The journey of motherhood begins the moment you decide to be a mother. It may start from planning a pregnancy or applying for adoption, or realising you are pregnant and choosing to keep your baby. You may have promised yourself that you won’t change at all when the baby arrives.
Did you plan to go back to work straight away, become more career/family-focused, travel more, earn more, become fitter or take on a new hobby? You may get around to achieving these goals at some point, but for most new moms having a baby is a life-changing experience.
Being a mom is an unbelievable experience in many ways, and it’s normal to yearn for the pre-baby days … so put your guilt aside! More often than not, you will have less time to yourself and this can elicit an identity crisis. As your life changes, you need to acknowledge that you will not be able to do everything the way you use to.
You will need to think about what is important to you and set new priorities. The best way forward is to embrace a balance between your new life and the old one. Having a baby may also be a catalyst for positive change, as this may also prompt you to think about what you truly want in life.
As the adventure unfolds, moms undergo many changes, one of which is identity formation. The identity you held for years begins to fade and the new one is born; however, this is not always a smooth journey and often mothers struggle with the loss of their identity. We explore some reasons moms may lose their identity, as well as possible solutions for how to stay true to yourself.
Moms lose their identity because:
1. Their lives revolve around their kids
During your pregnancy, you are the centre of attention but this attention shifts to your baby after you’ve given birth. As they grow, your days revolve around them. However, you can still be on mommy duty 24/7 and be involved in other things, for example, art classes, Bible studies, girls’ nights, charity work or family projects. It is vital that you seek out other things to prevent developing tunnel vision.
“Some women dreamt of becoming a mom when they were young girls and ease into the transition to motherhood. Others find it more difficult to deal with the adjustment …”
2. They stop caring about how they look
As the hours run into days and the days into weeks, it’s easy to forget to plan your outfits and accessories, or do your hair or nails the way you used to when you had time. Sacrificing your pre-baby beauty routine can lead to insecurity and feeling that you are not the “woman” you use to be. Making time to groom and present yourself the way you wish to be portrayed makes a difference to your own perception of you and to that of others.
3. Due to their physical bodily changes
Your changed body may make you feel different about yourself. Despite having produced an amazing little human, your body may not feel like your own for a while, especially if you’re breastfeeding or your body has changed shape. Many women may start to feel unattractive to their partners and begin to avoid physical or sexual contact with them. If this starts to affect your well-being, then this could be the prompt to reclaim your body and try to eat well and include exercise in your routine.
4. They have to slow down (despite feeling busier)
This is a big one for many mothers. You may have been involved in many activities before your baby came along, but feel quite limited now in what you can do. Many studies that have been conducted on mothers indicate that the number one challenge mothers are faced with is loneliness. They felt isolated, alone and bored at home while their children were growing up.
Having children can have a big impact on your personality and temperament, and can leave you feeling like a different person. Perhaps you are not the life of the party anymore or don’t see your friends very often. While this in itself might not bother you, it will still affect how you see yourself.
5. Their old identity revolves around their career
Having a baby might encourage you or pressure you to stay at home, negotiate shorter hours or possibly change careers. Being very career focused may also prompt you to find alternative ways to raise your child, for example employing a nanny or au pair, or placing your child in a crèche or with a day mother.
You need to ask yourself how important your work identity is to you. If you have always defined yourself by your work role, are you okay to leave that all behind you – or do you still want to continue climbing the ladder in your industry? Can you possibly afford to put things on hold for a while or are you not in the position to do so at this point, be it financial or from a growth perspective?
Having less money or losing financial independence can restrict how you spend your time and how you perceive yourself, but you might think the benefits outweigh this. Some women dreamt of becoming a mom when they were young girls and ease into the transition to motherhood. Others find it more difficult to deal with the adjustment, as they are often faced with symptoms akin to shock when having to give up a fulfilling career to be a stay-at-home mom.
6. They’ve lost freedom they once had
This is a big struggle for most mothers, as you are not able to do what you want when you want. Your life as you knew it has transformed in every way and even though you may enjoy making choices to benefit your entire family, you may not be able to make the same choices as before. Of course, you can still do these things with kids, but life has shifted and it can become disconcerting. For example, very little going out, staying up late, socialising or being spontaneous with your partner.
