Having A Mom Identity Crisis?
It happens for some women during their pregnancy, for others it happens within the first few weeks of your child’s life. For other women it can take months, or even years before they realise they’re not so sure who they are in their mom role.
It’s an enormous life-changing shift, from ‘me’ to ‘us’, and the enormity of it can knock some women for six. But it’s not just that. Having a child is also a time of self discovery. So along with all the sleeplessness, you’re having to face yourself, good and bad, for maybe the first time ever. Bad timing, I hear you say.
It’s a turbulent time, becoming a mother. I refer to it as breaking into motherhood because that’s often what it feels like for many moms,” says psychotherapist Michelle Whelan Kennedy. “The lived experience is much more profound than words can describe - the biological, emotional, psychological and physical reactions all come together to create this enormous wave.
Much of this has to do with hormones, the enormity of holding your baby for the first time, but there’s also the other side that women rarely discuss. “So much is reflected back to you as you see your child – you see yourself, your own childhood, your parents, your history, your meaning, your soul – each person is touched uniquely and forever,” suggests Michelle.
And this is where it just begins. Your focus shifts from you to this other person, and unless you’re very much grounded in the person you are, it can be very easy to lose yourself, and it can sometimes take a fighting attitude to get back that bit of you.
Elaine, a mother of three, says it wasn’t until her second child that she settled into her role as a mom:
“It’s as if I surrendered to motherhood after having my second child,” she says.”Before that, with Clara, it was as if I was fighting motherhood, or the loss of me.” “We had just moved into a new house, I had a new baby and I was overwhelmed by all the changes happening to me and wasn’t sure how to cope. I felt trapped at home every day on my own with the baby and all I wanted to do was go back to work. I was confused and guilty because I finally had the baby we longed for, yet I wasn’t as content as I imagined I would be. It was only after having our second child shortly after that I finally relaxed into my role as a mother. When I was at home with the children I committed my time and attention to them and made more of an effort to make more time for myself."
For others, the shift can happen a lot quicker. “About four months after I had my first child, the panic set in. I was so afraid of my identity being wiped out completely that I fought really hard for my time, for a career, for things I was afraid I’d lose. Looking back now, I wish I’d been a little more relaxed, and realised that it’ll all come around again in time,” says Nicola, a mother of two.
With the pressures to be a good mom, have a good career, keep the house in order, cook, have a relationship with your partner while also eating well, looking after yourself, keeping fit and looking good…women are losing themselves in the tornado of the modern woman’s standards. “Multi-tasking is the new curse of woman. We are credited with the ‘wonderful ability’ to multi-task and all that means is that we end up doing more, losing more and more of our identity as we do so. We can get locked in one or two parts of ourselves that become all consuming, leaving little room for play, spontaneity or self care. When this happens, all the energy is going outward and there is very little coming back in.”
So how do we find that delicate balance between being there for our kids and also tending to our own needs and desires, our own identities?
First of all, there’s admitting that it’s ok to want, and it’s ok to go after what you want. So wanting to get out twice a week to the gym, or meeting your friends for nights out, or having a creative outlet for yourself is not just ok...it’s healthy.
Giving yourself some space to get used to the idea of your new life, or if you’ve been a mom for some time, giving some time to thinking about what it is you need to make you feel more fulfilled, a little more like you. A good start is to journal, so every night before bed, lay out your thoughts, your dreams, your anxieties. Over time, the simple process of writing these down will help you work out the areas of your life that need most work.
You can start with simple things, such as taking a stroll (not a power walk) for an hour around your city or town to just amble, go to your favourite cafe with a book or magazine, basically, just do something that’s just for you. This allows you to get back in touch with the you that needs attention.
“Write your own script,” suggests Michelle. “Mothers can have many identities without either their children, or themselves, suffering. We have to look inwards, to listen to our own needs and our values, essentially our own voice. It is an exciting challenge and it can also be scary.
She believes that tending to your own needs is not just healthy for you, but also allows your children to have their own identity and their own needs. “It is also a model for them to follow into adulthood – self-care and self-love are normal parts of life.”
Michelle Whelan Kennedy is a psychotherapist with her own practice, and founder of mindfulness-based life skills programme for teenagers BiBo.