The photo above is my mother, Donna Jean Pack, age 25, holding her first baby, my sister, Rachel Emily Stanley. It was taken in 1969; my sister would have been about 3 months old. My mom, and the whole photo, is so styling, right? The hair, the necktie, the confidence, the lamp, the suede sofa.
I hadn’t seen this photo in years, and when it came across my desk last week, I started thinking about parenthood and identity and how children change us. Did you watch the Grammys a few weeks ago? I read a good article about Adele’s Grammy speech and the unspoken “loss of self” that mothers often experience, and I’d love to discuss it with you.
In the speech, Adele said, “[This pregnancy was … ] the biggest blessing of my life. And in my pregnancy and becoming a mother, I lost a lot of myself. And I struggled. And I still do struggle being a mum, it’s really hard. Tonight feels like full circle … like a bit of me has come back to itself.”
The part that stuck out to me is when she said that she *still* struggles and that’s it’s really hard to be a mother
Do you relate? Do you find parenting to be hard? Is it the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Or just one of many hard things? And what about loss of self? Do you feel like you experienced a loss of identity when you became a parent? If yes, have you managed to find a new identity, or are you maybe still struggling?
I married so young (barely 21), and had my first child so quickly (barely 23), that I don’t think I experienced a big identity loss when I became a parent. For me, learning to be an adult and learning to be a parent happened basically at the same time. I think my biggest identity losses have come from moves. Moving from New York felt like a huge identity loss. Moving from France felt similar.
How about you?
88 thoughts on “Did You Lose Your Identity?”
I had my first child late in life and didn’t any loss whatsoever. On the contrary, I felt more like myself – free to be who I really am. Not sure if it was because I was older or just lucky, but parenting has been, very unexpectedly, the easiest and most joyful thing in my life so far.
I wouldn’t say so much that I lost my identity when I became a mother at 35, but rather that my priorities changed and the loss of other priorities was devastating in many ways. I had to grieve who I was as an employee and as a boss, because I would never be that same again. I recently discussed this with my colleagues. My number one priority is the health and well being of my daughter. But what keeps me up at night is how I can be fully engaged in my role as a professional. It’s not that my child doesn’t come first, it’s that she is actually not my first worry on a day to day basis. My first worry is the loss of my career and professional chops…not necessary my identity as a professional, but my ability to succeed in that role. I don’t think there really is such a thing as succeeding as a mother – we all just try our best – so I don’t have the same parameters on that front.
This is exactly what I have been experiencing. I just had my first 4 months ago and my biggest struggle is worrying about whether or not I can succeed at work. I’ve been back 8 weeks and have felt like I’m not bringing anything close to my A-game and it’s frustrating. Being a parent is very hard, but I’m finding that being a working parent is much harder for me.
I had my first child when I was 29, and actually don’t feel like I lost any of my identity when I did. However, I think a big part of that is that I had always, always wanted to be a mother. I know there’s a wide spectrum of feelings on this: people who are positive they never want children, people who feel ambivalent about having children, people who want kids but also fear taking that step. For me, from a very young age I was 100% certain I wanted to be a mother. So although I enjoyed the career I developed while I was single and newly married, and my career still plays an important role in my life, part of me always knew that I’d never find any career or hobby completely fulfilling and that what I was really waiting for was motherhood. So for me, becoming a mom felt like a dream come true.
Which isn’t to say the logistics of motherhood aren’t a struggle sometimes! I get frustrated with my kids, I’m no saint. But overall I find it joyful and fun much more often than I find it challenging. I don’t think I would feel emotionally complete in the way I do now if I had never become a mother.
I don’t have kiddos but I’ve also always known I wanted to be a mother, even as a child. I’m 26 now but want my first at 29, too. I’ve always had the idea that my 20s were “my time” for “personal growth” and my 30s would be when I would be ready financially, mentally, etc. 29 is 3 years away and I realized that you can never be “ready.” I think another big thing, at least for me, would be if my close friends had children, too. All of mine want to wait until their 30s, but they also don’t want as many kids as me. I think having kids while your friends are living kid-free can make the feelings of identity loss way worse.
This is very timely for me. With my first child, I didn’t so much feel I had lost my identity, though I definitely missed having time for reading and movies and such. Shortly before I had my second child, I learned that I would be losing my job. I’m a journalist, and the job market is always tough, so I decided that I would freelance from home. I did that for a few years, but it has been both stressful and poorly paid.
I’ve been looking for a full-time job for more than a year and have accepted that I will probably have to return to school for a master’s in another field to get back into the work force. I never planned to be a stay-at-home mom and definitely feel lost at the moment. I would love to hear stories from women who returned to school or got back into an office after being home.
Sarah, I can relate. I also lost my job around the same time we were expecting a baby, and then we moved to a more rural area without many jobs. I’m finding it tough to find work after being out of the workforce for a few years. I feel frustrated and lost — but try to keep thinking the right job is just around the corner.
I don’t feel I lost my identity, but that my identity has become distilled. Concentrated. I’ve certainly “given up” parts of myself, and I miss some of them, but I gave them up because they didn’t matter enough to keep. Did I wear makeup everyday because I wanted to or because I felt I had to? Did I dress the way I did out of desire or shame? Were those pre-mom activities a joy or a burden? I look back and the answers, by and large, seem so obvious.
