I can say with confidence that it would never have occurred to anyone to call me "mama" before I had a child. When it happens now, something inside me recoils a bit. It has a warm, round, softness to it I just don't feel is mine. There are women this name suits, even long before children; I am lucky to know a few.
I don't have especially maternal energy. I'm a little skittish, maybe a touch blunt, and a lot of anxiety fueled over confident talking. Kids aren't generally drawn to me, and I'm not usually that comfortable with them. I love my kid, but it's different because he's mine. Even my little cousins ignore me in favor of my easier going husband.
So why do people call me mama now? It feels a little bit like when you have to turn in your old ID when you get a new one. My previous identities were apparently revoked when I had a child. Even this site, people call it a "mom blog" despite parenting/kid stuff making up less than a third of the content. If you're a woman with a kid, you're a "mom + whatever you do." Mommy Blogger. Mom Boss. Working Mom. Mompreneur. Can't a gal be a woman who happens to be a mother, or does "mama' have to come first regardless?
I wonder if this identity erasure occurs in countries where families are better supported. If childcare was affordable, if women's careers weren't derailed by pregnancy, if women didn't take on the majority of child rearing tasks even in two earner households, would motherhood still be such an all consuming identifier?
Nobody calls my husband a Dad Developer. Nobody walks up to him with a jolly "hey papa!" People see him as a computer nerd, a guitarist, and a martial arts coach who has a kid. The kid part is an element of his persona, not the definition. People are also much more likely to refer to men "having" a kid while speaking of women who "are" moms. I have rarely if ever seen a meme claiming that fatherhood is the greatest job a man will ever have. I see these memes about motherhood daily.
We insist that motherhood overshadow all other aspects of a woman's personality, and then look on her with patronizing pity when she loses sight of herself beyond motherhood. I know when other women call me mama, it's often in an attempt to relate to our shared experience. Is connecting to our shared experience as women, as individuals, just too raw, too personal? Is mama just a shorthand for "shit is intense?" I'm not sure, but I think we can do better by each other than defining ourselves singly by our progeny and work to see each other as the multifaceted and complicated individuals we all are.
I feel like we've agreed that not everyone needs to have kids to live a full life, but we can't seem to make the leap to allowing women who have children to live rewarding lives not wholly defined by their motherhood. Part of the reason I only want one child is that I want to have some me left, but I feel like I have to whisper anytime I imply that mothering is not the core of my being. Motherhood has changed me, and in ways will always define me, but I don't feel it does more so than my other deep loving relationships to whom I am unconditionally responsible.
Inside, my psyche and my experience are no more dictated by being my son's mother than they are by being my husband's wife, my parent's daughter, my sister's sister, or my own beloved self. So please, even though you mean well, don't call me mama.