Who Am I? My New Life as a Mom
I give my new clients extensive biographical questions and screenings to complete when they first start therapy with me. One of the items on a screening that I give states, “I don’t know who I am anymore”. It is a rare mother that I see who doesn’t endorse this item.
Becoming a mother (or father) is one of the biggest life adjustments that most people will experience in their life time. It’s bigger than getting married, graduating from college or moving across country. Let’s face it; it many ways, becoming a parent fundamentally changes your identity. You go from being a child of (usually) two parents to the parent of a child or children. That is a foundational shift! Not only that, but you do it while you are the most sleep-deprived you’ve even been, while your hormones are dramatically shifting, and where almost every minute of every day is spent taking care of a little one who only communicates through crying or some other body language. This is a recipe for not knowing who you are anymore!
While the first three months of a baby’s life can feel like a sprint for survival, at some point you begin to realize that this is your life now. In many ways, you really are still yourself with the same interests and quirks that you’ve always had. Only you’ve forgotten this in the haze of never coming up for self-care air. I ask perinatal clients all the time how often they needed to socialize before kids or what their interests and hobbies were. Sometimes they laugh when I ask this question. It’s almost as if they’ve forgotten they had a life before baby. Because of your new life circumstances, you may never go back to your interests in exactly the same way as before. There is, however, a compelling reason to find a way to get a little bit of yourself back: if you don’t, you are much more likely to become anxious or depressed and almost certainly resentful. As much as you love your baby (and I know that you do), they don’t talk, they don’t offer helpful advice, and they certainly don’t have opinions on your sister’s new boyfriend! Caring for a baby all day does not satisfy most people’s social needs which are important to recognize and honor. It also doesn’t fill your bucket. And when your bucket is empty you are no good to anyone including your baby.
Now, the other part of figuring out who you are now is acknowledging that you have changed in some ways. Maybe you used to go to bars a lot, but now it doesn’t appeal nearly as much with the sleep deprivation, nursing considerations (if you are nursing) and the logistics of who will care for baby. Maybe you ran marathons, but that is most likely not happening anytime soon. It is likely that you also feel a very strong nesting instinct and increased vulnerability in the world. Babies tend to do that to parents, especially mothers. Maybe you’ve never been prone to anxiety but now you worry more about climate change, or pesticides in the food chain, or whether you can do this nebulous job of keeping your little one alive. No matter the worries, this is not the you that you’ve known and loved for the past 2, 3 or 4 decades. You don’t recognize yourself in the mirror (maybe it’s the unwashed hair and dark circles under the eyes.) Equally likely, it’s the new you who feels like you have part of your heart in a teeny, tiny human being that you have been tasked with keeping alive 24/7.
So what’s a new mom with an identity crisis to do? First and foremost, know that it is normal. Know that the passage of time will ease of at least part of your identity confusion. Second, make the effort to find a little bit of your pre-baby self somewhere in your life. If work has always been a big part of your identity, think about how and when you want that back in your life: part-time, full-time, with flex hours, going out your own as a free lancer or as your own boss? If you decide to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, you have many options. But if you take this option, it is important that you have something, an activity or a passion, that is yours and yours alone. Maybe now is exactly the right time to return to that photography class. Maybe you’ve always wanted to explore Tai Chi. What better time than the current moment?
Whatever you end up doing or find too difficult to explore at this current moment, try to be generous with yourself. While it took a while for me to return full-on to my work life, my current love of yoga began from taking pre- and postnatal yoga classes. Since becoming a mother, I’ve stayed home with my kids full-time, worked very part-time, worked in a job related to but not what I was trained for and now, work full-time in the career that I was trained to do. There’s no right way to do any of this and what’s right can change from month to month, year to year.
Your identity crisis may also be stemming partly from being “new to the job”. Many parents nowadays have never really cared for a very young infant. So there is a steep learning curve to feeling confident in your role. Parenting is not the kind of activity that breeds confidence anyways. Just when you feel like you have it figured out, your child changes and it’s back to the drawing board. Additionally, there many opinions on what makes a “good” parent and far too few opportunities for feedback. Instead of waiting for the world to validate your parenting choices, try to cultivate your own parenting voice. You might find books helpful, but take them with a large grain of salt. As you develop your parenting chops, your confidence will increase. When you feel like you know who you are as a parent, you will also feel more like you know who you are a person as well.