Parenthood: an identity crisis

When you think about starting a family, everyone will tell you how hard it is to manage your time, your lack of sleep, caring for an infant, your suffering relationships with friends, your bank account, and your newly sprouted and impossible-to-work-off-muffin-top. But rarely do people talk about the identity crisis you’ll go through. Becoming a parent is an identity crisis, plain and simple. And some people get through that more gracefully than others. I was not so graceful.

To varying degrees, everyone who starts off on the baby-adventure will eventually face the challenge of integrating a new identity (mother, or father) into their other suite of well-used and comfortable identities. If you think of yourself as a pie-chart, nicely divided up into many different pieces, things seemed to be an a decent balance, or at least manageable before. If you’re like I was, perhaps the “professional” you took up 70% of the pie, whereas the other identities fit nicely in the 30%. I took pride in that professional side, and had lots of space for the other identities like friend, sister, wine-lover, restaurant-frequenter, jogger. Little did I know what was to come.

When pregnant I was in denial. Deep denial. Ever-expanding, I was still squeezing into cute little shoes, getting dressed up, having nice dinners-out (while having a whinge about missing my wine), or camping trips away, and working like a maniac. I fantasised about maternity leave as a nice relaxing break from the busy life, and that a baby would simply add to the other identities; it would fit right in!

When little Em came along boy did she set me straight. In the space of a few days, out the door went ALL of the other identities, and “Mother” took over. You dont really get a choice in the matter, do you? I certainly didn’t. Impossible to picture getting the others back, three months into motherhood I went into mourning for my ‘lost’ identities. Normal people out for a run, on their way to the office, having an after-work drink, camping trips. I watched them with intensity and pure envy. With that came an overwhelming sense of guilt as I really did love being a mother. If I was happy being a mother, why did I desperately long for my other parts? Why did I end up sneaking a fancy cocktail in on a Friday during baby-nap-time?

Because as I’ve said before, you get lots of things from your identities: intellectual challenge, self-esteem, fun, belonging, love. It’s hard to get everything from one identity and you’ll miss the other stuff, you’ll mourn it. You’ll mourn the old as you renegotiate the pie so to fit in the new one. So 18-months in, I realise that it’s normal (and in retrospect, should have been expected?) that the baby will take over your entire ‘self’ for a while. But eventually the others do creep back – you start finding time for that jog, you take on some work, you will see friends again (if they’ll have you back), and you’ll keep the bits of the old you that you really loved. While you’ll never be the same again, you’ll find the new, expanded pie and you’ll (hopefully) love it.

Well, until you think about having another. *Sigh*


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6 Responses to Parenthood: an identity crisis

  1. james says:

    You have to love the little bastards. Managing it all is definitely hard but its also hard imaging not having them. Thank goodness for alcohol.

    • alym says:

      You’re so right. Wouldn’t take it back for the world. Cute little things aren’t they? Maybe it’s not a surprise that we seem to always end up living in wine regions of the world 🙂

  2. Wendy says:

    Sooooo true. Over 3 years in and I’m still struggling with this. These cute little things use up a lot of the pie…still! But yes, worth it!

  3. JST says:

    I remember us talking about this a while ago..
    And then when kids grow up, they will need you less or differently, and the pie changes again. We just have to go with the flow somehow

    • alym says:

      Thanks Josta and Nadja!
      Josta I do remember chatting about this 🙂 You’re right, I think the pie never stops changing, and every year there’s something new to cope with (maybe a loss of job, a new job, a new baby, retirement, teenagers, etc etc). Good to just go with the flow and not fight it too much if possible!!

  4. Nadja says:

    Thanks Aly, for being so truthful. It’s refreshing to read something so honest.

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