How can you find yourself when you’re focused on raising someone else?

Posted by
Street Sign II
A lot of the content on Offbeat Mama really reinforces the idea of maintaining the person you were before becoming a parent, which I love. But what about those of us who are trying to be parent AND figure out who we are as individuals?

I was 20 when I found out I was pregnant, and I was just starting to carve out my adult identity. When I realized my daughter was coming, everything for me was put on hold — I had to get it together, get a steadier income, start planning. My daughter is now 3, and the hugest, most incredibly awesome thing to ever happen to me. And yet … I have been so consumed with raising her, and finishing my degree, and just making ends meet, that I sometimes feel like I’m still struggling to find me.

Do you have any tips for becoming more involved in offbeat communities, making offbeat friends, and finding time to know yourself? I want my daughter to cultivate an identity and sense of self … which means I should probably lead by example. -Blake

Comments on How can you find yourself when you’re focused on raising someone else?

  1. I DEFINITELY relate to this. I was a little bit older when I had my daughter but nowhere near where I wanted to be in my career or creative life. I don’t have any tips, but I do feel whoever wrote this.

    Right now I’m reading The Mother Trip by Ariel Gore and it’s great inspiration for pushing on and finding yourself!

  2. I don’t have any advice, but I’m happy to see this article. My husband is in the military and we got married very young. I got pregnant a few months after getting married and discovered now, after a year of being her mom, that I still don’t know who *I* am. I’d like to hear suggestions from others!

  3. Interesting, I’d also like to see some advice on this. I tend to be very reclusive and I don’t want my child to be like that. Seven years living in a city and all the people I’ve met I still don’t have anyone I’d really call a friend, just acquaintances. Many fake friends. I do have really great friends who live two hours away. Friends since high school, so I have a small support system but nothing locally and I don’t get out much.

    • As someone who had to struggle to make adult friends in a VERY niche market (i’m deaf, and desired some other deaf mama friends who are also raising hearing children)…. my tip is to PERSEVERE. Friendship is about perseverance, you can’t let little differences or setbacks or even fights stop you – just last week I bitched out my BFF for being inflexible about meeting at a park when it was 45 deg out, windy, and I have a 5mo son along with our 3 yr old – but we made up and she forgived me my honesty in being irked. Call people, offer to do things, put yourself out there, REALLY put yourself out there, invite people over, friend people on facebook and go the extra mile to learn about them. It takes work, friendships don’t just happen. With my now-BFF deaf mama friend, she was super nervous about making a friend, and also busy with her job… I persisted, she turned down plenty of my offers to get together, but I kept hitting her up and going out of my way to make it easier for her, meeting at her neck of the woods, etc. Now we have a friendship going on 5 years, 3 of that is with our CODA (children of deaf adults) kids growing up with each other!

  4. I was in my mid-30s when I had my first child (and I’m already hoping for a second in the next year or two), and I don’t feel as if you ever finish the finding-yourself journey — nor would I want to. It’s part of the joy of being alive, so younger mamas, know that us older mamas are just as befuddled at times as you are. 🙂

    There are two major goals I have in the next year, and they are hard to do with a more than full time job, a baby, and a very full life. That said, here’s what’s helped for me to reconnect in areas of my life that need it:

    1. Make time for date nights. Even when we have a date night that starts out crappy, it’s always ended well. The last one ended with us writing our 2011 goals down and reading them to each other over glasses of wine on the deck. It was such a powerful moment of reconnection for us, and also helped me to define what I want to be and do in the next year. It was great.
    2. I’ve made new mama friends, but also continued to hang with my non-mama friends as well (and make new non-mama friends, too). I think that having a balance really helps you to remember who you currently are, and where you came from.
    3. Getting Dad into the mix as much as possible has really helped. My guy is almost a year old, and still breastfeeding, and at first I thought, “I’ll do more FILL IN BLANK HERE when he’s weaned.” And now I’m like, Crap, just do the extra pumping and store that milk so you have NO EXCUSE not to FILL IN THE BLANK HERE. Little Dude’s dad is more than happy to hang with him. It’s just a matter of me letting go a little to ALLOW myself to go and have fun, or write, or work out, or whatever.
    4. Which leads to . . . GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO DO THINGS FOR YOURSELF. This is really hard for me. I feel so connected to my family that it’s hard for me sometimes to let go and make time for myself. But I am learning to do so, slowly but surely, because it makes everyone happier in our family. Plus, doing things like getting your brows threaded or going horseback riding with your punk rock friend really do help you to chill out.

