The motherhood identity crisis is difficult to get through.
Which makes sense. Identity is a tricky thing. Beliefs and values are two of the core concepts that we hook our identities onto throughout out lives. When we become pregnant or when we become mothers, this seemingly changes overnight.
Identifying Root Causes
I used to be a smoker. And a drinker.
And a depressive. An alcoholic. An anxious person.
I quit being those things six years ago.
But I didn’t stop smoking, drinking, wanting to die, or having a belly ache for years after that. Instead, I just stopped identifying with those characteristics as deep truths about who I was.
Not hooking our identities onto negative traits and actions is obvious a good thing. Literally nobody argues otherwise. If I’m not a smoker, I don’t have to smoke. I just choose to. If I’m not a depressive, I don’t have to be depressed. I don’t choose to, but maybe its more happenstance than identity.
“Let go of those old stories about who you are. That that bullies got you to believe. That you tricked yourself into believing”
The crowd goes wild
But we need to realize that even when we attach our personality to more positive or neutral traits, we suffer. This is because identifying with a trait—rather than just having one—makes us feel attached. When we are attached to something, a change or loss of that thing makes us suffer.
Two Scenarios to help Understand Your Motherhood Identity Crisis
I want you to imagine two scenarios that will help you understand your motherhood identity crisis. Knowledge is potential power, so this could be the start of turning things around.
Imagine a little kid with an ice cream cone. He licks and blam, the whole scoop falls over onto the ground. While I’ve never seen this happen in real life, TV assures me that this is a common occurrence.
How does the boy react?
This is an example of attachment. The kid wanted the ice cream. He thought it was his. Then the world took it away and hurt his feelings.
As adults, we don’t tend to wail and scream over this kind of this. Oh well. It’s an ice cream cone. Whatever.
Now imagine a man. He’s a professional in his 40’s. He’s been working as an engineer at the same job for 7 years. One day he walks in and gets fired.
How does the man react?
Exactly the same as that little boy.
But the feeling is similar.
Upset. Robber. Wronged.
While many adults have let go of their attachment to items, they have not let go of what helps them define themselves. You are the kind of person who does this and believes this.
This is an example of attachment to the concept of the self.
Engendered and Engendering: The Motherhood Identity Crisis
Before motherhood, I was tough. Tough in a way I liked a lot. Independent. Ready to leave a boyfriend at the drop of a hat and make my way out into the world by myself because I don’t need your help thank you.
When I got pregnant, a lot of that softened. I wanted to have the support of my partner. I wanted to be taken care of. I wanted to stick it out through thick and thin, for the first time in my life.
A lot of women experience this.
In Engendering Motherhood: Identity and Self-Transformation in Women’s Lives, author Martha McMahon explores this reaction to our new roles. She reveals that motherhood is not just a gendered experience, but an engendering one. That means, in general, we are feminized by our experience as mothers.
For me, succumbing to and accepting the desire to be more feminine has allowed me to have a very harmonious relationship since my pregnancy.
But things didn’t have to be that way.
Instead, I could have been torn. I could have let an motherhood identity crisis. I could have fought the change, felt trapped in my relationship, and bogged down by my new role.
How did I avoid that?
How to Let Go
The ice cream cone. The job. The roughness. They are all examples of attachment.
In the case of the job or the personality trait, they are attachments to the idea of the self.
But the self of a solid, stable self is illusory. While there are inborn personality differences, there’s nothing that guarantees a radical life change couldn’t shake that foundation.
Look at a picture of yourself 5 years ago. 10 years ago. 20 years ago. All those are the same person? Are they who you are now?
Of course not.
Acknowledging this will help you overcome the motherhood identity crisis. Allowing the concept of the self to loosen its grip on you means giving yourself permission to change.
To be someone different. To value new things.
That doesn’t mean you won’t have an identity.
If I tell that 40-year-old dude not to attach his ego to his job, I’m not saying stay unemployed. He’ll just start identifying to that in the long run anyway. He needs to fix the underlying problem of attaching his sense of self to his actions, beliefs, and roles.
Meditating Our Way Through the Motherhood Identity Crisis
I want you to think about your old traits, your old job, your own beliefs about what a woman should be the same way you think about an ice cream scoop that drops on the floor.
Well, that sucks. I guess I gotta clean this up. Maybe get a new one.
You can, of course, take a personality trait of yours and say, “Because I’m like this, I am destined to be mired in a motherhood identity crisis until my kids are 20.”
Or you can realize that personality traits are tools. And you can start letting go of some of these ticks by meditating on them.
I want you to do loving kindness meditation. Pick a mantra like this:
May I be happy. May I be free. May I be comfortable, and at Peace.
I want you to offer that gift to yourself. And I want you to meditate really hard and offer that gift to yourself 20 years ago. 10 years ago. The day you found out you were pregnant. The days you felt like you lost your sense of self. The day 20 years from now when you feel the sting of losing your identity as a parent.
When you can give this kindness to yourself—past, present, and future—you will find that the grip of who you need to be will finally loose. You can let go of the motherhood identity crisis. And just be here, being a woman. Changed, sure—but you were always going to be.