Now, I’m speaking from nearly 4 years out. I’ve had time to adjust to the Mom Life and to regain some time for the activities that I really did miss–reading, cooking, getting some sleep. That helps, and nothing can give it back to you but time. I also think it helps that I am not a naturally competitive person, so I don’t worry so much about “falling behind.” That’s a totally valid concern that I don’t really share. I have career goals and personal goals, but I don’t feel rushed to accomplish them. I love the work, so I do the work.
This is sounding a little too relaxed and hippy-dippy, even for me. I’ve had anxiety and depression off-and-on for my whole adult life, and battling it as a mom is definitely harder than ever. There’s more to be worried and sad about. But I guess that parenting is as much about figuring out who I am, and who my husband is, as it is about raising our daughter. You go in thinking, “Yes. Here I am, this is me. I am going to be (insert here) kind of parent.” But the child is proof-of-concept, and it radically alters what you thought you knew. I learned what makes me tick as much as what makes my kid tick.
I feel more authentic in motherhood than I ever did before.
Thank you, Jennifer, for taking the time to write your comment! I agree with you, the child (children in my case) changes and challenges what you thought you knew of yourself. I used to look at it as if I’d lost my identity once I became a parent, but it feels better to see the result as a gain–a new, greater understanding of a more fully-developed self.
so much of my adult life (13 years) has been devoted to trying to get pregnant and then trying to stay pregnant and then recover from being pregnant and postpartum depression that morphed into depression/anxiety that just will not go away…we lost 2 of our 4 pregnancies…4 of 6 of our babies (my 5yo would have been a triplet)…I lost everything that I think was me from before. I’ve tried hard not to, but the time you spent on things that made you happy before kids, now belongs to making them happy, sports, clubs, scouts…all things that kids need to grow up as a well-rounded person. they are worth it, don’t get me wrong, i LOVE those 2 little people (11 & 5) like i never imagined i could. but to sneak away and create or garden or just go to the bathroom by myself without interruption…sigh…i’ve had the same full-time job throughout all this and my high school sweetheart by my side – kinda…there are few jobs in our home area…in order to support us he has to work away…we see him 3-5 days a month, we skype every night…but this solo parenting gig – not single, but not the team that we should be…but i do wonder who i am…and if i’ll ever get her back…and do i even want to be her again…every day.
This is a beautiful and brave life you lead. Go you.
Yes. Unequivocally, yes.
I married at 26, got pregnant on our honeymoon, and had our first child 3 weeks after I turned 27. We had our second at 29 and our third at 32 (she is currently 5 months). Babies definitely steal my identity for the first 12-18 months. We haven’t had good sleepers, so I think that plays a big part. I stay at home full time, I nurse exclusively, I babywear, and I do all night care for our babies. So essentially, for the first year of their lives, my babies are attached to me nearly 24/7. There’s not much room for myself in this equation.
I wouldn’t choose to parent differently, and I look forward to having more babies. However, I won’t deny that it can be very hard and that I miss myself and my own life at times.
Yes. Married at 26. Honeymoon baby 9 months later. Then I had six kids in 9 years. My youngest is two and I just talked to my sister about losing my identity when I became a mother. Previously, I was outdoorsy, regularly mountain biked, rock climbed, went camping and was training for a marathon. I had no career aspirations and readily took to being a mother but my identity was in those activities I had a passion for. I had 6 c-sections in 9 years. I did not bounce back physically from pregnancy and none of those activities work well with newborns and definitely not with newborns and multiple toddlers…maybe if I grew 12 more arms.
I’m happy and love my children but I don’t know who I am. It’s disconcerting to be at an age where you “should” have yourself figured out like all the coming of age books fictionalize but I’m realizing I just need to embrace my “second coming of age.”
I would say, no.
Actually, it’s quite interesting, this dialogue. I am the momma of two kids, ages 4 and 5, and they began 11 months ago as my foster children, and will be my forever kids whenever the judge gives us the go-ahead.
The thing is, I keep waiting for the feeling of being a “momma.” But I don’t. I feel like the same person, just with this extraordinarily involved new aspect of my life. Maybe it’s because my husband and I had been together for over a decade before the kids were placed with us, maybe it’s because I’m in my mid-thirties and have only been a mom for 11 months, and I work full time outside the home, but I don’t feel like I’ve lost myself much. I keep waiting to feel like I am “in the Mommy club” but I feel very apart from it. Which kind of bums me out. When I’m at the park or the kids’ museum or Target, I see moms together, and it’s neat to see that camaraderie. I just haven’t found my tribe, I guess. My friends went the traditional route, so most of them have babies or toddlers. I skipped the pregnancy/baby stage, so I’m in a different parent boat, I think. Maybe that’s part of my not feeling intrinsically “momma.” I jumped into attachment disorders and court appointments, and elementary school dynamics, and my friends get to talk about baby wraps and which teething necklaces work best. And they also have bonding in the all-consuming season of newborn-ness that I will never know.
