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Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series about teens, sex, and social media. Read the entire series here



When we say, “boys will be boys,” what are we actually talking about?

That phrase, repeated on the playground when your toddler throws sand in his buddy’s face, or when your tween son discovers online porn, is a lazy excuse. What’s more: it’s harmful. It reinforces a set of low-standard stereotypes that perpetuate dangerously misogynistic values and cause our sons to be ill-equipped for the full human experience.

The truth is, boys will be the boys we teach them to be. 

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One of the most important challenges we face as parents is to dismantle traditional notions of masculinity. We need to encourage our sons to experience and express a broad range of emotions, and to seek out loving partners and close friends. 

And as it turns out, that’s what they want.

A 2009 survey conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 95% of respondents (1,200 boys, ages 15-22) would rather have sex with a girlfriend or someone he loves than with “a random girl.”

For the purposes of this discussion, can we just call that every boy? And can we let that sink in for a moment?

Your son would rather have sex with a girlfriend than with some random girl, which is the exact opposite of the common stereotype of teenage boys. Most sex ed curricula in the U.S. teach to the negative stereotype, talking to boys about erections and ejaculations instead of love and intimacy.

Our culture consistently fails to give boys the credit they deserve when it comes to love, sex, and relationships. We normalize behaviors and attitudes that are not, in fact, the norm. 

Illustration: Katrina Weigand

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If all these boys are longing for intimate relationships, why aren’t they talking about it? Why don’t we know about this?

The answer, says Amy Schalet, associate professor of sociology at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, may lie with our cultural tendency to “dichotomize… We put all the love side of things on the girls and the lust side on boys.” 

This, in turn, informs a lifetime of education — formal and informal, conscious and unconscious – that leads our boys to internalize a fairly specific set of expectations; expectations that I would argue are actually limitations, and can have a dramatic impact on how your son carries himself in relationships and online.

Schalet, whose book, “Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex,” explores differences between American and Dutch attitudes towards adolescent sexuality, explains that American parents tend to let sex “become a wedge in (parent-child) relationships that are often quite close, up until puberty.”

Conversely, if you’re “able to maintain that connectedness with your child,” – by remaining open and compassionate – “through this phase, then you can also have more influence and more control, ultimately,” says Schalet.

Say This, Not That 

There are several things you can do to counteract this pervasive programming. After all, the ways in which our children will perceive the world begin at the very beginning – with what we present to them as truths.

To that end, here are three of the most glaringly harmful yet incredibly common ideas we pass on to our sons about sex, sexuality, and generally how to be a boy, followed by a healthier alternative to each.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, friends. So if you’re consciously implementing the healthier options and not seeing instant results (i.e. a son who wants to hear your thoughts on his latest girlfriend), have faith that your efforts will have an impact in the long run.

1 | Harmful: Be the aggressor.

This lesson is often delivered insidiously by way of these four words: “Act like a man.” Its analog stereotype would be the harmful message relayed to girls to be demure and submissive.

Professor Schalet says “there is research showing that men are more likely to embrace rigid stereotypes and masculinity beliefs,” and that boys who do buy into the rigid norms are affected negatively “in terms of their own sexual health.”

The notion that boys are supposed to be the dominant force in sexual situations is bolstered by the porn industry.

This matters because, as I wrote in my first piece in this series, boys are increasingly turning to porn as their de facto source of sex ed. The behaviors and attitudes learned in this sphere can eventually leak into decisions your son is making in his interpersonal relationships and, perhaps more easily with the option of anonymity, into his online behavior (pressuring girls for nude photos or sharing photos without consent, for example).

Helpful:  Be the lover.

Illustration: Katrina Weigand

Boys are naturally loving, as humans are naturally loving. We’re born craving touch and intimacy. How terribly sad is it, then, that we teach against this instinct when we pressure boys to “toughen up.”

Teach your son (nephew/grandson/friend’s son) that it is okay to want love. Schalet discovered in her research that many boys don’t know that, like them, their peers are longing for intimate relationships, too. “This is true across socioeconomics, across racial differences. There is a relational interest. Yet, (boys) don’t realize this is normal. They don’t realize that other boys feel this way,” she says.

