Who You Are, Not Who You Were

Stop identifying with a you that doesn’t exist anymore

Identity challenges often appear during times of change, and life certainly does change when you become a mum!

“I don’t know who I am anymore” is often heard and felt by many women who are struggling to adjust to life with children. Becoming a mother can feel like living in a paradox of grieving the loss of who you once were, while clearly knowing that you wouldn’t trade your life with your kids for anything.

The return to the working world is only one way your identity may be challenged once you become a mother. You may be one of many women who believed that becoming a mother would define who you are, that raising children is your purpose in life and you expected that having children would be completely life fulfilling. Whilst there is no doubt you still feel this way, it can still be quite a shock to feel the sense of identity loss as your life revolves almost entirely around your kids, bringing with it feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The scariest part of going through an identity crisis is not knowing what your future will look like. Asking yourself questions like “How long am I going to feel like this?”, “Am I going to feel less like my old self years down the track?” or “If I ever find myself again, will I even like who I am?”

No one can control this transformation to ‘mother’, but rather than being unconsciously carried down the river of change, you can learn how to participate in this transition more consciously, through identity awareness and acceptance.

Motherhood often brings with it a sense of identity loss. Dr. Alexandra Sacks, widely recognised clinical expert on the developmental transition into motherhood, says that:

‘giving birth to a new identity can be as demanding as giving birth to a baby’

How true!

Becoming a parent is a HUGE transition and you probably haven’t taken the time to fully adjust to the change. Don’t worry, very few mothers do. It doesn’t matter how prepared we think we are, becoming a mother can still be overwhelming, scary and strange. The trouble is, we then get stuck identifying with a past version of ourselves and what life used to be like. But this is the only reason why you feel like you’ve lost your identity; you are still trying to identify with a you that doesn’t exist anymore.

Your brain loves to identify with the past. Past life experiences have taught you to attach your identity to a picture of how life is supposed to look, in order for your life to be valuable. Feeling lost is just your mind’s way of saying it has lost its ability to play out roles you have come to believe define your worth.

When you become a parent, you need to learn to accept that who you once were has changed. Your identity isn’t lost, it’s just buried under nappies and school books. But you can slowly start to find yourself again.

Dr. Sacks describes the process towards identity awareness and acceptance as a mother as:

‘a dance, where you lean in to take care of your kids, but you have to lean out to take care of yourself. Because you’re still a human being, and you still have to care for your own body, your own emotions, your relationship with your partner, with your friends, your intellectual life, your spiritual life, your hobbies […] all these other aspects of your identity and your basic needs. Even if you want to just give unconditionally to your children, you can’t, because we’re humans, we’re not robots.’

What if I don’t like who I am now, compared to the person I knew before I had kids?

After having kids, you grow a lot as a person. You’ve just never had the chance to sit down and meet the new you! Perhaps you now try harder to do better at things in life, such as eating healthier, getting outside more, being kinder and more grateful. Maybe you have become better at letting go of the little things and are far more organised.

We often find our identity in what we do as opposed to who we are. This is why we try to identify ourselves solely as our job role or our daily activities. It’s also why so many women struggle to see themselves as more than a mum.

When you ask someone who they are, you’ll often get responses like “I am a nurse / a teacher / a childcare worker / a volunteer / a homemaker”. But people are more than what they do for a living; it does not define us as human beings.

Try reflecting on the following key questions:

  • – What do I want right now?
  • – Who do I want to be?
  • – How do I want to feel?
  • – What experiences would I like to have?
  • – What do I need right now to start feeling like there is a part of me outside of being a parent?

You may not know how to answer some (or all) of these questions right now, but when you figure out what you want from life, this sort of clarity is fundamental to making good decisions and positive changes – you just need to make it happen.

Life does not end because you had children. Nothing can interrupt life; every experience IS life. It’s just one event giving way to the next, with no event that is more important than another; everything is valuable. Parenting is a part of your life experience too.

​It’s important to get out of the mindset that focuses on all the things that you’re missing out on and start looking at what you truly want! No one can possibly expect to be enjoying life if they keep looking for everything they don’t have, but have no clarity on what they truly want.

Life has changed. You need to get clear about what you would like to experience and then make it a priority to research and plan how you’re going to get it.