Mental Health Matters: Developing a Sense of Identity

My cousin and his wife adopted a baby last year. As soon as they brought her home from the hospital, he had a list of all the things she’d be and do. She would like cooking; he’d ensure she would because he props her up in the kitchen as he prepares meals; he’s a retired military chef. She would like fishing; he’d already taken her out on her first boat excursion. I feigned a smile as he described how fractions of her life and her identity were being shaped by his likes and dislikes.

pianoI suppose raising children in this way is natural. My mother was a skilled pianist. On Saturday mornings, she drove my six-year-old self to the north side, where I took Suzuki piano lessons. A brown piano sat in the corner of the dining room, where I remember practicing and learning one song, Cuckoo. It wasn’t until I advanced to reading sheet music that she looked over at me and asked one question.

“You don’t want to do this anymore?”

My answer was, “No,” so I was allowed to stop.

There was little else I remembered doing at that age. I devoured books, and eventually I wrote. By the time I was ten, I’d written and created a book about a boy, who had to assume responsibility of his home due to his father’s death. It was called On the Farm and was nominated for an award sponsored by Gwendolyn Brooks. But were these enjoyable to me, or were these just hobbies my mother had introduced to me? After all, she did have a bachelors in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also had boxes of unpublished essays stashed away in our basement.

It seemed imperative that I learn who I was independent of others. Psychologists agree; they suggest adoptees learn what they like/dislike apart from their adoptive families.

img_0522While writing is something my mother and I shared, it really is something I like to do. I was reminded of this six years ago. I’d written a piece about going natural, and on a whim, submitted it to For Harriet. My ego was overwhelmed with the thousand or so responses that essay garnered but writing for public consumption as a way to discuss a new thought was also something I felt I’d been missing. Connecting with others is necessary for my being. The following year, I began this blog and have loved every minute of not only writing, but also engaging with others about our daily lives. And if I use the what could you do for hours rule, then writing would definitely be it.

So, yes to writing. But what about other things I’d picked up throughout life?

Dwight and I have been married twenty-four years. When you’ve been with someone that long, it’s also important to discover what you like separate from your spouse. Superhero movies is that thing for me. Once I realized that Marvel was creating a seemingly endless timeline of films, I had to bow out. A few years ago, I expressed to him that I would only be watching one per year…with him…at the movies. I’m not sure how he feels about this, but such a small decision made a huge difference for me. I’d rather write, blog, or read a book than watch the same trope play itself out under water, in a fictional African land, or in a parallel universe.

I’ve also recognized that I like to entertain company in creative ways. For example, I’ve created something called a Christmas tree decorating party. I thought it’d be cool for each person in our family to have their own five-foot tree, and subsequently, invite a few people over to eat, drink, and decorate them. I’ve also thrown a Christmas brunch with all women. Sons weren’t even welcome. My youngest daughter and I made breakfast food and served about fourteen women.

transient_memphisSome of you may have also noticed I like photographing homeless and transient people. Many have asked me why? Others have judged it as rude. I think this hobby is the best example of stepping into one’s identity. I have my reasons. Sometimes I explain myself; other times, I don’t, because what I’ve found on this journey toward understanding self is it doesn’t matter what others think. It doesn’t matter if I can articulate why I enjoy something, and it doesn’t matter if it’s aligned with what my family or society values.

All that matters is that I know what I like and how I feel when I engage in it. This has been my greatest lesson of all about developing a sense of identity and of being myself. As a result, my sense of self no longer relies on the approval of anyone else.

41 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Developing a Sense of Identity

  1. That’s got to be the single most rewarding part of becoming more in tuned with oneself- the realization of who you truly are, what you truly like, and what truly matters to you… If certain individuals don’t understand or approve, that’s actually their issue, not yours. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, that good old nature vs. nurture debate.

    My parents were actually pretty good about letting me develop my own interests, and I think I have been pretty good about it with my daughter. I mean, she is definitely into quite a few things that I mostly definitely am not, so there’s that.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. 🙂 Not at all. I couldn’t helping feeling your mother’s disappointment, she loved to play the piano and would I be wrong in assuming she’d hoped her daughter would have inherited that gift to love and play music? But alas it wasn’t meant to be. Or perhaps I’m feeling a little oversensitive at the moment all thing’s considered 🙂 .

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No you’re probably right I’m some way, because this is part of my point. Parents (sometimes) seem to want to share and pass on their loves and interests, so she could’ve been disappointed. Thanks for sharing this point of view.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I try not to comment in this space but I love this! Watching your expansion is one of the greatest things I’ve been privileged to witness. I’m happy you felt you could tell me you only wanted to go once a year. Space, boundaries and individuality are of utmost importance to me. So I immediately understood. I decided to harmonize with another independent creative entity until the end. Supporting that is my joy. I’m happy I get one time a year with my favorite person to share in my favorite superhero’s adventures. Moreover, having Desi find that she enjoys superheros and anime on her own is awesome! ” In brightest day, in blackest night. No evil will escape my sight!” Lol!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is great and it applies at every stage of our lives. Even in this day and age when people impose on me what they ‘think’ I should be doing, I have to always ask myself whether is aligns with my interests & who I am. C

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My husband is the one that has gotten our sons into all the things he likes, such as sports and auto racing. I just want them to be happy, whatever that is for them. I have a father (as you know) who has not accepted the parts of me he can’t brag about, who always wanted me to conform, and I never want to be that kind of mother, wife or friend. I’m glad you’re doing you, and your mom was cool to see past her own wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this comment Kim. In cases like your husband and sons, do your sons actually like doing all the things, or do you think/know they’re just appeasing him?

