I was asked by @mindfulsauce to write about my identity as a woman separate from that of a mom. Many moms lose their identity in motherhood. I am no exception; however, my story is a little different.
I STRUGGLED WITH HAVING NO SENSE OF SELF-IDENTITY
Motherhood is something that changes you. Many of us simultaneously embrace our new role as mothers while grieving our old way of life. Staying out late, hanging out with friends, and having free time are things of the past. Our new norm is taking care of children, having little free time, and getting limited amounts of sleep.
I lost my identity when I became a mom, but that isn’t the full story. Yes, I became enraptured in motherhood, and my life revolved around being a parent.
However, prior to motherhood my identity was also not linked to who I was as a person.
Growing up in a dysfunctional home, my identity throughout my life was linked to others. My childhood identity was enmeshed with my mom. I didn’t know who I was because my well-being and sense of wholeness stemmed from her approval. Granted, I had hobbies, and I always had a deep sense of right and wrong. However, it didn’t change my need for my mother’s acceptance. I still couldn’t untie that knot that bound me to her. My identity was being my mother’s daughter and wanting to feel needed and loved by her.
As I mentioned in my article about life through my eyes, my identity was always contingent on others. I needed a friend, a boyfriend, etc. to make me feel better about myself and feel safe. I saw myself based on those roles, but I was never was able to peel back the layers and see who I was separate from others. Instead, I saw who I was based on my relationships. Granted, we all have relationships, and we are meant to have connections with others. However, those connections are supposed to enrich our lives, not solely define it. I saw myself as a daughter, sister, and a friend. I never stopped to think of who I was as a person.
When I got married, my new identity was a wife. I took on that role wholeheartedly, as I did all my other identities. I cooked, I cleaned, I took care of my husband, and I felt it was my job to give entirely of myself.
LOSING AND REPLACING MY IDENTITY IN MOTHERHOOD
When I had my daughter, my identity shifted. I completely defined myself as being a mom. However, this time was unlike the others. Society expects moms to envelop their identity in motherhood. Therefore, as I lost my identity in motherhood (or in my case, replaced my identity), it was something that was considered “normal”. Whereas walking around solely defining myself as a daughter or a friend may have raised eyebrows, nobody blinked twice when I spoke about my role as a mom. I blended right in with the other moms who only spoke about diaper bags, rash cream, and sleep training. I no longer had free time or could concern myself with my hobbies, but neither were any of these moms. Not only was I being given permission to lose my identity in motherhood, it seemed like it would somehow be wrong if I didn’t.
The demands placed on mothers sets us up for failure. We are expected to do it all. Sweep floors, clean up messes, wipe runny noses, change diapers, schedule playdates for our children, pay the bills, prepare meals, wipe away tears, take our kids to school, help with homework, and take them to extracurricular activities. Mothers are supposed to be their children’s cheerleader, supporter, nurse, nutritionist, advocate, playmate, confidante, teacher, counselor, driver, event planner, cook, housekeeper, and go-to person. Whether you work or stay at home, the to-do list is never ending.
We are pulled in so many directions that it is impossible not to fall down the rabbit hole of losing oneself.
There is no time for ourselves when we are programmed to believe it is our job to take care of everyone else.
As a result, for a long time it never even occurred to me that it was a problem to not have an identity separate from being a mom. As a stay-at-home-mom, it was my responsibility and job from the moment my daughter was born to take care of her, nurture her, support her, and guide her. The twist was that my daughter has special needs that require additional support. From the age of four I was also taking her to Occupational Therapy, getting her tested, supplementing what she wasn’t getting at school at home, and fighting to get her an IEP. My daughter struggles with playing independently and lacks impulse control, so I was her permanent playmate and bodyguard as well. If I turned my back, she would do reckless things and get very badly hurt.
Her need for constant supervision only reinforced the belief I had that I was supposed to lose my identity in motherhood.
