How We Define Ourselves

A college classmate and I had a disagreement a few years ago when I was planning my wedding. As my soon-to-be-husband and I compiled our guest list, tough decisions had to be made – ah, the tired old adage of wedding planning, what else is new – and in order to invite all of our beloved (and numerous) families and friends to attend our nuptials, classmates turned informal pals sadly weren’t in our budget to invite. After realizing that she hadn’t “made the list,” so to speak, this friend became unfortunately accusatory, saying things that I’m sure she didn’t mean, but were uttered as evidence of the hurt that she felt in not being invited to our wedding. Here’s what this friend had to say:

“All you ever do or say or think about is this wedding. When it’s all over, you aren’t going to have anything left in your life.”


And I rationalized, self-justified, and became defensive. Of course I’m thinking about and talking about my upcoming wedding. It’s a big deal! It’s what’s going on in my life right now! Sure, I am working full time, and I am thinking about going to graduate school, but I’M GETTING MARRIED. What does she expect me to think about – world peace?

But the more that I think about it, she was right.

How do I know that “bride-to-be” became all I was? Because when the wedding was over, when my beautiful ivory lace gown was slung over the easy chair in our gorgeous two-story hotel room, when all of the bobby pins had been plucked from my hair and stowed on the sink in our hotel room’s massive bathroom vanity, I didn’t know who to be anymore. All of a sudden, I wasn’t a bride-to-be; I wasn’t even a bride. I was a wife. But what did that mean?


I soon figured out what it meant, to me, to be a wife. It meant loving my husband deeply and truly. It meant forcing myself to communicate with him, even when I was cranky, even when I was upset, especially during those times. It meant having a partner to share my joy over ‘A’ papers with. It meant having a partner to hold my hand when my perfectionist tendencies drove me to my breaking point. It meant having someone to take care of me when we saw the word “Pregnant” on a little purple test last October.


For the past two years, I’ve allowed myself to be defined by the word “wife.” I’ve taken on that role proudly, seriously, and with gratitude for the man that my husband is. Sure, I was – and am – other things, too, like a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student. But I most identified with my role as a wife; it was how I described myself.

All this to say, when our son was born in June, I became something new; I became a mother. And now, if a person were to ask me to describe myself, mother would be the first word that would escape my lips, followed quickly by a smile stretching across my face.


I know that I’m only {nearly} four months into my role as a mother, but at this point, I couldn’t be more pleased to be defined by my role as mother, as Mama to my little man. How lucky am I to be defined by something so precious, so sweet, so innocent?


And yet, I can’t help but wonder if the way in which we define ourselves matters, especially when it comes to a role, like motherhood, that has no end, only a beginning. Should the future have in store for me some tragic occurrence in which my beloved son is taken from me, I feel firm in my belief that I will remain a mother, no matter what life brings about. While terms like “bride” and “student” are fleeting and transitory, the role of “mother” is earned, and not simply in the way that one can study or strive to be something, to achieve a new title for themselves. No, when a woman becomes a Mama, she earns that title, from the very first bout of morning sickness to the very first stretch mark to the kissing of the owies and scrapes that cover her children’s knees to the scoldings and the doling out of advice and the punishments and the celebrations and the accomplishments, all the way to when they, her grown children, hold her hand as she, an elderly woman, takes her final breath. To become a Mama is to permanently be a Mama – to forever have a piece of your heart beating outside of your chest, beating inside the chest of your children. And I can’t think of any better way to define myself.

{Top three photos by Creative Kindling; bottom two photos by me}

About Sara

Sara works in higher education, but she's most proud of her role as a Mama to two precocious boys, Lionel Conner, age 4, and Quincy August, age 2. In honor of turning 30 in 2016, she pierced her nose to "keep her young." She loves watching guilty-pleasure television, writing about motherhood, decorating her first home, sipping red wine with her husband Jordan, and chasing after her sons.

One Response to How We Define Ourselves

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