When I was seventeen years old, straining as hard as I could too see over the horizon and figure out my fortune, I determined that I should have ten children. After all, for sure I knew that as a woman I would have to be a wife and mother. If that was what I was going to do, I was going to be the best at it. I knew people who had 8 children, but no family had ten. I’d go for the record!
But as the reality of motherhood came closer, I discovered a couple other things I could aspire to. I saw how being a mom could swallow up a woman and leave a shell.
That scared me.
I still wanted it. I carefully planned and fit in other things first. And then it came.
A friend recommended a book to me, Mother Styles. It talks about the different Myers-Briggs personality types as they pertain to mothers. The author talks about how women should respect their personality strengths and give themselves room to be themselves. If you are an introvert, get away and be alone every day. If you are a person that experiences the world through your senses make sure to include beauty in your life. Honor your uniqueness, and don’t just assume that others are doing it “right.” There is nothing wrong with needing those things.
It is really really really easy to fall into that sarcophagus, the hollow self-immolating shell of perfection.
Virginia Woolf talked about it in a way I can never forget. She was haunted by the Victorian female Ideal:
You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her–you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it–in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.
Are you shuddering?
Before I lose the attention of all my readers, this isn’t only about moms. Yes, motherhood can take over a person’s life just about as much as a woman will cooperate with.
There are a lot of things that will do the same.
Conformity to expectations can roll over any of us and take us away from ourselves before we know it. Sinclair Lewis’s novel Babbitt tells the parody story of a middle class man, who seems to be following his own way. He even leaves his family to be a rebel. But when it comes down to it, he realizes he’s only been following the well-worn groove that all the people just like him are nosing though. When his son bucks his wishes and leaves to follow his own career, Babbitt realizes “I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life! I don’t know ’s I’ve accomplished anything except just get along.”
Virginia Woolf talks about how she had to kill The Angel in the House in order to be an author. And Lewis throws up a parody example of how easy it is to fool ourselves into thinking we are using our own minds when we are only following the herd. That comparison, that conformity, is there for any of us to fall into and fool ourselves into thinking we are doing the right thing.
It’s vitally important to me to find my own self-expression. Emerson said it: “Imitation is suicide.”
He and his buddies were called the transcendentalists because they were going to move past the basics. Conforming, or imitating, felt like deathly betrayal to him. He was fine tuned to his own note.
That is not how everyone feels, but I understand it like a grip around my neck. I struggle to find my own uniqueness in this life and especially motherhood.
In the rack of Mother’s Day hallmark cards, I don’t think there is going to be one for me. That’s the way I want it.