Before children, we feel like we have the world at our feet, hopes and dreams, interests and goals, our own identities. We have a fantasy in mind about becoming a mother but don’t realise just how much it changes our life; going from “me” to “mum”.
For some, there is a sense of grief involved, losing what once was and worrying about not being able to get it back again; the identity and time for self. Becoming a mother provokes a vulnerability that some people may never have known before. Questions such as: “What do I do?”, “Will I cope?”, “What if something terrible happens to my child?”, “Am I good enough?”, “Who am I now?”. It’s a steep learning curve and there’s no manual.
How to redefine your identity when becoming a mother
As you become a mum, your desires and motivations are no longer self-centered, they are based on you and your child; time for yourself is almost non-existent. Becoming a mum means experiencing a love, a closeness – the kind of bond you may never have experienced before; a powerful emotion that can have a profound impact on your sense of self.
But the transition to motherhood doesn’t mean you have to lose your identity, becoming a mum is all about redefining your identity. Here’s how you can do it.
Don’t look back
Part of redefining your identity is learning to not look back at what you have lost or missed out on. None of that can be changed. All you can do now is consider your current situation, adjust your goals and expectations and look forward.
Revise your self-worth
The reality is that your self-worth hasn’t changed at all but your life has. It’s no good criticising yourself for expectations you can no longer meet. Be kind to yourself and revise your goals and expectations to fit motherhood. If the stressful things you keep telling yourself continue, try some self-empathy to get these thoughts unstuck!
You are not just a mum; you are a woman with goals, interests and needs. Self-care is an essential part of maintaining identity and as guilty as you may feel to take some time out for yourself to read, to undertake a hobby or relax in a hot bath, when you fill your cup first, there’ll be no room for resentment and plenty of room for loving your life.
Make time for friends
Sitting at home in isolation is not going to do anything for your identity or self-worth. Stay in touch with old friends and try making new friends at mother’s groups or play groups. Friends who understand and are willing to be honest about their struggles are the best friends to have, providing some reassurance and relatability on your motherhood journey.
Spend time with your partner
Remember all the times you went out with your partner before kids? Make the time to do it again. It’s an opportunity to strip off the ‘mum uniform’, get dressed up, not worry about making dinner and enjoy some adult conversation. Best of all, it’ll keep the flames going in your relationship.
To do all of these things, you need to make time. Time for you should be at the very top of your priorities list, well above domestic chores. Will the world stop turning if the cleaning doesn’t get done? Not likely. But if you don’t make time for yourself, exhaustion, resentment, sadness and loneliness can begin to creep in. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends, family or partner for help so you can catch a break and get into a routine to do it at least once a week.
You will always be your toughest critic but, in becoming a mother, it’s time to put the fault finding aside and appreciate the momentous change you have gone through. Be kind to yourself, take small steps, be realistic and never forget the power of me-time.
This is a Guest Contribution by Brisbane Counsellor Dr Rachel Hannam. Dr Rachel leads an all-female team of psychologists working with new mums, helping them to adjust to this life-changing experience.