Loss of Identity in Parenthood

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 parent!

“I don’t know who I am anymore” is often heard and felt by many parents, particularly mothers, who are struggling to adjust to life with children. Becoming a parent 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 identity may be challenged once you become a parent. Many people believe that becoming a parent will define who they are, that raising children is their purpose in life and expect that having children will be completely life fulfilling. Whilst there is no doubt they still feel this way, it can still be quite a shock to feel the sense of identity loss as life revolves almost entirely around 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 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 the transformation to ‘parent’, but rather than being unconsciously carried down the river of change, we 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’

Becoming a parent is a HUGE transition and most people probably haven’t taken the time to fully adjust to the change. It doesn’t matter how prepared we think we are, becoming a parent 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 many parents feel like they’ve lost their identity; they are still trying to identify with a person that doesn’t exist anymore.

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

When we become parents, we need to learn to accept that who we once were has changed. Our identity isn’t lost, it’s just buried under nappies and school books. But we can slowly start to find ourselves 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. We just never get the chance to sit down and meet the new version of ourselves. Perhaps we now try harder to do better at things in life, such as eating healthier, getting outside more, being kinder and more grateful. Maybe we 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 parents struggle to see themselves as more than a mum, or a dad.

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?

Many parents may not know how to answer some (or all) of these questions right now, but when they figure out what they want from life, this sort of clarity is fundamental to making good decisions and positive changes.

Life does not end because we have 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 life experience too.

​It’s important to get out of the mindset that focuses on all the things that we’re missing out on and start looking at what we 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. Parents need to get clear about what they would like to experience and then make it a priority to research and plan how they’re going to get it.

If you need any help with reigniting passion in your parent employees, or would like to know more about our parent support programs, then please give us a call today on 0402 294 953.  We’d love the opportunity to help!