How To Find Yourself Again After Motherhood
If you want your kids to chase their dreams, then you need to chase yours.
Motherhood is a struggle. And no amount of babysitting or blog reading could have prepared you for the unique difficulties of motherhood.
Higher Standards for Women
The standards and goals for women have changed significantly. Women have more opportunities now than ever before. And many of us are chasing and achieving our dreams. All while balancing a family.
Meanwhile, standards for parenting have also increased. No longer are the days of “be home by dinner time” when children roamed free and parented themselves. Our children are expected to achieve high academic and athletic success. Parents (more specifically, mothers) are expected to organize gluten-free bake sales, coach the soccer team, join the PTA, and host weekly playdates for the neighborhood kids. And all that requires more hands-on, all-inclusive parenting.
Keeping these new standards in mind, women are still three times more likely to do household work than their male partners. Even when these women are the primary breadwinner.
Looking at all these changes (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that motherhood is overwhelming and exhausting. For the first time, women are growing up with dreams and achieving those dreams. But we are still tightly tied to traditional home roles such as being primary caregivers and doing household chores. We are being pulled in all directions.
And we can’t do it all. Despite what Pinterest and mommy-bloggers tell us.
Motherhood Causes You To Lose Yourself
So we start to lose pieces of ourselves to accommodate for these conflicting yet demanding standards. Maybe we let go of a friendship here and there. Maybe we spend less time doing that hobby we love. Maybe it’s okay if we skip the gym this week…again. Maybe we’ll stop working towards our degree, at least until the kids get older.
We don’t lose ourselves overnight. It’s a gradual process. But then at some point we’re faced with the reality that we feel hollow and unfulfilled. Of course we love our babies, no question. But we also miss ourselves. Whoever that is anymore.
So how do we find ourselves again? The typical advice lost mothers get is to “just do whatever you did before you had babies.” But this is not a one-size fits all solution. And here’s why:
1. Who You Were Before Babies Isn’t Who You Are Now
That was months (or even years) ago! And you are not the same person now that you were before you had babies. And your needs, wants, and responsibilities are not the same. Whatever identity you had before your babies may no longer fit into your life now. So you can’t go back to it.
2. You Didn’t Know Who You Were Before You Had Babies
Some of us had babies while we were still young or even before we fully grew into an identity. So there is no previous identity to revert back to. We didn’t know who we were then, and we sure as heck don’t know who we are now.
I got engaged at 19, married at 20, had my first baby at 22 and my second baby at 24. I was very young when I entered the world of motherhood. I did not spend enough time on my own exploring my interests and having new experiences. So when babies came along, I still didn’t have a grip on who I was. Motherhood then stripped me of any sense of self I did have and I spiraled into a deep depression. Most of the advice in this article stems from years of personal experience digging my way out of that rut.
So what now? Are you just destined to live this half-life? Going through the motions with a constant longing for more?
To find yourself again, you need to make yourself a priority and discover who you are.
Make Yourself a Priority
Mothers are often the most selfless people. They would give up everything for their families. And they often do.
But the day to day struggles of motherhood can erode your identity and sense of self overtime. If you don’t make yourself a priority, you’ll spend all day helping others but never helping yourself. It’s important to engage in some recovery (or preventative care) each day in order to stay in touch with who you are. Here are five things to work on every day in order to make yourself a priority:
1. Get Back In Touch With Your Emotions and Needs: Before you can start prioritizing yourself, you need to understand what your emotions are telling you about your needs.
Children are pretty good at this. They lack emotional restraint and are very open (and often demanding) about what they need. This can lead moms to lose touch with their own emotions and needs as they care for or prioritize those of their family.
How can you put yourself first if you don’t even know what you need? Start to get in touch with your emotions by journaling every day, meditating, doing yoga, or praying.
Once you understand your needs, you need to communicate them to your friends and family.
This may mean saying ‘no,’ or having difficult conversations with loved ones to access what you need. This is not selfish. It is self care.
If you find it difficult to reconnect with your emotions and needs, working with a licensed therapist could be helpful. A few years into motherhood, the main emotion I experienced was numbness. I was a walking zombie, just going through the motions. It took a year of therapy for me to start feeling the full spectrum of emotions again. In order to prioritize myself, I had to do a lot of therapy to understand myself first.
2. Do Something For Yourself: To be clear, it’s not your babies that make you feel unfulfilled. It’s the lack of attention to your personal goals each day that adds up to an unfulfilling life. Every day (and I mean, every day) you need to do something for yourself. This is not “Treating Yo’self.” It’s doing something that adds to who you are as a person. This can include work, a blog, a hobby, volunteering, reading, taking a class, training for a race, and so on. Bubble baths and chocolates are great, but they don’t add more substance to your life.
3. Take Care Of Your Health: You are the most important person in your life. If you’re not caring for yourself, you can’t care for your family or achieve your dreams. Everyday you need to get enough sleep, eat plenty of healthy food, get enough exercise, and drink a lot of water. Without your basic needs taken care of, motherhood will tear you down very quickly.
4. Get Some Alone Time: As a mom, you’re basically a glorified, underpaid personal assistant. And let’s face it: your boss is demanding and the hours suck. Getting some alone time is important for your well-being. It helps you recover from the daily wear-and-tear of motherhood responsibilities.
