By Jennifer Pate and Barbara Machen
When we are pregnant, especially with our first-born, we are completely focused on what it is going to be like to be a mom; what to expect when we are expecting, what to expect the first year, etc., etc. What we don't focus on, however, is what to expect to feel about ourselves. There is a lot of talk about how we feel about our body (don't even get us started on that one), but nothing on how am "I" going to feel about "me". The me that lived in another country with an old boyfriend. The me that loves the Grateful Dead and Joni Mitchell. The me that has spent the last decade enjoying my life and freedom just the way I like it.
Some women seem to segue gracefully from their before children life to the after children life. Look at Jessica Alba. She just popped out her second child, there are photos of her ridiculously fabulous body on the beach, she is back on the red carpet and would appear to have just eased right into motherhood while keeping her career and life right on track. We have no idea what is really going on behind closed doors, but she seems to have it going on!
The rest of us, pop out that baby (or two if you're Barb) and are so focused on feeding and changing diapers and the horror of your body, that the last thing you are thinking about is your identity. We morph into Mom. Just like that. One day we had a personality, a life or our own, and then 'poof", it's gone. Some of us don't mind that for a while, some of us freak out immediately, but we have yet to meet a woman who doesn't feel it at some point. Who am I in the context of motherhood? Am I selfish for wanting something for myself? What is wrong with me for feeling this way?
First things first, you are still you. You're in there. We swear. You may feel lost, but you haven't disappeared. You are just hibernating for a while. The key is to learn how to access YOU while enjoying life as a Mom.
Here are some simple tips to keep a sense of self while raising a family:
- Keep up your interests and hobbies. Okay, so you used to do yoga four times a week. Try and go once a week or order a yoga video and do it while your baby is napping.
- Find your community. Whether you have babies or you have kids in middle school, reach out! Call up a neighbor and go to the park, call an old friend and catch up, post on your facebook that you are looking for a group of women to paint together once a week. We all know it takes a village. Find yours and connect!
- Keep your mind active and engaged. You may not have time to read the entire Sunday New York Times like you used to, but you can go online and find an article about anything. If you are interested in politics, follow the debates. With technology, you have access to every piece of information at your fingertips and you can spend 5 minutes if that is all you have. When your husband comes home, don't jump in with stories of the kids. Talk to him about something you are interested in outside of the family.
- Work. I know some of you want to be a stay at home Mom (Jen did it for 5 years). While working even part time can help you keep your sense of self, you don't have to work in the traditional sense. Jen worked on a charity when her kids were in nursery school. Not only was it fulfilling to be helping others, she loves getting out with other adults and having a purpose outside her family.
Remember, you are still in there. With a slight change of perception, you can turn things around and find yourself again. This will not only make you feel more fulfilled, but will affect everyone around you. You will be a better woman and mother for it.
Jennifer Pate, co-author of The Mothers of Reinvention: Reclaim Your Identity, Unleash Your Potential, Love Your Life, is the mother of two, Cooper and Lilah, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband Jonas. After retiring from a professional dance career that spanned ten years, Jennifer became a casting director for TV and film, and co-founded Colloff, Fishman, and Britt Casting. She then went on to her most interesting and challenging career of all: becoming a stay-at-home mom. Currently, Jen is the co-creator and co-host of the award winning web series "Jen and Barb, Mom Life."
Barbara Machen, co-author of The Mothers of Reinvention: Reclaim Your Identity, Unleash Your Potential, Love Your Life, is the mother of twins, India and Soraya, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband of twelve years, Shahrad. Raised by a single mother on government assistance, Barb received a full scholarship to the University of Southern California, graduating with a BA in Communications. By age twenty-five, Barb owned her own marketing company, but after becoming a mother, she quickly learned how it felt to go from a confident woman to a scared and insecure mother. This led her to co-create and co host the award-winning web series "Jen and Barb, Mom Life."