Defined by Relationship

I became a mom on March 26th of this year, and it was honestly the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. For years lots of people had been telling me that it would be; but to be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would take to the whole motherhood thing. When I first found out I was pregnant, I had mixed emotions. I was excited, but my excitement was clouded by fear and doubt.


What if I didn’t like being a mom? What if being “mom” meant that I had to “lose” myself or give up the things that I felt defined me? I saw myself as an independent person – an entrepreneur, actress, storyteller, writer and world-traveler. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to drop everything and head to such exciting places as Ghana and Guatemala for two to four weeks at a time. How would I do that while having a baby? I was focused on all that I would have to give up to become a mom, and I was worried, thinking, “If I don’t like being a mom, there will be nothing I can do about it. There will be no turning back.


However, as soon as I met my son, all of those fears disappeared. I’ll never forget one day just after bringing him home from the hospital how I sat there staring at him, tears in my eyes, thinking, “What if I’d never had you?” That was quickly followed by the thought, “If for the rest of my life I’m just known as your mom, I’m okay with that.”


I had done a complete 180. All of a sudden I didn’t care if all of my other titles and accolades were stripped away. I was fine being defined solely by relationship. And it occurred to me that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to define ourselves by our careers, our accomplishments and our prestigious titles. But ultimately, these will leave us empty. Why? Because we were made for relationship. The Bible makes that very clear.


Who am I? How do I define myself? The primary relationship that should define me (and all of us!) is that I am a child of God. When all else fails, this is always true. After that, I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. And these titles are more important to me (or should be!) than those of storyteller, actress, and writer – even though these mean a great deal to me.


When I die, it would be nice to hear people say, “She was a great storyteller.” But I’d rather have them say, “She was a great friend who would drop whatever she was doing to be with me when I needed her,” or “She was a wonderful sister who was patient and listened to me and helped guide me in the right direction.”


In some parts of Africa, after a woman has her first child she is no longer called by her name but becomes “Mama (Name of child).” That would make me Mama Rafael. I’m not completely sure about the origins or significance of this tradition, but it seems to be a tradition that puts a high emphasis on relationship.


To some it might sound as though the woman is losing herself. (After all, she’s losing her name and taking on that of her child!) Perhaps I would have thought that same thing months ago. But now I understand that I’m not losing anything, certainly not myself. Instead, I’ve opened up a whole new part of myself that I didn’t know existed. I’ve also come to understand the centrality of relationships in my life and how these are what I want to define me and what I want to make my priority. I have also come to understand that I will do my best work and be my best self when I do everything with the goal of building relationships — whether that’s between myself and my friends, family and acquaintances or between myself and my audiences and readers.


(This post first appeared on the blog Christian Children’s Authors.)

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