Finding Your Identity in Marriage and Motherhood
by Ashley Willis
I think one of the biggest identity crises that a married woman can face is whether or not she can be a good wife and a good mother at the same time. I recently shared a Facebook Live Video about this. I received a massive response from wives struggling with this very issue. Finding our identity in both marriage and motherhood can be hard. So many-including myself-often feel like they can’t be both a good wife and a good mom at the same time. With so little time in the day, how are we supposed to strike this magic balance? And, what comes FIRST-marriage or motherhood?
I am currently writing a book that explores this issue, and I had hundreds of women take part in a mom questionnaire that I issued via email. Time after time, those surveyed said that balancing marriage and motherhood is one of the biggest struggles. There is so much guilt, resentment, pride, and disappointment around this issue. Here’s what one mom had to say:
Both of my children are under five and require a tremendous amount of attention and energy – for keeping up with, training, supervising, and general care. Everything is new and unexpected. It is difficult to attend to other areas at the same time, such as cleaning and maintaining my home, work/projects/other commitment outside of the house, and marriage. -Stephanie M., Married with two kids
Can you relate, Sweet Mama?
It’s hard to make our marriage a priority WITHOUT kids in the mix, but the minute we bring a baby home, everything becomes more difficult. We suddenly have a little, helpless human being who needs our attention, love, guidance, and most of all, time. For mothers, this is a beautiful, yet exhausting time of bonding with the baby, midnight feedings, and figuring this whole “mommy thing” out. We start discovering and developing our inherent mommy instincts, and a big part of that is the strong desire to meet our child’s needs and, this grows deeper as our kids get older.
Our kids are always on our minds, and they should be. We’re reading parenting books, looking into the best schools and colleges, and making sure they are healthy and well-rounded individuals. We’re attending their activities and going to parent-teacher conferences. We’re talking with other moms about our kiddos to make sure we are on the right track and in the know.
These are all good things. Really, they are. But, somewhere along the way, our mommy role takes center stage. We tell ourselves that this is how it is supposed to be. Children MUST come first. Our husband is a grown man, so he should understand this. We’ll work on our marriage when the kids are grown. We want to give our kids the best life possible, after all. We want them to have the best of everything and the experiences that we never had, right? So, of course, this means they are our primary focus until they fly the nest, right? After all, can’t our marriage wait?
This is what our culture tells us, and it seems like an honorable stance. We are the parents-their primary providers, teachers, and leaders. So, if we don’t make them our priority, then who will?
I get this line of thinking. I do. It’s a widespread train of thought. But, unfortunately, it has ruined far too many marriages or kept parents in a loveless, lifeless marriage only to divorce when the kids leave. It’s the kind of marriage that is just “for the kids” and “with the kids.” Sadly, this kind of marriage is doomed to fail unless we change the way we think about motherhood and marriage.
I don’t believe anyone sets out on a quest to commit adultery and bust up their family. It happens one small bad decision at a time. One “meaningless” flirtation that leads to a lunch date at work. One silly text that points to inside jokes and a secret meeting. One inappropriately vulnerable conversation that leads to an intimate relationship. And, any of us can fall prey to this temptation when boundaries are crossed, and we proceed without caution. Even so, when one spouse decides to have an affair, they choose to break their marriage vows. The other spouse is NOT to blame. However, no spouse is ever completely innocent of sin in marriage. We ALL fall short.
Friend, please understand that I am not judging you if you see things from this perspective. I think it comes from a place of striving the be the best mom you can be. After all, these precious kiddos are a tremendous blessing, and we want to give them a great life. But, we must realize that our marriage can’t wait for our children to grow up. It cannot be on the back burner.
Our marriage relationship must be prioritized, fostered, and fed too-while we are raising our kids. Not as our husband’s “other mother,” but as his one and only lover. And, this takes time and intentionality. It requires spending time alone with our spouse. It means we put forth just as much if not more time and effort to strengthen our marriage and keep it going strong.
I know some of you are agreeing with me here, but you don’t see a way to do this without neglecting your kids or failing to complete the many tasks you have on your plate. I get it. There are only so many hours in the day. But, friends, the truth is, we always make time for what is most important to us. We make assumptions about things that aren’t as important.
Ouch! I know. I feel the sting too. It’s a hard truth to swallow, but I’ve seen this play out too many times. If we don’t make time with our husband a priority, then our kids and everything else will automatically take that time.
It’s good for our children to see their parents strive so hard to spend time with each other. They are learning how marriage is supposed to work. If we never go on a date or put the kids to bed early to have “mommy and daddy time,” then we’re showing our children that they are the center of our universe and the marriage really isn’t that important. But, when they see us investing in our marriage relationship, our children will place a high value on marriage too. This is one of the greatest gifts we can offer them as a parent.
A friend of mine recently shared with me that, for years, her marriage had been rocky. They had multiple children in a short amount of time, and they both decided to “focus on the kids,” during this child-rearing season. At first, they didn’t seem to notice a change in their marriage because life was so busy changing diapers, running kids to and from school, and staying on top of things.
She decided to be a stay-at-home mom, and her husband threw himself into his work to provide for the family. She loved being at home, and he loved his job. But, as the years carried on, they both began to fight about everything.
In her husband’s eyes, she didn’t keep the house quite as clean as he would like. From her perspective, he worked too many hours and didn’t make enough money for the family. They were constantly blaming each other for the lack of peace in their home. They even considered separating. They felt like God wasn’t answering their prayers, and they couldn’t get along anymore. But, then, something changed.
They started reading Christian books and articles on marriage that they would see through their Facebook feeds. Whenever they attended church, the pastor would say something about marriage that resonated with them. So, they decided to sit down and have a heart-to-heart conversation one day after church-something they hadn’t done in years.
They each confessed to how they got to this negative place-no blaming, just confession. They listened to each other without interrupting or trying to correct a statement. Then they talked about how they wanted things to change in their family dynamic and the steps that were necessary to get there.
They enrolled in a marriage class at their church. Even though things were tight financially, they budgeted for a bi-monthly date night. They also sat their kids down and explained that Mommy and Daddy had not been spending enough time together, and they are going to be spending much more time alone together to improve their relationship. And, day by day, little by little, things began to change. With tears in her eyes, my friend told me that she is more in love with her husband today than she has ever been.
They made God the foundation of their relationship and started putting their marriage before the kids. This is how God designed the family. A healthy marriage is built on a firm foundation of faith in God and constructed brick by brick through our commitment to one another. When we approach our marriage and family this way, our kids are safe and secure-realizing that their parents are working hard to stay strong together.
So, can we be a good wife AND a good mom at the same time? Absolutely. This will happen naturally when we put God first, continue to prioritize and invest in our marriage, and then, work TOGETHER to “train our children up in the way they should go” through the highs and lows of life.