It’s so common to feel out of touch with the woman you used to be. Which of these suggestions could make you feel like your old self again?
If you’ve ever felt like motherhood has you feeling a little less like yourself, welcome to the club. Losing your identity as a mom—you know, the pieces of yourself that make you feel like you—is one of those things that can sneak up on you and seriously take a toll on your mental wellbeing.
So many moms feel like motherhood has them in survival mode only. Or, it can turn into a self-sacrificing endeavour where your baby’s, family’s, and even partner’s needs all come before your own.
The list of things to keep up with (especially in the earliest stages of motherhood) is never-ending. Tend to the baby’s cries. Take care of your sick six-year-old. Address the pile of laundry that’s been sitting there since Monday. Clean the kitchen (again) and cook the family a healthy dinner…
Pretty soon, you may notice that it has been months or years since you even did anything substantial for yourself. Maybe before you had kids, you used to spend Sundays catching up with the girls at brunch. Maybe weekends once looked like dancing until the wee hours, running in the park on Saturday morning, or planning your next international solo trip. Now, you don’t have time for even a fraction of any of that. You don’t even remember the last time you cooked your favourite meal or dressed up in clothes you actually like wearing. (Sometimes messy buns and yoga pants are just more practical than sun dresses and high heeled boots, you know?)
As understandable as this is, it can make you feel like you’re losing your identity. That can feel frustrating, sad, or maddening.
Do you know what I’m talking about? Are you nodding along as you read this because you’re relating pretty heavily to this? To be honest, motherhood is amazing but you’re not always having the time of your life! Let’s break down a little more about identity loss in motherhood, why it happens, why it feels so awful, and, importantly, how to get back in touch with the woman you know yourself to be.
Why identity loss in motherhood happens
Why do we so often feel like we completely lose touch with ourselves once becoming a mom? As a parent, the list of things to do is a long one. It’s not just you anymore, you’ve got a whole family to care for now. That means your priorities have shifted and your energy gets pulled in a lot of different directions. This is especially the case during the weeks and months after giving birth. During that time, you’re running on less sleep, your baby needs your help with literally everything, you’re up during the night, and likely figuring out feeding challenges. It’s a lot.
Even after that phase, it can just feel like you don’t have the bandwidth to make yourself (or self-care) a priority anymore. A kid’s needs might just feel more important than Friday wine with the girls or a rainy Saturday reading with tea. Plus, there’s so much pressure (consciously or not) from society to be the self-sacrificing mother that we’re all expected to be.
Not sure what I mean? Ever felt a drop in your stomach after hearing something like, “The mom who does it all.”? Or, ever seen someone else’s Instagram feed and felt guilty for not also having put together the perfect kids’ birthday party… while simultaneously killing it at your career and travelling on amazing trips with your partner (and, and, and!)?
This is what I’m talking about. There’s an implied expectation to check all the boxes. It can feel impossible to keep up (because it is!). Pretty soon, you feel like you’re losing your identity as a mom. Putting yourself last becomes the norm. Your manicure appointments feel way too self indulgent. You don’t have time to keep up with your friends… despite having always been someone who values your friendships. You don’t even dress like yourself anymore!
Why it feels so painful
It can be so easy to dismiss emotions around identity loss in motherhood. These kinds of small losses can feel frivolous, self-centred, or like they aren’t “big enough” problems. You may be unknowingly invalidating yourself by saying things like…
- “Who cares that I no longer go on my big summer shopping spree? I have to spend money on my family now. That shouldn’t feel like a big deal.”
- “I used to spend Friday evenings cooking with music and a glass of wine but then again, shouldn’t I have known that would end when I had kids? I chose this.”
- “After work I used to wind down with tea and reality TV. I really miss that but I feel like I shouldn’t complain.”
- “I miss my book club. But that’s such a stupid thing to complain about when other moms have real problems!”
Recognize these? When we dismiss ourselves in this way, we’re denying our inherent human need to be seen, witnessed, understood and accounted for.
You’re allowed to take up space! You’re supposed to be able to develop, grow as a person, pursue your interests, be experienced by others, and follow intuitive gut instincts with regards to your own life path. That’s just part of the human experience.