So, no. I haven’t lost myself, but I think I wish I felt a little more “mommy.” Perhaps my ability to have remained so much “myself” is an asset, but I do envy all of the women who seem to wear motherhood so beautifully and naturally. I always feel like I have to be so conscious in every decision. Nothing feels natural about it.
I was in your shoes five years ago, and I just wanted to say that for me the “momma” feeling took some time. I just couldn’t relate to what these other moms were talking about or doing. My life was so wrapped up in trauma management and becoming an instant parent. It took a couple of years, but I definitely feel a part of the club now. Congrats and hang in there!
Yes, I often feel a loss of self as a mother. I had my boys at 32 and 35. I often think about the fact that I will never put myself first again. That in itself stirs the feelings of “loss of self”. I need to remind myself often to put my health first, but it’s often placed on the back burner. I do miss hobbies I did before motherhood, but know there will be time for them when the children are grown. Right now, being their mom is most important. I can be more me when they need me less.
Your sentiments are spot-on for me too! For me parenthood includes an underlying, omnipresent sense of – worry? Worry is too strong a word, but it’s along those lines. And yes, that’s paired with inherently feeling I will never put myself first again.
As as adult, I realized during my childhood I never felt “safe” and “protected”. I come from a good family, my parents are still married, I had fun growing up with my sister, my parents were able to provide us everything we wanted. But they didn’t connect with us on a nurturing or emotional level – I always felt they talked “at” us. Anyways, I think that childhood experience has carried over to my adult self: since I never felt cared for, caring now for two other humans is kind of intense.
I had my first daughter when I was 33, and was pregnant with our second daughter 6 months later. The first two years with them were crazy intense (and paired with taking over the family business – boy have I learned first-hand to NOT pile too much on at the same time!). They’re now 4 and 5 and it’s definitely getting “easier”, and I do feel I’m somewhat re-connecting with my self. I have also made it priority to schedule time outside of work for me and my husband (dates), myself (facials after work, and day off to just go to the mall), and girl time with friends (at least once/month).
Parenthood is crazy and amazing, it changes you in the most inherent way and it’s different for everyone and is something people without kids can’t ever understand.
My identity definitely changed as a mother, but in a really wonderful way. I feel like some people think they need to have this identity separate from being a mom–career, hobbies, whatever–but it all just sort of combines for me into lots of different things I do and am. It took me a while, but my personal ambitions changed, or at least the motivations behind them. It wasn’t about finding success for myself, but doing things out of love and caring, more as a mother. I still do so many things I enjoy, and motherhood hasn’t taken that away from me. Often my kids are involved in what I do. Motherhood can be a sacrifice of self, but I’ve felt that I needed to lose myself a bit to really find myself properly. I’ve become something a whole lot better by becoming a mom.
Reading these comments has been so helpful!
I very much feel that I lost myself, and I’m scared of the career sacrifices I’ve made to have children.
I find that I cannot devote myself to a full time job while being a successful part time parent. I’m stretched to thin, my anxiety sky rockets and I start to have panic attacks. At the same time, I found staying home with my young daughter one of the most profoundly isolating and depressing experiences of my life.
I know I have to give up one thing or the other (and it’s a lot easier to go part time work than to hire out more aspects of child care) but I feel so lost by denying the part of me that wants to work late and be driven in my unfortunately low paying career.
I see myself following in my mother’s footsteps and I wish that more had changed in terms of parental support for mothers AND fathers over the course of my lifetime.
This resonates with me. When I had my daughter I grieved being able to work late or all hours because those career accomplishments made me feel so proud and post baby they felt out of grasp. Following that grief process I’ve rediscovered myself as more of a part time career person. I’m not the boss or employee I was, but this new me is managing and getting by. I also felt similarly about not being able to stay home full time with my daughter for my own emotional well being. Trying to figure out that dance (I hate the word balance) was and is hard.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. My oldest is 19-and I see her doing all these great things, and having all kinds of wonderful opportunities–and part of me feels like I missed out on some of that. My biggest desire growing up was to get married and have babies. So despite graduating from college, working for years-I was never “all in” with my career. I’m having a lot of regrets about not doing something “more” with that. But I also know personality wise that I don’t think I could have handled a career and a big family. You would think at 50 I would have this all figured out . . .
You bring up a very good point. I think the biggest “loss of identity” tends to happen when children leave the home. When they are young there is a huge adjustment, but much of one’s time is still spent caring for them and organizing their day/life/school. I, too, have teenaged children who are leaving for university soon. Just yesterday I was having lunch with my peers who are in the same boat (45-55 yrs). We were thrilled to see our children living life to its fullest, but there were indeed some pang of sadness regarding self especially as we’re getting older. Some of these women had left careers as executives, lawyers and doctors to raise children. And now we are at a point in life where we must reevaluate the definition of self now that children do not take the focal point. You are definitely not alone there.
This brings up another subject. One of my dear friends who is a male executive, remarked that there are so many incredible and capable 50+ year old women who put their careers on hold to raise kids. They are such an asset to the workforce because of their experience. More companies should encourage a place for them.
