11 July 2005


The first day of German 101, and we were learning how to introduce ourselves and say what our jobs were. In English, I would say I'm a stay-at-home mom. In German, the word is Hausfrau. The only time I have heard that word used in English is derisively. To me, the word is laden with condescension, and an image comes to mind of a woman in a frumpy housedress and apron, her identity consumed in cleaning and making '50s-style gelatin molds. In other words, the very worst stereotypes of a housewife. So I said I was a Hausfrau and a Redakteur (editor) because I didn't know the German for writer.

I think that I have such a negative reaction to hausfrau because it, and its English equivalent housewife, say nothing about my interests or my personality. I'm not really domestic. I don't sew or do crafts or even decorate at all well. I'm an okay cook, but not a creative one. I'm simply someone who believes that my child is best served by my being her primary caregiver.

So the stay-at-home mom moniker best fits this part of my life. But I see the primacy of child care as only one season of my life. As Katrina gets older and goes to school, I plan to go back to editing and writing on more of a full-time basis. Therefore, I continue to see myself as a writer...in fact, it feels closer to who I am than SAHM does, because it indicates at least some of my talent and personality.

Perhaps because it took so much time and pain before we had Katrina, or merely because I was older, I don't often think of being a mom as part of my core identity. I still look at her little face sometimes and just marvel that she's here (and at how beautiful she is, and how smart, and how friendly and fun, how she's just the best little kid anywhere. But I'm not biased or anything.). On the other hand, I don't know what I would be doing now or who I would be if she had not been born. Motherhood--and particularly mothering a little girl whose personality is so different from my own--has stretched me and shaped me in ways I could not have imagined.

Identity is a slippery thing. Here I am, having trouble labeling myself as "just" a mom--a hausfrau--and yet being a mother has had a profound effect on my personality, my way of thinking, and, yes, my identity.

Mein Name ist Jennifer. Ich bin eine Mutter.


Dave said...

I think people really get into trouble when they allow identity markers - which are primarily for the convenience of others, let's face it - to define themselves & thus limit what they might become. I think this is the great pitfall of American identity politics, for example. But anyone who doesn't have a regular job in the U.S. of A. is always going to feel at a bit of a loss to explain to other people what exactly s/he *does*. (And my mother can regale you with stories of people assuming she would have plenty of time to do XYZ, because after all she is *only* a writer.)

LaShaunda said...

I have to agree with Dave.

As long as you know who you are don't worry about it.

The most important identity is you're a mother. There are many out there who wants this identity. Enjoy it, love it and feel blessed.

Mother and proud of it.

Jennifer said...

It is kind of funny that the very first thing we learn in a foreign language is how to label each other by our jobs.

Yeah, Dave, I'm sure she gets the same blank looks that I do re: being a writer...although she actually writes books, which to most people is what a writer "should" do. When I say I write magazine articles, newsletters and the like, that's usually the end of that part of the conversation. Of course, saying "editor" or "copyeditor" ends it even faster...no one outside of publishing has any (accurate) idea of what that is.

LaShaunda, I do treasure more than anything else being a mother. It took us 5 years and medical intervention to have our daughter. I know the longing and heartbreak of infertility. So I'm still amazed and grateful that I'm a mother at all. And I'm still processing what that means to me, now that the most hands-on and intense time of babyhood has passed. I'm not ambivalent about feeling blessed to have Katrina. Just about the words and the expectations/assumptions behind the words.