I was taking a stroll with my 2-month-old baby (Nadine) to one, clear my head and two, get her to sleep. She had been fussing the better part of that afternoon and so I thought walking around would help. Heck, soothing her for hours non-stop had me spinning, and thus I couldn't think of a better solution!
In the process, I met a lady (probably in her late 30's) who happened to be friendly.
"How's mum today?"
"She is fine," I responded with a smile.
We chatted a little about baby carriers after which she continued with her walk as I did my stroll.
But on my way home I got to thinking…
How did that lady – a stranger – know my mum?
But again, she couldn't have known her as my mum has been dead for over a decade now!
Then the penny dropped…
It's me, I'm a mum now. To Nadine though, right?
Why then did the lady refer to me as 'mum'? I felt bothered. Really agitated for a reason I couldn't comprehend.
Could it be because she somehow ruined what I have been waiting for – that sacred moment when my daughter will call me "mama" for the first time whilst staring into my eyes making my heart melt?
Or was it something else entirely?
In my years of working as a digital marketer, it has never occurred to me to address clients I dealt with by generic titles such as "Civil Servant" or "Mr. Money-Bag" or whatever. I always take the 10-second trouble to learn my client's names. A habit I've seen with some door-to-door campaigners (in my state) too.
I wanted to know more – and what better way than through a friendly chat with friends and neighbors.
The casual erosion of women's identity
"My hubby calls me mama sometimes," said Kaitlyn – my immediate neighbor.
"Worse, he says it even when we're having company. And in cases where I'm doing non-kid-related stuff," she continued.
According to her, it would have been better if he (the husband) would refer to her as mama (kid's name). But just that "mama"…
"It's creepy," she noted.
And while some seemed less bothered by the name as seen in the conversation below,
Some were irritated by the custom of referring to people using casual, generic titles.
"I hear you," Leah seconded.
She explained how she experienced an identity change on the night of 24th January 2006. Apparently, the nurse on duty the night she delivered had called her by her name several times; but the moment she delivered, it was "mum" do this "mum" do that.
"It was odd and upsetting especially when addressing the agonizing points of breastfeeding my newborn," Leah noted.
"It's hard enough hearing some people call me Mrs. David; but now it's like everyone calls me "mama", "mum", or "Mama Derrick")," she continued.
"Aargh! From Mrs. Golub through Mum to Granny someday. I feel like with time no one will know my name anymore." Daniella lamented.
It was clear that the identity of a woman (the moment she becomes a mother) is seen largely (if not solely) through the lens of "motherhood". A dumbing-down custom if not women entrapment!
But why does it happen?
Causes of the casual erosion of women's identity that is motherhood
To be honest, I have been having some identity crisis ever since I gave birth to Nadine. While my sense of being is largely enhanced by my day-to-day mayhem of motherhood; I can't help but wonder where I (the 'me' that I knew) went to.
I'm a Civil Engineering graduate, a certified content marketer, and an actress in the making. I'm a niece, a cousin, an auntie, and a grandkid. I have passion, dreams, and achievements.
But when it comes down to it,
I'm a stranger to myself.
I love my baby to bits but chafe at the loss of my freedom to camp and hike whenever! I want to stare at her all day and yet feel desperate to separate myself! I want to give her the best the world has to offer but miss the 'me' without a major care in the world!
It's an endless cycle of identity crisis and jumbled up feelings!
Months down the line and I'm still waiting for things to go back to 'normal'. Or rather how things were before, just with a bonus – the joy of raising Nadine. Unfortunately, the wait is in vain. And boy, the new 'me" doesn't sit right somehow!
The silver lining, I'm not alone.
Recent research funded by Nurofen for Children reported that 52% of mothers suffer identity crisis while over 50% of respondents claimed that the resulting parenthood trials (loneliness, sleepless nights, loss of identity, among others) outweigh the positives (joy of raising the kid) of the first year.
So, could the resulting identity crisis play a role in the casual erosion of women's identity?
Think about it. If you cannot figure out who you are then who will?
Again, I wanted to know more. So I set out to read and research what experts had to say (about moms losing their identity) and came up with the following causes.
One: living a kid-centered life
Anna Yates, a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and owner of Mind Solutions says that the possible cause of the infamous motherhood identity crisis is a shift of attention from the mother to the kid. During pregnancy, the mother-to-be is the center of attention. People ask her questions, rub her feet, do her laundry, etc.
But when the baby comes, the focus shifts. People are just interested in knowing about the baby. Rarely will people ask about the mother's condition? Well, unless she falls sick.
You (as the mother) are likely to lose sight of yourself in the process and settle for just being the "mother of the baby".
And given that the newborn requires much attention (and more from you than anyone else), then your previous life – hobbies, work, girls' night, dreams, passions – fades into a distance.
