70% of young moms are 'most defined' by motherhood—and there's nothing wrong with that

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Mothers can do and be anything. But chances are that while we're doing and being, our children will never be far from our minds. That's because, from the moment a baby enters the world, our identities shift in fundamental ways—no question about it.


If that noble, consuming, incredible role seems to represent you above all else, you're not alone. According to the 2018 State of Motherhood survey by Motherly, 59% of moms report being "most strongly" defined by motherhood. Among moms under 30 with young children, that bumps up to 70%.

This goes to show that feeling like you are first and foremost a mom is not just natural, but truly empowering. "Everything that I do ties back into my role as a mother," Megan K. tells Motherly. "I'm always thinking about how the decisions I make will help me to be a happier, healthier person, which will allow me to be a better mother."

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And when we give ourselves permission to fully welcome motherhood and how it affects our lives, the chances are we're going to take more pride and find more fulfillment in the role—which benefits our children, too.

"The great thing about moms embracing their identity as a mother is that children today are getting more and greater opportunities than ever," says Erin Wiley, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and the Executive Director of the Willow Center in Ohio. "Their parents are investing time and money into them like no generation has before. It's a wonderful thing when a society prioritizes the growth and development of its children."

For many women, feeling free to express that they are most strongly defined by motherhood is liberating. "Before I had my son, I told myself that being a mom wouldn't be the sole defining factor of my life. Now that he's here, nothing else seems as important," says Jenny F.

Many more Motherly readers echoed that they view motherhood as a reason for pride, rather than a dimension of themselves that needs to be hidden. "I'm employed full time and I love my career," says Rebecca S. "But nothing has shaped or changed my life like my kids. They are my everything."

That is increasingly reflected in workplaces—to the advantage of everyone, explains Georgene Huang, co-founder of Fairygodboss. "From the perspective of workplace culture, I believe the best and most productive companies are those that allow all employees to bring their authentic selves to work."

In addition to motherhood, survey respondents also said they cherish the identities they find through their partnerships, faith, careers, hobbies and friendships. Among those who said motherhood is not their strongest identity, the most common reasons were because of the role faith or longer-held identities have in their lives.

"As much as I love being a mom, I've only been one for 7 months," explains Liz H. "I've been a mountain biker, pianist, education abroad professional, wife and partner, and so much more for so long. I am not defined by one thing, but am the sum of many."

The "season of life" effect

One common thread across the responses was that women recognize the years of parenting young children are both incredibly demanding and fleeting. "I think whatever defines me is fluid and changes from season to season [of life]," says Jena A. "With a toddler and a 6-month-old, motherhood is currently the most defining thing in my life."

As natural as it may be to feel like motherhood overrides all else during this time, many women added they are intentional in their efforts to uphold other elements of their identity. "I believe just as important as cherishing our little ones' childhood is balancing that with the wisdom that your child or children will not be home with you forever," says Wiley.

This means not only equipping them with the tools to thrive on their own, but also modeling for them what balance looks like, Wiley says. "Investing in exercise, the development of romantic relationships and friendships, and practicing other self-care activities all serve our children in the end by giving them a mom who is stable and well-rounded," she tells Motherly. "We also set a great example for our children by showing them a model of a woman who is truly flourishing in life in all arenas, not just as a mom."

The truth is "motherhood" doesn't have to look the same for any of us. It doesn't even have to look the same on an individual level from year to year. But, wherever anyone falls on the question of whether motherhood defines them, there is one point we can all agree on: We are fortunate to live in a time when we can define motherhood.

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Jessica Simpson's life seems perfect. She has three beautiful kids, a wildly successful career, a seemingly solid marriage...she has it all, at least as far as we can see. But recent revelations prove that no one really knows what anyone else is secretly dealing with—and Jessica, by her own admission, has been struggling with alcohol issues.

The singer-turned-business-woman recently sat down with TODAY's Hoda Kotb, and it will air on NBC's TODAY Wednesday morning.

"I had started a spiral and I couldn't catch up with myself…and that was with alcohol," Jessica explained. "I would say it openly to everyone. 'I know. I know, I'll stop soon. I'll cut back'," Jessica continued when asked if she realized things were getting out of control. "For me to cut back, like I'm an all or nothing girl, and so I didn't know it was a problem until it was...I completely didn't recognize myself…I always had a glitter cup. It was always filled to the rim with alcohol."

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She's hardly alone. The rise of #winemom phenomenon is well documented and many parents struggle with substance abuse problems. But Simpson's story proves there is a way to get your life back.

