Mother Identity Dysmorphia


Not too long ago I tackled the Teacher Identity question in my On Being Labelled “Nice” by my students entry. Because, frankly, I don’t think of myself as “nice,” very often. And, this question sorta popped up over the weekend when I was thinking about my style of mothering.

Now, it sorta goes back to my view of my own (adoptive) mother, who was very guided by her head, intellect and kept safe by forming strict boundaries and rules. Doing something was “because I said so,” and there was little wiggle room to negotiate out of something. Now, these aren’t bad traits to have, but I think that sometimes it’s okay to examine the entirety of a situation before you hang your hat on ‘these lima beans must be eaten or you’re going hungry.’ I’ve heard of parents making their kid go hungry if they didn’t eat the dinner they cooked, but my mom made us eat it…eventually. Don’t want it for dinner? Fine. You’ll have it for breakfast. Don’t want it for breakfast? Fine, you’ll have it for lunch. The longest I made it was to breakfast the next day (I usually caved and just ate it for dinner), but my sister once made it 24 hours before finally caving.

I think that’s a bit extreme.

So, while I don’t necessarily think that I am quite that extreme, I feel that I am somehow destined, in some small way, to be my mother. I don’t know why…maybe it’s because I long to have the mother I wanted growing up, the nuruturing BFF type relationship that certainly won’t ever happen between my (adoptive) mom and I (and certainly won’t happen between my biological mom and I, since she’s severely damaged by years of drugs/alcohol). For some reason I have internalized the “just like your mother” line, when, in reality, I’m actually not a lot like my mother at all.

Sure, as Boof says, I have this “bright and shining energy” around people I like and in situations I feel comfortable. He went as far as saying “you have a glow, it’s warm and brightens a room” (which, if you know Boof, that’s actually quite a high compliment). And he then proceeds to say, ‘and when you don’t like someone, or you feel uncomfortable, your energy is cold an reserved. While most people we encounter vary between apathetically lukewarm to warm, you are bright and warm or cold and cool.” Hmm, sounds a bit “bi-polar” in the colloquial-and-not-DSM IV-diagnosis-sense. I’m either hot or cold. So how does this relate to motherhood?

I tend to think of myself as a cold mother.

But, at nighttime, when Potamus has the choice whether to sit and snuggle in his bed with me, or bounce on the exercise ball with Boof, he dives into my neck and buries himself there, almost pleading when Boof picks him up to bounce to sleep. I am the one he goes to for comfort, and while I know that we, too, went to my mother for scrapes and boo boos as kids, we certainly didn’t do the snuggly thing…that was reserved for my (adoptive) dad, who has a much more snuggly personality.

So what, my kid likes to snuggle with me. Does that make me a ‘nice’ mom? A warm mom? A nurturing individual? I said, “well, I guess baby porcupines snuggle with mama porcupines,” which brought a laugh from Boof…but I guess that’s how I see myself…like a porcupine…prickly and standoffish, though my kid’s experience of me is clearly different. Boof responded, “um, you’ve been nursing our kid for a year and a half, you wouldn’t do that if you weren’t nurturing.” “Also, the only times I’ve seen you be cold to him is when you’re half asleep, or one time when you were awake, but it’s mostly only ever when you’re really tired.” Oh. Hmm. I guess that’s a point, though I might do it out of obligation or because I don’t want a tantrum. Regardless, it seems like my kid, the world around me, and even my very own husband seems to think I’m a nuruturing, “nice,” loving and patient mother.

So why don’t I think that?

Now don’t get me wrong, for living in this digital mommy-wars age, I actually think I’m a kickass mama…for the most part. I really enjoy my kid, we do a lot of really fun things together, and I enjoy snuggling up to him at the end of the day. So why is there this nagging not-nurturing-enough thought in my head? Am I worried that one day I’m going to just crack and bust out the cold-ass-bitchiness in relation to him? I dunno?

Do you ever feel that how you perceive yourself isn’t quite how other people perceive you to be? How do we combat that?


  1. I run into this all of the time: feeling that I am one way and having someone else describe me another way. Which one is more accurate is the question? Or, am I both??? Nice post. Good questions:)

    • Oooh, I love that idea “am I both.” While I don’t want to be a cold mother, perhaps it’s like archetypes, where is the light side and the shadow side all existing within one at a time, it’s just what’s manifesting at that moment. Like, often I feel that outwardly I’m warm to my kiddo, but internally I am frustrated. Possibly the shadow/light sides manifesting at the SAME time, but only I’m aware of it?

  2. Yes. I like to think I’m actually a better mother than I give myself credit for. I have the same syndrome of feeling destined to be my own mother. But, I know I won’t be just like her because I am aware and striving for something different.

  3. Everyone strives to be a perfect mother but who is the judge or the assessment criteria? It’s such a personal experience as everyone has different values. To me you have a happy healthy baby who clearly adores you in my books this is a very successful mummy xx well done

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