We spend a great amount of our lives in boxes. Sometimes they are boxes we construct, but often they are the boxes others build for us. And although they are only the folded cardboard of words and ideas, those boxes feel constricting and hard to escape. After high school, I opened some of my boxes. I was determined to find myself (isn’t that cliche?). But it took me a long time to decide who I was going to be as an adult. I changed my major three (3!!) times. When I finally landed on a career path, and a style that worked for me, and a persona that reflected who I really am, I felt free. I knew who I was and what I wanted, and I really didn’t think about the boxes I had escaped from since high school. I married, earned a Master’s degree, fixed up a starter house, and I felt fairly free to be whatever I wanted in the moment. Life was not easy, but I was content with who I was. I had friends, family, coworkers, who mostly accepted me that way too.
Then I became a Mommy. I was excited, but like most new moms, I felt the nervousness of the unknown, the inadequacy of self facing a mountainous task of maintaining another life. During my pregnancy, I read articles, I talked to Mommy friends, I asked my own mom and mother-in-law questions. There were so many conflicting ideas of how to be a Mommy. I wasn’t sure of my own Mommy identity, but I kept trying on ideas to see how they fit, like dresses in a changing room. Then, in a moment, the time came. I became a Mom. Some things came quickly and naturally, like nursing. Others took a while, like remembering extra baby clothes everywhere I went.
Every time I made a decision as a Mommy, I felt the familiar cardboard of the boxes being constructed. I was a Nursing Mom, and although it was natural and easier for me than others, I felt the box. If I was talking to a Formula Mom, there was a flimsy separation between us. I am a Working Mom. But because I am a teacher, I am also sometimes a Stay-at-Home mom. I waffle between those groups of Moms depending on the season. I have at times been a Crafty Mom, and other times been a Dance Mom. I have yet to become much of a Sports Mom, so those boxes feel a little taller when I try to peek over into that life. My kids are Public School Kids, but we are friends with Homeschool Kids and Christian School Kids and Private School Kids. Some parts of us defy definition, but for the most part, we stand in the correct boxes for us. And while I don’t shun any of the labels I am given as a Mommy, I hate the boxes. The boxes divide. In conversations with other Mommies, the cardboard muffles our words. We can’t truly hear each other because of our immediate bias of the box the other might be standing in at the moment. At times, the boxes are hindering. I want to consider other options. Maybe I could be a Stay-at-Home mom, but the box keeps the other Stay-at-Home moms at arms’ length, and I can’t get an honest read on the situation. I want to connect with the Homesteader Moms because I’d love to learn to can peaches and grow potatoes, but somehow when I approach the cluster of those Moms, I feel my box more clearly. Maybe I don’t have time or talent for that. After all, I am a Working Mom as well. At work, I don’t quite fit in either. I work Part-Time, the only one in the building, so discussions that circle around me don’t always include me.
I am not naive enough to believe that I belong in every box, even though the perfectionist part of me whispers otherwise. I am also not prideful enough to believe that the boxes constructed are the fault of any other Mommies. I am honest enough to realize that I can build boxes just as well as anyone I know. What I am sensitive enough to realize is that I don’t like these chafing boxes. And it’s not because I want to be the Everything Mommy, it is because I want to connect to Every Mommy. Motherhood is the hardest job I have ever accepted, and I’d love to have honest advice and real story-swapping with all the other women going through it. But we are all so trapped by self-imposed ideas of what Motherhood looks like, and society’s expectations of what we will be, and the reality of just trying to survive it some days in one piece, that we end up isolated in our boxes.
I suppose the old-school “KumBayah” campfire, “can’t we all just get along” ending here is less authoritarian and more inquisitive. What would it look like if we took the boxes apart? What if we could each be singularly autonomous in every decision of Mothering, but equally supportive and curious of all the other decisions that Mothering provides. I have friends that have shown me that it is possible. I have Activist Friends, Makeup Friends, Homeschool Friends, and Marathon Friends, and although I am none of those, those relationships are fulfilling because I learn so much from each of them. What if we could leave the suffocating confines of our boxes behind? We could accept that being a Mommy is a blurry, messy job, and we don’t have to belong in one box or another to define our style or our success. Honestly, I am kind of a Messy Mom, so I like the blending of the colors of Motherhood into an Impressionist-style canvas. Thank you to those Mommies who have broken down the boxes with me and helped make a mess. And to those Mommies who are feeling stuck in a box you’d like to be free from, remember it is just cardboard. Climb out.