    Okay, those are a few of my tips that have worked . . . I’ve also found that

    • Oh man, I totally feel you about having trouble giving yourself permission to do things for yourself and allowing Dad to help out so you can relax. I also have a lot of problems with that, but it’s really important to do it, even if it’s something small.

    • I am in a similar situation. I’m 32 and pregnant with my first… I’ve done a lot of travel, study, general finding-myself activities in my life but in no way feel like I am ready to stop! I am a little scared that when my son arrives I will have trouble with the identity shift but mostly, I think I just need to keep making time for me-stuff even if it just means junior has a sane mom 🙂

  5. The key for me is modeling things for my son — if I want him to develop an interest in the arts, I need to be getting out and going to cultural events. I take him with me if I can, but sometimes I can’t or don’t want to, and that’s an opportunity for him to see that these events are important to me. If I want him to be social and comfortable with groups of people, I need to show him how I do it, visiting with friends and hosting pancake parties. If I want him to appreciate nature, I model going out for a hike. In this way, making time for myself doesn’t feel selfish — it feels like I’m modeling for my son the things I want him to understand are important. Arts, culture, friends, outdoors.

    Also, check out Stephanie’s posts about making mama friends:

  6. i am a single parent raising four kids… i have no time or energy for anything else. i moved so i have no support system. their dad never takes the kids ever… so i never get breaks (maybe once a year, if i am lucky). so finding myself is going to be incredibly hard. i hope i do someday.

    • i have a friend who is a single mom raising four. their dad rarely takes them. she discovered (when her kids were old enough) that geocaching is a great way to get out and do stuff outside with her kids and have adventures together.

    • I cannot imagine the stress you have with being a mom to four, alone. My mom was a mom-to-four and we were all born within a six year period. but she had my (admittedly very absent) dad around at times to take over or help around the house. It was still so, so tough, and we could FEEL our mom stretched thin esp since she was the one who took all 4 of us places together. I would have rather had a happy mom than a slightly bitter and snippy mom!

      Just let go and give yourself permission to be GOOD ENOUGH. Forgive yourself, tell yourself your children will learn from your imperfections too as long as you say Sorry and I love You. Give them a taste of independence borne of lassiez fare and don’t feel guilty about accidents! Take time for yourself no matter what! Keep trying your best to find ways to snag childcare – YMCAs often have great childcare centers for members, and they can offer sliding scales if theres a need.

      I’m only a mom to 2 (and married with a helpful husband, so I can’t compare), but I find myself passing up childcare opportunities or forgetting to plan stuff for myself and arranging for childcare. I have family and friends who understand the demands of parenthood and really gladly would do stuff if I just ask, but I don’t plan well enough to have advance plans, ha.

  7. I had my daughter when i was 18 and I know exactly how you feel. What I did one was to sit down and just think about what I had wanted for myself, and what things i used to love that i wasnt doing any more. Your getting a degree so your way ahead of where i was! I think the best advice someone gave me was to find something, anything, that was just for me. Now I play roller derby. a friend that i gave that advice to took it to mean that at least once a week she would give herself painting time with no child around. My mom is in her 40’s and still struggles to find time for herself so don’t worry about it being just you or anything. 🙂

    • I used to play derby. That may be something I get back into once baby arrives if I can make the time, but then again I should probably spend my free time working on art, but its so isolating! Anyways what league are you on? I played for and help start the Blue Ridge Rollergirls in 2007. Was never that great but it was soooo fun.

  8. I can completely relate to this… I was also 20 when we found out I was pregnant!! Everything was a whirlwind of moving and planning and working. Shortly after my daughter was born we bought and renoed a house, got married and moved yet again. I’ve been a stay-at-home mama since we moved out here. And although I was more mature then most of my friends, life changed the moment I became a mother. I love it and it’s been the best thing for me.
    However I am also having a hard time with “finding myself”. Never having had the opportunity to spend years researching and traveling all the different interests I have… I’ve been attempting to do a lot of this from home. (Reading, writing, painting, drawing, etc.)
    But it is very hard to do… Raising a child and then trying to find enough time in the day to make meals, clean house, go on outings, follow the current news and on-goings of our society, read and do any other sort of hobby… It’s sheer madness.
    My daughter is almost 3 and we are trying to give her as many experiences as we can and help develop her mind.
    So how do you find time in the day for yourself when you’ve got to spend the rest of it being a good house-keeper and mother??
    Thanks very much to the woman who wrote this post. I will be following!!

