My life’s work? It’s taking place inside my home.

He reached up for my hand in the store and said, “I hold your hand, Mommy?” I grabbed his tiny, almost 3-year-old hand and for a second, my heart exploded.

I wanted nothing more in the world than to hold that tiny hand forever and ever.

Lately, I’ve been feeling more often than not those quiet feelings of immense gratitude. I look at my kids and feel a love so enormous it would literally be impossible to express. I see glimpses of the big kids they will one day be. Some days, I feel glad life seems to poke by slowly, and they will still be 2 years old tomorrow. I’m finally wishing for life to slow down instead of speed up.

Some days, I think I’m finally beginning to be the mom I’ve always wanted to be.

The one who is present when it’s important. Who follows those little whispers to give undivided attention when it matters. The one who breathes in their smell right after a nap and promises herself, wills herself, to remember it. The one who sees the importance of child-rearing and not only appreciates it, but loves it.

But I’m imperfect, and well aware that next week, I might be crying in the bathroom because I yelled at my kids for letting the glow stick leak onto the living room chair and ruin it. I hear a quiet whisper in my head of a quote I heard somewhere, that one time: “People are more important than things.” I swallow the anger and promise myself that I’ll do better the next day. And I might forget that a few days before, I was the mom I wanted to always be.

I’m guessing that every mother goes through the identity crisis of motherhood.

We have this idealistic view of motherhood before we actually become mothers, and then, when reality hits, we question whether or not we truly are who we thought we were. But I thought I was so patient. But I thought I was a good multi-tasker. But I thought I was a good cook. Motherhood swallows some of us whole and spits us out like newborn puppies. We stumble over our feet and fall flat on our faces just trying to walk a few steps.

But slowly, we get the hang of things, feel more confident, and, most important of all, forgive ourselves. Through lots of practice and time, we learn that the guilt will eat us alive, and that acceptance of ourselves (even with all of our faults) is the only way to survive it all. So we dive in and devote hours and days and years of our lives to tiny human beings.

We sacrifice and put our own needs last and learn to shower in 3.5 minutes. When we become mothers, we become a different kind of superhero. One who is invisible to the outside world, but is everything to the world right inside our own houses.

The identity crisis won’t ever really go away, though. We’ll read an article criticizing our choice and feel inferior. I read one recently. The article was fine. In fact, I liked it. It spoke about how moms feel invisible -- but it was the first commenter who shook my own identity for a minute (luckily, I only let her get in my head for a minute). She was telling this mom who wrote the article (whom she presumably didn’t know) that if she had something to say, speak up. Say it. Enlighten us all. Quit feeling sorry for yourself because you are entrenched in motherhood and feel invisible to the outside world now that you’re a mom. I’m paraphrasing, of course. But it was done in such a challenging way, almost daring the mom who wrote the article to have something, anything, of worth to contribute to society.

For a split second, I felt small. I am “just” a mom. What DO I have to contribute? If someone were to start a conversation with me about current affairs, I’d only be able to contribute what I’d recently watched on the Today Show. I try. I really do.

And the truth is, I may not know what’s going on in the world, because my world is right here in my little house. Not with world dictators, but with tiny ones who insist on wearing pool shoes to church.

It would be so easy to have an identity crisis because people are living more well-traveled lives than I am. People are out past 8 p.m. and drinking wine and talking about the current crisis in Syria and what they would do to fix it. People are joining the Peace Corps and doing very important big things that don’t involve fixing the 2-year-old five different meals. People are getting degrees and awards, and making TV appearances. And I could feel very, very small. I could feel invisible. I could easily tell myself I don’t have anything left to contribute except maybe to the laundry, the mopping, and the bum-wiping society right here at my house.

But, you know what? I refuse to accept that.

I may not be well-traveled. I may not have a doctorate. I may not even wear “real” pants some days. But what I do matters. Not just in little ways, but in big ways. Ways that the well-traveled, single, childless critics of the stay-at-home mom will never understand.

So, I’m not going to have an identity crisis because I chose to be entrenched in motherhood for the foreseeable future, and others are out solving the Ebola crisis? Nope—I’m going to pat myself on the back because I taught my 5-year-old the importance of honesty today. I’m going to tell myself that honest, kind people (like the ones I’m raising) are more important in society than judgmental ones anyway.

My identity does not depend on someone else’s view of who I am. It only depends on my own view of it.

Identity can be defined as the distinguishing character or personality of an individual (see how I Googled that?). So maybe those people who categorize me as “just a mom” will see my distinguishing character as a mom in yoga pants who looks like she hasn’t slept in eight years and is only smart enough to talk about child-rearing. So what?

I know I’m more than that. Regardless of the society that might look right past me.

And, when these kids are grown up and are moving on with their own lives, I know that even if I were to win the Nobel Peace Prize (which I’m pretty sure I won’t), being Mom to my kids will still be the most important work I ever did. And I’m OK with that.

This article was originally published on Meredith’s personal blog, Perfection Pending.

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