Let your son know from the earliest stage possible that all boys want to have close friends and, eventually, loving romantic partners. We have to get this message out to our sons, because it’s not the one they’re hearing from their peers, pop culture, mainstream media, or even their sex ed class at school.

And not for nothing, when it comes to sex, being a lover means paying attention to the needs of your partner. It means empathy.

Spell out, in no uncertain terms, that girls have physical desires and preferences, too. (Imagine if your son could be the partner who helps a young girl realize this?) Boys should be encouraged to ask questions and to explore the sexual realm with their partner, and to take responsibility for doing so with at least one contraceptive measure in place.

2 | Harmful: Anger is okay. Sadness is not.

Boys are told in a multitude of ways that certain emotions are coded as feminine or “girly” and should be avoided at all costs, lest your manliness be questioned. So when a relationship ends, or in the case of unrequited love, boys are compelled to express their sadness as anger or hatred. They might even be driven to extreme lengths, such as revenge porn.

None of these behaviors should be excused, but parents must work to understand that everything is connected. When you told your kid to “man up” on the football field, he internalized that and will apply the message to almost any situation that feels painful. Break-ups are painful. Rejection is painful.

Helpful: Love hurts.

Tell your son that loss is sometimes part of loving someone, says Schalet. “And that it’s also part of the human experience. You’re allowed to be sad when something ends that you wanted to have continue,” she offers.

This message is helpful on multiple fronts. First, it validates the feelings your son was experiencing to begin with – feelings of young love that adults are so quick to dismiss. Schalet found that Dutch parents are much more open to the idea that their teens have been or are in love with their respective partners.

“It’s not that (Dutch parents) believe that the feelings that a 12-year-old has are the same as the feelings that a 30-year-old has, but they still recognize that, even at very early ages, people can be deeply moved by other people and attracted to them and care about them.”

“What is to be gained by saying that’s not love?” Schalet questions.

What, indeed. Certainly not your child’s trust. People at every age, of every sex, just want their feelings to be validated.

Secondly, allowing your son to experience and express the full range of emotions when it comes to young love helps reinforce the idea that the girl is worthy of his sadness. This supports the notion that women are to be respected, even when things don’t turn out the way you hoped, and never violated.

3 | Harmful: Girls prefer the strong, silent type.

The strong, silent guy is just a boy who never learned how to communicate. And who can blame him? He was told early on, in one way or another, that boys don’t do the talking thing so much. Boys hang out in man caves and silently play video games. Boys grunt while girls chatter on endlessly about nothing at all.

“American parents normalize that boys don’t want to talk. That may or may not be true, but how do you respond to it?” asks Schalet.

Helpful: Let’s talk… often.

While it’s completely fair to expect that your son may not always want to chat with you about the events of his day or his current relationship status, you don’t have to accept it. Schalet spoke to one Dutch mom who sits down next to her teen son’s bed every evening and asks about his day. The conversation may be one-sided at times, but she follows through with the ritual regardless.

Schalet suggests asking questions like these:

  • Is there anyone special in your life these days?
  • Are there examples of people you see dating where you really feel it’s working out?
  • What do you see as some of the problems couples are having?
  • Have you ever been in love?

Relating with your teen son on this level, about love and relationships instead of just the classic “Sex Talk,” provides him with a forum in which to practice his own communication skills. Schalet says research has shown that “girls get to practice being intimate very early because their friendships tend to take on a more talking, sharing quality.”

Most friendships between young boys, on the other hand, are centered around activities.

“What that means, and this is really fascinating, is that boys often enter into romantic relationships less skilled at doing the kinds of things that they are just as eager to do,” but haven’t had as much practice as their female counterparts, she explains.

You can be the best sex ed teacher

I believe that when we all decided to become parents, we entered into an implicit agreement that we would do our best to improve the world by raising good people.

Will changing the way you talk to your son about sex, love, and relationships actually change the world? I don’t know. But in a culture that is still heavily male-dominated, it’s a damn good place to start.

More importantly, your son needs this. He may not be able to express to you how badly he wants your guidance, but in that National Campaign survey, 61% of 15-18-year-old boys said that their parents had “a lot/some” influence regarding their decisions about sex.

Having the one Big Talk doesn’t work. Yes, you still need to tell him about birth control and sexually transmitted infections and why he gets a boner. You also need to talk to him about respecting people, opening himself to love, and being responsible in his online interactions. You should tell him that you understand the impulse behind sexting, but that it’s not the best, most legal way for him to explore those desires.