  9. I had one kid in my early 30s. Now he’s 4.5. Preschoolhelps me carve out time, but I know homeschooling mamas who have their own lives! (They have more/ different support.)

    Now, I’m a crazy-passionate creative type. I started belly dancing when I was 8! My family is tres Bohemian/ Hippie. We do not lack for things to do (of our own). But… We’re all still evolving. My sister just started making jewelry. My mom is still painting, but finding new stylistic directions. And I “found” photography and hooping (but I’m still belly dancing!).

    Find what you love and carve out time. (And realize the first 2-3 years of your kid’s life will be mostly about them. But you can still find some “me time!”)

  10. What do you mean by ‘finding time to know myself’? There’s finding time and there’s knowing oneself, but the latter is not dependent on the former. Knowing oneself can happen while spacing out during lunch, or watching TV, or driving a car. Do you really mean, “I feel I can’t take a middle-eastern dance class for fun, because I’m a mom”? Do you mean, “I want to go out to concerts with friends”?

    Finding time is another matter. If the two statements together really mean, “finding time to just be with myself, where I’m not working, where I get to enjoy a book or play the guitar”, be honest and just say, “I love my daughter dearly but I don’t want to be dealing with things relating to her all the freaking time”. That’s totally cool and everyone else in your life needs to be cool with that. Once you’ve made that admission, start from there.

    Basically my point is that people surrounding parents implicitly assume and even explicitly state that a mother’s life is solely about the children. Yes your life contains your children, that is an aspect just as much as having a job or living in the city or speaking English is an aspect of you. But it isn’t the totality. And if you see having a child as blocking other aspects of your personality, then you’ve bought into what everyone else is saying! Yes it’s more involved to go to the store with a child, but it’s worth it to get the groceries, right?

    (I’m sorry if I’m way off base on any of my conclusions here.)

    So, solutions: First, it’s okay to not want to be around your child all the time. It doesn’t mean you love them less. It’s okay to find a sitter and take roller derby classes. It’s also okay to take your child to roller derby classes where they can see mom being awesome. Or the museum or Alaska.

    Finding like-minded people… well depends on where you are. Craigslist, meetup, sometimes even the paper. Go to a nearby university and check bulletin boards, or their websites. Take a yoga class, find a gaming group at your local games shop. Actually, here’s an idea I’m toying with: if you like board games or D&D, go to a local games shop and post on their board that you’d like to start a gaming group for parents. Figure out the logistics from there. I guarantee you that there are other parent gamers out there looking for kindred spirits.

    Anyway, again I’m sorry if I’ve jumped to too many conclusions on any of this. Good luck!

    • Most of our friends, even when they were newly arrived to the city, sort of moved in to an instant social group. We all play in a LARP that is part of an (inter)national organization. So when a LARPer from California moves to Georgia, the first thing they do is let us know they’re moving – and we all make sure to get to know them, game with them, and invite them to social events. While we started as college students, we’re definitely reaching the point where more and more of us are on the parenting track.

      I’m sure LARP isn’t the only hobby that has these kind of social opportunities. Figure out what it is you like (roleplaying, derby, whatever) and then see if you can find some state wide or national organizations (they might be easier to track down than their small, local branches).

      Of course, then you have to find someone to watch the kiddo and that’s what *I* want help with. How do you go about finding a trustworthy babysitter that isn’t a relative?

  11. I could have written this. My son was born when I was 21 and his dad and I split when he was only a few months old. My entire identity is centred around being “mommy” and I’ve spent a lot of years figuring who I am outside of that label. It’s an ongoing process – my son is almost eleven and I’m still figuring it out. It’s not an issue of finding time for myself – it’s about finding out who I am as a person.

  12. I like that roller derby got a few mentions in these comments! My daughter is about 6 months old and I will be trying out derby for the first time in a couple weeks. It seems like a great place to let loose either with or w/o the kid – somewhere for Mama to get some exercise, meet new friends, and be fierce!

