Being an un-married, single mother holds so many assumptions and falsely associated meanings of identity against me. It has been a hard and challenging path to get to where I am now, but I have learnt from all my experiences that have been presented to me in my lifetime. I am going to share these with you starting with my parent's divorce and how it has affected me and how the decisions made, have finally brought me to the happiest moment in my life, becoming a mother. In this essay I will describe and analyse my identity in the light of some theories. Society classes us in many different ways and we take on lots of different identities and these have changed throughout my different experiences and I will explain how I felt different people automatically classed my identity, for example being a single mother. I will conclude how I feel I have learnt from the changing of my identities and how they have helped me shape my life for the present and the future.
I needed to make sense of my identities and used stories to do so. Mackinnon and Heise (2010:104) said something similar 'When individuals gain or lose identities that change their lives, they are moved to tell a story to account for the changes and make sense of their new status.'
Living life as a normal 'nuclear family' is an identity defined by having an adult couple, lasting indefinitely, a family property and commitment. This is a form of narrative identity; which is a view of self in relation to others and the social. (May 2004:1) I was living in this way and did not even know of any other way of being a family. Divorce rate was still low and at my school I didn't know of anyone's parents being divorced. Living in this bubble was due to being only 10 years old and not being aware of society and the bigger picture. But I soon learnt quickly as my dad left my mum and our family was quickly changing in many different ways.
Our family identity had changed from being a 'nuclear' family to a single parent one and society classed us as being poor and us as children not being loved as much and becoming unruly. Unfortunately being poor was true as my mother worked as a nursery nurse and the wage was not enough to support us. We struggled but not for long as my mother decided to do something about being poor; and to educate herself to become a teacher and earn more money to be able to raise us as the 'norm'. Society didn't see that my mother was trying to change the way we lived instead we was always taken pity upon and given a hard time for not being able to afford the latest trends and was ridiculed for having free school dinners. The determination in my mother had a positive influence on me and even though times were hard we still had the basics and love and affection was always showed frequently. We learnt to help our mother out in the household chores to earn money for privileges and this made me view the world in a different way.
What do we identify as poor? Even though society saw us as poor as we lived on a low-income and struggled with paying bills, and having to budget our food shopping; we didn't see ourselves as poor as we still managed to get the things we wanted. It just took a bit longer as we had to save our chore money to be able to buy it. Also we still had a 3 bedroom house in a better area of town. We were rich in learning morals and behaviours to help us grow as adults. For me, we saw ourselves very differently to how others saw us or assumed us to be as Butler (1993) says the disturbing recognition that is only in relation to the Other, the relation to what it is not, to precisely what it lacks.
I left school in the middle of my a-levels as I wanted to work and earn my own money. I think this was due to wanting money to be able to afford nice things for myself. Becoming an older teenager there was more pressure from society to have the fashionable clothes and the gadgets such as the better mobile phone and these things classified your identity in different circles of people. Even though it was small circles of people it felt at the time so important to fit in. 'Social pressure, as we were coming to realize, had the power of a glacier. You might not see it working, but at the end of the day it had carved a little bit more of a niche in personal identity.' (Holstein & Gubrium 2000:8)
I got a job at a bank as a cashier and worked my up to a branch manager in 4 years and was crowned the youngest branch manager ever; but it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Being 21 years of age and managing teams who were predominantly older than me proved to be a huge problem. They saw me as a young inexperienced girl, which was hard to take as my managers had seen me as an excellent employee and had promoted me so why didn't they see this? They didn't give me a chance and just made assumptions before seeing what I could do to help them in their job. As Cote and Levine (2002:120) express 'One person attempts to present one self-definition, while the other perceives a different definition. The personal identity as subjectively experienced by one person is not the same one received by the other.' As much as I tried to change their understanding of me, they found it too hard to accept and I ended up changing my identity to fit into what they expected me to be and allowed them to run the branch even though I was the manager. I learnt a lot from this period of my life as I became very unhappy being who other people wanted me to be; as I had achieved so much by myself and my confidence had dropped. I became someone I didn't recognise.
