Who am I now that I’m a parent?
"I remember aspects of my pre-parent self that are so divorced from my current self I am constantly left to wonder... who am I, versus who was I? Am I still the same person? I’m not sure what or who I am anymore. Everything has changed. It seriously begs the question... who am I now that I am a parent?"
Ahhh the memories of waking to a quiet house on a lazy Sunday morning, with a steady stream of sunlight peeking through the blinds, and the faint smell of coffee wafting from my kitchen. I stretch my limbs and think about the day ahead, full of spontaneous wonder and endless opportunities.
The memories I have of late night phone calls with my friends, shopping for myself, and feeling full of confidence. Having simple conversations with people about things that didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, things that made no difference to the world that we live in. It was easy to live in the ‘now’ and I had every opportunity to take care of myself properly, including the time, energy, money, and self focus to drag my lazy backside into the gym occasionally! I even had enough selfishness to afford myself the time to meditate and ponder the Universe. Imagine that! Problems felt solvable. Time flowed in rhythm and my life was simple.
Prior to having children, I remember the joy of spontaneity and freedom that were such an integral part of who I was - a free spirit. I remember being laid back and not worrying about the risks I was taking that enabled me to lead an interesting, successful, and highly enjoyable life. I remember how I could laugh at myself for making some type of minor error – because I was only accountable to myself. I remember having enough money at my disposal to enjoy varied social events and to have a few drinks on the odd occasion without concern for the precious hours this might take from the following day. I remember only feeling guilty when I actually did something worthy of guilt (and that wasn’t that often).
As I reflect, I remember aspects of my pre-parent self that are so divorced from my current self I am constantly left to wonder... who am I, versus who was I? Am I still the same person? I’m not sure what or who I am anymore. Everything has changed. It seriously begs the question... who am I now that I am a parent?
Most of the above memories are now hazy and somewhat strange. Did that really happen? Was that really my life? Didn’t I complain about the dread of Monday morning at work looming or about having to do housework at least occasionally? Didn’t I have some issue with seemingly huge things like which restaurant we were going to eat at that night – or whose turn it was to collect the mail? Was life all so easy and wonderful like my memories suggest? It’s hard to say.
As humans, the transition we go through in order to adapt to parenthood is possibly one of the most significant junctures of change that our identities go through. In some ways it’s like homesickness (bear with me).
As a Clinical Psychologist, homesickness, adaptation and mood were the focus of my first research theses at University. The outcome of this research demonstrated that when people are homesick, they remember their hometown (and subsequent events) in a much more positive light than it actually was. Even negative events were perceived in a much more pleasurable light (with a higher incidence of distorted facts) than similar events in the new environment.
Emotional adjustment to their new town was so difficult for a majority of homesick people that psychologically, they just wanted things to go back to their perceived ‘normal’ (a human response to change). When ‘normal’ can’t be achieved (because everything is now different), there is initially some grief (normal) and then the resultant effect is that we are either forced to accept the ‘new’ (by accepting ‘what is’ and adapting flexibly to our new lives), or we get stuck in feelings of perpetual stress and unresolved grief for ‘what was’ (although this is not very adaptive – given we are parents for the rest of our lives if we are lucky).
Is new parenthood like this? Is the adjustment to becoming a first time parent so hard that our psyches distort the memories of our prior lives to skew them in a much more pleasurable light? Is it this process that perpetuates feelings of alienation from our former selves? Possibly...
Mostly we need to find ways to accept the new normal. What are my new roles now I am a parent? Which of my values have now changed and how do I need to make room for these? How do I now see the world? When you find yourself lamenting the old life (like homesickness does) - usually just after one of the kids has had a public melt down or you’ve been late to work due to the little one still sitting naked on his bed with just one school sock on at 8:30am, remind yourself that your pre-child self may not have been challenged in this way, and there are elements of these situations that grow you (healthy adaptation). Ask yourself, “what was it about me that was able to get me/us through that moment?” What strengths have I gained since taking on this new parent role? Who am I to others and who can I be for others?
I have now reconnected with elements of my old self by making room for my new self (except for the coffee bit – that went out the window during my 2nd pregnancy). Although my risk taking self has taken a slight sabbatical with littlies in tow, I can still experience active spontaneity in everyday life. I now make time for simple meditation even if it’s just in the shower! I am now focussed on issues that matter more to my values of love and family, than for my need for freedom and fun. Most importantly, I remind myself that mySELF is right here, right now.
Who I was, is not who I am. Who I am, is who I am now and that is within my power. Ultimately, who you are is who you choose to be.
Identities are multi-layered. Essentially, “who am I now that I am a parent?” can be answered simplistically as “whomever I choose to be - by allowing myself to evolve through the flexible transition of life”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I am a Clinical Psychologist of almost 25 years and a married mother of two. I developed an undiagnosed thyroid disease in my first pregnancy and put on a considerable amount of unshiftable weight, suffered episodes of depression, had two miscarriages, and a hard time trying to reconcile my post-baby self with my former self.