I am a mother. It’s who I am now. It’s not all I am, but it’s a pretty big part. It’s not something I do every day; it’s who I am every day.
I’ve been listening to Shonda Rhimes’ book Year of Yes lately because I am interested in the premise. So far, I’m interested in leaning into the thought of saying yes to more things, things that scare me. But what struck me was a bit I just listened to; she talks about how she’s a single working mother and how she has help, but then she said the thing that most people are afraid to say out loud because it can be seen as… offensive, I guess.
She sets the scene as being at a PTA meeting, where they’re talking about bake sales and other PTA things (I don’t know because I haven’t graduated to that point in my own foray into motherhood yet) and it strikes something in her. She then talks about how she loves her job as a writer and producer and show runner and, you know, being Shonda freakin’ Rhimes.
“The job takes from me in ways I never expected,” she says of her writing career, “And yet I am devoted to it, to the rush, the track laying, to the work. I work. I have a job,” she says. “People with jobs often do not have time to bake.”
So, she counters herself with this: “But being a mother is also a job, Shonda” as the argument back to herself. Because of course that has to be said, right?
See? She knew it was coming. “I can hear someone reading this book saying those words right now. You know what I say to that? No. It is not. Being a mother is not a job.”
And that’s where, if you’re listening to the book, you hear a pause. It’s the same pause that every period at the end of a sentence gets, no longer than a fraction of a second. But it felt like a long pause. For me, my brain went in two different directions in that millisecond of a pause. In that pause, I thought of myself; I saw myself in that pause. I felt conflicted in that pause.
In my head, I thought “Oh, shit” like you do when someone says something offensive to purposely bait someone else into losing their shit and you’re getting ready (with your proverbial popcorn) to watch it all go down. You know those moments in a rap battle (okay, full disclosure: sure, I’ve never seen one IRL, but, like, hey, I watched MTV in the 2000s, so that’s like the same thing. Oh, and I’ve seen 8 Mile. Mom’s Spaghetti. The whole deal.) where one guy throws some shade and the whole audience feels the burn and collectively draws that breath in and goes “ooohhhh!” — it was like that. I was ready to hear her defense of her statement, a statement that seemingly demeans stay-at-home moms at the surface, almost like that question “But what do you do all day?” and that’s a conversation for a different day.
The other direction my brain went, what I said out loud to myself, it validated what she said. I whispered to myself, to finish her sentence, “It’s a gift.” The truth of her statement rang loud, like a church bell. Being a mother is not a job. It’s a gift. It’s a fill in blank sort of sentence, you know? Being a mother is not a job. It’s a … fill it in yourself. It’s not a job because it’s so much more than that. Being a mother is not a job. It’s a … purpose, an instinct, an identity.
Guys, Shonda knows that. That’s why she follows up, right after that period at the end of her declaration that Being A Mother Is Not A Job with this:
“Stop throwing things at me. I’m sorry, but it is not. I find it offensive to motherhood to call being a mother a job. Being a mother isn’t a job. It’s who someone is.” — Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person
If you’re not saying “girl, preach” with the praise hands emoji yet, I need you to read that again.
Being a mother isn’t a job. It’s who someone is.
It’s who someone is.
It’s. Who. Someone. Is.
You guys, she’s absolutely right. The tiny part of me that felt ashamed, the tiny part of me that was offended and wanted to stand up and say “that’s not true” or “I am enough” to hearing “Being a mother is not a job” because it pushed the red button in my soul that says that it was a mistake to leave my job to raise our son… it got triggered. I heard her say “Being a mother isn’t a job” and felt like I needed to defend my existence. But in another two seconds of words, she took the wind from my sails.
When I said out loud that being a mother isn’t a job, it’s a gift, that was only part of it. I didn’t know it before our tiny human was born, but I became someone new as soon as he entered this world. And beyond the gift of being able to watch him grow and know that he is healthy and a happy little boy, it’s gift to know that I was born anew in his birth, too. It’s interesting because I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, how people change and evolve throughout life. I knew that before being a mom, but I thought that was just getting emotionally healthy because of therapy or maturity with age. Becoming a mother changes you. Hell, becoming a parent changes you, not to leave anyone out on this.
For days, in my head, I’ve kept hearing the quote “I changed who I was for you” from an angry and heartbroken Miranda Hobbes on Sex and the Cityas she screams at Steve at Carrie and Big’s rehearsal dinner after he shows up, all forlorn and sorry for an extramarital sexual encounter.
She’s angry when she says that. I changed who I was for you. She’s hurt. She’s righteous in her hurt. She’s resentful. But when I keep hearing those words in my head, they take on another meaning to me. They’re the same words, but they’ve got a different tone, a different meaning. There isn’t anger there. There’s wonderment. I changed who I was for you. For you, my sweet baby, I changed who I was. For you to be here, my soul had to change. My body had to change. I had to grow in ways I never knew and couldn’t imagine until you got here. I had to push far beyond any boundary of living and survival I ever knew. For you, I bent and I broke and I got back up and I kept going. For you, I am changed, and I keep going. I changed who I was for you, and I am so, so grateful.
Being a mother isn’t a job. It’s who someone is.
I am a mother. It’s who I am now. It’s not all I am, but it’s a pretty big part. It’s not something I do every day; it’s who I am every day. I don’t get to call in sick or take PTO from being a mom. When I was recovering from having my body cut open in order to bring him into this world, and I was still so brand new to being his mom, I was his mama. When I was so tired from all of the sleep I wasn’t getting, I was his mama. When we were struggling with breastfeeding and working through the guilt of that, I was his mama. When I went back to work and I dropped him off at daycare and cried all day long, I was his mama. And now, when we wake up every day and we play and sing and run errands and go for walks and try swim lessons and make new friends at the library, I’m his mama. And when I drop him off at his grandma’s house so his daddy and I can go out and connect in our marriage and have fun just the two of us, I’m still his mama.
There’s a tiny human imprinted in my heart, body and soul, that will never, ever go away, no matter what. When he grows up and moves away and starts a family of his own someday, or if something were to happen that took him away from me in this earthly way (God willing that never happens), I am forever changed because I’m a mother. It’s the same thing with self-awareness, once you know it, you can’t un-know it. I’m a mother. I can’t just not be a mother now. But you couldn’t have told any of this to me before our sweet little one got here. I thought I knew, but I didn’t. You can’t know it until you know it.
And that’s why being a mother isn’t a job – it’s a gift. It’s who someone is. And I changed who I was for this.