Personal and Parental Identity
How to love who you are
I am a mother, step mother, and grandmother, I have also been a foster mother and a single mother.
I have written books about parenting with emotional literacy and I have made my very fair share of mess-ups too, much of which informed my early writing and still does today, lessons learned the hard way.
On the receiving end I have been a daughter, daughter in law twice, grand-daughter twice over and step daughter twice over.
They are all important in their own way but none of them are ‘me’.
Thus I can claim to have experience of parenting and being ‘parented’ from a lot of angles and I fully understand how challenging both can be. I consider these relationships to be the beacons of my successes and the biggest and most complete failures in equal measure. They have been a rich learning ground and have probably taken up the lion share of my effort, my attention and my life to date. #
I have always worked for some sort of income in some sort of way. I have had a few weeks off here and there for various reason but mostly I have been in employment or self employed for my whole life. I may not have earned that much but I was not utterly dependent either and strove for self sufficiency always. None of this was who I was though, just what I did.
When my kids were babies and young children, I worked part time and when people asked what I did I said I was a mum- but then later on it would drop into the conversation that I was also a lecturer in psychology and those same people would say to me ‘oh I didn’t think you worked’ — and I would say ‘oh that is the easy ‘time off’ part of my week — parenting is much more important work and harder too’. I knew I was challenging the prevailing assumptions of 35 years ago and I liked to do it in all innocence.There was often little or no comeback either.
Lol it did make a few people think, even 35 yrs ago. I always thought parenting was the most important part of my life. I still do in so many ways although I am glad that our children are now more or less independent of us.
THe shining lessons I have learned throughout them all is the power of love and the harm that a lack of love does, not that love is not present but that it is distorted and twisted out of its true nature by damaged thinking and feelings, and by mistaken understandings other wise known as ‘sin’.
But in the last year roughly, that has all changed.
I started to love myself fully just as I am, being about myself and how I express that rather than what I do.
So that is why, when asked what I do, nowadays, do I finally say I am a writer and meditation teacher and not mention these other roles, especially the ones that are most current, i.e. grandmother, mother and stepmother.
So I have decide to write this to both share my exploration of that issue, and possibly, by sharing, to examine more closely the whole thing about identity as an older woman.
Nowadays I want to assert myself as the writer and teacher but above all just this self that exists in just these moments. I don’t want anything set into concrete about me, that is no longer relevant.
I am into my seventh decade and determined not to become invisible or go into any kind of mental decline.
This is the Hecate stage in female life, according to the Greeks. I am become the old hag, the wise woman or witch, sorceress even.
So be it.
I take that as a compliment.
I am still a glamorous gran in my own way, but I also acknowledge that I am not young anymore. We can be glamorous witches even lol.
Physically I cannot do as much as I once did, even my mental energy is exhausted more quickly, especially in social terms. I resist servitude more and more. In fact socially I am less and less interested in socialising and prefer to make contact with people in context to the shared activities we may have.
I am happy to cater or cook for others for instance but only if it is in the context of other things — i.e. we went for a walk and came back for a shared meal. I cannot abide dinner parties and have put a few people out by refusing to engage in this way because in my generation that was how we mostly socialised. I think it is different for younger generations, they seem to bond more over computer games, music, drugs and alcohol.
So what I have left is the accumulated wisdom of my years. This is what I write about in various form, and am encouraged by so many positive comments, though I still have to hit the big numbers on medium. I am not concerned for that so much really.
I know it is not lack of volume or quality, I just don’t ‘hit’ with enough people who want to think as deeply as I like to. I sometimes wonder if this is a geographical thing, I am not USA therefore cannot become an overall top writer- but I hope I am thoroughly mistaken. The articles that really make high numbers of readers are usually more instantaneous and often with flaws in their thinking, often also just churning out what is already available out there in self help books. These articles ensure that the readers can just experience their ‘confirmation bias’ and feel good about it, satisfied. There are many others though which are truly excellent.
I like to challenge people, including myself, to go more deeply. It makes for less comfortable reading after all, and challenges our sense of rightness. But it make us grow, or encourages us at least.
Being a grandmother is a joyful and richly rewarding series of vignettes in my life. It is fun and playful and joyous. It is also wonderful to watch a child growing, and learning so intensely, without the exhaustion that goes with it as parent. So yes I do talk about my grandson, and both he and my own sons are right up there in my heart, but not in my life. They have their own lives quite apart from mine and that is how it should be at this stage of my life. I love them dearly but have let them go.
