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Motherhood will not make you whole – you must do that for yourself
I became a mom for the first time in my early 30s and up until then, I had always felt like something was missing in my life.
I hadn’t yet managed to figure out my passions, and at some point along the way, I had ceased trying. I threw in the towel on my efforts to get to know myself better and discover what would light me up and instead started to let life happen.
After falling into a prestigious and fast-paced career in the fashion industry in NYC, I figured that I was content enough and was making good money. But the truth was that I often felt as if I was just going through the motions, and this left me unfulfilled in my career and in life in general for much of my young adult years.
When I decided to have my first child, I remember having this great sense of hope that once I became a mom, I’d suddenly have all the fulfillment I’d need from my new role as a mother and that becoming a mother would somehow make me “whole.”
But could motherhood alone fill the void in my life?
Getting lost in motherhood
Once you become a mom, the relentless pressures of motherhood do not afford much time to nurture a sense of personal identity. It is so easy to let motherhood and the myriad responsibilities that come with it consume you.
All of the hobbies and interests you once had, all of the tiny bits and morsels that make you the person you are, get swallowed up by the enormous weight of this new role of “mama.”
And that is ok for a while.
You let it happen because being a mother is magical, and you embrace it wholeheartedly until one day, you realize that it’s completely swallowed you up.
Being a mom has become everything you are and that no longer feels like enough. Was it ever going to be enough?
As someone who had put all her hopes into thinking motherhood would make me whole, it was a hard pill to swallow when I realized that it not only couldn’t sustain me, but I still felt unfulfilled in the same areas of life as I had prior to becoming a mother.
We often talk about being “lost in motherhood,” and we’re usually talking about feeling overwhelmed with all of the demands of motherhood and struggling to maintain our sense of self.
For me, this phrase took on somewhat of a different meaning–
How can you be lost in motherhood if you were never found in the first place?
It’s hard to lose your sense of identity in motherhood if you were never sure about what it was before becoming a mom.
You can try to let motherhood be everything for you, but if you are not a whole person with a clear picture of who you are when you become a mother, then the role of mother and the responsibilities of motherhood will only mask this void for a short while.
It will eventually catch up to you, at least it did for me.
Once my kids were not babies anymore and their needs were not all-consuming, I found myself right back at the same place – struggling to figure out who I was.
But now I was almost a decade older, feeling like my entire identity was wrapped up in being a mom.
Who was I outside of motherhood?
The “selfless” mother ideal
Our society touts this ideal of the “selfless mother” who foregoes her sense of self to devote herself entirely to the role of mom. But attaching your entire identity to motherhood and not cultivating a sense of self that is independent of it is a slippery slope.
Having been on that slope, I can tell you that once you crash to a stop at the base of the mountain, you look back to see that in reality, the slope wasn’t ever that steep.
It was actually a very gradual decline that you could have navigated better if only you’d had the insight to understand that motherhood alone was never going to make you feel like a whole person. That is something you have to do for yourself.
As it turns out, when you crash at the bottom of the slope, the only thing left to do is to pick yourself up and try again. But this time, you try it another way.
This time you slow down and notice what’s around you. You grab onto those branches that steady you and collect pebbles along the way that eventually accumulate to fill you up inside.
You make the effort to explore your surroundings, nurturing and honoring what’s inside of you, even when it means you might veer off from the main trail.
Why does cultivating a personal identity outside of motherhood matter?
This season will come to an end
Mamas, this all-consuming season of motherhood will eventually come to an end. It’s inevitable that the time will come when your kids don’t need you the same way they do when they’re young.
Who will you be then? Who do you want to be?
My hope for you is that you never stop growing and learning about yourself and are able to emerge from this season as a whole person who has interests, hobbies, desires, goals, and passions of her own.
It will make you a better mama
When you’re at your best, you can give your best to others, and this makes you a better mama. That’s why it’s imperative to make sure you’re thriving in your own life first and foremost.
If you have joy and passion in your life and feel wholly fulfilled, then you’re able to bring your best self to the table and be the best mom for your children.
Granted, this is no easy feat and for me, it takes constant effort, but if you’re able to achieve this, or at least continuously strive for it, it can have an enormous positive impact on how you parent and the relationship you have with your children, including how they see you and what they learn from you.
Our children are always watching and learning from us
My greatest desire in life is for my children to be healthy and happy. But I also want them to learn to live bravely, in a way that brings them fulfillment and joy every day, and to pursue their passions in life without reservation.
I realize that as their mother, I am modeling this for them every day in the way that I live my own life.
The “do what I say, not what I do” adage from our own childhoods doesn’t work.
If we want our children to grow up to be well-rounded, thriving, and wholly fulfilled individuals, then we must show them how.
In my own journey, it didn’t happen overnight, but I eventually got back to honestly discovering, nearly for the first time, the person I am inside and welcoming her and all her messiness.
Slowly but surely, I’ve learned to embrace who I am, find what brings me joy and purpose, to thrive as a mama AND as a person.
Being a mom may be the biggest part of who I am, but it’s not my entire identity.
I know now that motherhood alone cannot make me whole and it never should have been its burden to bear.
Motherhood is a different journey for every woman, and although your experience may be different from mine, I hope that in sharing my story, there is a part of it that sparks something inside of you. Though our journeys may look different, I firmly believe that there is not anything or anyone that can make each of us feel happy, fulfilled, and whole besides ourselves.
Carly is a wife, mom, and former fashion industry executive turned writer, who likes to refer to herself as a “mindset mentor for moms.” Through her website, littlevoicebigmatter.com, she shares practical advice, heartfelt insights, and actionable resources to inspire and support women in motherhood, relationships, wellness, and life. Carly is on a mission to help mamas live with more positivity, purpose, joy, and confidence so they can thrive in motherhood AND in life. Find her on social media at @littlevoicebigmatter.