During a recent conversation with one of my friends, she mentioned that the reason she started mountainbiking was that she found she had lost herself and her own identity and was “just a mum” and needed something more.
Funnily enough, I have had very similar conversations with some of my clients the same week – they may not all have started new sports as an outlet, but they were all at the stage where the big question was in the room – “Is this my life forever now? Am I really just going to be a mum?”
There was general consent amongst the group that having kids changes your personality, and that sometimes it is hard to know where “mum” stops and “me” starts and to figure out who one really is. At the same time, they were being concerned about their husbands, and one comment was: “It must be hard for hubby, as he’s suddenly married to a different woman than the one he’d asked to be his wife”.
Recent studies have confirmed that this is not just imagination, but that having your first child does change your personality. While you thought you knew your partner inside out, you will suddenly find that everything (or at least some) of your partners personality will shift. And you have got the family addition that wants attention, too.
When you imagine having babies, it is fairy floss and insta filters. Being a new mum means kisses, hugs, and cuddles until late at night. Sometimes you feel like you do not want these days to end, at other times, they cannot be over quick enough. Whether the child was planned or not, you are amidst a roller coaster of emotions in a never-ending story. Ups and downs, 24 hours, 365 days a year. Suddenly someone else is more important than your own life goals and raising this little human takes top priority.
All this leads us to ask – Does motherhood change us completely? Or is it just “adding” something to our existing life?
Many things change after giving birth, especially for mothers, and emotions run high. The effects of hormones before, during and after pregnancy can cause all sorts of emotional rollercoasters. While you become a mum within seconds, being a mum is an ongoing life-long process.
A study by 2 German psychologists monitored the big 5 personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability) across families in regular intervals across 2005 to 2017. The findings suggest that amongst other changes, openness and extraversion decrease after the transition to parenthood, whereas conscientiousness increases, especially in younger parents.
Thoughts such as “Is this what my life will look like forever” will pop up. Maybe not right at the start, but some time down the track, when the newness and the constant tiredness have passed. What no one tells you about birth and the time after is that it is a life changing event. While some may see the addition to the family and the added responsibility as “having finally arrived” others end up in some state of shock and feel like they have lost their own identity.
So, what can you do, not only to NOT lose yourself in your new role, but gain strength through it?
Right from the start, listen to your own needs and wants. What do you enjoy? Where do you get strengths and energy from? Do you have strengths or talents that you want to continue to build upon? How can you integrate your old hobbies into your new life? What do you need to be able to live your life? Time? Support?
You do not have to reinvent yourself (unless you really want to), but you can “re-explore” yourself. Tune in and look closely at yourself. Have your emotional reactions changed since becoming a parent? Do you laugh more often? Are you more relaxed in certain situations than you used to be? Do you have talents you were not aware of before? Has your view of what you value in life/ job/ relationships changed? Maybe you have had hidden talents that came to the surface during parenthood (such as coming up with awesome good night stories, drawing dog portraits, or even attending a new sport that your kids wanted to try? Do not ignore those new interests- explore them!
Here are a few tips that might help you along the way to find yourself again:
- Build your own support network right from the start of your pregnancy. Not just friends and family you trust, but also your medical team such as GPs and Obstetricians for medical and hormonal questions, midwives for emotional and physical tips, woman hotlines for all issues best discussed with a professional where you are valued and respected and do not have to hold back out of fear what friends or family may think of your thoughts.
- Talk to your partner. If you feel lost, they are probably aware that things are not a 100% right. Let them know about your concerns, doubts, and feelings. If you feel like the last thing you want in the evening is physical touch, after having little kids all over and around you all day, let them know. They can’t read your mind. What they can do is support you by looking after the kids if you feel like you just need some time to yourself. If you get that precious time to yourself, do not spend it on cleaning or organising the house (unless you genuinely enjoy it). Focus on yourself first.
- If you feel like you need to get out, get out. Whether it is a walk, a meditation in the corner, turning the music up – do it. Enlist your support network to babysit or hire someone. The energy you can get by just focusing on yourself for a bit will restore your balance a lot more than trying to “deal with it” and everything will seem a bit easier afterwards.
- Spend 10 minutes a day for yourself. And I do not mean locking yourself into the toilet (even if that is the easiest option). Make this a rule, that everyone in your household is aware off.
- Learn from your children to see the world through their eyes, develop with them to learn new and exciting things or find new hobbies. Maybe what they want to do is something you have always wanted to try but never had the courage to do? Learning a new hobby together can be a great time for bonding, whether that is learning how to skateboard or getting paint and brushes out. Be creative – if you love running, but usually trail run – why not change it up and pop your kid in a pram for a run.
- Join local mum’s / dad’s group. Parental support groups are popping up all over the place, which goes to show, you are not alone. Having families spread out all over the world calls for a secondary support network and there is no shame in reaching out. You may even make new friends!
- Is there something you always wanted to try but no one else amongst your family or friends is interested in? Giving it a go now is a good idea. Facebook or Meet Up groups are a good place to start to find people with similar interests. Finding like-minded people to share experiences with can is one of the best sources of happiness out there. You may even start a new family tradition if everyone else suddenly gets interested too!
- Do not compare yourself to other families – every family is different, focus on what your child needs from you for an enriched life, and what you want to get out of your family.
- Children take a lot of time…. for everything. Everything will take at least twice as long as you have planned. Going out is like preparing for a Kilimanjaro expedition, and on top you are taking various feed and sleep schedules into account. Do not expect to be efficient – if you get a quarter of what you have done before kids done in the same amount of time and under a lot more pressure, you are doing good. Really good. As unspectacular and boring as this may sound – you have used your time to invest it in a little human – which is worth more than any other project or career.
- One of the most important things to remember is that a child does not need a parent to give up on themselves. Children need role models, people to look up to, to learn how to be confident and independent and will mimic much of your behaviour over time. Children do not need much in material terms, what they do need is to be loved by their parents and their parents to be happy with who they are. As parents, stay vigilant. Do activities with just the two of you, spend quality time with each other as family, but also as partners. A family will only be as well as the adults are. Kids want their parents to be happy, and if they can see that you are not looking after yourself, they will start taking on the responsibility to look after you – yet they do not need that added responsibility. Navigating childhood is enough.
On top of all the above – gain strength from the knowledge that you are accompanying a new human right from the start of their life to learn, grow and outgrow themselves. That is pretty special!
 Asselmann, E., and Specht, J. (2020) Testing the Social Investment Principle Around Childbirth: Little Evidence for Personality Maturation Before and After Becoming a Parent. Eur. J. Pers., https://doi.org/10.1002/per.2269.
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