And all of this should be spread out over the course of your boy’s childhood and adolescence, not thrust upon him the day he announces he’s got a girlfriend.

If this feels like a big ask, I get it. But you’ve already got a lot of the information you need. You know about sex. If your own sexual health isn’t where you’d like it to be, all the better. Take this opportunity to educate yourself and your partner, then share your knowledge with your son when it’s appropriate.

It’ll be one of the best time investments you’ll ever make, and it will go a long way toward holding up your end of that parent agreement.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$99.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

Our Partners

Almost all parents agree that reading is one of the most important skills to encourage in young children, but did you know that reading to your child can directly impact their brain development? Reading to your children is one of the most important things you can do, but there are also many other quite simple literacy activities that not only help kids learn to read, but show them that it's fun and encourage a lifelong reading habit.

Winter is the perfect time to get cozy and spend some extra time reading. Try one of these literacy activities next time you're in need of some indoor fun this winter.

1. Create a listening station

In Montessori classrooms for young children, the classroom environment is considered critical to learning. Part of a successful classroom environment that meets preschool-aged children's needs is including cozy spaces.

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Especially in a group setting, but even at home, children need quiet little nooks where they can escape and feel safe and enclosed. A listening station makes for a perfect quiet space.

Provide a selection of a few different audio books for your child to choose from. If you don't have any at home, public libraries often offer many great choices. If you feel like splurging, there are other child-specific listening devices perfect for a listening station as well. The Chameleon Reader takes this a step further and lets you turn any book your child loves into an audio book. This offers such a great alternative to screen time, especially during tricky times like long days of airplane or car travel.

2. Make a story bag

A story bag has a collection of small objects with which a child can recreate a story. You can make or buy story bags for any book your child enjoys.

Choose a book they are familiar with and love. Show them the story bag and model how to recreate the story with the objects. Then let them take the lead. Don't worry about it if they get creative with the plot, that's all part of the learning!

3. Introduce sequence cards

Similarly, try providing your child with a series of images from a beloved book and inviting them to put them in order. It's fine if they use the book to help them, it's not a test!

This is super easy to do yourself. You can just take photos of the illustrations with your phone and print them, or order the photos from a site like Shutterfly if you don't have a printer. Laminating will of course make them last longer.

4. Act it out

Many children learn best when they are moving and physically engaged, so try putting your child's favorite story into action, pretending alongside your child as you move through the plot.

Stories with lots of action, such as We're Going on a Bear Hunt or Where the Wild Things Are, are a good place to start, but you can really act out almost any children's book with your child.

5. Do an author study

Next time you read a book your child really likes, ask if they'd like to hear about the person who wrote it. Read them the little author's bio at the end of the book and say something like, "Hmm, I wonder if they've written anything else we might like."

Go to the library and search together for more books by the author you've chosen. If it's a less well known author, you may want to reserve some books from the library ahead of time as well.

6. Use a story-telling inspiration basket

This is super simple and easily tailored to whatever your particular child is interested in. Choose a small box or basket and fill it with a few little items to inspire a story. For example, for winter, you may include a toy snowman, scarf, sled and cookie. Show your child you can use these objects to make up your own story.

When you model the activity, you can write down the story you create, but if your child just wants to tell you the story, that's great too. Write it down for them and invite them to illustrate it if they're interested.

7. Share oral stories

Oral storytelling is becoming a bit of a lost art, but it plays a valuable role in helping young children develop rich vocabulary and a true love for storytelling and reading.

Try doing this as an after dinner activity, turning off all of the lights and lighting a candle to make it special. Don't worry if you don't consider yourself creative, children are sucked in by oral storytelling even if you tell them the simplest story about your day.

In time, you can invite them to join in on the storytelling fun as well.

8. Write the words for their pictures.

Long before children learn to write, they tell stories through their artwork. Invite your child to tell you the story behind a picture they've made and write it down for them.

Not only does this make your child feel super special and valued, it helps them make the connection between written words and stories, which is a key literacy skill.

9. Play reading games

There are so many easy reading games you can play with young children. One of my favorites which we use a lot in Montessori is "I Spy". I love this game because it can be done anywhere, and because children love it!

