Take it from someone who’s been there: There is change, and sometimes it catches you off-guard. I’m here to tell you that having kids won’t (necessarily) compromise your identity as a woman, wife, or professional. In fact, being prepared for those inevitable changes will prime you for abundant opportunities for learning and growth. Here are a few things to consider when prioritizing your identity in the midst of the precious wildness of parenting.
One way some of us try to hang on to our pre-baby identities is by adding new, often acronymized additions to that identity. We become SAHMs (stay-at-home moms) or WAHMs (work-at-home moms). Maybe we are now APs (attachment parents), FTMs (first-time moms), and WOHMs (work-out-of-home moms).
It makes sense; when confronted with the fact that motherhood does in fact require at least a little shedding of our own identity to get it done right, we want to cling to another identity that at least justifies the whole thing. If we have to give up part of ourselves, we need something else to hold on to.
We’re all told often that we need to develop a strong sense of who we are to feel confident and love ourselves. At the same time, holding on too tightly to that sense of self can cause problems and keep us from experiencing genuinely joyous moments.
In her essay “Why You Shouldn’t Cling Too Hard to Your Sense of Identity,” Wanda Thibodeaux shares what she’s learned from author Kitiara Pascoe. As Pascoe explains, “Cling too hard to the definition of who you are and you inadvertently can stop yourself from taking positive journeys and having experiences that truly change and develop you. You can get sucked into a pit of ‘can’t’ and ‘not’ that keeps you stuck.”
Anyone who has raised a child can probably see how this can be translated to motherhood quickly; if you spend too much time fixated on who you were before you become a mother, you’ll miss out on experiences and joy that can only be derived from your child. If you cling too tightly to your new largely self-applied motherhood-related labels and roles, you’ll miss out on experiences and joy that can only be derived from a life outside of your child (but not without them).
I have been interested in two big things since the minute I found out my son existed: being the best mom that I possibly can be and continuing to nurture myself both outside and inside of motherhood. It hasn’t always been easy, but there are some things that have made it easier.
First and foremost: Moms have got to take care of themselves. This can mean a lot of things. When you have a newborn, this might mean letting your baby cry in their crib for 10 minutes while you shower.
It sucks, and you’ll feel bad, but your baby won’t suffer any lasting emotional harm (you’ll be right back!), and you’ll be clean. Take the shower.
But taking care of yourself also means going to your annual medical checkups. It means getting those routine tests. It means making sure you get odd moles and spots checked out when you see them; it means making an appointment with your gynecologist if you have unusual ovarian pain.
It means going to the dentist. It means going to therapy. It means making time for friends even if it’s only once a month.
Part of taking care of yourself also means taking care of how you dress and look. I don’t mean that you should go outside of your comfort zone and start dressing in a way that you haven’t before, but I do mean that if it’s killing you to wear the same yoga pants five days a week, take 10 extra minutes and wear something else.
It’s not superficial to enjoy the clothing you’re wearing, and it’s not excessive to put a little makeup on each day if that’s what makes you feel good. Who cares if other people think you’re overdressed for the park? If you’re happy about what you look like and you feel good, that happiness will spill over into the lives of your children, too.
Not everyone has someone who can watch the kids while they go out with friends, read a book, or just take a walk. But if you can find those opportunities, take them. You don’t have to spend hours away from your children if you don’t want to, but creating and nurturing something that is just for you — whether it’s reading or knitting or gardening or helping friends research potential boyfriends online or playing The Sims — will reconnect you with part of yourself you might miss.
If it’s truly impossible to do things without your kids, try finding ways to do something you want to do but with them. As someone who has tried all of the above with my child (maybe not internet “research” on potential boyfriends … yet), I know planting flowers with a 3-year-old and planting flowers on your own isn’t the same, but it’s something.
I am a big believer in the idea that we can’t truly love someone else the way they deserve (or even the way we want to) until we really love ourselves. Not everyone agrees with that idea, and that’s fine. For me, what it means is that if you want to nurture any kind of relationship with someone that is fulfilling, safe, and strong, you also have that kind of relationship with yourself in the first place.
Similarly, I think mothers should practice loving themselves as much as they love their kids. That can be so, so hard; we are typically our own worst critics. It can be tough to stop the endless loop of self-doubt and self-criticism from taking over, but I think when kids see their moms fully into themselves, they learn that it’s OK to be radically in love with themselves, too.