Before our daughter was born, I had a pretty full life. If I think of my identity as a pie, the pan was completely full. I had healthy slices of Wife, Employee, and Me—my personal interests, my relationships, and my health. I figured the same would be true when I became a mother. Once our little girl arrived though, every aspect of my life changed. How and where I spent my days changed—from doing workshops in an Internet company to doing dishes at home. Who I interacted with every day changed—from well-dressed adults to babies and the occasional mother or nanny in the park. How much I got to be with my husband changed from hours a day to minutes or none at all. How frequently I could exercise or read or go out with friends changed from nearly every day to once in a blue moon. How people referred to me changed - from my own name, Kristin, to “Kate’s mom.” The things I lost as a result of those changes—my name, my career, my paycheck, my colleagues, my time with my husband, my own interests—were all things that were deeply important to me and felt like major losses. Unexpectedly, I found myself puzzled, “Who am I now?”
Many mothers I talk to share that same sense of loss. Did you know that women take on a larger Mother identity much faster than men take on their Father identity? And that women with six-month-old babies who have a larger investment in the Mother identity actually have lower self-esteem? (Cowan) Yet, few mothers want to admit that the children we adore often also bring on this profound loss of self. The appearance of the Mother piece of pie presents us with a psychological pie dilemma we have to solve to find ourselves again: How do I integrate this huge new piece of who I am into my Identity Pie without making a big old mess? How do we find an answer to the question, “Who am I now?”
To help with that dilemma, here are four remodeling tools from my book, This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today.
Check yourself for invisible assumptions holding you back.
Have you ever felt bad about doing something for yourself when it meant time away from your children? Have you ever felt guilty about being employed? Have you ever felt ashamed that—shhhh—you sometimes feel like caring for your children or your home is, well, boring? I’ve had all those feelings, sometimes all at once! Those feelings are signs that—like most everyone else—you harbor subconscious assumptions, or mental maps, that mothers are completely fulfilled by caring for family and mothers who are employed or pursue personal fulfillment are selfish. Together, these assumptions mean mothers are likely to put themselves at the bottom of our own to-do lists. Be on the watch for when these subconscious assumptions keep you from taking care of yourself.
Download my Identity Pie worksheet
The Identity Pie worksheet is my adaptation of a research tool used by (Cowan and Cowan). The worksheet asks you to use a circle and divide it into four sections based on how large these pieces feel in your identity now.
- My More (Friendships, Health, Personal Interests, Ambitions, Leisure)
Then it asks you to draw another circle and divide it to reflect your ideal Identity Pie. Reflecting on the differences can help you identify what you could do to close the gap between your current reality and your ideal.
Pick one experiment—and do it!
Is there an aspect of your identity in which you feel like you experiences a big loss? What’s one thing you could do to experiment with bringing it back? Just one thing. For example, I took an online writing class when our daughter was a baby, another mother I know decided she would let herself read books after the kids were asleep rather than trying to do more housework, and yet another mother resolved that lunch with friends during her work day once in a while was important, even if it meant getting home a bit later. Now go to a Web site like www.Hallmark.com, write yourself a card with your promise to yourself to do that one thing and schedule it to be mailed to you in two to three weeks as a reminder.
Ask other mothers, “What’s your More?”
We all spend so much time talking about our children. Next time you see your mother friends or meet someone new, instead ask them, “What’s your More?” Get them talking about their personal interests, their personal or professional dreams, or how they would spend an entire day to themselves. You’ll both get some remodeling motherhood work done as you reinforce for each other that it’s important for a mother to hang on to the “other than mother” pieces of her Identity Pie.