Guest Post: Maintaining Self-Identity as a Parent

Our guest post this week comes from Fab Mama, writing about identity, visibility, and family. Interested in submitting your own guest post? Click here!

Once I became a parent my identity was forever changed.  When people ask me about myself one of the first things I say is that I am a mom (to the most amazing toddler on the planet).  I am also a partner, a teacher, a cis-gender woman, a former dancer (who still itches to move), a quiet artist (who is probably a closeted crafter), a baker, and so many other things.  But for the first year of Fab Baby’s life, my complex identity dissolved into one primary role: motherhood.  I nursed Fab Baby around the clock, stayed home during the day to care for her, washed her diapers, cleaned up her spit-up, held her as she napped, and co-slept with her.   The line between my end and her beginning was blurred; we were some kind of symbiotic being, breathing and pulsating together.

But, as we rounded the bend on Fab Baby’s first birthday I began to see that my “momminess” was showing.  I had a frumpy haircut, carried more post-baby weight than I felt comfortable with, wore a “mom” coat because my more fashionable coats still didn’t fit, and felt overall uninspired.

So, here we are 16 months into parenthood and I am just now regaining some of my former parts.  I’m going to the gym more regularly, I got some clothes that I feel good in, I got a part-time job out of the house, my partner and I schedule more time for me to be alone and do things that fuel me, and I got a better haircut.  I have realized that while being a mom is important, I don’t want that to be the only (or even most important) way that I define myself.

I imagine most first-time parents, especially stay-at-home and nursing parents, can relate to this temporary loss of identity.

In addition to temporarily misplacing my identity in mommyland, I also struggle with finding a way to self-identify in the context of my new family.  I have always struggled to find the right label for my sexual orientation.  When I dated a woman it was easy to say things like, “My girlfriend…” or “My partner, she…” and people knew I wasn’t straight without my needing to come up with a label for myself.  Now being the partner of a transgender man I am often misread as a straight lady.  This is even more so the case now that we have a child; people hear that I have a baby and a partner/husband, and assume that we are just your average got-knocked-up-the-old-fashion-way hetero couple.  This perception couldn’t be further from the truth.  I am proud to be a member of the LGBTQ community (even if my identity doesn’t fall under one of those labels).  Sometimes when I’m in a room full of straight-appearing folks I want to scream at the top of my lungs, “I’m not just like you! I’m different!”

But then, how do I talk about myself?  I can’t casually mention my same-gendered partner to out myself.  Sure I can use “partner” instead of “husband” when talking with people, but lots of hip folks – gay, straight, or otherwise—use this term now.  I could also reveal that I am married to a trans guy, but I hate that one of the only ways I can think of to self-identify involves outing my partner.  This is unfair to him, as he should be the one who gets to decide who is privy to that information, and it’s unfair to me.  It makes me feel less than a whole person and that I don’t have my own unique identity without my partner.

How do I talk about my family open and honestly without sharing information that isn’t mine to share?  How do I self-identify if my identity is wrapped up in other people?  I suppose the larger question, for people of all family compositions, gender identities, and sexual orientations, is: how do you maintain a sense of self within the context of a family?

Food Politics: A Confessional

Serious Business in Galena, IL
Serious Business in Galena, IL

On one notable day last week, Jetpack ate fruit, only fruit: two apples, a pear, two bananas. He had a couple tablespoons of peanut butter on an apple, and some non-dairy milk, but other than that, it was like raising a little primate. Not terribly expensive, but who can plan to have that much fruit in the house?

We like our vegetables. They are expensive little things here, in the Midwest, in March. We’ve got stuff leftover from last summer’s CSA, in the freezer, and up until just last night we had a few winter-share squashes hiding in a cold spot in the basement. But they’re gone now.

Sometimes we eat corn dogs with our leftover-frozen-CSA-vegetables. The kind of corn dog with GMO cornmeal on the outside and really poorly treated chicken on the inside. It’s been known to happen.

