Radical Motherhood
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Radical Motherhood

To the Mother Who Should Have Been a Great Many Things

You’ve built a world around motherhood

Photo credit: author’s daughter

“You should have been a lawyer, Miss March.”

“I should have been a great many things, Mr. Mayer.”

Little Women, 1994 movie

Pulling up to a park where my kids and I would be meeting a new homeschool group, I looked at the moms and kids gathering under the sprawling pavilion.

How am I still doing this? I thought. After all these years, how am I still walking into mother-child groups and gatherings for the first time? How?

It’s been ten years since my daughter, then one, and I joined our first playgroup. We’d just moved to a new state, and I was at home with her full time and in need of social interaction. But now?

Is this what my life is? Still? I don’t think I want this.

I shut off the car, sat for a moment, the kids waiting for a cue from me to exit, and asked myself:

What’s going on?

The answer:

I’m far from the same person I was at that first group or at any of the others since. I’ve met many people I’ve liked along the way, and my kids have too, but I’ve grown bored of the whole thing. I no longer want to shape my days around being a mom. I haven’t ever wanted to shape my days around being a mom. I want to spend my time being me, being Ashley.

We got out of the car, walked to the pavilion, introduced ourselves, and spent two hours there. Later that day, we returned to the same park to meet another homeschool group for the first time. Both were lovely, satisfying for my kids.

I attended my first birth as a doula when my children were three and eleven months. I’d begun the certification process before my son was born because my daughter’s birth, a favorable experience, ignited a passion to right the wrongs in maternity care—the disrespect towards women in labor, the manipulation of mothers-to-be through warnings that their choices will leave their babies dead, the obstetric violence.

By this time I’d also become an advocate for bodily autonomy, speaking out against the male genital mutilation (aka circumcision) that’s prevalent in the US. In addition to learning of the unnecessary, barbaric, and consequence-laden nature of the act, I’d discovered that mothers, regardless of their level of knowledge on the issue, often went against their instincts when choosing it for their sons. How could they not when they’d been trained to doubt themselves, to listen to authority figures unhesitatingly, to fear the upset of male partners?

Though I’d suspected I’d be a doula forever, circumstances changed, leading me to pursue certification as a professional coach, specifically with the understanding that I’d be working with mothers. That was five years ago, and ever since, I’ve been supporting women as they grapple with their fear and people-pleasing, their distrust of themselves, their desire to be good above all else, as they unroot familial teachings and pick away at social structures and norms that are set up to keep them down, keep us down.

My first career was in outdoor and environmental education. The original mother, nature, was my focus, specifically how to foster a bond between children and nature.

I now know my error: the bond never needed to be forged. It needed to not be impeded.

The work I’ve done since has been to remove impediments between a mother and her child, a mother and herself.

That day at the park I balked at who I am: A mother who’s devoted eleven years to her children and nearly a decade to other mothers. Not out of a sense of duty or ineptitude or failure of imagination, but because I couldn’t not do it. The mom thing is my thing. I’ve chosen it every step of the way. At the park, I wasn’t out of place or in an outdated place. I was in my place.

Part of me wants to “have been a great many things,” but, like Jo March, I am that which I am, and everyday I become more of that which I already am.

I won’t suggest that being a mother is or should be enough. It isn’t enough for most of us. That’s why even those of us who spend the majority of our time steeped in motherhood grow something else in its soil. We build a little homestead, raise animals and plants, can vegetables and knit. We follow foreign policy or the real estate market with a keen eye. We lay out a curriculum and homeschool. We turn our interest in photography into a business. We lead a support group or a playgroup or the PTA. We run for political office. We teach a class. We write; we dance; we protest; we podcast; we travel; we paint; we blog and vlog and type up witty social media posts. We form a non-profit. We pick up accounting or massage clients. We go to school.

Very few of us, even when it feels like we’re only doing the mom thing, are actually only doing the mom thing. We’ve built a world around motherhood, and we don’t even notice.

Regardless of the “great many things” we should have been, somewhere amidst all that we’ve built—all that you’ve built—is that which you already are.

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Ashley Kim | Adventure Motherhood

Ashley Kim | Adventure Motherhood

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Founder & CEO of Adventure Motherhood. Supporting the mental, emotional, and physical health of moms through travel experiences, outdoor programs, and coaching.