A few weekends ago I traveled to South Carolina to spend a long weekend with six of my closest college friends. Between the seven of us, we left eleven children behind to be cared for by some combination of dads, grandparents and babysitters. The trip was incredibly restful. Even more restful than the naps, the clean home, or the leisurely cups of coffee every morning was the experience of being with a group of people who don’t identify me as or relate to me as my children’s mother. My college friends are scattered coast to coast, and we have never witnessed each others’ life as mothers.

Of course, the subject of our children came up on the trip, but never for very long or in very much depth. Ultimately, because we all have so much history between us, the fact that we now each have children was almost a non-issue. We related to each other as we always have, as women who enjoy each others’ company and who are capable of having meaningful conversations about a wide variety of topics. I’ve made some very dear friends since moving to my current city five years ago, but the vast majority of my friends are people that I’ve met through my children. We communicate mainly about our day to day life, and our day to day life usually consists of children, laundry, dirty diapers and trips to the pediatrician.

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Am I the mom in the grocery store aisle with the huge, two-seater race car cart wiping one tiny nose with my shirt sleeve while cajoling a 22-month-old to “please, please, PLEASE sit down”? Or am I the person I was reminded of in South Carolina, someone with many interests who enjoys thoughtful discussion about topics other than my children, their friends, and their activities? I don’t believe that your identity equates to how you spend your time, but in the midst of life with a four-year-old and 22-month-old, it feels like the easiest and quickest way to identify me is as a Mom. After all, three-day, kid-free trips don’t come along very often, and it seems like this elusive “other” me very much lives in a vacuum. A recent piece in The New York Times by Heather Havrilesky entitled “Our Mommy Problem” articulately summarizes the tension I have been feeling:

When I hear someone telling an expectant mother that having a baby will turn her into a new person, I can’t help but imagine a pathologically optimistic weather forecaster brightly warning that an oncoming tornado is about to give a town “an extreme makeover.” Becoming a mother doesn’t change you so much as violently refurbish you, even though you’re still the same underneath it all.

That can be hard to remember when teachers, coaches, pediatricians and strangers alike suddenly stop addressing you by your name, or even “ma’am” or “lady,” and start calling you “Mom.” You’ll feel like a new person, all right — a new person you don’t necessarily know or recognize.

Motherhood is no longer viewed as simply a relationship with your children, a role you play at home and at school, or even a hallowed institution. Motherhood has been elevated — or perhaps demoted — to the realm of lifestyle, an all-encompassing identity with demands and expectations that eclipse everything else in a woman’s life….

FORTY years ago, my mother and her two friends drank coffee, ate homemade cherry pie and chain-smoked their way through lively debates over whether a popular author was daringly frank or a chauvinist, while their children were expected to play nicely outside and rarely interrupt. Today, all three mothers might instead be engaged in some elaborate craft project, with each woman stopping the conversation every few seconds to open a little jar of paint or to help glue on some tiny eyes.

Somehow, as we’ve learned to treat children as people with desires and rights of their own, we’ve stopped treating ourselves and one another as such. But that’s not hard to understand when the reigning cultural narrative tells us that we are no longer lively, inspired women with our own ideas and emotions so much as facilitators, meant to employ at all times the calm, helpful tones of diplomats.

No wonder so many of us have stopped listening to all those people trying to tell us to surrender, embrace our inner housewife, have it all, accept less than “it all,” be more French, be less attached, be more attached, lean in, lean out. Today’s absurdly conflicting notions of motherhood play far better as comedy. No matter what the script says, we don’t have to perform such a farcical, unrealistic role. We can rip the S off our chests. We’re still the same underneath it all.

About a year ago it dawned on my older daughter that my real name wasn’t “Mommy”. We had a discussion about how before she was born, everyone called me “Ginger”. I could tell that this was something that really got her little wheels turning and she exclaimed “Sooooo, before I was born, you were just Ginger!”. I’ve been thinking about that a lot since I read Havrilesky’s article. I was “Ginger” and everything that came with that, but I certainly wasn’t “Just Ginger” waiting to realize my real identity as “Mommy”. Conversely, I’m not “Just Mommy”. At the end of the day, I’m very much Ginger and very much a mom. I can’t untangle them. The tension between the two does not detract from the truth that I am both those things fully.

I’ve lived in another tension for as long I have been a Christian. I haven’t always been able to articulate it, but it is the tension of being counted righteous, but still very much suffering under my sins. I’m sinful yet justified. Some days I only feel sinful, just like some days I wonder if my true self is the mom in the grocery store and the other parts of me are figments of my imagination or just aspects of myself that I could finally focus on if I had some more free time. On those days I cling to the remnants of the tension, and to the reality that the tension is forever preferable to a world in which sin is all there is for me. I am a woman. And I am a sinner. I am a mother. And I am a saint. I look forward to the day when my identity will not feel so disjointed.