Being a wife is immensely important to me because of love. My husband is my complete soul-mate, best friend and all round life partner. I could not imagine anyone but him to be with as many hours a day as possible. We never tire of each other, and although we also never stop the other from living as they want to and doing what they want to do. We actually miss each other if we are busy elsewhere for too much of the day, but we would never let that stop us going or doing something important to us. So although I do both talk and write a lot about my husband, I don’t talk or think in terms of being a wife that much, certainly not as part of my identity (same applies for him being a ‘husband’ too). He also does not talk about me as his wife very often but uses my name and talks about what I do i.e. write a lot, as I talk about him and what he does a lot i.e. be a musician.
This I want to stress, that it is possible to be married and for that not to be part of one’s defining identity.
This is why early feminism rightly turned against marriage so much, as part of the patriarchal attitude to women and as a possession of the husband, given over by the father. Not against the institution of love and conjoined-ness at all. What many feminists failed to do was to mention this difference. We need to understand marriage as the joining of soulmates and not an institution of control or ownership, or a social status. The goal should never be ‘to get married’, but it should be an outcome based only on a deep enduring love. Too often this is denied one or both parties.
To us as a couple, our identities are about us as individuals although we both adore each other and being married is a deep deep joy. But it is not a social status. Legally he is my next of kin and that is what I want more than anything, and I am his. It is not our sense of identity, though other people may identify us in this way. That is them and not us.
Part of my desire to claim my identity as a writer is also because of historical doubt over my ability to be a good writer i.e. to express well some of the ideas and experiences that I wanted to share. I was rather put down for thinking I could be a professional writer in my early years and seriously discouraged by some people, ignored by many so called friends when I did actually get published, and generally not valued in success terms when I won that great prize of a publishing contract with a good but small publishing company. Other people did support me though.
But more than that it is not about BEING anything specific, it is just not being invisible. I, and so many other older women have so much still to offer and yet we are increasingly uninvited into the public fray as we age year on year. The part of me that is increasingly tired of course welcomes this, but the part that says look at all the life I have lived through, what does that count for now, how can I share what I have learned.
My husband commented this morning how it is curious that at this age we know what it is like to be both young , adult and now older. But when we were young we only knew young, and could not really imagine older. How that ignorance feeds the arrogance of youth.
But we also both agreed that we would never want to go back there!
Knowing both, we would choose to be where we are right now. That great phrase ‘youth is wasted on the young’ really does have some resonance, and yet it doesn’t. Youth deserve their youthfulness, their vigour, they still have to navigate all the insecurities and tough life lessons they have ahead of them.
As we age and become wiser, we don’t need so much energy because we have a lot less still to prove, to build, to create and we can sit back and say that was life and this is my present reality, and I am content to be here.
Of course some people are not content, they are still on the treadmill of ‘more more more’ to make themself feel more substantial. But the search for ‘more more more’ never brings that, only sitting back and enjoying what you have had and still have.
Mindfully living in the present moment can give you that sense of fulfillment.
Some older people like to show off; again that is their ego and does not impress. It is aimed at making others feel inadequate, or jealous, and maintain an aspirational approach to life which is counter to contentment.
Many old people do still want to ‘prove’ they can ‘still do it’. And of course they can. But who are they proving it to — themselves, their own egos? I feel I have grown past this need and come into a place of mindful present moment acceptance. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot more to do in life, but that the act of doing it is enough, the need to do it is no longer the point of it, just the joy of it instead, for love and nothing more. I don’t have to prove anything
So my sense of identity? Writer and poet — yes, parent — yes, soulmate - yes, grandmother — yes, all these are wonderful and rich parts of my life. Writing allows me to shout out at the world and say ‘not like this, like that instead’ and to be ignored again of course. Each generation not learning its lessons until they hit the wall.
But Hecate, old woman, wise woman, experienced elder of the human tribe, teacher, creative but no longer burdened by procreativity. She is truly liberated. Sharing her wisdom and insights. I am her voice now, her channel through which to share with the world. I embrace her fully. Do I need to identify as a writer or just as an older woman? Does it matter?
Yes. To me it does, just a little bit.
The former gives voice to the latter, they are a matched pair. I embrace all that as my identity because that is all that I am now. But more than anything I just love being myself.