Why Motherhood Shouldn’t Become Your Identity Once You’re A Parent
Motherhood didn’t become my identity– it helped me find it.
Even before my first daughter was born, my world started to shrink.
As soon as the second line appeared on the pregnancy test, everything became about this new person who would soon enter the world. The pregnant woman’s bible, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, urged me to think about the pea-sized hitchhiker in my uterus every time I ate or drank anything. “Before you close your mouth on a forkful of food, consider, “is this the best bite I can give my baby?” (Note: this is a terrible, terrible book that no one should read.)
Once that baby was born, days and nights became a blur of leaking breastmilk and diaper changes as my old life receded into the background. It was hard to believe there’d ever been a time when my daughter didn’t exist; nothing else seemed to matter anymore except for her. I never got tired of holding her. “Put her down once in a while,” my mother said when she came to visit. “It’s good for both of you.”
But I didn’t want to. I wore her in a sling everywhere I went, slept curled up next to her, and nursed her whenever she made the slightest snuffling sound. It was the happiest I’d ever been.
New mothers often feel they’ve been exiled from the world they used to know when childless friends stop calling or inviting them out. And sometimes they impose exile on themselves, cutting off their friends from pre-parent-days and acting like martyrs to their children. Their friends who don’t have children wish they understood them better, while new moms wish their childless friends understood them.
If there’s one thing we could all stand to do, it’s give each other the benefit of the doubt.
It’s hard to have a lot of perspective when you’re being awakened multiple times throughout the night and learning to care for a small, helpless person who is completely dependent on you. You love your baby, but sometimes you wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into; you miss your old life. And if you’ve just given birth, there are a ton of heady hormones ratcheting all your feelings up several notches as well.
Maybe it was easier for me. I was so young when I had my daughter, I didn’t have much of an identity yet. I had friends, but not the lifelong kind who might have missed me when I disappeared into motherhood.
After I had a baby, I made new friends who also had babies. We met at each other’s houses and drank cup after cup of coffee as our babies gurgled at each other, took walks in the park with the babies strapped to our chests, formed book clubs and playgroups and became each other’s touchstones.
Fifteen years later, many of those women are still my best friends. We compare notes on raising teenagers and shake our heads in disbelief at how quickly our babies have grown taller than us. But our children are no longer our whole worlds.
We’ve gone back to old careers, or started new ones. We’ve headed back to school and taken up new hobbies. We’ve gotten divorced and remarried. We’ve seen our parents through illness and dementia, and supported each other through cancer diagnoses. We’ve cried together over the deaths of partners, siblings, and friends.
In many ways, I grew up along with my kids. I found my tribe on playgrounds and in breastfeeding support groups, at class picnics and parent-teacher nights. But as my kids grew older and more independent, I started to become more independent, too.
I started writing; my first story was published when my girls were three and seven. I started running; first I trained for a half-marathon, then I ran a full marathon. I discovered my love of karaoke and got over my shyness about dancing in public. Just the other night, I danced like a fool and sang my heart out at the bar, not thinking of my kids once all night. And I have plenty of friends now who don’t have kids; sometimes I prefer hanging out with them rather than with other parents.
It’s true that your life will change forever once you’re a mother. You won’t ever be quite the same again. But that doesn’t mean motherhood has to become your entire identity. It just might take a while to find your new footing. Most of the things I love to do, I started doing only after I became a mom – and most of them don’t have anything to do with my kids.
For me, motherhood didn’t become my identity; it helped me find my identity.
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Comment: Do you feel that motherhood defines you?