Can You Claim Motherhood As An Identity?

Deborah Sloan
6 min readNov 20, 2023


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I’ve been doing some work on my PR. I’m making myself consistent. I’ve updated my bios and removed any apologies about trying to call myself a writer. On LinkedIn, I’m no longer a million different people from one day to the next. I’ve got the kids involved. Ella has helped me add a down arrow emoji on Instagram so time-poor scrollers can quickly subscribe to get me into their inbox. I have to decide who I am on social media. Am I promoting 1000-word pieces of artistic genius or the latest slow cooker recipe? Should I scale down my lifestyle content? Do followers want my insights on the pedagogical effectiveness of sermons or details of where I’m eating on a Saturday night? Would they miss my Japanese maple, my regular book recommendations, or my selection of coats for the mature woman if I stopped sharing photos of them?

This week, I had a meeting with my agent. Even though it’s not quite the right term, I’m going to call her that because her marketing expertise is vital to my future success. And we need to stick together, us highly skilled mums with brains who were brave enough to leave the workplace because it no longer valued us nor the caregiving we were doing on the side. She has given me a list of things to do. I have to move on from the ‘mum to four girls’ thing. “It’s time to put that away,” she said. I wasn’t sure. What did she mean? Was that not what defined me most? Mother was an easy identity to fall back on when I had nothing else.

I’m still doing the course on writing about motherhood. I’m an anomaly with my twenty years’ experience. Most are in the early stages, trying to make sense of cluster feeding, society’s ambivalence towards them and being mammals. They have to keep exiting Zoom to tackle explosive nappies. I want to explain that those beautiful babies nestling into their chests will someday spit venom into their faces and tell them it’s not their turn to empty the dishwasher. I’m supposed to write a letter to myself to say what I am proud of since becoming a mother. I have to make space in this epistle for changes that would benefit me. “It is not simply about mothering our children, but also ourselves….” is the prompt. We discuss the idea that motherhood makes us more empathetic. We consider the tendency to put motherhood on a pedestal. “Can you claim motherhood as an identity?” asks the author of an article about responding to tragedy¹. In the journal I am to read in another twenty years’ time, I write that motherhood has not made me more empathetic. It has made me angry.

I am furious all week. I search for angry songs to scream to. I settle on anything by Pat Benatar and Killer Queen. “She keeps her Moët et Chandon. In her pretty cabinet. “Let them eat cake,” she says. Just like Marie Antoinette”. Something about her never keeping the same address resonates but when I google her, I discover that she may be an extraordinarily nice high-class prostitute. I also discover that I Want to Break Free has been voted the best tune to clean to. I relive my frustrations until I can’t sleep. I send unhinged WhatsApps to the husband who isn’t at home because his work allows him to take his identity to Barcelona. I am consumed with the thought that I could be so much better at writing if I wasn’t always tackling the laundry. As I soak lasagne-encrusted plates, I want to frisbee them over the worktop and across the kitchen. I am reminded of that bit in Matrescence² where she goes to the cupboard and takes out three mugs, opens the back door and throws them straight down on to the concrete patio. She takes her time, throws them one by one and watches them smash. Then she starts weekly cognitive behavioural therapy.

My agent tells me I have to describe what it is I write about. I’ve always been more focused on the why and that I process the inside of my head just in case there is anyone else out there who has been where I have been, scrabbling around trying to find their identity in the leftovers. But I follow her advice. I remove any topics and replace them with a theme. “I write about my midlife ‘unravelling’ and my journey to reconstruct my identity in the second half of life,” I say. Someone tells me they’d been trying to figure out who I remind them of. Apparently, it’s Carrie Bradshaw³, her monologues, her “I couldn’t help but wonder”. I decide a weekly column in a newspaper and an apartment in New York would be my idea of success.

On Thursday morning, I do something I swore I’d never do. I get up at 5.30am. I’d always been dismissive of those writers who say they do their best work as dawn breaks, but I make a huge pot of caffeine and I make a start. I decide I won’t be beaten by the needs of everyone else. I produce two pitches, two 800-worders, two additional concepts. As I create and synthesise and assimilate and summarise, I make sense of a lot of things, and I feel better. I email them to the editor of a magazine. As I wait for feedback, I receive six ParentMails.

“Someone said your writing was electric,” says my agent. She tells me I need to get those sorts of endorsements on my website. I watch a TED Talk⁴ on knowing your worth. Communicating your value is “not tooting your own horn” says the speaker. I wonder should I ask those four girls I am mum of to review me. Have there been highlights in amongst the mundane? What about those fishcakes I made from scratch or the party bags I curated in 2010? My third daughter demands I post a correction to last week’s writing⁵. She didn’t leave me out deliberately. She just wasn’t able to include her mère due to the limited word count.

On the motherhood course, I have to read out a paragraph of my writing. Everyone else talks about deer and moss and feeling more connected to the earth. I mention a rector. The facilitator says it would be interesting to hear how mothers are viewed at church. There isn’t time but I want to tell her that the last sermon I heard was all about fathers. King David hadn’t been present enough. He’d done nothing. His son Absalom had gone a bit of the rails, stolen the throne, caused a revolution and then ended up dead when he got the hair he was obsessed with caught in a tree. We heard how important it was that fathers correct their children’s behaviour. It seemed Absalom’s mother was some sort of add-on. I had no idea who she was. I wasn’t sure if it was Absalom’s parenting or his vanity that had brought him down. We’re not responsible for everything. But it made me think of that trend now in church circles for dads to bond in fields with their offspring and how they’re always trying to write us out of the story.

My agent tells me I should continue to engage with anyone who comments or reaches out. I should nurture those relationships. I am a writer. That’s my identity. I always look forward to hearing from you, my readers!

[1] (external link)

[2] Matrescence (a word still not recognised by Word) by Lucy Jones focuses on the physiological, psychological and social metamorphosis women experience during pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. (External link).

[3] Sex and the City.

[4] (external link).

[5] (external link).



Deborah Sloan

I am no publishing here but am now on Substack at I write about leaving things in midlife.