      Also, thanks for the nice comment about my mother ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It is so easy to think that we get to decide who our children will be and what they will like. But it doesn’t work that way, and the more we try, the more we drive them away. And sadly, learning to listen to our own inner voice can be such a struggle. (I still remember once when my teenage cousin made my breakfast for me when I was a young child. I told her the egg had too much pepper on it, and she said, “You love pepper! Nothing is too much pepper for you!” So I believed her and ate the egg.) So glad you have figured out that you and you alone get to decide what you like!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ann, I just watched a movie (can’t think of the name) and the boy character said, “you’re not in my body” when his brother tried to challenge how he felt lol and it’s been my new go-to phrase ever since. Your pepper on the egg comment reminded me of it. And no…it doesn’t work that way…at…all.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I really enjoyed your post. I too remember doing the piano lessons thing, and the songs I was having to learn were so old and clunky, I just couldn’t relate to them at all. Couldn’t they teach us just one popular or current song? I lost interest over it after awhile. Well, that and there was the thing where my first and only piano recital, I remember how much the hard wooden bench hurt the fresh welts on the backs of my legs. I worried about people seeing them when I walked to the piano. I was already nervous as heck. Someone had a hangover that morning and didn’t appreciate my brother and I squabbling and punished us for it. Funny the things you remember half a century down the road, just from the idea of a piano lesson. I too didn’t know what I liked by the time I eventually got a chance to ponder it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you.

      It is interesting how one object can trigger so many memories and emotions. I’m sorry you even experienced all that, and I appreciate you sharing here.

      and lol about the songs. I think some kids have it easier sitting there now, because they aren’t forced to learn those awful antiquated songs!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Chile, you up there writing books by age 10? On deep subject matter, no less!
    Pheee-nominal woman! That’s YOU!
    LOL!!!!
    All jokes aside, you have been very consistent at your gift for writing and I admire that about you.
    I like writing but I lack discipline; that’s why I be all over the place rambling and such. LOL!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL yes girl! Like one of those people you hear in interviews and the person is like, “How long have you been singing?” …since I was 3! lol

      Thanks Lady G! So, it’s funny but I think your rambling is a gift. Normally, I wouldn’t even follow somebody doing that, but you’re like an oral storyteller ❤ That's part of your gift ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Your post gave me a smile – especially about the piano lessons. My son came to me a few days ago and asked me if I could help him learn how to play guitar. He is motivated and he has a lot of time on his hands.
    I think it’s a combination of things that a parent can do to influence their child. Setting an example, rather than forcing is certainly better. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Awww and he’s a grown man, right? So, that’s really nice. I agree about influence and when I think about it, my mother played, but I was never like, “Aw man…can’t wait to do that!” It was more like, “oh okay. That’s cool…for her” lol

      I think if we can remember, as parents, to live life as fully as possible, then that’s one of the best examples ❤ Our children are always watching, so I think they'll do like yours did and become interested, or be encouraged to do things they find drawn to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your sweet reply, Katherin. Yes, my son is 23. 🙂
        You are right about our kids always watching. In the last few years, I feel like in some ways I wish I wasn’t “watched” so much. I am much more frugal and some habits have horrified my son – like picking some food I’ve dropped on the floor and not throwing it away (washing it). But what can I do? I’m working on knowing that it’s okay to have flaws. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Learning who you are independent of others is difficult until you can actually physically separate yourself from them, create the time and space to ponder your own needs, wants, and likes. Once you know what you like, doing it and not caring what people think is a lot easier. It’s the in-between time that’s hard, while you’re still figuring it out. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Exactly. So my question continues to be: how do you figure out what you like to do? I know I love languages, but fear that it may just be escapism, and writing for the same reason. All the other things I’ve tried have been for pragmatic reasons, to solve a problem, even libraries and museums, which I think I like, but am not even totally sure. Thoughts, please?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll actually be sharing an expert/specialist’s interview in May about escapism, so I hope you’ll come back to hear what she has to say. I think, in my unexpert opinion, you’d know if it’s escapism based on how you feel. For example, when I’m writing, I’m not doing it to avoid feeling something else. I actually like/love it and could do it for hours, no matter what’s going on. Reading, however, is different. I like reading, but I found myself reading to not listen to the news and avoid negative emotions surrounding COVID-19. Hope that makes sense.

        Like

  11. I think most parents assume their kids should share their interests and passions. Big mistake. Exposing is one thing…forcing is another. I’m a big believer in letting kids try on every hat at the milliners on their way to discovering who they are. A child is not a clone…..most people don’t get that…hence the amount of adults who have issues….but that’s a whole other blog….

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I’m recently retired and so this post hits home for me. I’m finding that I’ve spent my life raising my son and working to provide and now it’s all about me. What do I like to do? It’s not as easy as people may think.

    Liked by 4 people

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