Why women must fight for their identity after motherhood

I knew motherhood would have its challenges, what I didn’t expect was the persistent guilt every time I took time out for myself. There’s an expectation even today that a woman should, at the cost of her career, friendships, social life and identity, immerse herself into motherhood faultlessly.

It’s little wonder that when we eventually emerge from the fog of early motherhood, we no longer have any idea who we were or who we’re supposed to be. There’s a narrative that continues to tell us that unless we’re superwoman juggling an impossible number of tasks with an Instagrammable-body we aren’t worthy or we’re doing something wrong.

When mothers are written into stories, we are often given the role of nurturer or fun police, employed to reign her partner and children in when things become too rowdy. Don’t even get me started on fairy tales, where mothers are dead, missing at sea or evil step-mothers. Why do we so often reduce women to such limited roles?

We don’t want it all, I’m not even sure we ever did, because most of us are just trying to get through the day. It’s difficult to recall our desires, pleasures, hobbies, sexuality, and intellectual stimulants when society keeps reminding us that once we’re mothers it’s not our role to be fun.

Women have had to fight for everything—the vote, property rights, equal opportunity and pay, even what we do with our own bodies. Luckily, motherhood is not for the fainthearted and what we do retain is usually a fighting spirit and a sense of humour. How else could you possibly deal with the (beautiful) horrors that are childbirth and all the delightful post-partum things that no-one warns you about.

The bad news is the only way to reclaim who you were or who you want to be is to become a little selfish. We’ve been brought up to believe that selfishness is one of the worst qualities a person could possess, and yet every time I travel, I’m reminded that I should fit my own oxygen mask before aiding others. What if being a little selfish could transform us into better human beings?

Perhaps carving time out for ourselves, without guilt, is the key to retaining or reclaiming our identity after motherhood. We also shouldn’t think that the time we spend apart from our children must be productive. You don’t have to be changing the world or writing a novel, you could be bingeing Netflix or having a quiet coffee alone in a café like an actual adult. Whatever it is that brings you back to zero and reminds you of who you are and what you have to offer the world, is what you should be doing.

I don’t have to remind you that we’re bloody exhausted, but I think we all need reminding that present mothers are not born from zero sleep or losing ourselves in the cycle of giving to others. When we finally reclaim our identities, our children will be much better off for having an interesting (albeit possibly more embarrassing—according to any teenager) mother who is being herself, pursuing her desires and reclaiming what’s hers.

By Dani Vee

Words and Nerds Podcast legend Dani Vee has over 52,000 listeners every month and has just released her very own kids’ book in August, My Extraordinary Mum!