Once you become a mummy your identity seems to disappear in a puff of smoke and you can feel a bit trapped or lost within this new mummy identity. All of a sudden you stop being you and start being so and so’s mummy.
Recently my daughter asked me why people called me ‘Kirsty’ and said it was silly as I was mummy. I tried to explain to her that before I was mummy I was Kirsty and she didn’t get it really. This was too much for her little 2 year old head. It struck me as odd though that I was talking as if that person didn’t exist anymore and in some ways that is true. The ‘Kirsty’ that I was doesn’t often seem to be here these days, but the one I have become is infinitely less selfish and more caring so its not all bad. The mummy me is also infinitely more stressed and late for everything though!! After the little chat with Miss 2 year old I started thinking about mummy identity and when the loss of ‘me’ began.
Identity before Children
Before I had children I was ‘Kirsty’ I was an HR professional who was fairly successful. I mean I wasn’t going to end up ruling the world, but I was doing well in my career. I was highly qualified and considered to be an expert in my field. Really senior people came and asked me for my opinion and what I said mattered. Then I had children….
After having children I am ‘Mummy’ someone that no one listens to and someone whose opinion is doubted even by 2 year olds. My knowledge is often questioned by the Littles who are convinced that mummy knows pretty much nothing whether that be about world events or the contents of their nappy. They are all fairly sure that they are right and I am wrong. They also regularly tell me that their teachers (who are 12) know better than me! I of course know that I too thought this of my mother – I am still sure I am always right in that relationship…. and so this leads me to think about that whole mummy identity. When I am talking to my mother I feel my own identity perhaps more than in other areas of my life as in that relationship I will always be Kirsty, but in almost all other aspects of my life I am mummy and even ‘you know the one…. she has the four kids, you know had twins the last time round’.
I remember when I had my first child being a little bit horrified that the teachers at my son’s swimming class weren’t even interested in my name. They learnt his, but I was just his mummy. I volunteered my name when we started and they were only just short of telling me to shush as it was clear they weren’t bothered about that bit. To start with I felt offended, but I have to say that I am now also a baby swimming teacher and have discovered that this is simply a necessity. You couldn’t possibly remember all the parents names as well as the children, but it is a weird thing to get used to. I am actually not that bothered by this phenomenon anymore as I am used to it and actually I think I have now created and am very comfortable with my mummy identity, but I know that lots of mummy’s struggle with the loss of themselves. I am sure that if I had returned to work after number 2 then I would have maintained that professional identity too and perhaps had the best of both worlds, but I like staying at home so you can’t have everything – despite what the media tells us.
Loss of Identity
Is it a loss of identity is what makes lots of women feel lonely when they have little kids? It is a real process of adjustment and one that I think is really separate and bigger than adjusting to the role of ‘mother’. When you have a baby there is so much to learn and it is amazing getting to know that little person and realising how much you can love.
I do truly love being a mummy and everyone has so much advice for how to do this that and the other, but no one ever talks about the loss of identity. You don’t get prepared for that during NCT classes and I reckon this is a big gap. It is a proper change and one befuddled by swirling hormones and sleep deprivation. I think that anyone facing such a shift in their ‘I’ identity would struggle or at least be a bit surprised by how this feels. It is hard to know how this will feel in advance, but perhaps just hearing others share how it affected them would lead us all to be more prepared.
Even if you make new mummy friends the dynamic is different than with your old friends as they still know you as someone’s mummy and often friendships are based on that connection. Spending talking about someone else’s toileting or eating or sleeping does create a different friendship basis. It is often one that is more sustainable as you have something so permanent in common, but still it isn’t the same as pre baby.
I wonder why no one ever prepares or even just warns women that this change is coming so that we could at least start to get our heads around being ‘Mummy’ and not being ‘Me’ at least for a while. The change in identity isn’t necessarily a negative, but it is a big old change. Surely if we had a heads up fewer women would struggle with the transition and just be able to get on with being sleep deprived, getting advice from everyone they have ever met and being hopelessly in love with their littles.