Mother’s Identity Crisis

Going to school is one of the things I enjoy most. I completed my master’s degree one class at a time, squeezing study in between children. I had planned to take another class to renew my teaching certificate last year, but when I found that my sister was enrolled in a course, “Writing Your Personal History,” I decided to join her. I hoped that the class assignments would move me to action in completing my own history.

The first assignment went well. We were asked to write about an incident in our lives that was embarrassing or unhappy. I wrote and rewrote, and when the teacher shared parts of my paper with the class, I felt I was doing all right.

But the next assignment was not so easy. We were asked to write one page about ourselves—“I Am.” When I finally sat down and wrote a paper, my husband, Karl, pointed out that I had only told about my children and how I am involved with their activities—Scouting, piano recitals, junior high band concerts, high school assemblies, and 4-H projects.

I tried to justify my writing but finally had to admit that Karl was right. The paper didn’t tell anything about me. I began to analyze my life, and I realized that it was very much entwined with my family. So I sat down and made a list of my talents and what I enjoy doing. The results were devastating. Rarely do I find time to read a novel, write, play the piano, or just spend time on myself. For the first time in my married life I wondered if I was just a tool of my family and really nothing in my own right.

I didn’t stay depressed for long, though, and after writing eight different papers, I finally completed the assignment. I was not happy with its portrayal of me, but I got a good grade on it.

During the next three weeks I thought about the experience from time to time. One night I was talking to Julia, my oldest daughter, about the paper I was writing for class that week. I remembered that she had eagerly read all of my assignments before I turned them in. Another daughter, Cheryl, picked up my first paper and read it to her little sister, Deanne. I felt good about this family involvement, and I was suddenly overcome with a strong feeling of satisfaction. We are a family! I am involved in the activities of the others because I care, because I want to be. They, in turn, are involved in my activities because they care.

And they show that they care in many ways. Besides reading the papers for my class, my family helps me study when I have exams, and they’re always anxious to hear the test results.

Another way they support me is by helping me as ward newspaper editor. Everyone in the family helps me watch the newspapers for items about our ward members. My husband reads the rough copy and offers suggestions. Julia proofreads the final copy. Karl writes in the birthdays of ward members and takes the paper to the printer. When the stack of printed papers comes home from the press, anyone who is free helps me collate and staple the pages. Cheryl and Deanne deliver the papers to the various carriers for distribution.

This is my church job, and yet it is a family affair. It occurred to me that the same is true for my position as counselor in the ward Relief Society. The children help me bake for those in need, and Karl does the artwork I need for flyers or invitations. I would have difficulty visiting the sisters in the ward without the help of my five older children, who babysit the younger two.

Somehow the idea that my family is involved in my activities as much as I am involved in theirs seemed to settle my dilemma. Yes, I am very much involved with my family and their activities—and they are involved in mine. In a family of nine, what concerns one concerns all. Working together as a unit does not smother individuality.

In a few years my four teenagers will be gone. When I am no longer involved in their activities, perhaps I will have more time for my own projects. I do not long for that time, though. I am too busy enjoying my family activities today.

[illustration] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

Connie Lundell Pope, mother of seven, is a counselor in her Relief Society presidency, Provo, Utah.