I don’t know about you, but no one ever mentioned to me that motherhood might change who I am.
I received plenty of advice and information about how to care for my baby and some guidance around how to tend to my own practical needs, like sleep, nutrition and exercise, but nothing about changing identity in motherhood. I just expected that I would be the same me, and also a mother.
I’m definitely not the same person anymore, and who I am is still evolving.
Loss of identity in motherhood
Many mothers report feeling like they have lost their identity in motherhood. There are some major shifts that contribute to this.
Firstly, we change. Our brains actually change when we have a baby and so does the way we see the world. How we experience our emotions changes and our ability to read the emotions of others improves. Our values and priorities change with a family to care for. Things that once seemed so important now seem trivial and new topics draw us in. Even our bodies and our appearance change, with some mothers saying they don’t recognise themselves in the mirror anymore.
Then, there’s how we approach our lives. The approaches that helped us succeed before don’t always work in motherhood. Control, structure, rational thinking, planning, busyness and rushing are all challenged by motherhood. Nothing is clear cut and no two children are the same, so finding the right answers is difficult. Our intuition is so valuable but many of us were not taught to use or trust it. We learned to trust expert opinion, but there are so many conflicting expert opinions about mothering. Who do we trust? Pre-determined career paths may not be compatible with the life we want for our families and because many of us derived a large portion of our identity from our jobs, we aren’t sure who we are without them, or with less of them. The external validation we received through work or interests is no longer there in the same way and we may feel unappreciated and unseen in motherhood.
Then, there’s the expectations. The perfect mother myth that is so embedded in the subconscious of our society, creates an unattainable standard that many of us feel we need to reach. We are expected to sacrifice ourselves for the needs of our children, almost erasing ourselves to the point where we feel like we are simply “someone’s mum”. On the other hand, the world often expects us to show up as we used to – returning to paid work as soon as possible and working like we don’t have children. Many women say they feel less included and valued, and are seen as less ambitious or committed by their employers. Our friends may also expect us to be just as available and energetic as we once were and that just doesn’t work.
Lastly, we can become so consumed by caring for our children, that little by little, the things we enjoy, our personal goals and even some of the people in our lives can slowly slip away. We’ve been raised to value independence, but yet our children feel inextricably intertwined with us. How do you be your own person, while being a mother?
It’s so unsettling to feel like you don’t know who you are anymore. To feel disconnected from who you were before motherhood.
Matrescence – Transitioning to your new identity
Clinical Psychologist, Dr Aurelie Athan, is well aware of the impact of motherhood on identity. She sees motherhood not just as an additional role to add to your already busy life, but as an opportunity for creative spiritual growth and transformation. Motherhood is an awakening to a whole new perspective and reality of life. In short, you get a new you.
Dr Athan is responsible for reviving the term matrescence, after it was first coined in 1973 by anthropologist, Dana Raphael. Matrescence is the transition of becoming a mother, which could be one of the most significant transitions you ever experience. It is a slow, gradual process, where you unravel everything you knew to be true about yourself and your world, and discover what is now true for you. Your children create this opportunity to learn about yourself and this learning continues through all the stages of mothering, from your firstborn to your last, from the newborn stage to when you have adult children raising families of their own. Every stage challenges us and develops us in new ways.
If you’re expecting that one day you’ll have it all figured out and no more change will be necessary, then this may feel very confronting. You didn’t ask for this new you and it may have come as a surprise. You may have been so focused on the baby that you didn’t even realise that you had stepped right into your own rebirth.
Many mothers miss their “old self”. It is completely ok to be grieving parts of your pre-motherhood life and self. But consider that perhaps they aren’t completely lost. Perhaps the parts that are still important to you are waiting for their rebirth too. They are waiting for you to find a new way for them to be part of your life. Even better, there are new parts of you that are waiting to be discovered.
You are evolving. Becoming more. And while this may sometimes feel incredibly hard and uncomfortable, you are on your way to a wiser, deeper, more grounded and whole version of you.
The journey, not the destination
Since uncertainty and not having answers can be really uncomfortable, it’s understandable that you might want to have it all figured out now.
But what if the journey, rather than the destination, is the point?
It’s ok to not know who you are right now. Identity is not static. We are always evolving. There may come a time when you feel like you do know who you are, and then with the addition of a new baby, or entering a new stage of motherhood, you feel lost all over again. This is all ok.
Give yourself permission, compassion and time to figure out your identity in motherhood. Expect to keep figuring it out and know that life doesn’t have to be on hold while you do so.
This is your time to learn to listen to your inner knowing or intuition. To uncouple yourself from the expectations of others, the “shoulds” and who others think you are.
This is your time to learn how to be true to yourself. By this, I mean that we learn to identify what is truly a yes and no for ourselves, and be guided by that. We learn how to identify and meet our own needs.
Start figuring out your identity in motherhood
If you’d like to start exploring who you are now, reflect or journal on whichever of the questions below you feel most drawn to and take action to bring more of YOU into your life.
- What have I always wanted to do but felt I couldn’t?
- What are my strengths and talents?
- What am I passionate about?
- What gets me really angry and fired up? (this can often be fuel for making changes in your life or making a difference in the world)
- What are my personal values?
- What do I love doing for fun?
- What do I like to create?
- What do I want to be remembered for?
- What do I believe?
- What can I do now to make me feel happier?
- What is most important to me?
- In who’s company do I feel most alive, seen and true to myself?
- What do I love to be surrounded by?
- What are some simple goals I have for myself? (e.g. to read regularly, to catch up with friends once a month, to start yoga again, learn something new.)
- What’s something I enjoyed before motherhood?
Slow down to figure yourself out
Figuring out your identity in motherhood requires slowing down a little. This can be hard and also daunting because when you slow down you might have to face some uncomfortable feelings, like resentment, exhaustion, stress, discontent or grief. But find small, manageable ways to honour your needs and discover more about yourself. Create a little time just for you each week.
And remember, you don’t have to have this all figured out tomorrow. You have plenty of time. And there’s no final answer because your identity will keep evolving. We are always adapting, learning and growing.
So work on one thing at a time (to avoid overwhelm) and release the pressure to be anything other than who you are right now. You are enough already. This is not a journey of becoming enough. You already are enough. And you will continue to be enough as you evolve, even with the lack of clarity and sense of loss you may feel over who you used to be.
Relax into the process, lovely, because it’s the process that is your life, not the destination.