Simpson quit drinking in 2017 after she found herself unable to get her kids ready for a Halloween party. She says she'd started drinking before 7:30 in the morning, before accompanying her husband, Eric Johnson, to a school assembly for their oldest daughter. Later that night she was unable to get her kids dressed in their Halloween costumes. The next morning she was so ashamed. Feeling like she had failed her kids she slept until they left the house, then got up and drank some more.

That episode was her tipping point. She quit drinking (as did her husband, Eric Johnson, who supports her in her sobriety.)



As parents, we know how overwhelming the demands can be...and how easy it is to sink into habits that don't ultimately serve us well. For Jessica, the way to heal was to sever her relationship with alcohol.

"I had to give [drinking] up," Jessica said. "I'm not going to miss another day. I'm not going to miss another Halloween. I'm not going to miss another Christmas. I'm going to be present."

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Mamas expecting babies this month are a special bunch—and not just because it's statistically unique to have a birthday during the shortest month of the year.

Science shows babies born in February already have advantages with everything from physical growth to creativity to even presidential elections. (It's no coincidence that President's Day is this month!)

Here are six reasons why February birthdays are so special:

1. They may be bound for the NBA

According to a 2006 study from Harvard researchers that examined data from 21,000 children around the world (including the southern hemisphere), those born in February were taller and weighed more at the age of 7 than their friends who were born during other times of the year. (Further proof: Michael Jordan celebrates his birthday on February 17.)

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2. Or on their way to a doctorate

The same study also showed winter-born babies performed best in a series of intelligence tests. As the researchers concluded, “The overall pattern of findings is that winter/spring babies are both 'bigger' on the anthropometric variables and 'smarter' on the selected neurocognitive variables."

3. They also have artsy sides

February babies are either born under the Aquarius or Pisces star signs—which are linked to the traits of originality and creativity. But even if you aren't one for astrology, a study complied from the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics found that people born in February are more likely to be artists.

4. Which may set them up for stardom

Speaking of the zodiac, one study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found a disproportionate number of celebrities claim the Aquarius star sign. That includes everyone from Bob Marley to Jennifer Aniston to Shakira. It's also one of the most popular star signs for American presidents—including Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Ronald Reagan (February 6).

5. Or, at least, satisfying careers

But don't feel bad for babies born in the latter half of the month: A survey from CareerBuilder.com found Pisces adults were among the “most satisfied" with their jobs. (They also have legs up on the competition if they ever find their way into a presidential election.)

6. They may have the rarest birthday of all

Babies on their way this year are out of luck. But, come 2020, a special group of newborns will have the distinction of being born on Leap Day, February 29. Sure, they won't get to mark their birthday for another four years, but they do get a prime pick of perks when that day does roll back around!

Snuggle up with that newborn while you can, mama. Once your February baby gets going, they'll be hard to stop.

[Originally published February 2, 2018]

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As the world continues to mourn father of four Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, many are remembering Bryant for his role not only as a basketball great but also as a #girldad.

That is how SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan remembers him. On ESPN this week she recalled meeting Bryant back in 2018 when she was 8 months pregnant.

She says Bryant asked her "How are you? How close are you? What are you having?" and when she told him she was expecting a girl he gave her a high five and said, "Girls are the best."

Instagram post by SportsCenter • Jan 28, 2020 at 4:59am UTC

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The two talked about raising girls, with Duncan asking Bryant for parenting advice. She also asked him if he and his wife Vanessa were going to have any more kids.

"He said that his wife Vanessa really wanted to try again for a boy, but was sort of jokingly concerned that it would be another girl. I was like, 'Four girls, are you joking? What would you think, how would you feel?'" Duncan recalls

She continues: "Without hesitation, he said, 'I would have five more girls if I could. I'm a girl dad."

As Duncan noted on Instagram, she couldn't have known that Bryant, then a father of three, would welcome another baby girl, little Capri Kobe, in 2019. All she knew was that she was impressed by this man who loved his girls so much.

"I'm glad to have had that brief time with him. I'm so sorry that 4th girl won't know her dad," Duncan writes.

During his 2018 conversation with Duncan, Bryant remarked on the athletic abilities of his middle daughter, Gianna, telling Duncan she was better than he'd been at her age.

Tragically, Bryant and Gianna died en route to a basketball game where she would have played and he would have coached.

"When I reflect on this tragedy," Duncan said on ESPN, "I suppose that the only small source of comfort for me is knowing that he died doing what he loved the most: being a dad. Being a girl dad."

Our hearts are with the Bryant family this week, and all the families of the victims of the helicopter crash.

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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

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A study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

[This post was first published December 18, 2018.]


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