Have you ever thought about your identity?
Who are you and what makes up your identity?
Did you have an identity crisis when you became a mother?
When I was pregnant I researched pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding just like all newly pregnant first time moms. Family, friends, even strangers were giving words of advice and making obvious statements like “your whole world is going to change” or “you will never sleep again”. These things made sense to me and I felt prepared when they later occurred.
What I was NOT prepared for was completely losing myself in the first year of motherhood.
I was overjoyed to finally be a mother but I didn’t recognize myself. I thought being a good mom meant giving everything to my baby. I thought I had to “do it all” but I never expected it to be this hard or confusing. And then I went back to work… and these feelings increased 10-fold. Every day I would question if I made the right decision to return to work. Should I be here? Should I be home with my baby? If I stayed home would it grow on me; would I like it more than working? Should I start a business and work for myself?
Being back at work wasn’t as fulfilling as it was before I had my baby. It was actually stressful; trying to pump several times a day, trying to focus when I just left my baby with strangers at daycare, trying to remember things with the fog of new mom brain. I wasn’t the employee I was before. I thought I liked working but now that it was hard and taking time away from my baby I didn’t know where that left me. Then I heard the term “identity shift”. This changed everything for me. I had my “ah-ha” moment of motherhood. I was fighting my identity as new mom, especially my identity as working mom.
In fact, I hadn’t even thought about my identity before I had a baby. No wonder I was so lost.
I worked for the same organization for 10 years before I had my son. I worked hard, I received promotions, I completed projects, and I built a solid reputation for myself at a company I enjoyed working for. For the first time, I realized that even before I had my son I was a career woman. I worked a full 8 hour day before going into labor – of course my career is a huge part of who I am. Then overnight, I had a baby and I was removed from the world I had known. I returned to my workplace with a different identity – a career mom. I had seen countless working moms do it; they work until they give birth, they are gone for leave, they come back and continue on as if nothing had happened. No one talks about having to redefine yourself and your career goals once you have a child. I felt so alone while I sat at my desk questioning my entire existence in the workforce; feeling like I’m neither a good mother nor a good employee. I spent several months reflecting on my identity. Who was I before I had my son? Who am I now? What kind of mother do I want to be? I was intentional about defining my own version of my new identity.
Here is what helped me:
- Embrace your career identity. I was first a career woman. Now, I am a career mom. My career
goals look a little different than before I had my son, but I still have a desire to pursue a career in
a large organization while working full-time. Once I embraced my new identity, I found that a lot
of my guilt lifted. I was wasting so much mental energy overthinking my work situation. I
stopped questioning why I was going to work every day. I knew why – because it is part of who I
- Stop the comparison game. Who are you comparing yourself to? When I asked this question to
myself I was surprised that it was my pre-baby self I was constantly thinking of. Pre-baby Jenny
could clean the house, pre-baby Jenny woke up at early to get a workout in, pre-baby Jenny ate
healthy, pre-baby Jenny killed it at work. Well obviously, pre-baby Jenny didn’t have an f***ing
baby. Comparison looks different for everyone. Are you comparing yourself to friends with
older children, to your mother, to the perfect insta-moms? Comparison results in unrealistic
expectations we try to live up to. Identify where your comparison is, give yourself grace, and roll
back those expectations.
- This is totally normal! Losing yourself in motherhood is normal. Not recognizing yourself is
normal. Missing your old self is normal. Struggling with the transition back to work is normal.
After I had a term, “identity shift” to define what I was feeling I started having conversations
with other women about the topic. Everyone had experienced something similar, especially my
working mom friends.
- Motherhood is a time of conflicting emotions. You can feel confident in your work and unsure of
yourself as a mother one day. The next you can feel like a confident mom and a bad employee.
Not every emotion requires action. You don’t need to quit your job because the transition back
is hard. You don’t need to be a stay at home mom because you had a bad day. Some days are
just hard. We can’t “fix” the conflicting emotions of a working mom. They will always be there.
- An identity shift is not a bad thing. It is complicated to sort through and it takes time. There will
be pieces of you that you may let go of, but instead of going back to your old self you are
becoming a better version of you. Becoming a mother brings so many positive changes to our
identity. Embrace them and move forward with intention about how you are going to define this
Who are you going to be when your kids grow up? Don’t lose sight of her. She is important and she deserves your time too. Our identities are ever-changing. Each time another major milestone comes along we may find ourselves redefining our identity again, but at least this time I hope you are prepared for it.
You can find Jenny at the following spaces in the social media world:
Facebook: Career Mom Podcast Group
Podcast: Career Mom Podcast