Sometimes we have fast food. I’m not going to lie to you, internet. Sometimes there is fast food. When my partner has worked a 60 hour week, and I’ve had some seriously triggery doctor’s appointment, and Jetpack is hungry—well, I’m not proud, but there it is. For $15 and no effort, I can feed the four of us, and then I can get baths out of the way, take care of our pets, maybe get some work done here and there, and even maybe be in bed by a reasonable hour.

Why am I writing all these things out?

I’m a little tired of feeling like a villain. This is a really complicated, fucked-up, sad world we’re stuck in. Here in the USA, anyway, things like NAFTA, globalization, factory farms, and sweat shop labor, can make every single movement seem like it is stepping on the bones of someone. This country was stolen from NDNs, built upon the backs of slaves and poor immigrants, and now we’re outsourcing. So when I buy a $0.99 coloring book for Jetpack, and it’s produced in China, I can only imagine what the factory looked like. And try as we might to reduce that footprint of badness on the world, we can’t, always, succeed.

I buy the highest quality meat I can, usually. Madison is rife with local food options, though not exactly inexpensive ones. And eggs, the kind where the chickens just exist happily, are even better. We buy local and/or organic veggies and fruits when we can, for our health, and for the health of the workers that grew/picked/processed them.

But sometimes I eat a fast food hamburger because I just don’t have time and energy for something else. Because in one day Jetpack can eat every piece of fruit in the house. And sometimes, y’all, I go to Target to buy things I can’t get from the Coop. It’s the closest food place besides the ubiquitous poor-neighborhood-McDonald’s. And it’s clean. And I can take Jetpack to the toy aisle and let him look at things I won’t buy for him for like half an hour. A glorious half hour when I don’t have to think up interesting activities.

We receive and dole out so much flack. From our fellow parents, from the internet, from friends, relatives, strangers. Little biting comments of “people who do [x] are bad parents,” “how can you [x] if you care about [y].” They hurt, they gnaw, they disrespect the things we are all doing to be good people, in our own ways. I’m not talking about anyone or any one particular thing here. But every little while someone comes out with an infographic or an article about how inexpensive eating “healthy” is, compared to eating processed foods. And we all know how terrible all those processed things are for us (even bacon–sigh). We really do. But our bodies aren’t bags of food processing—”put in edibles, get [x] hours of living”—and our bank accounts are only part of the larger equation of food access.

I’m not asking for a pat on the back (or an argument, really). I just hope that everyone can take a deep breath and try to step back. Part of parenting—really, part of being an adult—is making decisions, for the good of everyone involved. And yes, the parent is one of those people. Dad is a person. I am, and you are. So sometimes I buy hamburgers for dinner, so that I have energy to make sure the cat litter boxes get cleaned later. Sometimes you might, too—and maybe you do so because you are going to get your little ones to bed and then sit on the couch and watch Buffy on Netflix and cry because you’re exhausted. That’s okay, too.

Maybe this blog post isn’t queer enough. Maybe this just my thoughts and complicated feelings mixing with a strong interest in food access. Except…I want to own my privilege, and understand what it is to be a middle class white guy in this culture. I especially want middle class white dude queer culture to own its privilege. And the food desert I live in would be a lot worse for me if I wasn’t a middle class white dude (even if sometimes I feel like the only damn queer in a 3 mile radius…). And I feel like some of this villainizing of food choices is a clever cloak for things like racism and classism.

Don’t misunderstand–I totally get the anger at the fast food industry. I understand the anger at factory farms and the structures that support them. I understand the anger at the way the system works, and I support the drive to change it. By all means, be very, very angry at McDonald’s. Just…don’t take it out on the parent who gives their kid a hamburger sometimes, when they need to. Be angry at Monsanto, but don’t turn your nose up or look side eyed when someone buys that frozen corn.

So I’ll confess. I’m not perfect. No one is. I’ll try to do better tomorrow (better, for myself, for my child, for the world, for my bank account), I will not apologize. I will do what’s best for my family—even if the path is foggy and the answer is eternally “reply is hazy, try again later.”