Furthermore, your social life changes when your baby is young: parenting classes and baby groups introduce you to lots of new people so you socialise more in the daytime and less in the evening. You might find it harder to maintain old friendships with people who knew you before you became a mom. On a positive note, you might now actually have more time to spend with your partner, family and friends and they may see a more relaxed you emerge.
7. They don’t get enough sleep
Prioritising sleep is a must! Moods become erratic when sleep deprivation kicks in. The number one thing that decreases stress is rest. Yes, we’ll probably all sleep with one eye and one ear open for the rest of our lives now that we have others to watch over, but that doesn’t mean we need to turn into Mombies.
Try encourage your newborn to sleep longer and possibly try taking power naps yourself. Even if you have to hire help or bribe a family member to help you in order for you to take a long nap, it is worth it. It does get easier after a while despite the different phases your children will find themselves in.
8. They lose sight of their relationships with their partners
Just as life has changed for you, life has changed for your partner as well and it is easy to lose focus as a couple. Your identity, friendship and love are why you both got together and it is important to keep sight of that. Your lives have evolved and you both have different priorities. Even when positive, change involves some levels of stress and a period of adjustment as you both get used to your new roles and continue to journey together.
There is no surprise that many relationships hit stumbling blocks at times when there is a combination of tiredness, hormones, less time and new priorities to tackle. Research shows a high number of couples separate in the first year after having a baby, so equal effort needs to be put in by both partners to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you.
How moms can find their identity again
It is important to play an active role in your new identity formation.
1. Take care of yourself
Don’t neglect the things that used to bring you pride and joy. Do them for yourself even if no one notices, it will make you feel better. For example, if you love clothes, get dressed up or go shopping. If you like having your hair and nails done, go for it! You can never go back to your pre-motherhood days again, but you can slowly start to find your new normal. Your identity isn’t lost, it’s just buried under diapers and onesies.
2. Give yourself me-time
Having some me-time is a necessity! Make time for something that makes you feel like you again. It is so easy to forget to have fun and enjoy life when we stretch ourselves between children, work and family commitments. You can only give your best to others if you are your best so, if you look after yourself, everyone in your family will benefit – and they will be happier that you are happy, too.
3. Take care of your relationship and journey with your partner
Be open and honest with your partner and make time to talk about how you feel and the role you each need to play in each other’s lives, as well as the role you each want to play in your child’s life. Make time to discuss the difficulties as well as the new, positive experiences that you are having. Keep communicating about your own changing needs and what you need from each other in order to maintain and strengthen your bond.
The real threat to a relationship is not a temporary lack of sex, but rather the lack of intimacy and it is vital that both partners work to preserve this at all costs. Hold hands, have a cuddle and give each other compliments. Engage with each other as active participants in the relationship, facilitate a deep emotional connection, foster intimacy, ask genuine, meaningful questions about each other’s day and stop what you are doing to actively listen.
To reinforce your bond as a couple, sex is also vital. If you are feeling too tired or have a flagging libido, it can be the last thing you want, so when you feel ready, do make the effort.
Remember that the early baby years go very quickly and relationship difficulties are usually just a phase, so be forgiving of this. Set 10 minutes a day to sit down together (no television) and catch up with each other’s news. Go on regular date nights – going out or just watching a movie together.
4. Get a hobby
Finding a hobby may be something that sounds foreign but it helps to make for and engage in a new or previous hobby that you used to enjoy. Even if it’s something more active like hiking, try to fit it in once in a while. This may help you to feel like you have something to look forward to and give you renewed purpose.
5. Stop comparing
This is the “secret” to being content in each season of your life. Comparing things in your own life as they are now to how they were then could lead you to feel a bit jealous of old times. Furthermore, comparing yourself to how you see others managing their lives can also lead to feelings of disappointment or inadequacy. Remember, what others portray isn’t always a reality but rather your perception.
6. Get help
Make peace with the idea that it is okay to ask others for help when you need it. This is not a sign of weakness or incompetence but rather a way to restore yourself and be a better mom. Whether you need to hire someone, trade babysitting, beg family members, go to playgroups or contact a professional such as a psychotherapist or social worker… do what you need to do. If you are a weary and overwhelmed mom, the effects will build up.