“Who Are You?”

Three little three letter words. They seem straightforward. Perhaps too direct. Maybe that’s why, put together this way, they form a question no one ever asks outside of daytime TV dramas. But, here in the space between, I bet it’s something you ask yourself.

Identity. So basic and therefore so fundamental to our happiness. Rooted in biology, identity with a group helps cement relationships, establishing a pack to provide protection and nurturing. Abraham Maslow, in his hierarchy of needs, articulated belonging, esteem and self-actualization as the top three (of five!) tiers: all of which tie into our sense of identity – as individuals and as group members.

Which is why when our identity shifts, whether through our own choices or forces outside our control, it can lead us to feel anxious and uncertain. Will the pack accept this new me? If not, will you be able to find a new pack that will have your back?

Identify shifts are programmed into our DNA but also taught to be scary, which is kind of a raw deal since identity is fluid. We all experience several versions of ourselves over the years: child, teen, adult, student, parent, grandparent, etc. We move. We change jobs. We switch from pilates to crossfit to couch potato (while we recuperate from sports-related injuries).  Gender, race, religion, profession, education: they all contribute to our definitions of ourselves. And increasingly, people are demanding non-binary options.

Thanks to my previous career, I may have had a few additional identities over the years.  Yet never has the issue of identity haunted me as much as it has since I became a mom.  

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Embracing Extended Families and that Beautiful Mess

That little bundle of joy arrived and brought a whole new slew of expectations. And new roles for everyone. Yay! Roles and expectations! Fun stuff! Right? Um…You had expectations of how your extended family would step into their new roles. They had expectations of how you would want them involved. And (gasp!) your expectations didn’t line up! Which of course can lead to hurt feelings, tension, and confusion.

Over the last thirteen years, I’ve watched friends tread into these murky waters with me. It’s not always pretty. Some depend on extended family for free childcare – which you can imagine isn’t really “free.” Some thought their extended family would be more helpful and are hurt to find that their family doesn’t want to be more involved. Some feel pressure to raise their kids in the same way they or their partner were raised – religion, schools, discipline, food, nap schedules – it’s all on the table.

My husband and I were the first in our sibling groups to become parents. No one to lay any groundwork – it was all new, unchartered territory for us. Like us, I’m sure your family and your partner’s extended family have very different dynamics and expectations. So, what works for you and your parents/siblings might not work for you and your in-laws.

When I think about the extremes in this area, there seem to be two camps – Camp “My Extended Family is Making Me Nuts” (where you pull out your hair) and Camp “I’ll Do Anything to Make My Extended Family Happy” (where you eventually die from exhaustion). Neither camp is much fun. So where’s the camp for those of us who want to stay sane and have healthy relationships? Where’s the space between? Well, hop on the bus! We’re headed to Camp Boundaries! Continue reading “Embracing Extended Families and that Beautiful Mess”

“So, what do you do?”

Who else freezes in horror, stumbling through a mumbled response to this simple question? Show of hands?

It USED to be so clear cut, right?

“Oh, I’m a student.”

“I’m a professional.”

“I’m a parent.”

A nice short sound-bite – just the kind of response people expect. That people want.

It’s a question I’ve come to dread. I’ve spent way too much time trying to think of ways to ask this without stumbling into a minefield of assumptions. (If you’ve got good ones, SHARE THEM in the comments, PLEASE!) And only slightly more time trying to figure out how to distill what I do now into something that is comprehensible to most other Americans in under 30 seconds. (I’m a stay-at-home-parent but I also do freelance consulting in the realm of political risk and network analysis specializing in the Middle East and Africa *breath* AND I’m trying to launch a writing career. Wait, I see from your expression that I’ve lost you. Was it at ‘stay-at-home’ or ‘freelance consulting’?)

Here’s the thing though: study after study indicates that the U.S. population is increasingly working from home, and will continue to trend that way. Which means that even more of us are going to find it challenging to answer the question. At least in a tidy little soundbite. Do you admit that you work from home? Do you define yourself by that? Or by your title? Do you acknowledge a hybrid-ness to who you are?

Because as soon as you’re not in the office, more of your personal life is going to creep into your day. Which is a great thing! There are efficiency gains to be had all over the place! No more time lost in commutes. The laundry can get done while you’re on that phone call. More free time to spend doing fun things with the family instead of running errands that couldn’t be done during regular working hours.  And as working hours become more flexible, the chance to pursue other passions,  becomes possible in a way it frequently isn’t if you’re tied to a desk 40+ rigid hours a week.

The flip side of the coin, though, is that people are going to struggle with how to arrange that time and how they identify themselves (more on both of these issues in subsequent posts).

A couple of things to consider, both when you’re trying to determine how much information to throw into your soundbite, and even more when you’re trying to unpack the answer someone else gives you:

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