03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today

Before our daughter was born, I had a pretty full
life. If I think of my identity as a pie, the pan was completely full. I had
healthy slices of Wife, Employee, and Me—my personal interests, my
relationships, and my health. I figured the same would be true when I became a
mother. Once our little girl arrived though, every aspect of my life changed.
How and where I spent my days changed—from doing workshops in an Internet
company to doing dishes at home. Who I interacted with every day changed—from
well-dressed adults to babies and the occasional mother or nanny in the park.
How much I got to be with my husband changed from hours a day to minutes or
none at all. How frequently I could exercise or read or go out with friends
changed from nearly every day to once in a blue moon. How people referred to me
changed - from my own name, Kristin, to "Kate's mom." The things I
lost as a result of those changes—my name, my career, my paycheck, my
colleagues, my time with my husband, my own interests—were all things that were
deeply important to me and felt like major losses. Unexpectedly, I found myself
puzzled, "Who am I now?" 

Many mothers I talk to share that same sense of
loss. Did you know that women take on a larger Mother identity much faster than
men take on their Father identity? And that women with six-month-old babies who
have a larger investment in the Mother identity actually have lower
self-esteem? (Cowan and
) Yet, few mothers want to admit that the children we adore often also
bring on this profound loss of self. The appearance of the Mother piece of pie
presents us with a psychological pie dilemma we have to solve to find ourselves
again: How do I integrate this huge new piece of who I am into my Identity Pie
without making a big old mess? How do we find an answer to the question,
"Who am I now?"

To help with that dilemma, here are four remodeling
tools from my book, This is
Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want

  • Check yourself for invisible assumptions holding you back.

Have you ever felt bad about doing something for
yourself when it meant time away from your children? Have you ever felt guilty
about being employed?  Have you
ever felt ashamed that - shhhh - 
you sometimes feel like caring for your children or your home is, well,
boring? I've had all those feelings, sometimes all at once! Those feelings are
signs that - like most everyone else - you harbor subconscious assumptions, or
mental maps, that mothers are completely fulfilled by caring for family and
mothers who are employed or pursue personal fulfillment are selfish.
Together, these assumptions mean mothers are likely to put themselves at the
bottom of our own to-do lists. Be on the watch for when these subconscious
assumptions keep you from taking care of yourself. 

  • Download my Identity Pie worksheet.

The Identity
Pie worksheet
is my adaptation of a research tool used by Carolyn
Pape Cowan and Philip A Cowan
. The worksheet asks you to use a
circle and divide it into four sections based on how large these pieces feel in
your identity now.

  • Mother
  • Wife/Partners
  • Employee/Career
  • My More (Friendships, Health, Personal Interests, Ambitions, Leisure)

Then it asks you to draw another circle and divide
it to reflect your ideal Identity Pie. Reflecting on the differences can help
you identify what you could do to close the gap between your current reality
and your ideal. 

  • Pick one experiment -  and do it!

Is there an aspect of your identity in which you
feel like you experiences a big loss? What's one thing you could do to
experiment with bringing it back? Just one thing. For example, I took an online
writing class when our daughter was a baby, another mother I know decided she
would let herself read books after the kids were asleep rather than trying to
do more housework, and yet another mother resolved that lunch with friends
during her work day once in a while was important, even if it meant getting
home a bit later. Now go to a website like, write yourself a card
with your promise to yourself to do that one thing and schedule it to be mailed
to you in two to three weeks as a reminder.

  • Ask other mothers, "What's your More?"

We all spend so much time talking about our
children. Next time you see your mother friends or meet someone new, instead
ask them, "What's your More?" Get them talking about their personal
interests, their personal or professional dreams, or how they would spend an
entire day to themselves. You'll both get some remodeling motherhood work done
as you reinforce for each other that it's important for a mother to hang on to
the "other than mother" pieces of her Identity Pie.