I know my husband had mixed emotions about me losing my identity in motherhood. On the one hand, he was happy to let me run the show when it came to taking care of our daughter. I did it all. From feeding her to playing with her, from teaching her to bathing her, and from reading to her to putting her to sleep, I was a one-woman show.
However, now that my identity was tied to being a mom, that left little or no room for my identity as a wife. I was too tired after taking care of my high-needs daughter to show him much affection. Before my daughter was born, I was consumed with taking care of him because my main priority and identity was to be a wife.
Now, I couldn’t give to him as much as before because I had my daughter who needed me.
When my daughter started school, I was inconsolable. I cried when she started part-time three days a week. When she started part-time five days a week I cried for a month. When she started full-time five days a week I cried for months. I did not know who I was without taking care of my daughter all the time. Although I did long for time for myself, I wanted it in spurts. I didn’t want her away for hours every single day. As a result, I felt lost. I was still her mom, but I wasn’t needed as much. The truth is, I didn’t know who I was without that constant need. Just as my identity was once wrapped up in my mom, my identity was now wrapped up in my daughter.
HOW I RE-DISCOVERED AND ESTABLISHED MY IDENTITY
I think having the courage to go no contact with my mom helped me open my eyes to my need to find myself, separate from anyone else. I love my husband and daughter immensely, but I am my own person separate from them. As a child, I was conditioned to feel that my job was to take care of others. As a result, I thought it was selfish to focus on myself. I am finally able to see how wrong that way of thinking was, and I understand the importance of discovering myself.
I started homeschooling my daughter two years ago. It would have been immensely easy to fall back into old habits. I could allow being a mom to be all I am and all I need to be. However, that would be a disservice to myself, and just as important, to my daughter. I want her to feel encouraged to spread her wings and fly, however it may break my heart. She can only become a self-sufficient grownup if she is encouraged to be her own person. Otherwise, I would only be continuing the codependent cycle of her defining herself based on being my daughter.
One of the reasons I started my blog is to do something that comes from me. It is about me writing from my heart. I write about my husband and daughter often because they are huge parts of my life, but I write about my experiences. Accepting I need them while understanding I am so much more than just a wife and a mom has been a huge life lesson.
PRIORITIZE TIME each DAY FOR YOURSELF
I also learned that whereas I must keep an eye on my daughter for her own safety, that does not mean I cannot incorporate time for myself. I can have her near me while I read a book. In fact, we sometimes sit next to each other and each read our own books.
Just as the cycle of abuse stopped with me, I now know the cycle of codependency must stop with me. I want my daughter to know who she is as a person, and I want her to always prioritize maintaining that identity separate from others. She grew accustomed to my sole focus being on her, and she will complain when my focus is elsewhere. Therefore, I often remind her of the importance of taking care of myself. I explain to her that being a mother does not mean that I am not my own person. I also remind her that I always love her, but it is my job to take care of her AND also take care of myself. She knows that it is a priority for her to always take care of herself too.
FIND OR REDISCOVER HOBBIES THAT ARE JUST FOR YOU
My daughter likes constant attention, and I am encouraging her to be her own friend. She is learning to find comfort and enjoyment in independent play. I will set her toys up in a safe room and let her play in it while I write, exercise, or spend time with my husband. She sees me finding joy in my hobbies and things that are just for me. This encourages her to do the same.
INCORPORATE A SELF-CARE ROUTINE IN YOUR DAILY LIFE
I have instituted a self-care routine. There have been times I’ve neglected my well-being, but each time I start my routine again. Change isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. I hope I am showing my daughter that with determination and a desire to do better, growth is always possible.
Who am I? That is something I am still discovering. With more life experience I think that answer will grow and change. I think like everything else in life, balance is essential. I feel that labeling yourself as a wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister is natural and part of the human experience. However, I learned that the key is to embrace those identities while not losing who you are distinct from those connections.
The beauty of life and of experiences is that I get to unravel more about myself and my identity every single day. I can embrace my identity as a mom with all of my heart and still discover who I am in the process. I am proud to put “mom” on the list of who I am, and I will add to that list as I grow along the way.