I want to thank the women who have commented. I am in a spot where I feel “invisible”. I am a stay-at-home-mom with no family around and I find it difficult to find children to play with my children. There are no many around in my church group. I am trying to think what to do to help make myself happier and find myself- both for myself and for my husband and children. We are in the Phoenix area and we have no place to go this summer. I am trying to prepare what do to when the “hell” heat comes. I am determined to find some of myself and adventures for me and my kiddos. The idea of being stuck inside a hot house (costs lots to cool our house) with not lots of other children to play with and a long, hot summer is a little foreboding. I am working on trying to find what I like to do to enjoy life more and to put that into our summer!!!!! :)
I know that invisible feeling all too well. We live in Texas and the summers are so hot, I get anxiety thinking about summer time! Something that helped me was joining a neighborhood pool. Or a gym membership. You can take the kids swimming, than put them in the child care and go do whatever you want for 2 hours, eat at the cafe, listen to a podcast while walking on the treadmill, sit in the sauna
We do have a community pool. :) I do not go there without other friends with us (it can be empty often). I may join a gym too so that I can get “me time” and not need to be responsible for them. I am working on planning this summer now so that we can have a great summer! (I think last summer was so hard- we were selling a rental property that had been a financial burden and the first buyers fell through so, it was an extra difficult summer). Thank you for your reply! I am working on not feeling “invisible” as much lots of it is a confidence thing I believe. Also when I worked I had some prestige as I was Ph.D. in the work area and now I do not have as much prestige as a stay-at-home-mom… I am working on lots of things :).
see if there is a mom’s club in your area. It was a lifesaver. Now I am going to grad parties for kids I met in Moms Club. It was wonderful for me.
Thank you! I sent a request to see where the nearest Moms club is! :)
I live in Phoenix and am dreading summer, too. I totally empathize. I’m in the Ahwatukee area. There are lots of young kids in our church group but still summer is a challenge. My kids love to have playdates. I have a boy 6 and a girl 4. Maybe we could join forces. I feel stuck at home because of the baby’s nap schedule. She is 6 months old. Email me if you like: it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if arranging play dates or something doesn’t pan out, we maybe swap ideas of good splash pads and public pools in the area. Solidarity, sister!
The dread of AZ summers is real! Check out http://www.iheartaz.com. They have summer guides of fun things to do and places to go that are a couple years old, but still have great ideas.
Oh yes. My son is 2 and I wonder if I will ever find myself again. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom more than I could have dreamed, but I don’t take care of myself at all and it sucks. I have no energy to make myself pretty or to workout or get regular haircuts or paint my nails. I used to love all those self care things that I never even thought of as self care – it was all just general maintenance. But now I’ve pretty much let myself go and don’t care that I’m ugly all the time. And that’s sad to me.
I had my sons at 27 and 29. I decided when I was 4 months along with the first that I would not be able to put him into daycare so I quit my job and immediately began networking for clients and referral sources. I am a therapist and by the time my son was born I had five clients which I saw in my home. By the time the second son was born I had ten. By the time they were both in school I was working full-time with a wait list. (By then we had purchased a home with a separate free-standing office.) Being a mother and having a family was my top priority and felt like what I was born to do. To all those mothers out there actively engaged, don’t worry. You will have time once again for your interests. Though I must say that many of my interests developed out of our family activities over the years!
I had my first child at 25 (8 yrs ago) and the funny thing is I have a journal entry from that time that says “I feel like I’ve lost my identity. Some women dream of this their whole lives. They need to have something to take care of and to hold close. I didn’t and now I feel like who I’ve spent all this time working towards is now gone.”
OF COURSE I cringe re reading that. How silly and presumptuous to assume that craving or valuing intimacy with a baby is in some way needy or weak. But I’m also sympathetic to my younger self because it was a complete shock. My adulthood up until then had been about establishing independence which roughly translated to DGAF, do what I want when I want, lets shake off the shackles of societal expectations.
So yes my identity was lost, in a very concrete way, when I had a baby because I could no longer do whatever I wanted. I think this sense of loss may be especially felt by women who have had to spend a lot of their lives fighting to live the way they want. Having a baby can feel like the end of all that work.
Of course, things change. Babies get older. Moms get wiser. And I am, thankfully, such a fuller and better version of myself now that I’ve had kids. But when I hear the melodrama of first time parents and their sense of loss, I feel a little bit relieved (glad I’m wasn’t the only one) and a lot of compassion because that having kids business is hard!
PS My kids are 3 and 8 and I actually still feel like my whole life is all about them. But there is less a sense of loss because I now know how temporary it all is. And also because I’ve discovered that parenting is actually a really good way to figure out who you truly are! Nothing better mirrors you and tests your sense of self like your children :)
I never really felt a loss of self when becoming a parent–I was very grateful to have a baby after years of infertility. But then after 6 years of staying at home, I started working part-time at a job related to my previous profession, which I had always felt very passionate and excited about. I was shocked when I started working how much more “mysef” I felt. It has been incredibly energizing.