This is a great one to play if you're stuck waiting at the doctor's office or stuck in traffic. Simply say, "I spy something that starts with 'c'" using the phonetic letter sound. Take turns finding things around you that start with that sounds. For older children, you can play "I Spy" with rhymes instead, saying "I spy something that rhymes with bat".

To play at home, you can also use a basket of objects starting with various sounds.

10. Letter boxes

This is directly based on one of the key Montessori language materials.

In the classroom, children use "sandpaper letters," which are exactly what they sound like, letters made of sandpaper so that the child can really feel the shape of the letter as they trace it. A child is given a box of 3-5 letters which they have been practicing and a box of small objects. The child matches the object to its beginning sound. So if there is a little cat, the child will place it by "c".

In Montessori, children learn the phonetic sounds of the alphabet, rather than the letter names, so this comes fairly naturally. There is no need to buy sandpaper letters for your home, but if you have been working on the phonetic letter sounds with your child, it can be fun to play a similar matching game with objects. You can simply write the letters on card stock and find little objects around your house, or in the dollhouse section of a craft store. Young children love tiny objects and are often very drawn to this work.

Nothing will ever replace reading aloud to your child, but these literacy activities can be really fun ways to incorporate additional language practice into your home and to encourage a true love of reading.

Learn + Play

"I'm Dave, Olli's dad."

This is the way I introduce myself to people I meet now. It's different from the way I used to introduce myself. "I'm Dave," used to be followed by, "I'm a designer." Or, "I work in startups." And, "I work for X." For the last 15 years my career was a large part of who I was, a peg I hung my hat on. After my son was born, that identity stayed intact for a while. I usually mentioned, "I'm a dad" secondarily, after some casual conversation.

Then, when my son turned about a year-and-a-half old, my wife and I switched places. She went back to work full-time and I became the primary caregiver. I was now a stay-at-home dad.

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I was excited to spend more time with my son because I felt like I was missing big moments in his life while I was at work. Up until that point, weekday time together was relegated to an hour or so before bed. Most of our time spent together was on the weekends and I'd notice the difference in his affection towards me after extended time together.

For the first few months of full-time dad-ing, the sudden influx of quality time felt like a novelty. After a while, things started to feel normal in this new role and we found our groove together. This intensive routine of being with him almost non-stop developed into a relationship that was closer and more complex than before. I became more intertwined with his rhythms, and my parental instincts grew with it.

While I'm happy with the way my relationship has blossomed with my son, this life change has shaken up my identity in ways I never expected.

I still do design work, now on a freelance basis, but "designer" is no longer the linchpin of my identity. In fact, it's shifted a lot of my interests to a second tier, which leaves me struggling to say exactly who I am at the moment.

I know I'm not alone in this reevaluation of self because I overhear bits and pieces of these conversations about identity, worth, and self-perception discussed by groups of moms at playgrounds, parks, and indoor play spaces.

These groups of people form along lines of likeness — moms gravitate towards each other, nannies tend to cluster in groups. Mostly my conversations in these places are brief encounters that hover in the safe zone of children's milestones, small talk like: How old? Potty trained? Preschool? Daycare?

I've yet to come across a dad cohort.

I recognize the difference between my conversations and those that start to veer towards breastfeeding issues or the pains of childbirth. But it can feel alienating.

I don't have it any harder than any other stay-at-home mom, I just don't seem to have the same support network they do.

And when I talk to fathers who work full-time, I sometimes encounter an unrealistic portrayal of what it means to be with a child every day. Like I'm scamming the system and making out like a bandit.

The other day a friend commented that "it must be so nice to be off for the summer." He quickly clarified that he made this statement in reference to not having to go into an office every day. It was an honest slip of the tongue, but it's not an uncommon sentiment.

Looking after a child is hard work, and watching after them full-time invades every part of your focus, brain, and time. A summer day doesn't dissolve the monotony that can accompany watching a child for hours or the anxiety caused by tantrums.

When I was working full-time, I had a solid sense of who I was, who I should be and where I should be. As a stay-at-home dad, I live on uncertain ground. Somewhere between the moms in the park and the working dads I know.

I'm happier now than I was before, but decisions aren't so cut and dry, and the direction doesn't seem as sure. There's not a well-defined path ahead of me.

