‘Mama’ Is My Name Now, But It’s Not My Identity


“I’m not like a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.”

It’s not lost on me that this phrase, which has become my mantra lately, was famously uttered by the poster child for Moms Who Are Not Actually Cool. Amy Poehler’s deluded, try-hard “cool mom” from Mean Girls isn’t supposed to be someone we look up to. But lately I find myself relating to her on a metaphysical level.

I have two children whom I love more than anything in the world. I longed for them before they existed. I literally put my life on the line to bring them into the world, and I have rearranged my entire life and career to spend more time with them. 

Being their mother does not define me.

I know a lot of women who have taken on the mantle of motherhood and leaned so effortlessly into “Mama” as a persona that it’s hard to imagine there was a time that they didn’t have children. They relish the identity of being a mother. It permeates the way they represent themselves. They’re cool moms who just love being moms.

That…is not me. “Mom stuff” doesn’t feel natural and easy to me. It feels foreign and a little bit fraudulent. 

I’m not talking about actually being a parent, which I love. I’m talking about moving motherhood to the forefront of my identity. Spending lots of time in mommy groups on Facebook. Hanging out at the park trading tips about the best shoes for wide toddler feet. Putting “mama” in my Instagram profile. Sharing LOL Mom Memes while I pour a glass of wine. 

Cool mom, chill mom, frazzled mom… whatever the form, mommy culture just doesn’t speak to me. And I’m OK with that.

After my first baby was born, when I was still working in a newsroom, my then-publisher kept leaning on me to start a mommy blog. I demurred. Repeatedly. Mostly because I was too busy, but I’ll be honest: I wasn’t interested in making motherhood into my public identity. I wrote amusing columns about reality TV, funny items about pop culture, and the occasional award-winning thinkpiece about the significance of Alaska’s strong-governor legislative model in relation to the role of attorney general. These subjects hadn’t stopped interesting me just because was now writing about them with an infant napping under my desk. 

Even now, five years into being a mom, I struggle with knowing that I could rack up a Nobel-worthy list of accomplishments and there are still publications that would describe me in my obituary as “Maia Nolan-Partnow, a mother of two, who also discovered the cure for cancer.” (The only way I’m going to find a cure for cancer is if someone lost it at the bottom of my handbag, where it’s hanging out with 17 lipsticks I forgot I owned, but you get my point.)

Occasionally I worry that I’m as transparently self-obsessed as Regina George’s “cool mom.” But I’m not quite ready to trade in my jeans for Juicy sweatsuits. I think there’s one key difference between us: She sees her youth slipping away and clings to it by immersing herself in trying to be her daughter’s friend. I’m working every day to hold on to myself and my identity with a firm grasp.

I had a good role model in my own mom. She was involved in our lives — classroom volunteer, Girl Scout leader, PTA, you name it. She also had her own life as a creative professional and performer. From a young age, I was used to seeing my mom onstage, transformed into someone else. She had a talent and a passion that had nothing to do with her life as a mother. That didn’t make us less important in her life, but it did give me something to look up to. I knew she loved being our mom, and I also knew there was much more to who she was. I hope that, as they grow older, our children will recognize the same in me.

I might be a regular mom. I might be a cool mom. Most importantly, I’m the kind of mom I want to be, and I wish the same for every parent.




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