For Mother's Day, My Gift to Myself Is to Stop Feeling Invisible

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I am a mother. I stay at home, I work at home. I am the home. I once was a journalist, a painter, a consultant. I spoke to adults more than once a week, and ate lunches using honest-to-goodness cutlery.

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Years ago, there were adult people who valued my opinion. I had some semblance of status, influence, and agency. I had a voice.

You hear about people losing their identity while raising children. That definitely isn't me. I'm still here, I know who I am. But although I love my new life, I as an "I" can only be found tending my sails in the Sea of Momming.

Mother's Day will soon be here -- the one day each year that Americans act like being a mother is worth something. (See: pregnancy as a preexisting condition, lack of maternity leave, and lack of childcare.) The rest of the year, we get very little encouragement and plenty of disapproval and disdain from others, childless or not. These are not complaints, and most of us gladly do this job because we love our children, period. But if you've been used to getting positive feedback or regular promotions or raises or awards, this job will punch you right in the kisser. You're either a person (visible) or a mom (invisible); America has a hard time seeing you as both. I have self-diagnosed Reverse-Mom Guilt.

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Mom Guilt normally refers to the feeling that you're not doing enough, not doing the right things. But I think I'm doing a good job with my children. I'm an intuitive parent and I try to meet their needs, while keeping a routine and making sure their lives are simple and wholesome.

I'm the one whose needs aren't being met. I feel guilty that I'm no longer in the work world. I feel guilty that I've -- poof -- invisibled myself. Is raising children my highest and best use? I don't know. I love being with my children, and I can't bear to think of someone else raising them, but I really miss working, meetings, solving problems, doing different things each day, and adult conversation. 

Stay-at-home moms get a lot of media attention as a shallow and spoiled stereotype, but unless we have a nanny, we're trapped in our house and a slave to the nap schedule. No one wants to talk to us, and sometimes we don't even want to talk to ourselves, because who wants to talk about bottles and diapers? I used to be a conversationalist, but now it's work to come up with something interesting and coherent to say. 

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All through the first year of my twin girls' lives, I held on, gritting my teeth, with the illusion that something magical would happen at the end of that year -- it would get easier or I'd have help, something. But as we entered the second year, what happened was that I didn't have enough time to really work or pursue my art, but I did have just enough time to realize how truly lonely and bored I was. Feed-diaper-nap-repeat. 

Children thrive on routine, but the rest of us like our days to be varied. I remember reading about the boredom of mothers in the 1950s, when it was more common for women to give up their careers or interests for motherhood; the author theorized that was why women drank cocktails at lunch and chain-smoked over the kitchen sink. 

In my internal battle between wanting to raise my daughters and wanting to be a real person, I'm trying to declare a truce. My children aren't my opponents and they aren't trying to keep me from anything except my granola bar at snack time. Mom-me and person-me must integrate, and I need to do a better job of making space for myself, even though it's adding more work to my plate. I want to be kinder to myself, more understanding about where I am in life. I love to host dinner parties and make every course. But the other day I offered to pop a frozen pizza in the oven for dinner guests. And I didn't feel bad. I am giving myself more grace these days.

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Mother's Day celebrates the birth of my motherhood, and I have decided to give myself a present. I will get rid of the idea that I'm no longer a person. Instead, I'll embrace the idea of myself as a person on pause. A person with a full plate and heart. I will give myself small goals that help fulfill my need to create. I think I need a fancy new notebook! I will start writing down all the dreams and ideas I have for "someday when I have time" and "when the girls are older."

I will move my self-care beyond a massage and a cocktail and the odd cigarette, à la the 1950s housewife. Still including those, obviously, but I will make myself less of an occasional appointment and more of a habit. I think that's a good thing for me and a good thing to teach my children. (Not the cigarettes! Duh.)

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