Identity Crisis

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Whenever you meet someone for the first time, the first thing they tell you is their name.  Chances are the second thing they tell is you what they do for a living.  What are you able to deduce about them from this information?  Does a person’s occupation provide a hint of their heart or their personality?  For many of us, we act like it does.  We assume that by learning a person’s occupation, it gives us a hint of who they are.  We think more of people who are employed in professions we think highly of and tend to think less of people in professions that are less glamorous, low skilled or low earning. It does not matter that the individual might hate their enviable job and cannot wait to leave it or if they found themselves working a job that was forced on them, we still draw our conclusions largely from that dialogue.


I am also quite guilty in this regard. I used to assume that every woman wants to work and thought that if she was not working, it was because she was incompetent to land a job.  Many people pretty much think the same of women who are not married. For years, I defined myself and those around me by career, earning power, job title and blue-chip employers. However, I had a growing desire to spend more time with my family, to break the habit of making my husband and children come up as the poor second choice to my career at each crucial point. I loved having the perks of a fast-track career but there were times I thought it would be great to actually have the time to enjoy those perks. Sometimes, I felt like the proverbial bird in a golden cage that was all of my own making. I told myself it was about securing the future but the goal-post kept shifting. The house needed to be bigger, have more rooms, more grounds; next the car became a helicopter, then a small jet until a yacht started to look good… I soon realized that at the rate I was going, I would have lost track of the most important things in my life by the time I felt I had secured my future enough to get out of the rat-race. I realized it was a never ending race and I needed to get out of it right away! So I took the bull by the horns and decided to make a bold change to my work-life balance, to adjust my life to live the way I would if I had no money worries. That was when my identity crisis began and I began to struggle with how to define myself.


Leaving paid employment, I became acutely aware of the mind-set that I had (and occasionally still struggle with even now) when it came back to bite me really hard in the hind-side. I watched with progressive levels of embarrassment, bewilderment and then simple amusement, the expressions on people’s faces when in answer to their question: ‘What do you do?’ I have proffered various tongue-in-cheek answers ranging from: ‘Unemployed’, ‘Home-maker’ to (my personal favourite) ‘House-Wife’.  On one such occasion, my 6-year old daughter looked at me curiously and said: ‘But mummy, you’re not a house-wife. You don’t stay at home’.  To which I sweetly replied: ‘Well honey, I am. I stopped working so I can stay home and take care of you all’ patting her on the head and steering her along quickly before she let out any more information than I was willing to let on.  Even children have a concept of who a house-wife is.  It was true that I do not spend as much time at home as I probably should but I have more leisure time on my hands than I know what to do with at times, although there are also many times when I cannot find enough hours in the day to cover my schedule.

To help my amorphous self-identity, immediately after quitting paid employment and my 18-year old rat-race, I lived the leisurely life of a kept woman, as that label seemed preferable to the other options looming in the horizon.  My husband paid up our family membership of a health club and my daily schedule read like that of a Park Avenue heiress: drop off kids at school, drive to the club for 30 minutes of cardio, 20 minutes of resistance training, 12 laps in the pool, followed by lounging and pool-side reading as I sipped tall cold drinks until school run.  After 3 weeks of that, I had enough of la dolce vita and needed to feel useful again.  I started to pop by my husband’s office, sticking my nose into his business and making unsolicited suggestions for his business process.  ‘Not going to the club today?’ he asked sarcastically. ‘They don’t clean the pool often enough and the towels reek of bleach’, I tried desperately to come up with a plausible explanation to myself for my rapidly increasing irritation with the club staff. Then I admitted: ‘I’m bored’. The title PhD was definitely to be preferred to Lady of Leisure, I thought. So for both our sanity’s sakes, off I went to start my long deferred plan of doing a PhD.  Paid my Ivy League post-grad tuition, picked up the key pass for the grad students’ room and felt very proud of myself as I fine-tuned my research questions - for all of ten seconds! Suddenly, everything came to a screeching halt.  ‘What am I doing?! I stopped working to spend more time with my family.  How did I end up on another continent, while they are back home?’


Hubby was not amused when I made my big announcement a few days after returning home on some pretext. After four days of matching his silent treatment with defiance, I knew I could not bulldoze my way through this one.  ‘I don’t want to do it.  I don’t want to uproot the family again, I don’t want to go chasing after another ego-tripping goal.  It feels great to chase after that Ivy League doctorate degree, but the children are getting accustomed to not having me around and I hate that. Although I am scared senseless, I have to face my fears and do what I need to be doing right now, which is to just be a mum’.  There, I finally said it. My biggest fear of all: more than my fear of dependence or changing my last name after marriage, beyond my fear of losing my figure, or losing the identity I was accustomed to having, I had a dreadful fear of being what I considered a Nobody. I was afraid of becoming the thing I looked down on the most:  a house-wife, Mrs. Just Mummy. Yet this is the title that most aptly surmises my mission on this earth. This is the job that gives me the most joy and fulfillment even though it can be at the same time quite frustrating, requiring the patience of a saint, the wisdom of a sage and the tactical skills of a five-star general. It is a title many covert and would give an entire lifetime for:  just to be a mum.

So now, although I work from home in various fulfilling roles, I have embraced my primary job as being JUST MOM. Now my priority is to answer my children’s questions instead of putting them off with the usual cop-out: ‘Mummy has had a long day, sweetie’, to brush hair, pick up socks, find stray toys, go to the Park, make ‘limeade’, build fortresses and play silly games – to be a child again. Although I had almost forgotten how, I now take joy in the simple things of life and realize I do not need to be in charge of a multi-million dollar project to feel significant. I am significant because I have the wonderful opportunity to replicate and shape lives: two of which I did not birth myself. I still sigh involuntarily when I get the odd mail from a well-meaning associate trying to interest me in a position I would have once given my right arm for; and those sighs are quite deliberate and a little longer drawn out when I get my bank statements and remember the good old days when the bank manager knew my name, but when next you meet someone who answers: ‘Just Mom’ in response to your question: ‘So what do you do for a living?’, that will probably be me!



Ovie Farraday is a wife and mother of six, living in a sub-saharan West African suburb.  She is married to an Architect and Entrepreneur. Ovie Farraday is a pen-name.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 April 2015 21:40
Written by Ovie Farraday

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