Who Am I? My conflict between Being A Mum and Being Me
The best way to describe motherhood is “The Ultimate Chaos” - it is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unrelenting! The transformation experienced through Becoming A Mum occurs on every level, from cellular physiology to overarching life plan. The complexity and enormity of the change is almost too much to put into words - and even if we manage to articulate one aspect, that still feels insufficient in capturing the uniqueness of individual experiences.
Our body shape changes. Our hormones change. Our sleep cycles change. Our cells change. Our moods change. Our personalities change. Our relationships change. Our beliefs change. Our priorities change. Our desires change. Our needs change... I’m not sure any part of us actually makes it through unscathed!
In thinking about writing this piece, I’ve struggled to pin down which aspect of “identity” to focus on. There are so many areas where Being A Mum conflicted with Being Me - and so many of these experiences differ between women. Trying to sum up how the collective “women’s” identity changes through motherhood does many women a disservice, so I decided to be self-focused in the hopes that some women relate, and other women are prompted to think reflectively about their own journey.
When I asked a few of my friends about their experiences of identity in motherhood, one said something that resonated: “I expected to feel heaps ‘motherly’ and to in some way turn into a stereotypical SAHM and lose my identity... turns out I am very minimally ‘motherly’... and I felt guilty about that for a while. So there was an adjustment of finding my new ‘self’ and [knowing] that I can still be ‘me’ and not be overly maternal and still be a good mum”.
I have never felt “motherly” or like I *should* have kids, and having them brought out a lot of internalised conflict. It took a long time for me to integrate Being A Mum into my identity and trust that I was still valid in my own right and I hadn’t somehow let myself down. That shift forms the basis for my reflections here.
Who I Was
I was 24 when I had my first child. He was an accidental pregnancy and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to be happy about it because my internal narrative said, “you shouldn’t have kids until you’re settled and have everything else you want in life”. I felt like I’d done something wrong and ruined my future prospects, which was exacerbated by the lack of friends my age with kids. I never felt like I was allowed to say anything positive about the experience, and had to keep going with everything else I was doing (fitness instructing, a Masters degree, then a private practice) in order to prove that I was still worth something.
But I loved him more than anything else in the world. When he was born, I wouldn’t let him go. It felt like it was me and him and everything else faded away. I wanted to just stop and allow this to be my world, instead of trying to write essays while he slept on my lap, 2 weeks after he was born.
But my internalised narrative dictated that I had to keep pushing forward, to ‘do it all’ and not fall into the ‘trap’ of Being A Mum. You may have guessed by now that my own mother was a career-focused high-achiever...! My attempt to integrate these two selves ended up with me pushing myself to achieve, while never admitting to anyone that I was happy Being A Mum. Instead, I focused on all the awful things about motherhood and reiterated those to myself and others (with a smile of course!) whenever someone asked, “How are you?”
My Husband’s Take
My husband believes that motherhood is paramount above anything else. Although he supports my career (he was actually the one who pushed me to expand my practice and took on a bigger role with the kids to enable that) he sees the value that Being A Mum has, and believes that being parents is the most important thing we do. His mother was also extremely hardworking, but the difference between our role models was that she worked for her sons, whereas my mother worked for herself.
Why does this matter?
My husband noticed the difficulty I had trying to reconcile my maternal instincts with my internal narrative. He pointed out that it’s actually ok to Be A Mum. We spoke a lot about the contradictions, including the desire to do everything for my kids, while feeling frustrated that I was needed all the time.
I felt guilty for wanting to Be Me, and guilty for letting women everywhere down because I wanted to Be A Mum. I felt like being Just A Mum wasn’t enough, but I also wanted to do All Of The Things that Mums do because I valued Being A Mum.
Confused? So was I...
The Crux of the Matter
At the risk of sounding dramatic, everything in my soul was crying out “just let yourself Be A Mum” but my internal narrative was stomping down on that saying “Being A Mum isn’t good enough”... and I was trapped somewhere between the two, trying to do it all.
I was never properly calm.There was what I call a ‘Vicious Voice’ in my head reminding me that I wasn’t doing everything ‘right’: I wasn’t being a good enough mother, and I wasn’t being good to myself... I had no idea how to mesh these seemingly separate parts of myself into one person. The way I saw it, it was all or nothing: Mum or Not Mum, and the two couldn’t co-exist with one another.
Who I Am
I have learned that I don’t need to feel conflicted about Being Me and Being A Mum, because they are both me. I can enjoy motherhood without losing my identity or feeling like I’m doing something wrong. I don’t need to be the kind of mother who plays for hours on end with her kids, because I was never taught how to do that and I’m terrible at it (as my son frequently tells me!)... but I can be my own kind of mother, who takes her kids on bushwalks, watches Tv with them while cuddling on the couch (screen time, shock!), and teaches them about their emotions.
Rather than trying to Be Me or Be A Mum, I have tried Being Me As A Mum. I have allowed myself to embrace motherhood on my own terms. I still work, but not as much, so I can pick my kids up from school. I still exercise, and I take my kids with me to the gym, or they’re babysat by their grandparents (which I don’t feel guilty about!). I tell them I need time out to read my book, and that’s when they’re allowed to watch TV or YouTube - and we sit and cuddle while we do that.
Drawing on my strengths allows me to be the best mother I can be, and, most importantly, to enjoy motherhood. It also means my kids get the best mother I can give them - not a perfect mother, but a mother who is true to herself, enjoys her time with her children, and isn’t feeling guilty 24/7.
Being Me As A Mum doesn’t look the same as Being You As A Mum - and that’s ok! There is no one right answer; motherhood is a journey throughout which we continue to evolve and re-evaluate the best course of action in different circumstances. There isn’t one-size-fits-all, or one-identity-fits-all... there’s trying our best, failing, repairing, and trying again!
Trying to mould ourselves into an identity that doesn’t quite fit teaches our kids they cannot be successful as themselves, but if we embrace our uniqueness as mothers, we raise kids who accept both themselves and others... and, in turn, raise a world with greater compassion, empathy, and resilience