39, English professor/writer
married, 2 kids (age 2, 6)
What does “having it all” mean to you? How has this idea changed over the years for you? Having it all is something that I was convinced was possible for a long time--until I actually had children—often seen as a large part of "it all”. And then I understood something I wish I'd known before: you're given many things in life you never asked for, or even, never wanted. But most of the time, you choose what you keep. And that, in the end, is having it all.
What’s the hardest thing you learned about yourself when you became a mom?The hardest and most important lesson I've learned about myself as a mother is that I'm the most important person in the family. It's something that became clear in pregnancy—if I wasn't there, none of this would be happening. My life was literally determining someone else's. And it was hard to come to the fact that I'm important, because I feel I'm almost always working on someone else's behalf.
I've had to accept that I need to be an imperfect mom in order to stay a functional mom—I have to yell sometimes, I have to take breaks from my kids where I sit in a dark closet, I have to drink wine when it's wine time and I have to leave them for several days at a time to recharge and to work on my own happiness. When I leave them I might be doing something that many mothers feel is a failing, but what it means to me is that I'm able to have enough, and to be enough, especially for myself. My health and well-being is also theirs. This is a lesson I learn everyday.
How do you maintain your sense of self amidst the family? When you have children, you have to put pieces of yourself on a shelf. Some of those things will get really dusty before they come off that shelf. But others, I've realized, are important enough to make space for in my life. I can't have all the things on my shelf all the time, but I can have them all. Reminding myself that the items on the shelf are there waiting, and taking the time to look at and take those pieces of myself and of my life down off the shelf keeps me sane. The shelf reminds me who I want to be, and it reminds me that I have more than I often think I do. And that's a gift motherhood's given me.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson