Saturday, September 19, 2009

Losing Yourself, Finding You: Motherhood and Identity

I remember a time, before kids, when people would ask "What do you do?" when we were introduced. But, as a mom, the questions have changed. When I meet someone new, the questions are "How old are your kids?" or "How do they like school?" Or, in a rare moment, "What did you do before you became a mom?"

Crossing into the world of motherhood can be filled joy and excitement, but it may also be a time of transformation and loss of identity for women. The birth of baby can lead to "nurture shock", according to The Mask of Motherhood author Susan Maushart, a "virtual frenzy of caring" placing the mother in the center of spiral of need and selflessness. During this time, "many women have reported a feeling as if they have ceased to function, or even to exist, as people in their own right."

We can lose our self-identity in motherhood and fall into a sea of guilt, self-doubt, and uncertainty, feeling as though we are no longer part of the "real" world - an image that our work-driven culture deepens even further. The devaluation of childrearing combined with an idealist image of "super mom" can make any strong, confident woman crumble in the face of motherhood.

And yet a new generation of mothers is reclaiming its choice to stay at home and is staring this identify shift squarely in the eyes. These moms are not traditionalists, but rather "they want to be home because in some quiet moment caring for their children, they have suddenly experienced the vastness, the intricacies, the delicate nature of this work," say the authors of What's a Smart Woman Like You Doing at Home?. Many of today's moms are choosing to set aside their careers or to transform them creatively to work flexible hours or part-time in order to be at home with their children. Unfortunately, we are still struggling with both the identity issues and the guilt. Women choosing to be home feel guilty for not "using" their professional skills or education, for not contributing "something important to society", for disappointing the women's movement, or for not bringing financial resources into their families.

In spite of the destabilization, identity crisis, and prospective guilt we experience through motherhood, being a parent also finds a way for us to build a stronger, more confidence sense of self. Parenthood is filled with challenges to our core values, our beliefs, and our daily activities. As our children begin to define themselves, we are forced to redefine who we are, what we believe, and what we choose to stand for. We may ignite new passions and rebuild our identities on things that matter to us, and not so much what is given importance by others. How we redefine ourselves begins to come from a place of depth, as opposed to how we earn our paychecks or what our tastes may be. Parenthood may also take you on spiritual journey - a journey about compassion, love, and understanding. Becoming a parent may enable us to review and reconnect with our past, learn to live in the present moment as our children do, or renew our inspiration or faith. Even though we appear to be caught in the midst of repetition and daily routine, personal growth in parenting can be astounding. As spiritual teacher Bhagwan Ranjeesh has said "The moment a child is born, a mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new."


  1. A very nice post. I especially relate to the ideas in the last paragraph about how expanding motherhood can be even as we circle our wagons around the home. Before I had children, I fancied myself a world traveler. Afterwards, I found that a similar sense of risk and adventure could be had just walking the neighborhood with my newborn. and I was just writing about this today on my blog, The Next Youth Hostel.

  2. What a great post! And one I can SO relate to. I've been finding myself lately questioning how I'm doing as a parent. These questions are really helping me to grow as a person, not just a mom. Parenting is the most challenging job I've had by far. While I do feel so blessed to be able to be home with my kids, I have struggled with that feeling of having lost my "purpose" at times. That's where HMN has helped me so much in feeling grounded. Not only is it great to have a support system of moms that have similar beliefs and values when it comes to raising our children, but being in a leadership position has helped to fill the void I've felt since no longer being a part of the working world. In finding my purpose with HMN, I've also found that it's helped me grow as a parent. Thank you so much for creating such an amazing community!

  3. I just wanted to say that I loved this piece on identity. This happens to have been the last topic at our monthly meeting. We all discussed what being a mom meant to us and how we have changed since taking on the role. It was a wonderful way to get to know our other members more deeply. Since our membership is international in its makeup, the various perspectives were both eye-opening and inspiring.


    Christina Byard
    Co-leader, San Jose

  4. I love this article. It is so true.
    Would you have any interest in contributing something along those lines to my blog which is also geared toward holistic moms and green living? (with a link back to your blog in the signature at the bottom)

    So many moms feel the way you described.


  5. I really appreciate this post. I have been feeling this way, and have not figured out how to answer "I'm a SAHM" without sounding apologetic or resigned. My son is 5 months old, and I am grateful to be staying at home with him, but there are many days I fantasize about working as a therapist again, and getting paid for the work I do, or having a day off. Loren


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