There are a lot of things that will change you in this world, and in this life, for a woman, few things will have a larger impact than marriage and/or children. You essentially become a totally different person, and for me, this was in many ways that I never expected or anticipated.
What’s interesting to me is that for our generation, millennials who are marrying later, having children later, and exploring the world longer, this has become more of a challenging transition than what should maybe be a natural one.
I remember the first days after we had come home from the hospital with our son, I was suddenly struck by tremendous doubts about my ability to be a mother as I considered the life I had lived before this new responsibility weighed on my husband and myself.
I was an avid traveler, fiercely independent, and even ravenous for whimsical exploration and adventure. Shutting the world out for hours, days, even weeks at a time, creating music, poetry, stories, and artwork, was a mainstay of my character. There was little to no caution about the relationships I had with others, or the eagerness for which I learned about strangers and allowed them a window into my life.
In the days before becoming a parent, even as my husband’s partner, my light burned as brightly and wildly as I wanted it to. So now, as a mother and a wife, it is a challenge to contain that light, and I know also there are days when I’m not sure that I can even sustain that light.
It’s an interesting contrast to my mother’s and mother-in-law’s generation. Nothing to speak of the gen X’ers just yet, because they’ve still got their babies and they’ve settled into this life now. But as I, my mother’s youngest child, have become completely independent with a family of my own, and my mother-in-law’s last child has finally left the nest for college, I’ve watched both women struggle to come to grasps with who they are now, when for the majority of their lives, their identities were mostly devoted to their motherhood.
These women, like many of the baby boomers, became parents at a fairly young age, so they may have missed out on some of the opportunities that our generation was granted by remaining single and childless for much longer. So it makes sense that now with their children, the millennials, being mostly, if not completely, independent of them, may strike a counter-crisis situation from what young millennial women are facing with our identities today.
For myself, this mentality is not just a part of being a millennial that was given more free reign in my adulthood than generations before us, but there’s a cultural aspect to how I grew up, and in some ways grew out of one culture and into another, that bears quite a bit of weight too.
I was one of many immigrants that came to the United States in 1990, in a time period where the U.S. experienced its largest spike of immigration in history, even to this date. Immigrants like my parents don’t just bring their children when they come to the U.S., they bring their culture, and many of them hold to it with great strictness and fervor as they try to maintain their cultural identities, and instill these in their children.
Now, while I believe there are many wonderful aspects to my culture and the community I grew up with, there are many Asian cultures, mine included, that are rather restrictive to their girls and downright sexist in some cases. What this caused me to become was a bit of a rebel, and a feminist, and a rather outspoken, bold one at that. I have some suspicion that I’m in a club of many young, immigrant, millennial women who maybe feel just the same.
So, how do all of these aspects of my identity hold up in my new roles as a wife and mother? A girlfriend and I were having a conversation about wanting to still be our own people, but as wives and mothers, what I’ve surmised is that who we were as individuals before is no longer who we are, but rather just a part of that now.
We may have known all the repercussions of the decisions to commit to these life changes before we proceeded, but making a decision to do a thing you’ve never done before, and then actually doing the thing is quite the learning experience. While I have no desire to turn back and make different decisions with my life, I think, like my friend, I do feel the need to hang onto that very large part of my life that I considered my “identity” long before any of these new aspects of my life came to fruition.
Transitions are hard, growing up is hard, and realizing that we need to let go of certain things is hard. I’m not saying that I’m about to let go of who I was before being wife and mother, but there may in fact be a finite amount of space available in this realm for me, my husband’s wife, and my son’s mother. So, it looks like I will have to compromise and sacrifice at least some parts of who I was before I was “Mrs.” or “Mom”.
Balance of these things is very important though, because I don’t think it’s possible to necessarily take all of it together. However, when the time comes for my child(ren) to leave the nest, and I find myself in my fifties with enough vitality to still explore the world, because there’s just so very much of the world to be found and enjoyed, I don’t want to be at a loss for myself. Because “Who am I, if not a mother?” is a question that I can easily answer, and I always want that to be the case, even 20 years from now.
So, no matter that my identity has changed, and encompasses so much more whilst having to let go of so much from before, I will always remain myself. And that’s important.