For the first time in my life, I've started to see myself as a mother

Image of Aleenah and Liezel with flowers by Elissa Purdin

There’s no right way to be a mother or have a career.

Aleenah Ansari, Contributor

Since I was 4 years old, I’ve been adamant that I’d never get married. This belief was inspired by my aunt, an architect working in Seattle who’s always scoping out her next hike, trip, or adventure. She’s often traveling solo and has hiked the Scottish Highlands, Half Dome, and K2, the second highest mountain in the world — and she has her sights set on Mount Kilimanjaro for 2022. She’s always independent and fulfilled on her own, and it helped me realize that I don’t need to be married to be happy. I’ve always measured my future in terms of my career and all the places I could live. I want to interview musicians and create videos for Spotify, write a memoir in Berlin, and visit every single continent by the time I turn 26. 

In my mind, marriage and a family didn’t fit into the equation of my life. That didn’t stop my parents and cousins from insisting that this belief would change: How could I be happy if I didn’t have a family of my own? 

To others, it was my duty to get married and have kids. For me, it was a choice, and I had the autonomy to choose whatever made me happy. 

A selfie of Aleenah and her aunt
photo credit: Aleenah Ansari

The first time I could truly imagine myself getting married, I was 20 years old.

This was the first time I fell in love, and it made me realize that there was more to life than having a career, mortgage, or completed bucket list. What is a beautiful life if you can’t share it with others? No longer do I picture myself solely as a woman making waves at a large corporation, seeking promotions, leading presentations, letting the upward trajectory of my career guide me while everything else falls by the wayside. I see myself with a partner who I can build a home with, or take everyday adventures to the grocery store, go to Portland on the weekends, and frequent the neighborhood farmer’s markets. 

Being in love opened up a world of possibility where I didn’t have to face the world alone. 

I wanted to be with someone who was my best friend and confidante, someone who could bring the best out of me. So, yes, I could be the independent woman I had pictured when I was younger, but I could also have a loving and supporting partner who cheered me on while I pursued my dreams of being a storyteller, author, and creative director.

Although I had opened myself up to the idea of marriage, only Michelle Obama’s book Becoming has invited me to confront the chronicles of being a mother, challenges and all.  I’ve always respected mothers and mother figures, but I’ve never realized how much work it takes to keep everything running. In the book, Michelle Obama shares the story of juggling her career and supporting Barack Obama’s campaign to become president. In the process, she’s also raising both of her daughters. She acknowledges that being a mother has been a master class in letting go amid ever-changing plans: 

“Bruised knees, bumpy roads, and broken hearts are part of the deal. What’s both humbled and heartened me is seeing the resiliency of my daughters.”

It reminded me that much like marriage, there’s no right way to be a mother, or have a family, as long as I’m embracing the role.

I’ve begun to see myself as someone who could be a mother — but only because I can see my girlfriend as the person who’s by my side every step of the way. She makes me feel like home isn’t the city where I’ll settle down or the house that I’ve been saving for since I was 13. Home is with the person I love, and we have the opportunity to create a perfectly imperfect family together, even if it looks different from the ones we had growing up. We'll be committed to listening to each other, being curious about each others’ lives, and leading with love. That’s all I’ve ever wanted out of a family. 

Liezel and Aleenah holding hands in a field of flowers
photo credit: Elissa Purdin

It makes me emotional to think about my girlfriend teaching our future children to lead with empathy, be gentle with themselves, and love themselves unconditionally. These are the things she’s taught me, too. 

We’ll be a team who’s growing together, telling our children the things we wish we had learned when we were younger. 

We’ll remind them to see beauty in an expansive way. We’ll remind them that they can grow up to be anything. 

We’ll teach them to approach every conversation with curiosity and learn about what exists beyond their corner of the world. The idea of having a family makes me feel more complete.

But this isn’t a perfect picture; I know more about the kind of mother I don’t want to be. 

I don’t want to be a mother who misses important moments because my career takes precedence over everything else. I don’t want my future daughter to hate their body or be afraid to look in the mirror, or my future son to feel like he can’t cry or show emotion. I don’t want them to feel like the glass ceilings and the weight of imposter syndrome is too much to bear.  

Can I truly protect them? How will I ever juggle a career and a family? What if I do everything I can, and it’s still not enough? Maybe Michelle Obama can do it all, but I don’t know if I have the same confidence. 

Aleenah and Liezel's mantel with pictures and plants
photo credit: Aleenah Ansari

I know that juggling a family and a career won’t be easy, particularly as I watch my co-workers juggle meetings, kids who are doing school at home, and everyone is making time for extracurricular activities and passion projects. At the same time, I haven’t let go of my dreams of living in Berlin or moving up the ranks at work. 

Part of embracing the future of myself as a mother means that I won’t just become a perfect mother overnight, nor can I prepare for everything that might go wrong. 

Instead, I’ll be evolving in my role as a future mother, partner, and wife. I won’t take on every new project at work, and if my future kid calls me, I’ll drop everything to help them. I’ve embraced that I won’t be a perfect mother either, and maybe that’s okay. I just know that I don’t have to do it alone. I have a loving girlfriend, parents, and brother by my side, and we’ll continue to lead with love and empathy.

It’s okay if my image of love, marriage, and a family changes over time. As Michelle Obama reminds me, “becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”

 

About — Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is a journalist at heart who works at the intersection of user experience (UX), tech, and storytelling. Her identity as a queer, Pakistani woman empowers her to tell stories about communities of color that are committed to lifting as they climb. Outside of work, you can find her mentoring women of color, growing her business as a writing consultant, and turning her apartment into a photography studio. Find more of her work on her Instagram and website.


Cover photo credit: Elissa Purdin, @elissapurdinphoto


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