I feel like I lost my identity 100%. I didn’t get married until 29 and had my first about a year later. Prior to getting married I had lived alone in Chicago for about 5 years and also spent a year in London with my husband. We moved “home” to suburban Kansas City after our wedding and had our first a year later. Coupled with some postpartum depression issues, after she was born I felt completely lost and couldn’t remember who I was. I truly loved being a mom but I also felt trapped and would day dream about my old life, my job, the exciting cities I lived in. Not to mention how clueless and scared you are with your first. I felt like I went from a dynamic, independent young woman to a bumbling, suburban mess. It probably took a year for me to get used to my new identity (and get rid of those pesky hormone problems). Now, 6.5 years later and a mom of two I feel like myself again – albeit a new version.
Becoming a mom at 31 I don’t feel like I lost myself. I do however feel a bit lost now that my daughter is in school full-time – not in my identity, but in my general purpose. I don’t plan on going back to any of the work I did before I had my daughter, but I need something beyond housework to fill my days!
I agree, even though I became a mother at 29, I was not particularly fully formed as an adult when parenthood came along. It has been a process of emerging—of learning through parenting who I am and who I am not.
I definitely felt a loss of identity and self when my first was born. I remember thinking that I had been eclipsed by my own baby. I know that probably sounds very self-absorbed, particularly in a culture that fetishizes motherhood, but that’s how I honestly felt. I had a long parental leave and then went back to work, and that transition back to work, though incredibly hard, felt like parting dark clouds. I felt more like me. I haven’t felt that sense of shifting identity as much with my second and third children’s births, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I knew I would eventually feel like myself and that I’d eventually be doing all the things I loved to do at work. It allowed me to relish the months I had off with my babies after their birth.
I definitely felt a loss of identity. I was 35 when I had my first baby and he changed me in so many ways. I lost my body (breastfeeding), my mind (all I could think about was him), and my relationship with my husband changed (self-doubt as parents) so that there wasn’t anything left of myself. I had number 3 baby 3 years ago and I would say only now do I truly feel like I’ve found a new self and a new way to interact in the world and within my family. It’s taken a lot of self reflection and finding a new person within me, the mother. I think of becoming a parent as a crafting of a new identity because we’re seen by others in that new role and we interact in this new “club” once we’re parents and we have to figure out how to do that and meld it with our pre-baby self. I’m still figuring it out, but I’m in a place now where I’m out of the hardest parts of physical mothering so I’m able to mix the old and new me and work with that a little better.
I married young (22) but chose to wait until my 30s to have children (31 for first). I am now a 36yo stay at home mom with 2 kids. Loss of identity has been my biggest struggle becoming a parent. I spent a decade as a graphic designer and still manage to keep a handful of clients, working part time, but it is so different freelancing in addition to being a full time mom. I am still figuring it out and get a little giddy thinking about re entering the work force full time as my kids both go to school.
I became a mom at 17 so any identity I had as a teenager isn’t one that I would have minded losing. (I wasn’t particularly happy and was a pretty selfish person.) I lost a lot of other things after I had my son, but my identity wasn’t one of them. Like you, I had to learn to be an adult and learn to be a parent at the same time. I married my son’s father almost 4 years later and we immediately got pregnant with our second. I made the decision to be a stay at home mom when all my friends were just finishing college and doing single girl, fun things. I missed out on those things, but I made the decision to be a wife and mom. That was my identity and I took it very seriously. If anything, I gained an identity by becoming a mother. That is my identity even now that my sons are 25 and 20. My job is just a job. It does not give me purpose or fill me with pride. My sons do that….every day.
So interesting! I let my identity become mainly that of mother even though I’m married and continued to work while my daughter was growing up. I spent a lot of time pushing her forward – I don’t have time to take on that new challenge because I’m a mother or I’m not worried that I haven’t accomplished anything lately, look how great my daughter is. Now that she’s in college and I’m an empty nester I’m wondering who I am without her to hide behind. This time period is coinciding with middle age and leaving me in one big mid-life crisis. I spend a lot of time meditating, journaling, and thinking, trying to make some sense of all of it.
Really loved reading these comments! Now, as a Great Grandma, I enjoy
looking back on my career as a mother . (Presently, with nostalgia!) I married at the end of my university junior year. I had been a drama and music major and had become somewhat addicted to “center stage.” I had my first baby one week after I graduated. My trek into Motherhood was a frightening and difficult trek into an enormously complex wilderness. I felt totally inadequate, mostly regarding cooking and housekeeping. I had neighbors (and a mother-in-law) who were expert in these areas and I struggled with the “competition.” I adored my beautiful babies and periodically I went back to school (part time) –mostly because I felt I could still be a good student, even if I couldn’t do anything else well. I love being a mother and do find that my “all-grown” children are my best and most accepting and validating friends.
I don’t think I lost my identity – I always wanted to be a mother, but I do struggle with the loss of time to pursue my own interests. I have 2 school aged kids and an insatiable desire to pursue creative interests (outside my full-time job) and find the lack of time to devote to this difficult. Its not that raising my children doesn’t bring joy or fulfillment – I involve them in my creative stuff as much as I can, but sometimes I just want to have an extended period of free time to focus on something *just for me*
I’m not quite sure how to explain it – maybe its a midlife crisis? I feel like I’m drowning in a well of untapped creative impulses. I wish I could quit my job, play creatively while the kids are at school, and then focus on them and family needs when they got home.
