Are you the same person you were before you had kids?
Does that mean you’ve lost your identity?
Maybe. But whether or not you’ve “lost” your identity is your call. Your judgment.
Me? I lost my identity. More like I let it go. But I found a new one. One that I’m mostly okay with. Make sense? No?
Here, let me explain.
I was reading this article over on Jezebel by Tracy Moore called For The Love Of All That Is Holy: You Don’t Lose Your Identity When You Become A Parent, You Lose Your Minutes. A mouthful of a title, yes, but it does a good job explaining the article too.
Moore argues that your identity isn’t gone after you have kids, it’s still lurking somewhere inside you, it just can’t manifest itself very often because you don’t have the time to indulge it. Meaning, you want to go to that yoga class you frequented before baby but now that baby is a demanding, little toddler who rarely allows you the time it takes to get your downward dog on.
I get Moore’s point and think she’s onto something but feel like she’s taking only a small bite of the whole enchilada. I also think being afraid of the person you might become after having children is a huge factor for those on the fence about becoming parents. And as much as I want to assuage the concerns of those fence-riders that no, you don’t really change after having kids, I don’t necessarily agree with Moore. I think your before-baby identity definitely takes a beating after the little one arrives, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as Moore seems to be implying.
Am I into the same things I was before kids? Probably. Mostly. But I’ve also gained new interests as a result of being a parent and decided other interests weren’t really worth my time. And still other changes, deeply profound changes, have taken place. That’s my identity changing as a result of being a parent. Doesn’t mean it’s changing for the bad; it’s just changing. The profound changes in her own personality may be imperceptible to Moore, or she’s choosing not to see them because she views it as a way to fight the inevitable “you’re a boring parent now” label, but they’re there and they aren’t simply a result of not having the time to indulge them. It’s bigger than that.
Becoming a parent can make you feel differently about religion, books, politics all those things that together create your identity. Being a parent changes your perception. For example, I was staunchly pro-choice before giving birth. I had an abortion when I was 17 and greatly appreciated having the option and still feel that others should have the option as well. Now? After having children, while I still consider myself pro-choice, the issue isn’t as black and white for me and if I could go back and do it all over again I’d opt for adoption. Is the change in my identity positive or negative? It all depends on how I feel about it. That’s why I mentioned way up there that whether or not you’ve “lost” your identity is your call. Your judgment.
There are some changes in my identity that I view as negative and I suspect these are the changes many of those riding the parenting fence fear the most. I sometimes go for weeks sporting sweatpants or leggings, no make-up and un-styled (and sometimes unwashed) hair. To be fair, that can also be directly correlated to the fact that I work from home but it’s also, as Moore points out, due to the fact that I don’t have the time to apply make-up or coordinate some snazzy outfit because I’m too busy playing mom.
The real truth is, I just don’t care about that stuff as much. In the grand scheme of my life right now it doesn’t seem as important as other things. This is what Moore is talking about: not having the time to indulge those things that create our identity. But not having the time has led me to discover that maybe the things I once considered so important aren’t really that big of a deal after all. I also recognize that once my kids are older I may swing back toward a desire to be on the cusp of fashion with the latest jeans, shoes, hair-dos and make-up because I still occasionally find myself interested, but not like before.
This state of affairs (make-up-less, style-less) feels uncomfortably close to a description of what parenting must look like to those childless folks scared and still deciding whether or not they want kids I found on Ask Moxie:
Tired, worn out, cranky. No energy for anything creative. Endless posts about potty training and T ball, pictures of first days of school and Halloween costumes. Not sexy, not confident. Not doing anything but react to whatever bodily-fluid-covered problem you step in right then. Bored. Settling.
I acknowledge this as an apt description for who I am sometimes and I’m okay with that. It’s part of parenting. If I really wanted to I could put in the extra effort to really hit the gym, carefully choose flattering outfits, and style my hair, but I don’t feel like it right now and that’s part of my identity change. Maybe those women contemplating becoming mothers are afraid of losing their sassy identities, afraid of becoming me; but they don’t have to become me.
Prioritize. If being stylish is really important to you, hang onto that and let other, less important characteristics of your identity go. Because, believe me, something’s gotta go. Parenting doesn’t leave room for you to indulge everything you did before baby. But it brings other things to the table. Yes, that includes sleepless nights and poop and various otherbodily fluids, but the rewards are many.
So listen. It’s not like parenting will sneak up on you and steal your identity like some Internet thief. Not if you conscientiously decide what is important to you. It’s all in your hands. If running is your thing, make sure you proactively carve out that time and make it known that this is what you plan to be doing. You can make it happen.
Don’t let parenting happen to you; go into it proactively, knowing what path you want to carve. You can keep the important parts of your identity. You just need to recognize what it is about yourself you consider important and make those things your priority while parenting. But if, like me, those things no longer feel important, that’s okay too. That doesn’t mean you’re “losing your identity;” your priorities have changed and you are letting certain parts of your identity go. For just a few years, anyway, when the kids are really young. And the rewards you get back during that time you put a few of your things on the back burner are many. It’s worth the exchange, it really is. And you might come out the other side a new and improved version of you.
With the 20/20 vision that hindsight affords, in a couple more years, when my kids are older, I’ll be able to look back and see even more clearly how parenting has changed my identity. It’s inevitable. It happens. It’s happening right now! And that’s okay. All huge life experiences impact us in numerous, often unidentifiable ways. Jobs. Relationships. Vacations. Parenting is no different.
Don’t be afraid of losing your identity. You’ll find a new one. One filled with the same positives and negatives contained within your current identity. That’s what life’s about: learning new things, ascending to a new level of consciousness, keeping what you like, discarding what you don’t and learning, always learning.
Do I miss certain things about my before-baby self? Sure. But I’ve also developed new characteristics that are just as great, if not better. I have compassion, patience, and I’m more receptive to the feelings of others. So yeah, I could go on and on about how parenting has made me a better person and shown me a capability to love and a selflessness I never knew I had, but that’s just smoke and mirrors to someone who doesn’t have children and is worried about losing themselves within parenthood.
The bottom line is simply this: You won’t lose your identity so much as let it go as you build a new one. It’s exciting. An adventure. You’ll find a different, stronger self that you never would have realized were it not for the myriad of wild experiences only parenthood offers.