Recently, one mum said to me, “I just feel like my life is over now.”
And I had to say, “Yeah, I’m afraid it is.”
We all have those deep, dark mum moments – you’re exhausted, you haven’t eaten properly in days, you’ve barely been outside except to take the little one to baby groups and the low energy, low mood voice starts to whisper, “What happened to my life?!”
Here’s the thing – once you have a baby, your life is over. Not all of it, obviously, but the old life. The pre-baby life. The work hard / play hard, high heels and lipstick (and necklaces – remember when you could wear necklaces without someone pulling them so hard they nearly strangled you?!), sharing several bottles of wine over a leisurely evening, child-free existence you used to know.
It’s time to let it go. But it’s ok – you can build something new.
Getting back to normal
When I had my first child, way too many people told me that I needed to “get back to normal”. From well-meaning friends, to media messages, to influencers and so-called experts, all the messages was that I needed to go back. That I needed to get over my desire to be with my daughter and have nights out or even weekends with friends again. That I needed to get my post baby body back. That I needed to find a way to dress stylishly again. That I needed to put in all the same work hours that I used to when I had fewer demands on my time. And so on, and on, and on.
And I bought into it, for ages. I beat myself up about not being the same person I used to be. I worried that I’d changed, that I wasn’t the same person anymore. I worried that I’d never be that person again. And if I wasn’t that person, I felt like I wasn’t anyone.
Then eventually I stopped and went, “You know what, just no.”
In amongst a huge identity crisis, I realised that it was ok to let that old life go. I realised that having a baby should change me. It should change everything. It’s huge. It’s a proper big deal. Why should I try to pretend that everything was the same just to make everyone else feel comfortable?
I realised the old me was gone, and I needed some time to mourn her. I hadn’t been prepared for losing that part of myself, I’d bought into this idea that life could carry on exactly the same after motherhood just with a new, cute (if sometimes covered in spit-up) accessory. It was a shock, and a painful one, to find out that pre-baby me was, in a sense, dead. That took some time to process.
But the end of one chapter in my life meant the start of a new one. So once I’d come to terms with clearing out the old, it was time to bring in the new.
How do you start to build a new identity?
Actually, we’ve all done it a bunch of times already, we just probably didn’t notice. You weren’t the same person at the age of 5 that you were when you were a baby. You became a new person when you hit puberty. When you left home you reshaped how you saw yourself and how others saw you. We go through changes in our 20s and 30s, as we move into middle age… life is a constant process of evolution. It’s just that those changes tend to be gradual, and supported by society.
Motherhood is a short, sharp shock. No one prepares you for the changes you go through – all the focus is on the baby, and you’re under pressure to show you can just carry on the same as you ever did. Then you feel like a failure when you inevitably can’t, and so you try to hide your changes from the world and don’t give yourself the space you need to process them.
So stage one is to get them out in the open. Make a list of things that you don’t do anymore that you miss, things you don’t do anymore that you actually are quite happy letting go of, and new things that you now want to make space for. As someone who had loved a drink, it was surprising to realise that I didn’t miss nights of wine and cocktails, and I actually gave up drinking altogether for about a year. Now I have the occasional drink but it’s not something I miss. As a lot of my friendships had been based around alcohol, that was a harder thing to face than it might sound. But it was surprisingly easy to transition them all to coffee and food!
Stage two is to look at how your priorities have changed. What’s really important to you right now? For me, I found that travel, live music and nights out with friends, that had been major parts of my life before, were suddenly less significant. More important to me was quality time with my kids, quality alone time with my partner, my own space to be creative and intimate time with friends over coffee or lunch.
Stage three is about defining your purpose. This is a big job, and I’m going to be writing more about this, and I’ve made some resources to help you with it. The biggest challenge for me was getting clear about what direction I wanted to move in, where I wanted my focus to be and what I wanted to be becoming during this process of evolution. Being clear on my values and what I wanted to get out of life, and what impact I wanted to have on the world, was a big part of this and helped me to define who I am now.
Stage four is all about bringing it together and making a plan to live as your authentic self. What does putting your values into action look like? What do you need to do to achieve your goals? How will you live as the person, and parent, that you want to be? How are you going to make time and space for the things you want to do? That’s another complex job, and one I’ll write more about in future. It’s also one that a coach can really help you with, so get in touch if it’s something you’re interested in!
The most important thing to remember when you’re going through this process of change is that it’s totally normal. It’s ok to let go of who you used to be, the new you will be equally fabulous – maybe even more so – just in a new way. You’re also not alone – every other mother on the planet is going through the same thing, even if most of them don’t talk about it. So hang in there, and embrace this process.
You’ve created one life already. Now you’re creating a new one, just for you.