When our identical twins were born, we refused to give them matching (or worse, rhyming) names. My husband and I rarely refer to them “the twins,” instead, calling them “the boys” or by their singular names, “Micah” and “Benjamin (Benji).” I sigh when friends (or teachers!) ask me, “Which one is which?”
I’ve worked hard to forge separate identities for my boys, celebrating their interests, taking time to educate people on their differences (“Micah has a cowlick right on his forehead”; “Benji is a little shorter”), and treating my boys as individuals, not separate halves of a whole.
But as much as I feel this tension as their mother, my boys feel it even more so.
Recently, Micah came home from school, raging that a classmate called him “Benji” on purpose, even when corrected. I commiserated with him but tried to give him a reality check: “Honey, people are going to call you by the wrong name your whole life. I know it’s annoying but try not to get bent out of shape.”
I then reminded him that they had been choosing to dress alike each day, even changing clothes to match t-shirt and pants, despite my encouragement to wear dissimilar outfits.
“We like to dress alike!” They told me, sometimes even in unison, bursting into giggles as they imitate their favorite literary twins, Fred and George Weasley.
I rolled my eyes at their shenanigans knowing that, love it or hate it, being a twin is a huge part of my boys’ identity and the tension between twin kinship and individuality is very real.
I remember the first time a child came up to me and said, “Micah-and-Benji’s-mom, can you help me?”
Woah! I laughed, but a chill shot through my gut.
To this child, I was “Micah-and-Benji’s-Mom.” That was my name, who I was, my identity.
That tiny interaction, where my name was inexplicably tied to my role as a mother, turned the floodlights on the identity crisis that I had been trying to fight for years.
As my role as mother expanded with two more babies after my twins, the push and pull between my identity as mother and woman grew stronger as well; motherhood seemed to expand, all-encompassing, creeping into every article of clothing I put on, every conversation, every waking thought.
I find myself fighting my identity as a mother at times, wishing for conversations about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Jane Austen, instead of poop and Pokemon.
I think longingly of my closet full of dresses, untouched for since my teaching days, since breastfeeding my younger two sons deemed them impractical.
I often wonder what I would write about if I weren’t a mom—what would my every waking thought be focused on?
Just like my boys can’t escape the fact that they are twins, my identity, too, is tightly wrapped around my role as their mother.
I can’t escape it, even if I wanted too. I will always and forever be their mother, with all the joy, responsibility, heartache, and privilege that this identity brings.
But I am not “just a mom,” so I extend the same grace to myself that I do for my identical twins—I’m working on forging my own, individual identity outside of my kids.
Lately, I’ve discovered that I love yoga, so I plunk my younger two boys in the YMCA childcare and practice twice a week.
I relish tea parties with my friends from grad school, where we indulge in macaroons and literary-banter, the books we’re reading and the TV shows we’re binging on.
My husband and I are carving out “date night” in the bedrock of parenthood, taking time to flirt, laugh, and loudly sing “Isn’t it Ironic” in the parking lot of Bed, Bath and Beyond, remember why we’re best friends and chose this road together.
My motherhood identity can feel overwhelming at times, even unfair, as I didn’t realize how much it would push against my identity as a woman.
But, like I tell my twins, “it’s going to be your identity for the rest of your life, so try not to get bent out of shape.”
Just as I’m trying to nurture my sons as individuals, as well as honor their unique twin relationship, I’m working on embracing both my identity as a mother and as a woman.
I’m learning to ease the tension each day because there’s room for both “Mom” and “Woman” in my life.
What about you?
Do you fight the identity that your daily roles give you?
What are you doing to ease the tension between your conflicting roles or identities?
Photo by S. Carter Studios