I’m failing as a wife in those arenas as well. That said, my marriage is a happy and fulfilling one. My husband and I have worked through some considerable challenges and grown stronger for them (cliché, but true). And while I don’t cook or clean much for my husband, I provide ample support, give him the alone time he needs (an impressive feat these days) and recognize all his efforts with our children and around the house. The fact that things are good between us, despite the constant challenges posed by two young children and two full time jobs, convinces me that I’m doing pretty well in the wife department.


Daughter

My mom makes it pretty easy to be a good daughter, because she is an almost perfect mom. My mother excels in precisely the ways I fail at motherhood. She has been cooking fresh, well-balanced meals since we were kids and she still brings me delicious, home cooked leftovers for lunch on occasion. She cleans my house about once a month and still buys me things that I want but can’t really afford (ahem, Dyson cordless vacuum charging in the next room). She provides free childcare and manages to make me feel like I’m the one doing her a favor for bringing over my kids. In return, all I have to do is be her friend. The relationship is so ridiculously lopsided in my favor that it’s embarrassing and I wonder constantly if I’ll ever be half the mother to my kids as my mother was, and is, to me.


Teacher

I’ve been teaching for ten years and that part of identity has become more prominent and important than I ever expected. Teaching is a hard profession but in many ways I have it really easy. I teach Spanish at a middle school in an upper middle class suburb with dedicated, involved parents and well funded Ed Foundation. As an elective teacher I can fly under the radar of standardize test stress (my subject is not tested by the state) and I can avoid conflicts with other staff because I don’t have to collaborate much with others (which is a shame because that is one of my strengths). Over the last ten years I have created a truly dynamic, comprehensive and effective curriculum that I’m quite proud of, and I’m increasingly aware of how much I value my professional identity.

 

I observe the national debate about teachers with great interest, but I rarely make my own voice heard. I am acutely aware of how poorly teachers are regarded, how we are often not seen as professionals and how our extended breaks seem to delegitimize the hard work that we do and the long hours we put in. I’ve noticed that people tend to believe they are as well versed in educational philosophy and practice as teachers who spent many years studying in post-graduate institutions. It is frustrating to feel devalued on a professional level and it plays into a theme in my life of suspecting that I’m not getting the credit I’m due, which floats precariously above a deeper, more upsetting suspicion that my station in life–an upper-class, white woman in the wealthiest nation on the planet–renders null and void anything I ever accomplish.


Friend

In the wake of a recent friendship implosion I can’t quite unpack this one. This part of me is “under construction;” I hope to be unveiling my new “great friend 2.0” identity soon. In the meantime, I’ll just say that I take friendship very seriously, and I want desperately to be a good friend, though I seem to be struggling with it.


Depression, Anxiety and ADD

How to title this section? I wasn’t sure. I thought about it for a long time. Am I sufferer of these ailments? It honestly doesn’t feel that way anymore. I am them, and they are me. I am never sure where I end and they begin. I’m not even sure where one of them ends and another begins. My anxiety interacts intimately with my depression; they are partners in a sad, frenetic dance and it’s hard to tell who is leading. My ADD is the shoes on their feet, distracting everything with its incessant tapping. I’m not even sure what the medicine I take is treating, as it’s prescribed to me off-label for ADD but mostly it treats depression. Is life less overwhelming when I take it because my ADD symptoms are managed, which keeps my depression at bay? Or is my depression lessened so my ADD symptoms don’t grate as much? All I know is that after almost two decades of therapy and medication I have come to understand that I cannot manage my life alone. I have not yet determined if medication and exercise are crutches on which I hobble through life, or tools that grant me a mobility I couldn’t enjoy otherwise.

I briefly considered shoving “Cohabitator” in front that list above but it’s not actually a word and I wasn’t sure if I should create it with an “-or” or an “-er” because spelling doesn’t come naturally to me and I don’t feel well equipped to mold the rules to my own purposes. I’m not sure the sentiment is correct either, though that word seems the closest fit. I live with these things; they are a part of my life. Their threads help design and color every aspect of my life’s tapestry–it is impossible to tease them apart without the whole thing unraveling–so I mention them here (as a footnote? an aside?) because to omit them would be disingenuous, and I refuse to be that.

Which identities define you?

6 Comments

  1. I feel exactly the same way you do about my mom! She’s such an amazing mom, and I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to be the same kind of mom she is, OR pay any of it back by being supportive when she’s older and needs my help. What to do?

    And I think you’re absolutely right that you must be pretty good at being a wife if you’re able to juggle all you do and still be happy together.

    I have no idea what identities define me. I mean, all the ones you mentioned (except teacher), but in what order? I think being a sister is pretty important to me, too.

  2. I think it’s interesting to think about WHY society expects that particular set of things from mothers (and not fathers in my experience). What makes an immaculately clean house and fresh organic meals so important anyway? People seem to think my spouse is some kind of hero for feeding and clothing the girls while I’m out of town and are so thrilled to coo over mismatched socks (aww did daddy dress you? well, at least you are wearing socks. What a lucky baby to have such a great daddy…) and that the girls are eating sandwiches or cereal again (probably what I’d feed them too but nobody would think it was GREAT! that I fed the girls “picnic food” for dinner on a weeknight). I suppose that since I don’t care one whit about societal expectations and often try to tromp on them by doing whatever is the opposite of expected, it grates on me when I still sometimes feel guilty for not meeting even silly expectations.

    1. yes. I was going to say something similar about the “wife” role as well. It is very gender-biased in that the expectation is to “take care of” and give alone time to the husband, is that an expectation for the husband? (granted the men get their own gender-bias in the expectation to financially provide for the family…both sides need to be abolished)

  3. I don’t even know how I’d respond to this assignment. Obviously wife and mother would be on the list, but what else? Something to think about. I would add “motivator” to my list, maybe “supporter” too.

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