We hear moms say it all the time… “I had children and I lost myself”. I get it. I’ve seen so many women in therapy who feel this exact same way. I also felt that way at one point in my life. There is something about having children that seem to take whatever sense of identity you DO have and flush it right down the toilet. Kids have a way of sucking the “self” right out of you. Then easily make you forget that you even needed a self in the first place.
Sure, we can blame it all on motherhood. Because if you’re a mother, you know how easy it is to get completely lost in your kids. The demands, the juggling. All a vortex that can be catastrophic for the self. The fact is though, it’s just not that simple… There is SO much more to the loss of self that we experience as women. Our kids don’t pop into this world and then all a sudden we have no clue who we are. It may feel like that’s what happens. But we need to take a closer look at how we get there.
I’m of the belief that losing yourself in motherhood happens much more easily if there was a shaky sense of self before even having children.
Here’s the thing. I became a mom for the first time at 20, and I was a single mom from the beginning, and I can tell you that at 20… I had absolutely no freaking clue who the heck I was. So, my question is, how can you lose yourself as a mom, if you don’t even know who you are in the first place? Can you really say that your sense of self stood on solid ground before you had children? Maybe you can. But for many of us, I don’t think that’s possible.
Life Before Children
At this point in my life I can now look back and confidently say that in my younger years, I was one big ball of a hot mess. I actively found my identity in everyone single person OTHER than myself. At that time, it was mostly boys, and friends. When I got older, I added alcohol into the mix. I needed the approval of men to make me worthy. I sacrificed parts of myself that I KNEW deep inside I shouldn’t, in an attempt to feel loved or valuable. If a friend was mad at me, my world was OVER. I had very little ability to stand firmly on my own two feet.
Then I numbed it all by drinking excessively. When I was drunk, I had liquid courage. I loved who I was. The crash the next day would send me into a cycle of doing it all over again. Desperate to fill the void of having no sense of living in alignment with my true self, I leaned heavily on using people to fulfill my needs and substances.
Looking back on this time in my life I can clearly see that my foundation of self before becoming a mother was built on quicksand. I wonder how many other women have been able to lay a rock-solid foundation of self-security and knowing before having children, and how many women were in the same boat as I was?
Then We Add Children to the Mix
For me, I went from this period of self-destruction straight into motherhood. I did things in a way that some may judge as backward in my life. I had a child way before I got married. When I had my daughter, it was easy to lose myself in her because I wasn’t even there to begin with. I loved her with all that I had. WAY more than I loved myself. The path was a no brainer.
I pursued my college education (which is where I finally started to learn about self-identity), but it didn’t start with something I was doing for me. It was for her. It was so she would have a great future. So, I could provide her with the best life possible.
Thank goodness that in this process of doing life for her, I began to also see that I needed to do life for myself. In turn, by taking care of myself, I would more positively affect her than I would if I stayed in the place of constant martyrdom and forsaking of myself.
The Relationship with our Partner
By the time I got married (when my daughter was 9), I was beginning to grasp my sense of self. It was still a huge struggle, but I was fighting for it. I was growing and I was learning to follow my own dreams for my life and listen to my own heart and inner callings.
Then, I got married and it was like a whole new vortex that sucked me right back into the old ways of thinking and being. Everyone else came first. I wanted SO BADLY to be married and have a family. I had to do everything in my power to make sure I was the best wife to keep it from falling apart.
Whether or not dinner was on the table every night or my husbands’ clothes were washed was a DIRECT reflection of my worth and value as a person. At this time, we had another baby and I was building counseling practice. Holy moly, it was a lot. To say I had a lot on my plate is an understatement.
When Your Identity Doesn’t Come from Within
I remember so clearly my husband coming to me one day and suggesting that we hire someone to clean our house. Rage was my first reaction and I hit the roof. I was so angry and hurt, I don’t think I talked to him for a week. My reaction and depth of hurt was so intense, not because of his suggestions, but because of the weight, I was putting on my ability to “preform” as the perfect mom and wife.
Because our house wasn’t clean enough, I was WORTHLESS. I was failing at my most important role. The things I told myself about this failure was abusive. I wasn’t really mad at him, I was mad at myself. To ask for help was the ultimate failure. To admit I couldn’t do it all was impossible. I was supposed to be superwoman, and no one was supposed to know that my cape was only hanging on by a thread.
