Six months ago I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. T1 was in the throes of his thrust to childhood independence, T2 was moving out of her “multiple-naps-a-day immobile lump of baby goodness” stage, and TH was staffed on a new case that had him working every single day. I was trying to do all the things, per my usual modus operandi, and I needed more help as I swam through the long days of solo parenting. I went to therapy, got rid of obligations I was holding myself to that didn’t matter as much as I thought they did, and found a family to watch T2 for three days a week so I could work without one ear to the nursery room door waiting for the baby to start crying.
There are many reasons why this period of time was so difficult for me. One of them was that I was feeling entirely consumed by the act of mothering. It not only took up the majority of my mental energy and time spent at home, but when I went out with other adults we seemed to spend all of our time talking about my kids or theirs. Even if the kids weren’t around! It’s wonderful to brag, necessary to collaborate, crucial to have an outlet, but I couldn’t stop thinking “We are so much more than our kids.” I’ve often heard of people talking about older women who have Empty Nest Syndrome, but I can’t think of a time that label has ever been applied exclusively to a man (maybe to the parents as a unit, but never the man on his own.)
I wanted to explore this idea more, and so I decided to launch a portrait project called Womanhood Beyond Motherhood. I photograph mothers in the setting of their choice, aiming to capture who they are at this stage in their lives. Afterward I send them a list of questions asking things like why the location of their photo is meaningful to them, what fulfills them, and few other prompts to better get at who they are. The site has 17 portraits so far, including a selfie that I took in my office where I am sitting and typing this post.
My favorite image so far is of my grandmother, my mother’s mother. She’s 74 years old and hauled herself up on that fence like someone 40 years her junior. Last week we were in Washington for a family reunion and I watched my grandmother make breakfast for 40 people, clean it all up, and then head out back to use a chain to pull a calf out of a laboring cow. Magnificent! I am in awe of her strength and determination. Read more →