This may mean waking up early to enjoy a cup of tea and read a book. Maybe it’s writing a blog post during nap time. Or hiring a sitter so you can do your homework for your online class. Maybe your husband plays with the kids while you go to lunch with a friend. Whatever it looks like, you need alone time to recover, take a breath, and just be a person.
5. Establish a Routine: One of the hardest things about motherhood, especially when the kiddos are little, is not having a routine. Motherhood doesn’t really have any due dates or deadlines, which can be quite a culture shock for mothers who just left college or work.
This was me. Within a few months after having my first baby, I graduated college and stopped working my three jobs. I quickly spiraled downhill after that because I felt like I was in this world where time didn’t exist. I could do the laundry on Monday. Or I could do it on Thursday. I could take my kid to the park today. Or I could go next week. It didn’t matter. And that was strange.
This ambiguity is what causes all your days to blend into one big fuzzy season. This is where you begin to lose your drive and sense of purpose. Not having a routine makes you more likely to stay home and not do anything.
As the kids grow up and are old enough to do activities, you’ll naturally start to create a routine. This was one way my struggles with motherhood started to improve. When my daughter was finally old enough to take a dance class, I put her in three classes a week. Just so we could get out of the house more and have a routine. She loved it. And so did I.
To fight this, come up with daily, weekly, and monthly to-do’s. Your to-do’s might look like this:
— Every day I go to the gym, read a book, and write in my journal.
— Every week I take the kids to a museum or a park.
— Every month we have dinner with our extended family.
As you make your to-do’s, be sure to prioritize your needs as well. Don’t just create a chore chart of when to get the cleaning done. Include things that you enjoy (and need) in your daily, weekly, and monthly routines.
Discover Who You Are
Once you’ve gotten a handle on prioritizing yourself, you can begin to discover who you are.
Whether you’ve been a mother for two years or twenty years, you may feel that you have “lost yourself.” Caring for your babies and seeing them grow is fulfilling in its own way. But it doesn’t replace your desire to also find fulfillment in other areas of your life.
Trying to find yourself again can be tricky. And you likely have no idea where to start. This was something I struggled with for a long time: Okay, I know I need to change. But how?
If you’re feeling a little lost, here are three ways to discover who you are and find yourself again.
1. Reevaluate Your Standards: As mothers, we are held to so many standards and expectations. But, are they even yours? Does your idea of motherhood stem from your own personal goals, beliefs, and values? Or is it shaped by outside sources, such as your parents, in-laws, your religion, society, Pinterest, or mommy-bloggers?
Living up to someone else’s standards can contribute to your feeling hollow and that something is missing. It forces you to spend time and effort achieving goals you don’t value or believe in. Reflect on what kind of mother you want to be. And start living up to those standards.
2. Find An Identity Outside of Family: It’s important that you establish an identity outside of motherhood. Aligning with an identity helps us create our sense of self, establish how we relate to others, and find our purpose. Our identity can be founded in a job we hold, a hobby we love, or a cause we are actively involved in.
However, our identity often gets lost in motherhood. This usually stems from years of not listening to our emotions or prioritizing our needs, as we discussed above.
As you begin to search for an identity, remember this important truth: wanting an identity outside of motherhood does not make you a bad mom. It does not mean you don’t love your kids. It means you love yourself, too.
3. Cultivate Your Passion: Pursuing your passion can be closely tied with creating your identity. Although, you can still have an identity you’re not entirely passionate about (like a chronic illness or a job that just pays the bills).
“Follow your passion” is another phrase that’s often thrown around with no actual tangible advice attached to it. When I expressed my feelings of being lost and people told me to just “follow my passion,” I would think to myself, “Cool, thanks. But I don’t even know what it is.”
That’s why it’s important to cultivate your passion, not follow it. It’s not this magic compass that just shows you the right way to go in life. It’s something you nurture and grow through time and effort.
If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, consider which of the following abilities or passions you most align with. This list of passions stems from Howard Gardner’s Theory Of Multiple Intelligences.
Gardner’s theory explains that there are more types of intelligence besides cognitive ability, like math and science. If you struggled with math but excelled in sports, this is an example of using a different type of intelligence to thrive.
Some of these passions may come natural to you or your experience with them has sparked their growth. Either way, some passions will resonate with you more than others.
Did any of these passions stand out to you? If so, you now have some idea of what you are passionate about. Dive deeper into the abilities you align with. Read books, take courses, volunteer, find jobs, or follow content creators that discuss these topics. Do a little bit of “passion study” each day so you can learn more about yourself and your interests.
Conclusion: You Can Find Yourself Again
Motherhood comes with many positives, like helping your family learn and grow and building life-long relationships with them. However, it can be hard to appreciate these benefits when you are constantly feeling down and unfulfilled.
And what do we want most for our kids? To see them happy and live out their wildest dreams. But why can’t you expect the same for you?
If you want your kids to chase their dreams, then you need to chase yours.
And those dreams don’t have to meet any specific standard of “big” or “small.” Whatever is important to you is big enough. It can be running a marathon, working part-time at a dentist office or building a six-figure business.
But before you chase those dreams, you need to prioritize yourself and discover who you are.
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