It was a quiet morning in mid-March of 2008. A fellow professor and I were softly chatting in Stamps Theological Library at Azusa Pacific University, savoring the lull in activity that always comes in mid-semester. The semester had been launched, lesson plans were written, and final exams were in the distant future. We talked about theology, about our students, about our stage fright when giving lectures. But most of all, we talked about our futures. Both of us had achieved significant accomplishments at a fairly early age: she had been the recipient of the only full scholarship that Fuller Theological Seminary provides for all four years of her MDiv program and I was a published writer wrapping up the final semester of coursework for my PhD program.
Both of us had been encouraged by mentors from early on throughout our academic careers, about our potential for contributing to the academic community, about charting new territories for women scholars. And we loved academia. We loved the life of the mind. And we never thought, in all our years of learning and studying and teaching and writing, that our gender would ever stand in our way. Both the feminists and our fathers had taught us that we could be anything we wanted to be, that the world was ours for the taking, that we were only limited by the things we never chose to do. But on that March morning, we secretly admitted that we didn’t feel that the academic world was all we wanted out of life—we didn’t just want to be scholars and writers and professors—we wanted to be mothers. And we wondered how on earth such two demanding, seemingly opposing spheres of life could ever be reconciled and how we could participate fully, incarnationally in both worlds. I remember the tension building as we talked, as our minds scrambled for answers to what we thought were new questions. “The problem,” I said, “is that there are no maps.”
Exactly one year later, I gave birth to my daughter. Motherhood is all and more that I ever dreamed it could be, but tension I felt that March morning remains. Motherhood and academics and writing don’t always meld. It’s hard to transition from diaper changes to dissertating on the dynamics of spiritual formation. It’s a strange, foreign, and sometimes stark borderland where I often check and recheck the path I have chosen. (Did I really invest 13 years for a PhD to spend copious amounts of time every single day force-feeding my daughter-with-no-appetite?) But fortunately, Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira, in her recent book, Mama’s Got a Fake ID, has provided me with a map. In a chatty, friendly way, Caryn addresses the identity crisis that many (if not all) women face when they become mothers.
Caryn’s book contains three main parts. In Part One, she unpacks all the various reasons that women lose their identities when becoming mothers including stereotypes that society place on mothers and losing sight of who God designed us to be, as human beings with individual giftedness that reaches beyond our roles as mothers. In Part Two, Caryn looks at seven ways to uncover—or rediscover—our core identity: overcoming false guilt about our gifts, finding and rooting your identity in Christ, discovering who you are in God’s eyes (your God-given likes, dislikes, passions, interests), learning to describe and introduce yourself to others in ways that acknowledge both your giftedness and how God knows you, acknowledging, accepting, and even treasuring your limitations, and admitting that you’re not perfect. In the final portion of the book, Caryn advises her readers to look beyond themselves to see how they can be a blessing to other moms.
Mama’s Got a Fake I.D. is a candid, thoughtful, and fun meditation on the tensions mothers face when their passions and giftedness extend beyond the home. She provides questions to help those women whose identities were buried long ago under piles of grocery lists and laundry baskets and family schedules. One of the most profound and moving chapters for me personally was the chapter on treasuring limitations. As a person with high achievement standards, accepting the limitations imposed by motherhood is a tremendous effort, but Caryn’s book gave me freedom to not only accept these limitations but embrace them. But probably the best thing about the book is its balance: Caryn denigrates neither motherhood nor giftedness outside the home, but rather brings the honor due to them both. A highly recommended read for new and more seasoned moms.