I married at 23 and had our first child at 27. Several years ago I found a post-it note I remember writing shortly after our son was born. It had been shoved in a dresser for years. It said, “When you give up one thing for another, always focus on what you gained instead of what you lost.” I think that indicates that when I was a new mother, I did feel a loss. But I also felt an incredible gain that I didn’t want to miss by grieving the old me. I believe our identity is so closely tied with our work–the way we spend our energy, time, will and passion. As my kids have grown, I have found ways to identify as a mother, but also as a college professor and with creative work like gardening and writing. I think in the early years of mothering, it feels like your identity might be shrinking. But being an intentional and invested mother has matured me and made me wiser as a human being. So actually, it grew me as a person and expanded my identity. I have gained so much in being a mother.
In many ways I feel like I found my identity. I had always wanted to be a mother, and raising our three children has been the single greatest joy of my life. The kids are now in their 20s, and I can honestly say that I know I am a good mother. It is the one area of my life where I don’t doubt myself. (Trust me, when they were growing up I certainly wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t love every minute, but for the most part I thrived as a mom. It fulfilled something in me that I couldn’t find elsewhere.) But this reflection is coming from someone who has a lot of distance from those early years. I specifically remember that during each of their tiny babyhoods I wondered if I would ever feel like “myself” again. And I was blessed to be an “at home” mother; I can’t imagine how different it would have been if I had been working a 9-5 job.
I found my career at age 40, and now I revel in the empty nest and the free time which is MINE. Yet I am never happier than when the house is full of our grown children. They are definitely responsible for helping to make me who I am.
I didn’t so much feel like I lost it to myself, I was doing as I’d always planned but I did feel invisible to other people. When we visited family I often felt like I was just the baby’s mother and along for the ride. I’m not sure what changed but I don’t feel that way anymore.
I definitely relate to those feelings of invisibility. I was the first of my generation to have kids in my large immediate and extended family, and I did get some pretty deeply hurt feelings when I felt that I was suddenly only valued as a breeder of cute little ones.
**Fascinating** conversation here.
I married young, age 20, and I did struggle when we finally adopted our infant daughter six years later. I learned I was an extrovert and staying home with her–facing that dreaded highchair and cleaning the highchair tray three times or more a day–was really hard for me. But I loved it, too… just would’ve loved it more if I had other women around me for most of the day. Each time we fostered littles I would lose a bit of myself for awhile and then when we gave up our license (and dream to add more children to our family) I had to rediscover myself. Now my daughter is almost 13, I’m not yet 40, and I’m in grad school and loving it. I absolutely love studying theology in seminary and feel happy to engage my brain so fully while my child is also in school. I’m hopeful that she’ll see my excitement and she’ll get this whole lifelong learning idea. Identity never seems to be a permanent situation, does it? I think we’re always ebbing and flowing. Right now I’m at peace with my lot and I’m excite for the future.
No, I think I gained my identity as a mom. The difficult part for me was when they all left the nest. That was when I felt lost and in need of figuring out who i was and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Thankfully, a grandbaby came along and so some of my mom identity returned and I stepped into a few new things that balanced it all out.
When my oldest was 18 months, we moved across the country for my husband’s work and I became a stay at home mom. Even though that was exactly what I wanted, I remember very clearly this deep sense of sadness that there was not a single person in this entire city that knew me as just me – my public identity was exclusively as M’s wife or K’s mother. When I went back to work part time 4 years later, the best part was that I had this thing that was my own – completely disconnected from my wife/mother identity.
I think it would have been different if I had local friends or family that knew me pre-marriage or pre-children – someone who knew who I used to be.
I completely feel like I lost my identity when I became a mom. In fact I even started to feel like I was loosing myself when I got married. All of a sudden I wasn’t just me, I was a wife too. I felt myself disappear when people stopped asking me about my aspirations in life, and just started inquiring about my husbands. Same thing when I had kids, everything became about them and I just felt empty. I think it also had to do with the way I was parenting, and partnering with my husband. I just naturally thought that I had to always put everyones needs before my own, and so I didn’t take care of myself. And nobody magically showed up to take care of me! I too got married at 21 and than had my first at 23. I felt pressure to get married quickly and I felt pressure to have a family quickly as well. I wasn’t ready for either of those things. Now 10 years of marriage later, and my oldest about to turn 8, I’ve finally starting to feel like myself again, mostly because I’m starting my career finally. I’ve given myself permission to seek out who I am, what I love, and how I want to spend my time. I love my children and my husband, they are my people. My goals now are focused on the people I love, and that includes myself again finally.
I had my first child at age 28 (she is 1 now) and didn’t feel any loss whatsoever. For whatever reason, my identity has stayed remarkably stable from high school until now – I have just always been very sure about who I am and the vision I have for my life. I do think this has something to do with marrying the love of my life, who I began dating at 17 – so the life we were envisioning together was always very clear.
This doesn’t really have anything to do with your post other than the picture but … that picture of your mom and your picture to the right above your welcome? Whoa! Do you guys look alike!!! Seriously. Very cool.