After releasing I was losing my identity at work I found I was losing it at home too as my friends had finished a-levels and were off to university; living a normal life for our age and I felt I was missing out. I decided to do something with my life and was looking for a new job preferably something I really wanted to do. I had met someone who lived in London and I started to visit him regularly. I found the lifestyle in London so exciting and different to where I was living. Every time I visited my boyfriend I took on a different personality and became this confident, vibrant & care-free person. Segal (2006) said that positive possible selves, can be liberating because they give you hope that the present self is not unchangeable. I spent more and more time in London and wanted to find a job there; I think it was more to do with wanting to live the exciting life I had found all the time.
Then I got a shock; I found out I was pregnant. My whole world felt turned upside down. I was struggling with who I was and what I was going to do. I felt like I was all alone and I was scared but felt incredibly strong for the life within me. This was a time for change, like Giddens said I had acquired a new identity, a status of motherhood. I had more responsibility now and needed to get myself together so I could support me and my un-born child. Instantly my identity changed personally and also socially. Personally I felt a sense of ambition and drive to succeed as a mother; especially as a lone mother which socially identified me as different from the other mothers. I did not feel like a typical 'Lone-parent' mother which I had previously classified them myself. From my point of view they were silly in the first place to get pregnant without being in a stable relationship and could not give the child a good life with there only being one parent and one income. I felt this way until I was given that label and realised that I had made those assumptions without knowing and this is done regularly everyday by people about other people's identities. As May explained that the social category of lone motherhood is not one that the lone mothers adopt in their narrative constructions of the self. (2004)
I needed a job and somewhere to live and this was my focus. I started a temping job and saved enough money for a deposit on a house which I moved into just before my baby was born. When I spoke to my colleagues at work about being an expectant mother they would question me about my situation of having a home and being on my own. I felt it was my duty to challenge the narratives but I felt I could never escape them as people, like I did, had previous pre-conceptions about being a single mother. May explained that single mothers are regarded with some suspicion especially if they are considered to be too young or not settled enough to have a child.
What are the norms that are constitutes a 'good' mother? Motherhood is accorded great significance in Western countries: being a 'good' mother is particularly important for a successful moral presentation of self and it is indeed questionable whether a 'bad' mother (or a mother who could not show herself to be 'good') could claim a moral self (Liamputtong, 2006) Even though lone parents have been more excepted in the social context of today; I still was looked upon as being an un-fit mother as I was alone and on benefits which instantly gave me my an identity of being a unsuitable mother to bring a child into my world. It made me more determined than ever that I could do this and I was not alone I had my mother and my family to help me.
It wasn't easy as I had to keep facing society classing me in categories I did not agree with. After finishing my temping job I had to go onto benefits as no one would employ a pregnant woman as they would have to pay maternity pay. I felt like I was looked down upon as I had decided to have a baby while not having my own home and a job. They treated me like I was beneath them and I felt angry as I had been a bank manager before and unfortunately due to the circumstances I had to claim benefits. I didn't want to be on benefits for the rest of my life and had high ambition for myself; but they did not care I was just a statistic in a long line of lone-parent expectant mothers.
It was not an overnight change in identity, the 9 months of being pregnant gave me the chance to change and adapt. I withdrew from some activities such as drinking and clubbing which lead me to lose some friends as I didn't share the same identities anymore. I felt like this was in preparation for motherhood and would have changed eventually anyway. Having my son gave me the inspiration and determination to prove everyone wrong and show I can be a good parent on my own. I had always wanted to be a teacher but as I was working I never had the opportunity to quit my job and study to become one. This was a perfect time as I could gain a degree and look after my son at the same time and by the time I was qualified he would be starting school and I would have the same holiday time off as him and we could spend it together. I would be able to provide for my son and give him the life he deserves. I put him first in everything I do and he has a loving family and friends, a stable home and never goes without. So is that a bad mother?
To conclude identities change depending on circumstances and social context. Growing older gives you more intelligence to deal with the changing identities and to make wiser choices, instead of being influenced as much by society. When I was younger I felt my identity was associated a lot more by peers and material objects, but as I became older I felt my identity was guided by the choices I made as an individual. While being pregnant I felt I was constructing a new self-identity and at the same time proving myself against pre-conceived identities. I had a huge increase of self-worth and the more responsibility I had the more adult I felt. Society casts many identities and some are cast by what we see on first glance; but underneath things can be very different and we see different identities when we get to know the person. I feel this is a learning curve but can never be fully mastered as society and culture automatically assume some of our identities and we battle to change people's perceptions of us even though we do not see ourselves in this way.