I became a mother and lost myself
The silent identity crisis that creeps in between diaper changes
Motherhood is a non-stop conveyer belt of feeding, cleaning, teaching, refereeing and motivating. Your tasks on the to-do list are on infinite scroll mode, like a Facebook newsfeed.
The few moments of alone time you get in a day, you still have a thousand thoughts running through your head.
“Should I chadao the dal in the pressure cooker first or hang the clothes to dry? What are those brown stains on the wall? Rohan has to be at dance class by 5pm but Anita needs to be dropped to her violin lesson at 4:30pm, can I do both?”
Somewhere along the way, there’s a moment where you feel you’re losing yourself. Maybe it’s between diaper changes or when your teen goes off to college.
“I was sitting and eating with my six-year-old and my sister walked in and said ‘Wow! I thought you hated chana?’ That’s when it hit me,” says Radha Parnekar.
“I don’t like it but my daughter loves it, and I just made it because it was easier. I was doing things I didn’t like. It sounds small but it triggered like a crisis. What do I even like anymore?”
Dolly Bakshi’s identity battle began when she was faced with an empty nest. “I’d heard about women losing themselves to motherhood. But in my head, it was always more about evolving into something else. When my son went abroad to study though, I really felt it. I just didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Bakshi says her entire life revolved around her son. Catering to his needs, his schoolwork and extracurricular activities. “That’s what motherhood is, right? Your child comes first. And I enjoyed it, my son is the best thing in my life. But then I realised that once he left, I had no sense of my self other than just being Arjun’s mother.”
When you become a mother, there’s a merging of identities with your child, explains therapist Nisha Khanna. “When a woman gives birth that’s natural. There are a lot of things biologically that the child depends on you for. Over the years, that sense of oneness remains and then tension occurs when, at adolescence, the child tries to detach themselves from the parent.”
Khanna says that a lot of women she’s met have in some way expressed this slow process of losing their sense of self.
“Your own interests, passions and hobbies are sidelined. But being a mother doesn’t mean you’re not your own person anymore.”
The person you used to be before motherhood is rarely who you are when you become a mother. It’s not just the lack of time, space and energy, but a mental shift where you are no longer a priority.
Khanna is familiar with the ‘mom guilt’ that women feel, or are made to feel by others, in those brief moments when they choose to prioritise themselves. “It’s not selfish to put yourself first,” she says, explaining that it’s better to tackle these feelings, and balance your needs with those of your child, early into motherhood.
The more you repress your feelings, wants and passions now, the more challenging it’ll be when you try and reclaim your individuality when you’re older.
She shares her advice on how women can hold on to their sense of self through motherhood, or reclaim the identity they feel they’ve lost.
How to make time for yourself, after motherhood
Create a ritual that gives you some time alone
Moments of being alone when you have kids, are few and far between. Psychiatrist Dr Syeda Ruksheda suggests creating spaces for everyone to have some moments on their own.
“Talk to your children about creating such spaces. Say ‘every day between 2pm-3pm, Mama goes and sits in her alone space. That is her alone time and no matter what, you can’t disturb her. The same way, you get alone time to do whatever you want in your space. You have to be there with your thoughts, books, whatever you want to do’.”
Your time alone can be spent however you want. Whether you want to sip some chai and catch up with a friend over a call, do some reading or meditate, even take a nap. This time is your time, to be with yourself and your thoughts.
Embrace what you enjoyed doing before you became a mother
Return to the hobbies, and passion projects you gave up because of lack of time. Take an online class to learn a new skill, start painting again, go on a long bike ride — do the things you used to enjoy to reconnect with your past self.
“Indulging in a task or hobby that you used to do before you became a mother can mentally reconnect you to the person you once were. You can never go back to being that same person, but in those moments, you’re doing something you enjoy, that was once a part of your identity and infusing that with who you are now,” says Khanna.
This kind of “mental bridging”, as Khanna calls it, can psychologically play a big role for someone to reclaim their sense of individuality.
These are activities and hobbies that don’t involve your children, just you. It’s about focusing on yourself and what you want.
Join mom communities and groups
No one can understand the predicaments and doubts of a mother better than other moms.
Motherhood can be isolating when you feel there’s no one else who understands what you’re going through, so connecting with other women who might be feeling the same way can be reassuring.
This can be a group of friends, an online community of women where you share your feelings and get constructive feedback, advice and tips that can help you along your journey.
Create personal goals that you can work towards and achieve
One method Khanna suggests is to note down the things you’ve wanted to achieve but have had to set aside. Maybe it’s learning Spanish, writing a book, or doing 50 push-ups every day. The goals don’t have to be extravagant, but once you have that goal in sight, break down how you can achieve that little by little every other day.
Maybe in week one, you do five pushups before going to sleep, the next work it up to 10, and so on. “A sense of personal achievement is very important for our personal growth,” says Khanna.
Reconnect with the ones who know you best
Your childhood friends, former colleagues and even your partner.
Sometimes the easiest way to feel like the person you used to be is to connect with the people who know or knew you well.
Take the time out to reconnect with with friends over coffee and have date nights with your partner over dinner and a film. There’s only one topic of discussion that’s off-limits – your children.
“You can carve out one night of the week to go out and have fun. Your children will be fine without you for a few hours. They probably get sick of you too,” laughs Khanna.