Adelle says of being a mom, “It’s the biggest blessing of my life.” Me, too. Motherhood has been the highlight. Really, with or without maternity our identity changes as we grow and learn–thankfully. I wouldn’t want to return to my selfish youth.
Note: As a busy mom, I felt I didn’t have time to do the art that I craved, so I resigned myself to give it up for those years, but a friend saved me. She knew I was creative and told me that I could and should make time for it, even then.
I had babies young, and I don’t think I lost my identity, but instead didn’t really have a first grasp of myself and was just consumed with the identity thrust upon me.
This is so interesting… What is our “self”? Can we loose it? I don’t think we can… BUt I think what people talk about as a “loss of self” is you not being the only center of your life. I mean before parenting, no mayter how much we are goos siblings, daughters, wives and friends – our life turns around ourselves.: what we like, what we want, what we need, what we dream about…. no mattaer how kind, generous and engaged towards others and our communities and jobs, we are : “me, me, me”…. And even if we are not “selfish”, we can at no matter what moment, decide to prioritize ourselves. It’s legitimate. We are our sole priority or we have the rigght to make ourselves our sole priority. And then there is a new baby and the priority shifts. You are not the center anymore and for the first years, you shouldn’t be bexcause the little ones depend so much of your attention, affection and engagement to them to develop and thrive…. So, the priority is to another one. I guess that what those who feel a loss are talking about is this loss of being legitimately capable of just thinking of one self. (Not in a selfish way, but taking time to read a book, take care of your body not worrying if someone else will be hungry f you are not fixing dinner, being the master of your timetable, etc). Before I was a mom (and I bacame a mom almost at 37°, I was very afraid of this loss… even though I spent most of my time helping others (friends, community, job), but I was still the sole master of all my choices (and they would affect mostly me and my husband). Then, it all shifted. But what I realized is that it won’t be like this forever and that I had already had many years “just for myself” and there is nothing wrong and there is no loss of prioritizing others. It took me almost two years to understand that I wasn’t lost, thatI am still me, even if I don’t have the time to do lots of things that I loved. I still love literature and movies, even if I can’t read or watch all I want. I still want to travel a lot, even if our budget don’t allow us now. I still want to do somethings with my career, even if it will be harder and maybe take longer…. And even if I don’t do what I envisioned first. It’s not the end of the world…. Life is vaster and more generous than what we have pictured for ourselves. Even when things didn’t go my way, different and great things happened too. So teher is no loss. The only loss we have is of a false sense of control over all our choices and life events… and this loss is actually a gift… It humbles us and let us open ourselves more compassionately towards ourselves and others.
Hmm, I don’t think I would describe it as a loss of identity for myself, but I do feel some sense of brokenness (though not in a wholly negative way). Motherhood has definitely been the hardest thing I’ve ever done mentally/emotionally and giving birth the hardest thing physically. Both of my kids (3 yrs and 11 mos) have had severe food intolerances, reflux, “colic,” and sleep issues (my three year old stlll doesn’t sleep thru the night–we’ve even done a sleep study, sleep consultants, sleep specialists, etc.), which has required me to deal with crazy diet changes on little sleep. I don’t feel like I’ve lost myself so much as it’s forced me to shed every superficial part of me that existed before and focus on who I am at my core. It’s both painful work, confronting those parts of yourself you would rather not exist, and joyful work, feeling like you can truly be who you are. The putting-together-again feels like a process that is definitely not over yet, but I’m hopeful!
Motherhood is the most altruistic act of all…whether we want it to be or not. Losing of “self” is both a good and a bad thing, I think. I remember my own mom (mother of 4) rebelling against her loss of self when we were all grown (middle school and older). She went back to school. Listened to her own music. Chose where we went on vacation. Made Dad do more of the mundane parenting tasks etc. And then later on, when she became a grandmother, she sort of submitted again to losing herself in the loving of her grand children. I remember thinking that she seemed happy again. Happy in the way she was when I was a little girl.
I completely feel like I loss myself when I became a mom and, almost 12 years later still feel the same. I am a perfectionist by nature and I think this has contributed to it. I obsessively give 100% to everything I do…. when kids came along, that just became impossible. I cannot give 100% to family, friends, my career, my kids etc. Some things had to give and in my case, this ended up being my career and friends. I have no family support and if I am being honest, my husband is not the partner/parent that I thought he would be. Everything kid related (cooking, cleaning, activities, homework etc) falls on me and I am exhausted and resentful. Not resentful of my kids, resentful that it all falls on me. I have to think for 4 people all the time. Through the last 5 years, I also lost my mom to cancer, saw my dad through 2 bouts of cancer, had to support my husband through a brain aneurysm and a job loss etc. I kept it up until this past fall, when I had to give up my job to take a lesser role for my own sanity. I was having panic attacks, crying fits, my hair has been falling out etc. Being a mom is the best thing that I have ever done but it is also the hardest as I feel I have the most ‘at stake’….. Loved reading these posts.
