Being a mom is tough, but it’s also incredible. We gain so many wonderful experiences and memories that would never exist without the special bond and relationship we have with our children.
If you’re not careful though, there’s a hidden danger! Lurking. Some mothers get so deeply ensconced with their kids’ lives that they forget who they are. They lose their identity.
Let’s look at the lives of two made-up women, Samantha and Ada.
Samantha is 42 years old and has an 8 year-old boy and an 11-year old girl. She works full-time as a nurse, does all the shopping, cooking, school-lunch preparation and household chores and drives her kids to and from school and between all their activities. Samantha’s partner works full-time and is usually home by 6:30 p.m. each workday. He joins the family on the weekend, but after dinner, he sticks to himself mostly, fixing an old motorcycle. After making the kids’ lunches, Samantha reads to both children and ends up exhausted by the time both kids are asleep, around 9:00 p.m. She spends most of her free time during the weekend on social media or talking to other parents about their concerns about their children. She also uses a considerable amount of her time planning and preparing for special events for her children, like parties, playdates and activities on the weekend. She has very specific ideas in her mind about what, when and how things should happen. Samantha tells her friends she is happily married and loves being a mom. In fact, she often says she couldn’t imagine her life not being a mother.
Twelve years later, at age 54, Samantha is divorced, and her children have moved on with their lives. She did not anticipate the divorce and feels empty and alone. She doesn’t know how to be happy by herself and can’t think of any hobbies or activities she might enjoy. Samantha spends the majority of her time trying to connect with her kids by phone or on social media. She desperately wants to feel needed by them and to have something to do. She has grown to hate her job and wishes her life was different. Samantha goes into a depression, and reduces her workload to part-time, which impacts her income significantly, causing more stress.
Ada is 42 years old and has a 7 year-old girl and a 10-year old boy. She works as a lawyer full time. She does most of the cooking, although she and her partner have an arrangement where she cooks dinners Sunday to Wednesday, and he’s on chef duty Thursday to Saturday. Each night after dinner, Ada and her son make lunches for the week for him and his sister. Ada’s partner works full-time and is usually home by 6:30 p.m. each workday. He and Ada take turns reading a story to each of the children before bed. On one night Ada will read to their daughter, and her husband will read to their son, and on the next night, it happens in reverse. On the weekend, Ada does all the grocery shopping and errands, and her husband takes care of many of the household chores while she’s out. Ada spends most of her free time reading, gardening or working on a novel she’s always wanted to write. When she plans family activities, everyone provides input and helps in the preparations. Her husband collects cigars and cycles regularly. Ada tells her friends she is happily married and works at living a life that is balanced between work, play and family.
Twelve years later, at age 54, Ada is divorced, and her children have moved on with their lives. She continues to work as a lawyer on a full-time basis. Now that her children have become adults, moved out of the house, and she’s single again, Ada has been able to put more attention toward her own goals. Although she had not anticipated the divorce, she is not dependent on others for her happiness and recognizes the opportunity for her to focus on herself. Her first novel was published eight years earlier, and she now wants to write another book, but this time, a how-to book on raised-bed gardening. Ada feels excited and energized about the next stage of her life.
As you read each narrative, did you notice how you felt? Did you compare yourself to each scenario? How did you fare?
Although these stories are simplified, and don’t reveal other complexities, it’s easy to see the difference between the two in terms of the identities of those two mothers.
Samantha’s story is sad, but we know that as a mom, she was doing what she thought was best for her children. She thought she was supposed to give up her life and devote it entirely to her kids and her role as mom. She thought she was supposed to do almost everything in the house. Samantha forgot that her happiness was equally as important, and in the end, lost her identity.
What makes Ada’s life more desirable compared to Samantha’s?
- …makes sure household and childcare duties are shared with her spouse
- …teaches her children to take part in household tasks
- …involves family members in preparing for activities
- …has her own interests, separate from her children and her husband
- …focuses on caring for her children while also caring for herself
Overall, Ada ensured she wasn’t responsible for doing EVERYTHING. She specifically made time to do the things she always loved doing and that were a part of who she was. Ada consciously worked at keeping her identity, as well as being a great mom.
So where does that leave you?
With a choice.
Even if you’re not at the beginning of your mom journey, it’s never too late to look in the mirror and see who’s there.
Ask yourself the following 10 questions. How many are yes for you?
- I deserve time to myself. Just because I am a mom, does not mean I need to lose myself in the process.
- I do not feel guilty for taking time for me. I am a better person and a better parent when I take care of me and feel happy with who I am.
- I take time every day for me. It may be a small amount of time, but it’s mine (bubble bath, 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to read, draw, etc.).
- I have doubts about my parenting because I’m not perfect, but I follow what I believe when it comes to parenting, even if other people don’t think I’m doing it right.
- I expect others in the household to contribute to what needs to get done, even if that means the tasks aren’t done exactly as I want them or they take longer to get done.
- I regularly plan 1-2 evenings a month where my children sleep over at a friend or family member’s house, so I (or my spouse and I) can have a date night or just spend time without our children.
- My relationship with my spouse is not put on hold or lowered on the priority list just because we have children. We speak to each other respectfully, and if we don’t, the other person calls us on it. We make time for each other as a couple.
- I am involved in activities that don’t involve my spouse or children. They’re based on what I enjoy.
- I believe in keeping my own interests alive, so I don’t get lost in the role of spouse or mother.