While the relationships I had have grown more distant with my new focus, the relationship I have with my son is way more fulfilling than I imagined it could be. He's gone from a standard love to an extension of my heart outside my body.

I beam when he's happy and I hurt when he hurts. The goods are tethered to the bads but the bads create opportunities to learn and grow, and that growth means a more developed and engaged human. That is much more satisfying than the work I used to do.

Yes, being a full-time caregiver is hard. And yes, I'm still figuring out what it means to be "Olli's Dad" and a stay-at-home dad in a sea of stay-at-home-moms. But the reward is so much greater than the wins I used to score when I was simply "Dave, a designer."

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Life

For at least the past month (well, probably longer, but who's keeping track when there's no such thing as a good night's sleep between an almost two-year-old and a 3-month-old), every morning starts with the familiar refrain of my son's tiny voice repeating the same phrase relentlessly like only a toddler can, "Time to wake up mama! Wake up! Time to wake up!" And while I'm sure tomorrow morning will start off no different, I'll close my eyes tonight and know that everything will change. Because tomorrow morning, we'll wake up and he'll be a two-year-old.

Two years since all 8lbs, 7oz of him entered the world after 16 miserable hours of labor. Two years since we met our handsome boy with his full head of hair, fell head over heels in love and decided our lives 'pre-baby' weren't so great after all. Two whole years since I became a mama.

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And what a wild ride it's been. At two, he's a running, jumping, talking, tantrum-throwing, truck-loving, perfectly chaotic mess of a kid—a far cry from the helpless newborn we cluelessly brought home just two short years ago.

I'm sure sometime in the next week (okay, maybe more like the next year), I'll be madly scribbling down all the things I don't want to forget about him at this age in his baby book, but perhaps one of the things I want to remember most is what he's taught me in the last two years. Being the personal assistant to a demanding toddler (and now his little brother) is the hardest job I've ever had, but thankfully he's also the best teacher I never thought I'd have.

Strangely, the longer I'm a mother, the less I seem to know, but I'm certain the last two years have taught me five valuable lessons that I'll keep with me long after my babies are grown:

  1. It's okay to say no. I was a people-pleaser before I became a mom, but becoming a mom kicked my people-pleasing tendencies into overdrive. Thanks to my over-confident toddler who says "no" more times than I can count on any given morning, I've truly learned the power of this simple, two-letter word. Now, when an over-eager relative asks to hold my 3-month-old when I want to be the one to hold him? You guessed it: N-O.
  2. Always ask for what you want. My toddler does it all day and he makes no apologies for it either. If I've learned anything since becoming a mother, it's that I can't do everything on my own and do it well. But I can't expect my husband (or anyone else, for that matter) to read my mind and offer to take things off my plate if I don't ask for it. There's absolutely no shame in asking for help—or for that extra glass of wine—because mom-ing is freakin' hard.
  3. It's okay to make mistakes. We wouldn't be human if we didn't. I'm convinced that one of the best things I can teach my children is not to fear failure but to learn from it, get up and try again. As a people-pleaser (see point #1), the pressure to get things right all the time and to make sure everyone is taken care of is REAL. But as a work-at-home mom of two, things slip through the cracks more often than not and the fact that my toddler STILL can't drink from an open cup without spilling half of it all over himself reminds that it's okay to not get things right the first, fifth, or even thirty-sixth time.
  4. Love and forgive with your whole heart. There's nothing purer than a toddler's love. Trucks, snacks, Paw Patrol, making messes, me. I can't count how many times I've snapped and lost my cool with my 2-year-old only to have him look up at me with his big, brown eyes still filled with complete forgiveness, adoration and love. And each time I'm humbled and reminded of the grace I should give myself whenever I feel like I'm failing (and trust me, it's a lot).
  5. These are the days. Really, they are. The 3-month-old no-sleep nights and 8-month-old separation anxiety "only mom will do" moments? Those were the days. The 2-year-old tantrum after tantrum filled mornings and never-ending messes? These are the days. The 13-year-old "don't embarrass me mom" phase and the 17-year-old too cool for school (literally) period of time? Those will be the days. Yes, right now a walk to the grocery store that's five blocks away easily takes half an hour, usually more, but how else would we pick every flower, notice every spider or feed every squirrel if it didn't? I definitely don't do this with patience 100% of the time but perfect or not, these are our moments and our days. They are a part of our story and will become our memories.