I would say no. I definitely don’t have as much free time for hobbies and recreational activities, but my identity wasn’t wrapped up in any of them before. In fact, it wasn’t until after I became a mother that I went from being a recreational 5K runner to running half marathons. I would say becoming a mother helped me come into my own. It gave me more confidence as an adult, and a greater sense of purpose. I also continued to work full time. While I don’t tie my identity into my career, I think if I were to have stopped working, I may have felt more of a loss. I think by being a mother and working and having some outside interests, I feel like my identity is not tied into any one single thing, which is good for me.
I had my first children a bit later; I had twins at almost 35, and I’m expecting our 3rd now and will be almost 37 when I deliver. I don’t know if it’s age, personality, or both, but I feel like I had a HUGE loss of identity when I became a parent. I also still feel like I’m trying to come to terms with this fact and to create/figure out my how I self-identify now. It has been probably the biggest issues I’ve had as a parent in addition to some intense post-partum depression and, of course, lack of sleep!
I definitely feel like I lost a lot of my identity when I had my first at 31. We had a large group of close friends and I had a couple of really good girl friends at that time. We were the only ones that decided to have kids. My friends couldn’t relate and weren’t willing to adjust to accommodate my new constraints as a parent. So I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to find a new cadre of girl friends. I work and I am an introvert at heart, so this has been extremely difficult.
In the last couple of years I finally felt like I was re-gaining my self as I discovered that I love trail running and I started meeting some other women to run with. But in the last year I’ve encountered some health issues that have essentially taken all of that away from me (I’m on blood thinners now and running miles up and down a mountain poses a risk that I’m not really prepared to accept given that I have 2 kids and my husband). The friends I started to make in the last couple of years are not close enough to provide much support. My job is currently at risk as well, so my professional identity is in question, and that is a huge stress to me.
I love my kids, but I don’t like the job of parenting. I often find myself daydreaming about when they are out of the house. Which makes me feel like a bad mom. I never found myself in “mom”. So yea, I’ve lost a lot of my identity and I’m really struggling to find myself right now. It’s hard.
I do feel like after 5 kids that I’ve lost my identity, however, I don’t know that I mind. I don’t necessarily like who I was before my kids. Being a mom was my calling and I think I’ve found my true self in motherhood. That being said, its not all rainbows and unicorns and glitter here. I had no idea how hard it would be….in all honesty, if I had known, I don’t know if I would have done it. The sleepless nights and potty training and preschool and babies came easily to me. Now we’re doing teenagers, some with some behavior problems and its lonely and isolating and like no other difficulty I’ve ever known.
Who am I kidding. I would do it all over again.
Thanks for the really interesting discussion!
I felt very lost after we had two babies back to back in my late 20s. Mostly, the grief was over lost sleep, lost personal time, lost romantic time with my spouse, and I basically disappeared from my busy social life. I was doing next to nothing for myself and that took a major toll.
But on the upside: the new limit on my time forced a lot of perspective. I finally solidified what I wanted to do with my life which I was unable to do pre-kids (working on a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy) and dropped the other balls I’d been juggling because they might be something I’d like to pursue someday. At some point too many opportunities become noise.
Parenting is definitely the toughest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t think there will ever be easy years and that thought is exhausting. But having kids also taught me that I’d been giving things up too easily when they didn’t work out. Even if I spent years honing a skill, if things didn’t work out at some low threshold, I called myself a failure and went looking for something I could be good at. Parenting forces you to keep taking a whack at things and involves lots of failing. I wouldn’t say I lacked work ethic, but I had a very skewed sense about the path to success. I am incredibly grateful for the perspective having kids has given me. I don’t doubt that if I was still childless, that I personally would still be “trying to figure it out”. Some people, like my husband!, are very fortunate to have an innate sense of self. I had to sacrifice my entire self to find me.
“Even if I spent years honing a skill, if things didn’t work out at some low threshold, I called myself a failure and went looking for something I could be good at. Parenting forces you to keep taking a whack at things and involves lots of failing. I wouldn’t say I lacked work ethic, but I had a very skewed sense about the path to success.”
I completely agree with this. Parenting taught me to persevere in a way that nothing else in my life ever has.
My husband and I tried for years and years to have a baby so I felt like I lost myself long before I even had my daughter. Though she’s now a toddler, my thoughts are still consumed about how anything I do or think about doing will affect her life. I no longer think about what I want for my future, but rather if my decisions are best for her. I want nothing more than for her to be strong and to advocate for herself so I know I need to work on demonstrating that myself.
This was probably mentioned in the comments already BUT I did go through a transition period with my first. It was so hard but it’s hard in different ways now. I would never say I lost my sense of self though-I love who I am and that includes the identity of being a mother.
I had my first at age 25 and before that taught school full time. I quit when he was 6 months old. I didn’t feel so much a loss of self as a loss of busy and stressful. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience with a baby but I was almost bored at home, compared to teaching full time. I found it hard to feel “fulfilled” with cleaning and cooking, even though I enjoy good food and a clean house. I was just so used to being busy every second. I had my 2nd child when my oldest was 20 months and it brought a refreshing sense of chaos back into my life–enough that I felt like I “fell into” my role as a mother finally.
I guess I’m just wondering if our perception of identity loss is connected to our desire for chaos or order. I didn’t feel like I was able to embrace my new identity until I had more chaos, for others it may be the other way around.