Writing this out now makes me chuckle to think about my poor husband’s baffled response to my reaction. He totally didn’t get it. But I also didn’t communicate my true feelings to him. He had no idea that my entire worth as a woman was riding on whether or not I could build a successful business while also being an amazing mom and keeping the house spotless. He had attacked me at my weakest and most vulnerable place. Yet he had absolutely NO clue that this was where my thoughts and feelings of myself were grounded. Now we have an amazing woman who cleans our house and I am SO grateful for the help!
The Shift in Thinking
I tell you all of this to say that my knowledge of who I was and my sense of being secure in my true self was not developed before I became a mom and a wife. Far from it. My guess is that this is true for most of us.
How many of us are taught from a young age to cultivate who we really are? We go through the teenage phase where the only thing we really want to do is fit into the “norm”. Not long after, we are having children! And if you have children young, well forget it. There is no time for forging your sense of self while you are in the trenches of caring for small children.
By the time we have been parenting a while, there is no freaking doubt we are EXHAUSTED. Parenting can do this crazy thing of pushing us to our breaking point. A point where it hits us square between the eyes that we have NO CLUE who the heck we are and what the heck the point of all this is. We think it’s parenting that has done it to us when it was already an issue long before our children made their entrance into our story.
The Demands We Face
There is no doubt that being a mom is no walk in the park. It’s the hardest and most beautiful thing I’ve ever done. And, it is not my ENTIRE identity. That began forming WAY before I ever became a mom. We are told from the beginning of our lives to people please. Be sweet, be quiet, don’t talk back, don’t think for yourself, put other’s needs before your own, don’t be selfish, fit inside the pretty little box that has been created for you.
Many times, knowing who we are is getting to a place where we are so sick of being who we have been told to be that we break. We say, “I can’t do this anymore”. For some this looks like a midlife crisis, depression, anxiety, hating being a mom, resentment, outbursts, yelling, conflict with our spouse, and substance abuse. Don’t wait to get to a place where you are feeling absolutely miserable to take the time to get acquainted with your true self.
As a mom there is ALWAYS a list of 50 million things to do that will never make it a good time to prioritize yourself. That’s the reality of parenthood. And THAT is what we get sucked into. It’s an issue of not prioritizing the relationship with ourselves, rather than “losing” our self.
Unlearning Who We Are
What if knowing who we are is more of an “unlearning” the things that we took on in those earlier years? The things we’ve been told we are. The beliefs we have been taught. The characteristics and traits that we incorporated to try and please the people around us.
We were not made to exist in an experience where we recreate ourselves to please our children, spouse, and everyone we meet (or will never meet for that matter). We were created to live an authentic experience as the person we are at our core.
Sometimes we use children as a distraction from getting to that place, rather than learning to go there and experiencing life and parenting from a place of true self, rather than a false self. What if our kids can actually HELP us learn more about our likes, dislikes, and boundaries?
The Time is Now
No matter where you are in your parenting journey, NOW is the time to reconnect with who you are. Your children will greatly benefit from truly knowing their mother. What makes her smile, what makes her cry, what she loves, and what she won’t put up with. It’s time to dive into building that foundation that needed to be laid before having children. It’s also the time to start teaching our children to do the same. At a very young age! And the best way to do that is by modeling what that looks like for them.
You have the right to not go with the flow, and you have the right to speak up even when it goes against the grain of what everyone else wants. Setting boundaries is your right, and you also have the right to be in love with yourself. My friend, you have the right to express who you are. You have the right to make yourself a priority. You have the right to do the work you need to do to get there. The time is now!
Reflection Questions to Dig Deeper:
- How much were you in touch with your own self identity before you had children?
- What do you think has most molded your sense of self?
- What things are you carrying in your personality and life that aren’t really you?
- What’s your plan to shed these things and set further onto the path of your own self-discovery and authenticity?
I’d love to connect and journey with you over on my Facebook page where you can check out more personal growth content and connect with me! Can’t wait to hear what you come up with in your reflection time!
Cheers to growth and building a solid foundation!