So, on the eve of my 2-year-old's birthday, my mama heart is full. Full of lessons learned, full of memories past, and full of anticipation for the moments to come in year three and beyond. And as I look forward to celebrating my sweet baby tomorrow, there's one more thing that I know is true: Mamas, no matter what age or stage you're at (I see you, sleep-deprived mamas with newborns), hang on to every precious moment a little longer than you think you should because I promise that the minute you blink, you'll miss them.

Life

While I was pregnant I remember declaring (oh-so righteously) that I would never "lose myself" in motherhood. I would never forget about me because I had been me for the past 30-odd years. The idea that the addition of one little life to this vast world would change who I was didn't make sense to me. It didn't make sense in the way that motherhood doesn't make sense to someone who's never been a mother.

We just can't know.

What I did know was that I had been "me" for so long that I wasn't just going to let that go. I couldn't let that go. But whenever anyone starts walking in a brand new direction with no map or guidebook it's inevitable that we will somehow get lost.

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In my early days of motherhood, I remember writing, I've never felt more unlike myself than ever before. Translation: I don't know what I'm doing. This is really hard. How did this become my life?

I thought becoming a "mom" meant that you automatically gained access to information you didn't have access to before. Moms have all the answers. They fix the boo-boos. They help the world spin more smoothly. They know what they're doing, and in that knowing, they know — and feel comfortable with — who they are.

Yes and no.

I think that's why it feels like such a loss. You lose how things were before. How easy and straightforward it was before. How free you were before. How alone you were before.

Once you become a mom, you will never be alone again. It's no longer possible to make choices for you and you alone. Because any choice you make from here on out reverberates to your children — to their lives, and their futures.

In creating life, we alter our own forever. Losing actually means gaining. Becoming intertwined with a life that will be with you until you're no longer.

And the way the rest of the world sees us becomes forever altered as well.

As much as mothers are still adjusting to our new skin and figuring out our new identities, society has already decided who we are. We are mothers. And for some reason, once we're filed away as "mom", that one label changes the expectations and assumptions people make — wrong or right. And it's added to everything we do — working mother, mompreneur, mommy blogger.

Yes, I am a mother. Yes, I work as a full-time employee. But why must I be labeled a "working mother"? Why is that distinction so important to make to the wider world?

There has never been a "working father" in all of history, even though many fathers are also full-time employees. They enjoy the singular label of "CEO," "VP of Human Resources," "dentist" or "math teacher."

And beyond just slapping the "mother" label on all of our other titles, we are generally expected to pick one side of the motherhood spectrum or the other.

Motherhood is largely defined as an either/or proposition.

You are either a stay-at-home mom or a working mom.

You are either a breastfeeding mom or a formula mom.

You are either a cry-it-out mom or a no-cry sleep-training mom.

Society determines your value, your worthiness, through these choices and the labels that come with them. But this reductive way of thinking creates a binary that doesn't exist in reality. The black-and-white picture reality paints is actually large swaths of gray — with shades so light they look white and shades so dark they look black.

I, for instance, was an exclusively pumping, breastfeeding, formula supplementing mom.

When my son was an infant, I was a stay-at-home mom who was a freelance employee and consultant who sometimes worked full-time in an office.

I was a gentle-sleep-training cry-it out-mom, who believed in room sharing and letting my son sleep in his own crib, but would bed-share when I just needed sleep.

These choices don't define me as a mother, just as being a mother doesn't fully define me as a person.

I am wholly myself and wholly a mother but I am neither just a mom nor just myself any longer.

I didn't lose myself in motherhood, after all. I found a new version of me. A hybrid mom/wife/sister/best friend self — who is clumsy-footed, type-A, empathetic, assertive, kind-hearted, and honest in both my superpowers and weaknesses.

No one human can be boiled down to one label, mothers least of all.

We are some of the most complex, intricate, contradictory personalities that exist. We hold multiple roles simultaneously, context-switching quickly from boo-boo-soothing to boardroom presentations to date night to acts of self-care.

We are the and.

We are women and mothers and daughters and lovers and teachers and friends and CEOs and toddler-wranglers and and and and…

So, no, there's no such thing as being just a mom.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

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