Losing your identity in motherhood is very difficult emotionally because you are in a position where you have to grieve your past life. That doesn’t mean that you don’t like what your current lifestyle looks like or that you’re not looking forward to what lies ahead. It just means that there can be a sadness that accompanies marking the end of an era. For example, if you and your core group of friends used to plan a camping trip every summer that you’re now unable to attend, that’s sad! You’re allowed to feel that loss.
The identity changes that happen in motherhood also happen quite abruptly. Think about the other ways you have morphed and changed over the years. That growth probably happened pretty gradually, right? So gradually that you may in fact not even have noticed how much you changed from the person you used to be. But that’s not the case with motherhood. One day you’re pregnant and literally the next day you’re a mom. It’s very sudden. Even nine months of pregnancy is a very short time period when you think about it. Becoming a parent means your days look completely different and you’re expected to just take that in your stride and be completely ok with that major shift.
There are also so many things you don’t have access to anymore. Spontaneous lunch meets ups are a thing of the past. You and your partner can’t just go out of town whenever you want. You may not be able to accept a job with a certain schedule or travel requirements and without flexibility for the lifestyle that you now have. All of these things take some major getting used to.
Finally, a lot of your value may be wrapped up in the fact that you’re a mother. There’s a loss there as well. You might find yourself frustrated and thinking, ‘What about me?”, “What about my unique traits?”, “What about what I want to do and how I want to spend my time?”
When we break it down like this, doesn’t it make sense to be a) shocked by the abruptness of the changes and b) missing your pre-mom self and your old lifestyle?
As I write this, I have this worry about sounding all doom and gloom. But before I went back to water down my points, I reminded myself that this is all very real, it’s the truth for so many moms. But what’s really important is that we go beyond simply acknowledging what’s hard. We need to take that next step to get back to feeling like you matter again.
How to start feeling like yourself again: 28 suggestions from real mums
Alright, I know that a certain amount of shifting and adapting to changes is necessary. And truthfully, you might even just be in survival mode for the first months of your child’s life. That’s completely ok!
While it’s necessary to put aside certain hobbies or activities for some time, you do eventually need to return to yourself. So yes, your newborn’s needs or your family’s well being will absolutely have to take priority at times but my point is that that cannot be forever.
You’re not just here to parent and serve others. (Read that again if need be.)
You are also here to enjoy your life, have your own needs met, express yourself, grow, put energy into passion projects, and share your amazing qualities with others outside of your family. If you have a hunch that you’re just not getting enough time for you, you’re probably right.
So what do you do?
I asked moms in my Instagram community what they do on a regular basis to reconnect with themselves and get back in touch with who they were before their little kiddos showed up on the scene. The responses blew me away. Notice that these are not epic things by themselves. But the accumulation of mini-acts that reflect who you are as a whole person will begin to add up.
Below are some of my favourites, word for word from my question box on the gram.
- Getting eyebrows/hair/nails done regularly. It’s so simple but could change a lot
- Talking or reading about history
- Cook one of your fav meals for yourself, plate it nicely
- Try a pottery class
- Join a book club
- Hit the hot yoga studio
- Pick a type of workout for alone time (i.e. spinning, zumba, barre, hiking, weightlifting, running, etc.)
- Tutor kids and watch them become empowered
- Plan some girls time
- Take a dance class
- Start a creative project like photography, writing, painting, sewing, or baking
- Listen to your favourite music
- Spend time in the garden—plants can be so soothing
- Going back to work and building a career you’re proud of
- Drink beer in a yeti!
- Join a soccer or cycling team
- Dance in the kitchen while cooking
- Go fishing with friends in the summertime
- Join a women’s circle for healing
- Go for walks alone in nature
- Sunbathe in summer and soak up the sun’s rays!
- Plan a trip and travel without the kids
- Make cards for birthdays, big milestones, the holidays, etc.
- Spend time trying out new makeup
- Go for cocktails with friends
- Go camping and enjoy being outside the whole time
Which of these are you most compelled to try? How many could you commit to trying?
I want to encourage you to start small, and not expect yourself to nail it right away. It will take time for you to evolve into knowing this next version of you, and that’s totally okay.