- When I plan for the future, it’s about the future of my children. I don’t plan for my own goals or dreams.
How’d you do?
The statements aren’t part of any exact science, but they give you something to think about. Have you set up your role as mother in a way that carefully protects your identity?
Let’s look at the opposite of each of the above statements to show how our actions and beliefs as mothers can easily lead to the loss of our identities, over time.
- I don’t deserve time to myself. I’m a mom now, which means that my needs always come second.
- I feel guilty for taking time for me. I, or my family, or society expects me to be the perfect mother who puts her kids first.
- I rarely take time for me. Most of what I do is for my children and/or spouse/family.
- I have certain beliefs about parenting, but I often change my approach based on the comments or opinions of others.
- I do most of the household tasks because it’s easier and faster for me to do them than it is to involve my spouse or children.
- I feel it is my and my spouse’s responsibility to care for our children, so they rarely sleep at a friend or family member’s home. My spouse and I rarely have large chunks of time without our children.
- My relationship with my spouse is pretty much on hold and less of a priority because we have children. We should take more time to listen to and respect each other.
- I do not engage in activities that don’t involve my spouse or children. They’re based on what the kids or my husband enjoy.
- I believe the role of mother is so important, that I put my own interests aside. I plan to pursue some of my interests when my children are grown.
- In addition to planning for my children’s future, I plan for my own. What do I want to achieve? What are my dreams that keep resurfacing? What are things that really light my fire?
There aren’t any right or wrong answers regarding how many of the first statements you said yes to. My hope is that you can eventually say yes to most of them.
Love your children and your family and do whatever it is you feel good about doing for them.
Throw yourself into mommyhood (it’s pretty hard not to in the first couple of years) and go all in. Be who you want to be as a mom.
However, be careful. After those crazy early years, around age 4 or 5, regroup and see where you’re at.
If your level of mommying is so intense that you’re losing yourself in the process, you could have identity and happiness issues when your wee ones have left the nest. It’s hard to see yourself 20 years down the road, but for your own sanity, try to imagine those years passing and who you will be.
Whether your marriage is intact or not, by the time your children move out on their own, you’ll want to recognize the woman in the mirror looking back at you.
So many women, without realizing it, give up who they really are during their parenting journey. They might not look after their health and then find themselves with a chronic illness or a weight problem. They might put all their needs aside and then feel bitter or lost. They might ignore their earlier interests and find themselves searching for purpose or a way to reconnect with who they once were.
Even though parenthood is an all-encompassing job and takes over your life, your children should not be your obsession. You CAN keep your identity intact and still love your children to pieces.
What can you do?
You may not be able to control every aspect of your life, but you can speak up to your partner when you see the need for a balance of the childcare and household workloads. You can find creative ways to maximize your time, so there’s time left over for you. You can make changes that will make you happier, and ultimately, your family happier.
It might not be easy at first, but if you value who you are and want to come out of motherhood with your identity intact, love yourself now and put in the effort to make the necessary changes needed.
As moms, we have responsibilities, and of course, we make sacrifices for our kids. Agreed
BUT… if you’re not true to who you are, and you lose yourself during parenthood…then you’re not doing yourself or your kids any favors.
Keeping your identity and being authentic to yourself, so you are happy is critical. Getting fired up about what you love allows your kids to see that it’s important to take time for themselves, so they can be authentic and happy.
They’re watching you.
Take a few minutes to reflect. If you can journal your thoughts, even better.
What are your dreams and goals? What do you like to do?
Without your kids!
What fires you up? What dream is quietly waiting to emerge?
Don’t lose your love of yoga, painting, cycling, reading, knitting, martial arts or whatever you love to do (or used to love doing). Capture those precious moments in the day or week and nurture who you are. Make those moments yours.
Whether you have a career or a job or you’re a stay-at-home mom, take time to feed your soul. If you’ve misplaced a bit of yourself already (or a LOT), it’s not too late to carve out the minutes and hours you need for you.
What was your dream? What IS your dream? Keep it alive and burning. Find a new dream if you can’t remember.
Even if you don’t have a particular dream or goal, or even if you can’t think about something you love doing right now…FIND something that is YOURS.
Just you. Not something you do with your kids. Not something you do with your spouse.
Just for you.
Maybe you decide to read a good book every evening for 30 minutes before you go to bed. Maybe you take 1 hour every Saturday morning or Sunday evening to cycle.
Maybe you get out of bed 30 minutes early each morning to work on writing your book. Maybe it’s a weekly walk with friends or neighbors. Maybe you just sit in the car with your favorite coffee listening to a podcast while your kids are at soccer practice. (No…you are not a bad mother if you are not watching their practice!)
Do One Thing
If you want to work on rekindling or keeping your identity, you don’t have to have it all figured out right away. However, if you think you’ve lost yourself to the transformational world of parenthood, decide today that things are going to change.
What is one thing you will do today or tomorrow that will be the first step toward rediscovering the courageous, curious, fired up person you once were?
Will you make a list? Start reading an inspirational book? Start a new journal? Have coffee with a friend who will help fire you up?
Whatever it is…
Decide now. Then do it.
Keeping your identity intact while you live a rewarding and fulfilling life as a mother is the best gift you can give yourself, and one of the best lessons you can teach your kids.
Live your true life,
Note: This post is a modified version of a post I put up a couple of years ago, and then removed (in case it seems familiar!).
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