Several months ago, I was at a large family gathering. As with all of our gatherings, there was plenty of good Italian food and casual seating. I set my plate down at a coffee table amongst a handful of my cousins (there are a lot of us!), and began listening in on the latest and greatest happenings in everyone’s lives.
One of my cousins was cradling her newborn son, another was sharing about his upcoming trip to Costa Rica, another had just been accepted to law school, while another had applied to the Peace Corp. I sat there feeling so proud of the family that I come from – of our diverse interests and passions, of our collective courage and varied sense of adventure. I momentarily lived vicariously through each tale as I moved my eyes back and forth between the conversation and my kids running circles outside.
And then, it came to me. One of my cousins looked at me, and with genuine interest asked, “So, what’s new with you?” Before I really thought about it, I replied, “Oh you know…this (as I pointed toward the girls). I’m just a mom right now. Check back in in a few years and maybe I’ll have something exciting to say.” And just like that, the conversation came to an abrupt halt – because really, where can you go for there?
I immediately sank in my seat after realizing what I had said. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t “just” a mom. I knew that I had been laying awake at night that very week (and all the weeks before and after!), spinning under the chaos of the different things that I’m committed to. I knew it sounded so martyr-ish – and who wants to be around that? So then, why? Why was that my answer?
The truth is – I’m a mom first. But, just? Just a mom? While I’m not even sure what just a mom means, I can say with certainty that there’s more on my plate than parenting. I’m the Social Media & Blog Manager for Parenting on the Peninsula. I’m also a blogger. I am an Independent Consultant for Rodan+Fields Dermatologists. I serve on the Board at my daughter’s school. I volunteer at a local shelter. I am a nutrition coach. And, I cook – a lot! The truth is, my plate is full. Too full. So full that I’m not doing any one of those things as well as I’d like. I’m over-extended, unfocused, and tired. My attention is pulled in a dozen different directions – and still, when asked what I’m up to, all I can think of is a shrug of the shoulders while saying, “just this.”
I’ve been pondering this for a few months now. Wondering why I shrunk back so easily. And then I began reading a series on Momastery (one of my favorite blogs) called Sacred Scared. Sacred Scared is about all of these amazingly accomplished women sharing their biggest fears with the world. From reading their brave and vulnerable words, and then following the conversations started after each entry – I saw how pervasive social anxiety is amongst mothers. How, after having children, and especially if spending most, or all, of your time as a stay-at-home mom – us women become really anxious about the world outside of our homes. The world beyond our routines and comfort zones and yoga pants and My Gym classes.
But why? One of my best friends and I began having a conversation about this phenomenon, as we both realized how very real it is in our own lives. And here’s what I said:
I think it is the loss of identity, not knowing who we are – lacking confidence because of that. Feeling out of touch from reality for being sucked into the world of Disney and Sprouts and make-believe. I think it’s being so afraid of the world because we suddenly know a love that makes everything suspicious due to our intense instinct to protect it – I think the withdrawal is half not trusting the world, and half fearing that the world will see our vulnerability. It’s all so messy, and sticky, and lonely, and lovely.
And, I believe that. So, when my cousin asked what I’ve been up to – while he really wanted to know, because he loves and cares for me….I was so afraid of boring him with the details of my scattered day-to-day life, that I dodged the question altogether. I was afraid of talking about my kids with such pride I’d cry – because who wants to be that person? I was afraid of sounding bragadocious if I rattled off my laundry list of “projects.” I was afraid of letting someone in, to see the real me. The me that’s not just a mom – because, if I have so many other interests and divisions of my time, can I still be the dedicated and loyal mom that a just mom is? Don’t I seem like I love my kids all the more if they’re all I am? All I do?
Uh, no. No one’s giving us moms any points for surrendering our identities completely over to this gig. In fact, we’re creating this entire movement of social anxiety by doing just that. We’re forgetting who we are, and what we love, and what we want, and what we dream, and what we like – and we’re drifting farther and farther away from the villages that can help us achieve all of those things.
We need each other. We each have such unique gifts and talents. Whether mundane or exciting, each of our lives count. None of us are just anything. We have to start believing that in order to find the confidence to share ourselves more openly with the world. We have to believe that we are all the things that we do. All the things that we dream. A sum of our parts, really. Let’s rise up against the social anxiety, dig our heels in, take a deep breathe, and share ourselves with one another – shall we?
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