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Becoming a stay-at-home mom is an identity crisis

Who am I—if I no longer do the things that used to define me?

Becoming a stay-at-home mom is an identity crisis

Does becoming a mother change the essence of who you are?


For a long time before I had children, I had no reason to consider my identity—not whether I was true to it, and not even, really, what it was.

I’d always wanted to be a writer and, at 31, by the time my daughter was born, I had one novel published and another one on the way.

I’d been with my husband for 11 years, so any adjustments to that relationship had long been taken care of.

I had friends and hobbies and a regular yoga class. I’d recently earned a black belt in tae kwon do, which I was proud of, though I admit it makes me sound considerably more badass than I actually am. Mostly I was what I’d always been—what they call in the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer an “indoor kid.” I never came home from school and headed out the door with a bike or a ball. I liked to read. I liked to watch TV. I liked to think about what I was reading and watching on TV.

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The thing about those pursuits—and the thing about being a writer—is that they involve mental departure from your actual life, losing yourself in a story that is not your own.

As it turns out, babies and small children don’t consider such departure acceptable.

They want you there, and they want you there right now.

If you don’t oblige, they scream, and it’s awfully hard to think when they’re screaming. When you’re a writer, you spend a lot of time alone, by necessity, and also, I’ve come to think, by inclination.

When you’re the stay-at-home mother of an infant, you spend almost no time alone, and thinking goes out the window, unless you count anxious fretting over when to start solid foods and how to persuade the baby to go down for a nap. It’s unclear to me now why I imagined that this wouldn’t be a difficult adjustment.

In my first year of motherhood, I didn’t write a word of fiction. For years, I’d measured the worth of a day by how many pages I’d managed to produce. Now, I produced nothing. I stayed home with my daughter while my husband worked, and I fed her and rocked her and sang to her. I took her for walks. I photographed her in all her outfits. I went a little bit crazy.

Among the many factors I’d failed to consider while planning my year of stay-at-home motherhood, was what happens to your identity when it’s based largely on doing something you no longer have the time or the energy to do. You’re left wondering: Who am I without this? Who am I at the core?

Among the parents I know, there’s a general consensus that having kids is life’s big before and after. But what is it that changes so dramatically? Is it just your circumstances, or is it your essential self? Of course, that’s a philosophical question that would be difficult enough to ponder even if no one in the room was screaming.

As I attempted, nevertheless, to decide whether I had changed... whether I was now a Mother with a capital M... it began to bother me that my husband didn’t seem to be experiencing the same internal debate.

He got up in the night with the baby. He changed diapers. He became an expert swaddler. But in other ways, he seemed to go on living our old life—working, writing, staying up late to read—while I’d moved far, far away, to Planet Baby. He didn’t seem to feel that his essential self had changed, or that it needed to.

I tried to fight the resentment I felt when he had to work late, when he wanted to talk about politics, when he went to his brother’s house to record music. I envied him his office job, at a place where I myself had worked before my first book sold, a place I’d been perfectly happy to leave. I couldn’t resent him for being unsupportive or failing to respect my career: he watched the baby in the mornings before he went to work, giving me time to myself that I could have used to write, but didn’t. What bothered me was that he was mentally, emotionally able to work when I wasn’t. What bothered me was that for years we’d had the same priorities, and lived the same life, and I wanted that to go on being true.

Whatever had happened to change me, I wanted it to change him, too.

I wanted him to be nothing but a husband and a father, even as I struggled with the idea that I was nothing but a mother and a wife.

I wanted him to no longer want to play music with his brother, to lose interest in his fantasy baseball teams, to stop trying to have a conversation with me that wasn’t about the baby.

It took me about a year to understand that, instead of trying to get him to give up what made him who he was, I shouldn’t have abandoned my own defining interests so completely.

All along, he kept telling me I needed to go back to writing, and all along he was right. For a year I didn’t feel like myself, and then, finally, with him watching the baby in the next room, I sat down at the computer, and there I was again.

There are plenty of other activities from my pre-motherhood days that disappeared from my life, never to return: tae kwon do, staying up past midnight, calling people back in fewer than three or four days. That’s fine; I don’t need those things to be me.

But the writing—that I apparently can’t do without.

So maybe the trick, the way to find a balance between before and after, is to discover what you do that makes you most yourself, and to make sure that you, and your husband, carve out the time that allows you to do it.

For some women, I know that’s work. For others it’s a social life, it’s cooking, it’s an artistic pursuit.

One friend told me recently that she didn’t know how she’d live without the dance class we both take.

In much of her life, she’s a stay-at-home mom who used to be a math teacher, but in that class she’s nothing but a fabulous dancer.

She kicks, she steps, she circles her hips. She does something she’s good at, something she loves, and for the moment her complicated self is made satisfyingly simple.

This, right here, is who she is.

Leah Stewart is the author of several novels, including What You Didn’t Know About Charlie Outlaw (March 2018). She lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two children, and teaches creative writing at the University of Cincinnati.

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I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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