Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday with (Judith) Warner

Please allow me to (re)introduce you to Judith Warner, author, mother, and guru to all people interested in motherhood at this particular social, political, and cultural moment.  While I have been a fan of Warner's writing since I first discovered "Domestic Disturbances," her blog at the New York Times, I hadn't discovered her 2005 book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, until this fall, just as my own experiences as a mother were beginning to leave me feeling hollow more often than full.

Since Big Boy was born, I have spent a lot of time telling myself how lucky I am - to have a loving husband, healthy and happy children, a supportive family, financial stability, great friends, my own health.  But I didn't feel lucky.  I felt sadness nagging like an arthritic joint, loneliness like a weight, boredom like unwanted ballast.  (Lindsey wrote beautifully on Monday about "the feeling of being lonely when surrounded by people.")  Newly settled in a town devoid of cultural outlets, I went to Walmart just to have something to do, to be able to interact with other people.  My conversations with the other mothers I met at Big Boy's various activities centered on diaper prices and hand-me-downs.  I thought that having these encounters was better than being alone, but never before I had felt so powerless.  So disconnected.

Not only did I not see myself in any of the people I met; I didn't see myself in me.  And then I read Judith and was reminded that Me was still there, but I was obscuring her.

In Perfect Madness, Warner asks, "What kind of choice is it really, after all, when motherhood forces you into a delicate balancing act - not just between work and family...but between your premotherhood and postmotherhood identities?  What kind of life is it when you have to choose between becoming a mother and remaining yourself?"

And that's just what my problem was (well, still is, but I'm working on it): in trying to conform to a standard of motherly perfection, I lost touch with the woman I had been.  I turned away from my own identity and took up residence in a world with children at its axis, as its sun, and as its satellites.

"They" say that you can't start recovering until you accept that you have a problem.  I believe that to be true.  I also believe in the healing powers of community, wherever you might find it.

My nascent journey into our bloggy universe has already unearthed valuable connections that have helped I to find Me again - a reader of Wallace Stegner, an inflexible yogi, a teacher, a talker.  A woman who loves children, but also loves herself.

What part of your identity have you shed?  Was it intentional or unintentional?  To your benefit or detriment?

How great is Judith Warner?


  1. Kristen!

    These words, combined with a poignant song that just happened to start up on Pandora while I am reading, has brought me chills and shivers. Shivers and chills.

    First of all, a new book to add to my list. Can you keep track of that list for me? It is ever growing and I can't keep up. Maybe my mom has it. She's got just about EVERYTHING. Wait, it's past her parenting prime time. Jen and I will split the cost and go take a peek.

    Secondly, and MORE IMPORTANTLY, you distilled so much of the effort and effect of our blog into this perfect piece of prose. The questions we have. The ones we push away. The ones we learn to confront. The choices we make. And change. And challenge ourselves with.

    I'm here, new friend. To read everything that you have. So throw it at me. Be the you that you need to be right here in this space. It's a lifeline. Jen and I and Momalom are proof of that.

  2. I think it's very important to do things that have nothing to do with the kiddies. That's why I take ballet, belong to a book club, go to the gym. I have a group of friends I met through Gymboree, but now interact with without kids.

    To your point: I think we get so caught up because we want to be the best parent we can be. So yes, we lose ourselves to trying to be that perfect mother. But we can't be perfect. We're not perfect. Once we accept that, we start to find ourselves again.

    Beautiful post. Thanks for writing it.

  3. I have arrived. A link from Wallace Stegner came back to me.
    But seriously, if I weren't wrestling with two children right now I could write a brilliant comment about reconnecting with YOURSELF, and how much I want to read Judith Warner because of all of the wonderful things you have to say about her, and about how I am frantic these days, but in a good way, because I am scurrying around trying to get everything prepared for a weekend of me (and us) without children. But the kids. And ramen noodles everywhere. Me. Too.

  4. Oh my comment got eaten by my iphone!
    I love Judith Warner and I love this post. You are so right: the struggle to balance pre-and post- selves really shouldn't exist - it's artificial and creates massive stress. And makes it that much harder to be present.

  5. Wow, I really love this post. And I love Judith Warner and need to carve out the time to read this book. You ask some major questions here. I too struggle with the feeling lucky part sometimes even though I realize my bounty. I too feel alienated from my "former self" at times and angry that we are encouraged by this society of ours to conceive of something as ludicrous as a "former self." Self is self. We are all the same people we have always been. Kids do not change who we are at our core and I wish we could embrace our evolution a little more.

    I too am incredibly grateful for the bonds that are emerging in this odd and wonderful virtual world. It never ceases to amaze me how so many of us are grappling with the same things, and questions, and longings. I guess this is life?

    Thanks for another thoughtful and intriguing post.

  6. I might be alone in saying this (ha...alone), but I don't know that I had much of a former self. I mean, I was a people pleaser and a bit of a fake. There were things that are definitely ME that were there, have always been there, but I didn't recognize them as unique or valuable.

    Having kids has been my catalyst to discovering myself. Now, don't get me's terribly tricky because how in the world does a mother have time for that kind of work? So that's why I get depressed and overwhelmed and confused. Because I'm trying to discover my mothering me and just the general me at the same time...

    it's exhausting and terribly lonely sometimes, to be so wrapped up in my busy mind and thoughts about me.

    I think that's why I'm trying to learn to let it go, to live the quote I shared on live and let the questions answer themselves by the simple living. (not that we don't have to take a look at ourselves and thing, we do...but I have a tendency to OVER THINK myself into a corner)

    I'll stop rambling now.

    So nice to meet you, lady.

  7. I love Judith Warner's NYT blog. She talks about migraines, kids, and not losing herself. I lost myself for a while with my kids, and still do sometimes. But I have my hobbies, and make time for doing something for me each week.


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