What Identities Can You Justify When Not Being a Mom?

As I read Meredith Hale's essay about being a working mom on The Washington Post yesterday, I found myself nodding in agreement to practically everything she said. I'm a fellow freelance editor and writer, and I'm more than familiar with questioning whether it makes sense to work when, at times, what I earned was only paying for the childcare so I could work. Seems pretty dumb, right? Well, like Hale, I was unwilling to give up working.

Why, you ask? Sure, it was about future earning potential. Now that my daughter is in public school and my childcare costs are almost nil, it is actually financially beneficial to work. My family needs my income. It's also been about, as Hale says, not wanting a weird gap in my resume as I apply for future jobs and maintaining a somewhat consistent career trajectory.

I would also tell anyone who asked that it's also about how important my identity as an editor and writer is to me. But, I'd be lying.

The truth is, if we didn't need my income, I would stop working as an editor and writer in a hot second. There are numerous other things I would love to spend my time doing instead—if, and this is a big if, I could also get over the guilt. Working is a very socially acceptable way of carving out time in my life when I don't have to be a mother. Spending my "free" time doing anything else seems so self-indulgent.

I believe Hale when she says much of her identity is tied to her career, but for me, much of my identity is just tied to not being a mom. I was a person for 32 years before having a kid, and I liked that person. I still am that person. Being a mother is part of who I am, of course, but it's not everything. I just need to do something else, be someone else, but I feel like any time I spend not on my daughter needs to have an equal level of importance and purpose as being a mom. That's a tall order. I certainly didn't spend my pre-kid free time doing important things, but now I feel like I should.

"Giving up my non-maternal identity would be like giving up part of myself," Hale wrote. Abso-freakin'-lutely. But what if your non-maternal identity isn't being a career woman? What if it's just being a lady who enjoys doing silly craft projects by herself? Or reads in the park all day? Or plays pool in bars with friends all night?

That lady sounds pretty selfish, huh? Even if she spends plenty of quality time with her kid, it seems like her non-mom time should be better spent, right? Or at least most of her non-mom time should be better spent—a little fun is fine, but not all the time. Don't just fritter away your life, lady! That's the argument going on inside my head. Maybe I'm just a shallow person, but I don't really have any lofty ambitions of what I want to do with my free time. I could fill my days with all sorts of activities that would benefit only me.

You probably don't like me very much right now, and that's okay. I don't like myself very much for these thoughts, either, but it's the truth. In any case, I do have to help pay the bills, so it's time to just get back to work. It's easy to justify.

Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer, and a mom, and a lot of other things, too. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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