One of the key principles of developmental psychology is continuity and discontinuity. In lay terms, this refers to what changes and what stays the same within an individual over time. I have been thinking a lot about this recently because of my own personal journey into motherhood and how that journey evolves as my son grows and changes. Last week, I pulled out the photo books that my mom had faithful constructed of my growing up years. Just looking at the photos reminds me of the type of person I was throughout childhood, high school, and undergrad. I was always very contemplative and “in my head”. I would spend hours reading books in my room and would often sit back and listen carefully during social exchanges rather than participate. Processing time was always really important to me. I think these characteristics manifested themselves in both my social life as well as my academic one. These skills were fostered during my undergrad years and continued to be fostered during graduate school. I learned how to think deeply and write about theoretical issues in psychology. I learned how to foster ideas through conversations with colleagues. In the social realm, I was surrounded by other people in graduate school and especially enjoyed talking to people outside of my field. I could learn so much by talking to them about their fields of study and questions that they were tackling.
While I just assumed I would probably be a stay-at-home-mom during my childhood and teenage years, that idea had been fading during my undergrad and grad school years. The more I developed my abilities and passions during graduate school, the less I could see myself as being happy as a stay-at-home mom. I married during my second year of graduate school and four years later I felt strongly that we should have a child. I was pregnant while I was writing my dissertation and my son was born one month after my dissertation defense. During that month, I was working on revisions my committee had requested and submitted the final version a day or two before my son was born. Thus, I literally went from full-time graduate student to full-time mom overnight. To say that the change was jarring would be an understatement. I was at home full-time for the first 10 months of my son’s life and then started teaching undergrads part-time. When I started teaching again, I practically cried from relief and the sense of joy it brought me.
My son and I were doing really well for a long time. He was pretty good at entertaining himself, so while he played with toys I would work on lectures, grade papers, and write. I felt more like myself again. However, over the last couple of months, things have started to shift again. My son has become a lot more verbal, and talks to me almost all day long (see footnote). It is really fun to interact with him in a different way, to see how his language skills develop, and get little insights into how he is thinking about things in the world. (Just yesterday, he pointed at a rocking horse and said “horse seat”). On the other hand, I have almost no mental space to myself any more. I feel pretty far from the introspective, contemplative person who I was in high school, and who I still feel like I am at my core. Of course, I know that this phase won’t last forever. But for now, I have been struggling a lot with my identity. I have heard others comment that it is easy to lose a sense of your identity when you are the mother of young children. I now more fully understand what they are saying.
The thing is, I don’t think that this process is the same for everyone. For me, becoming a mother was a jarring break from what I had been doing in my life up to that point. Even since my son was born, I have been slowly trying to integrate my identity as a mother into my identity as a whole, but it has been difficult for me. For other LDS women, becoming a mother is a very different journey. I have family members who have wanted to be a mom their whole lives. Since they have prepared and planned and looked forward to that day, having children brings a sense of fulfillment and a sense of finally coming into their own. Their development is much more continuous in that becoming a mother is a natural continuation of what they have been doing up to that point.
I have been wondering what makes the transition easier or harder for different women. Is it personality type? Past experiences? Current circumstances? The way they conceptualize motherhood? I imagine that it is probably a combination of all of these factors (and possible others that I didn’t list). Regardless of whether the transition to motherhood is easy or difficult, I think identity is important thing for us all to think about. I believe that it is important for women to have a strong sense of themselves and to be able to match who they are with who they want to be. I believe that when women sacrifice their sense-of-self for others, everyone suffers. I also think that it is sometimes hard for different women to understand each other. A woman who finds a strong sense of purpose and self-fulfillment through motherhood may have a hard time understanding why other women feel like they are losing their sense-of-self in motherhood (and vice versa). What do you think?
These are the typical conversations my son and I have all day long.
Son-Mom, firetruck! (pointing)
Son-Mom, look firetruck!
Me-Yes, a firetruck. (He is much happier if I actually repeat what he is saying instead of just saying “uh-huh”)
This continues until he is happy with my response, and then he starts talking about something else.