Two: neglecting themselves
According to Psychotherapist Anna, the subconscious mind experiences a huge shock when an individual isn't prioritizing their needs anymore.
The subconscious mind can then question everything which will have an impact on your self-esteem, career, and relationships (of any nature).
Dr. Sarah, a professor, and psychologist at Sarah Rasmi Wellness Center says that it's common for mothers to ask themselves 'Is the current situation what I wanted?', 'Can I change anything to make it better?', and so on.
Given the loss of freedom and responsibilities that come with motherhood, it is near impossible to prioritize your needs as a mother.
Heck, motherhood is an otherhood – a continuous caring for others and not-self. Sleepless nights, diaper changes at 1 a.m., rashes, fevers, vomits, stomach upsets. Sweeping messes, baths, wiping noses, and wiping butts.
Just look at this list, huh?
All these errands and responsibilities leave no energy for the mother to take care of herself.
That means no more doing your hair, choosing outfits, and accessorizing your morning like you used to!
And while you may not cry on your pillow on seeing a well-kept lady with nails matching her outfit, you'll feel and notice the difference. A difference that will add toil to your already messed-up identity.
Three: having a job-centered identity before motherhood
Rarely do mothers manage to maintain their careers without help. And when they do, there'll always be the mommy guilt as a result of not spending much time with their kids.
This poem tells it all.
That means a woman who was mainly (or solely) known based on her job is likely to have a total identity change to – mum!
Again, a mother who has given up a fulfilling career to be a stay-home or work-at-home mom may experience an identity crisis and shock-like symptoms. She will end up questioning her wants, circumstances, and everything in between.
And while she may find solace in her day-to-day mayhem of motherhood, the routine will only strengthen the casual erosion of her identity from who she is as a whole to be just a mum!
So, how do we (mothers) regain our identity back?
What to do about the casual erosion of women's identity - motherhood
Fortunately, regaining one's identity though not simple is easy and doable. You just have to follow the experts recommendations that include:
One: changing your mindset
Let's jog our minds a bit. Okay? Tell me, between work and hobby, which is easier for you to do? Kindly leave a comment below stating your answer inclusive of your reason(s).
The truth is, a mindset change from "stuck with kids" to "motherhood by choice" will help tremendously. It'll have you diving in, loosening up, getting silly, allowing for some messy floors, and becoming an expert in their favorite games.
And in doing so, you'll meet your kids where they really are – at the present moment – without fear but mad love. You'll no longer want to escape them. Rather, you'll accept them for who they are – an acceptance that will lift a burden off of your heavy-laden shoulders. This will, in turn, give you extra energy to include all the different personas you 'lost' once you became a mom.
You'll, therefore, slowly but surely reclaim the lost relationship with yourself, deepen your interests, and welcome and support all the versions of YOU. I should know, 1 month of mindset change and it's already happening to me.
And if the Buddhist concept of inter-being taught by Thich Nhat Hanh is anything to go by, your new-found happiness will bring joy to your entire family.
Two: Taking care of yourself
Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist says that parenting is a dance where you have to lean in to care for the kid and out to take care of yourself. The reason is, you're still a person, a human being with a body, emotions, and relationship needs – all of which are aspects of your identity.
Therefore, get help, hire a babysitter, do what you have to do to free up time to take care of yourself.
Three: Getting a tribe
Nothing is as relieving as finding someone with whom you share common values.
Especially now when the wall of seemingly-good-and-perfect moms keeps rising higher. Mothers without a problem being referred to as 'mama'. Moms who seemingly have the whole parenting thing figured out. Aargh!
According to Dr. Sarah, our self-esteem is significantly affected by the comparisons we make. If you look at people doing better than you, you're likely to feel down and bad about yourself. Similarly, if you look at people in the same boat as you, you feel reassured or less negatively about your situation(s).
Therefore, strive to associate with people who understand how you feel with regards to an identity crisis and the whole casual erosion of a woman's identity. They'll be your lifeline back to normality, or rather, the new normal.
Four: Learning from the crisis
Now, this is self-explanatory. Motherhood is bound to teach you empathy, tolerance, and compassion. You'll come out of the other side strong, with a sense of maturation, and increased sensitivity.
Why not take advantage of the process?
Athan, a clinical psychologist thinks that motherhood can bring intrigue and curiosity back – just as seen in young ones in their bid to learn about their surroundings.
He says, "People pay a lot of money to travel to an ashram or to go through some kind of spiritual practice, and I think if they reframe or reconceptualize parenting in those terms, they could get it at home for free."
And while at it, correct people when they refer to you by a name you detest.
A simple "No dear, it's (your preferred name)" will do.
For, in the end, your name is important. It signifies your tribe, the language you speak, the region you come from, and will definitely outlive you. You don't want to lose your connection to your identity and individuality now, do you?