Parenthood and personal identity: 5 ways a new baby impacts your sense of self
7 minute read
It’s normal for people to feel a loss of identity when they become a parent. Vhi Health Coach, Dr Mou Sultana guides you through this transitionary period which, when embraced, can help you truly evolve as a person.
No one teaches us how to be a parent. One minute, you’re simply “you”, anxiously waiting in a labour room. The next, you’ve become someone’s “Mum” or “Dad”. Aside from protecting and nurturing your little one, how will the arrival of another human life change your identity? And why does all of this seem to be common knowledge?!
The truth is parenthood is a series of discoveries. You forge a new identity while raising your family, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed of your feelings or mistakes during this turbulent time. These moments of discovery can, at times, seem like signs of failure. Just remember that, at least for that perinatal period (from gestation weeks 3-4 to one-year post-delivery… and beyond!), life is meant to be messy.
Your physical being
As a new mother, your body will go through a series of changes! This is a natural part of becoming a new mom. Meanwhile, a dad’s body may not undergo the same dramatic transition. But your relationship with your body will still change. In those early months and years, it may be tough to find the time to keep up with your typical fitness routine.
There’s a whole new dimension of physical demands on you and your partner – bending down to change nappies, hunkering down to bathe the baby, multitasking with your child in your arms. As you throw your child in the air while they giggle, you’ll be keenly aware of your core strength – or lack of it!
But beyond those questions of fitness, you will be reminded by your body of the many things you can actually tolerate, like lack of sleep, the seemingly constant sound of crying, all those new baby smells – good and bad. Try to remember that this is all completely normal and embrace it.
Your social life
Needless to say, becoming a parent can have different effects on your social life. On the one hand, you might question how to fit into your friend circle or with work colleagues. On the other, you will probably crave “adult conversation” that doesn’t involve nappies, sleeplessness or anything baby-related. So, your social identity will go through a massive shift – but there will be plenty of positives. Having a child can help put a lot of your old concerns in perspective.
Most couples will struggle with communication at some stage during this period. Some will phase it out, and some will escalate further. Suddenly, there are not just two people in the relationship – there’s a third person to consider! All your negotiation skills, when it comes to things like dividing up chores, will be put to the test.
Most couples don’t realise that they’re going through massive identity shifts and face arguments or dissatisfaction. Some begin to fear that love is lost or that he or she doesn’t care about them or their child. In fact, you’re both trying to negotiate the values, cultures and beliefs inherited from your families, along with your own preferences of who you want to be as a mom or dad. As the perinatal period kicks in, couples can almost forget that they’re a couple, not just friends, or coworkers living in the same house, but two people in a loving, romantic relationship.
That’s why communication and understanding are vital ingredients in a couple’s relationship, especially during this time. So, try to be open and talk about how you’re both feeling to establish each other’s needs and wants.
Loss of identity
Parenthood is a complex process and feeling a sense of loss is normal and unique to each person. Some common factors are:
- Loss of freedom overall.
- Loss of personal space, privacy, time to be alone.
- Loss of identity as an employee, a professional, a person who produces money and not just food for the baby.
- Loss of spontaneity.
- Loss of social life/time for leisure.
- Loss of desire/desirability.
Even though we may lose some parts of our identity, it’s important to remember that we also discover new parts of ourselves during parenthood. And, the loss won’t last forever!
Making positive changes
When it comes to transitioning into parenthood, avoid putting yourself under pressure thinking you’re not doing it right. You have begun the journey, and it is the journey that counts, not the destination. Here are some useful ways to embrace your new parental identity in a positive way:
- Make time for self-care e.g. try having a chat with your partner and talk about what you could do together to keep a spark in the relationship now that it is not a two-some, but a three-some!
- Get exercise in, even if it is a short walk. It’s a cliche, but it is very useful! Not just with the pram, but a walk by yourself or with your partner, if you have a babysitter, family, or neighbour willing to help you out for 15 minutes
- Join a parenting group in-person or online to hear other stories and share tips, not to compare!
- Speak to a perinatal counsellor / psychotherapist if you want to explore your thoughts.
- Don’t compare yourself to others.
- Pay attention to your feelings, don’t brush things off or push them aside.
You might experience moments of agitation or turn inwards as a newfound parent. Notice if you’re struggling to keep up with your own self-care and actively avoid people and places. Some of these will occur naturally but pay particular attention when you have stopped making efforts, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
In essence, parenthood is an experience that will change with time. And to enjoy this change, remember that there isn’t a correct path to follow.
This content is for information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your GP or an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your health, or before commencing a new healthcare regime. If you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency call 999 / 112 or seek emergency assistance immediately.
Meet our Vhi Verified Expert
Dr Mou Sultana
Vhi Health Coach
Chartered Psychologist and Psychotherapist