  13. I agree that the business of “finding yourself” is never fully achieved, because you keep on growing as a person until the end of your life! I think the first step is becoming comfortable with the fact that there will always be some parts of yourself that are mysterious 🙂

    I think that maintaining some kind of “hobby” (for lack of a better term) is key to forming a strong identity. When you are doing something you love you often enter into that introspective trace where you can really focus on what’s going on in your brain. It is also a great way to connect with other people, like the LARP poster suggested. For me personally, I have been doing yoga since I was 16 and the practice has taken a huge roll in how I have formed my identity, and it also gives me a chance to check in with myself everyday. Now I am 24 and pregnant with our first baby and my identity is shifting yet again, but I feel like I have the tools and knowledge to stay in touch with myself as I change.

    The best advice I can give is at least once a week (I’m sure it is difficult with a kid, but so worth it!), give yourself the opportunity to go out and do something you love, and if you don’t currently have anything in mind, try something new (search local libraries, rec centers, and other venues for fun classes to try). Good luck and have fun!

  14. Something I have noticed, especially when it comes those that are more offbeat, is that a lot of people tend to be less social after they have a kid. I’m not sure if it’s a fear of being judged, not knowing what to talk about with other parents, or something else altogether, but I caught myself closing myself off to numerous opportunities to meet new people and introduce Jasper to different types of people, just because I didn’t feel like I could relate to other parents, and I made that assumption TOTALLY on face value. It is definitely much more challenging to find other parents that you can hang out with. I’ve joined numerous playgroups and even tried to start one, and still only know two or three other parents (or sets of parents, depending) that I can really sit down and hang out with WITHOUT our kids around.

    Something else that a lot of people have brought up that I totally agree with is that cultivating a hobby or interest will do WONDERS for your sense of self. I love that Jessi pointed out that we all keep growing until the end of our lives, because it’s totally true, and that’s something I really agree with. You didn’t specifically mention if you’re a single parent or not, and/or if you have a support network, but if you do have someone who can watch your daughter, I DEFINITELY recommend finding a class or something that you’d like taking — my whole world opened up again when I started regularly attending yoga (I go to a gym where I pay a flat fee, because I go 3-4 times a week and there’s no way I could swing $10 a class) and a dance class.

  15. I think one of the great downfalls of our reaction to that boxing in of motherhood is that we can deny ourselves mothering as an identity. If that makes sense? I know when I had my daughter, within DAYS people were at me about ‘not forgetting who I am’ and ‘not just being a mum’. Too bad. I am a mum, no matter how I spin it. So I fold that into the identity mix along with everything else.

    As my daughter has gotten older, getting time to do things I like has been hard BUT doing those things is not my identity either. Why are we SO against our identity being informed from motherhood but perfectly okay with derby or goth or raver being our identity? It’s all of a piece, you can’t pull bits out of the hat and call them the whole (OR leave bits out and call that a whole either).

    So I guess my advice is roll with it. Sink into motherhood, let it inform the rest of your identity even as the rest of it informs your motherhood. You are NOT a blank slate. Identity isn’t what you do, what you buy, what you play. It’s deeper than that. I found motherhood let me really experience my internal identity more because I wasn’t covering it in work.

  16. be yourself around other parents. pretty soon u will see who you want to hang out with.
    you can also hang out with people that don’t have kids!

    if your having a hard time adjusting and finding yourself, cut yourself some slack. i had a very strong sence of self prebaby but lost it postpartum even as i desparately searched for it. i ended up reinventing who i am. and it emerged by finding interests.

    being a mother is part of who i am. if you’re enjoying just being a mama then thats great! dont feel pressure to find out who you are. just discover it. read what peaks your interest watch media that peaks your interest.

    i have discovered that all through my life i shift, if you hold onto ideas of who u are everytime you change u have an existential crisis!

    your adult identity can be the same as your teenager one. dont feel like you have to grow up because of the baby, if you enjoy some of the same things then enjoy them!

    just be.

  17. One of my good mama friends has a weekly yoga class as her “me” time. She loves it and it rejuvenates her for the week.

    Regarding discovering yourself, I think the best advice I’ve heard is to try things, everything, all sorts of different things, say yes to things you wouldn’t have thought of. Go out of your comfort zone, having new experiences, meeting new people. Then listen to yourself, get a little quiet after you’ve done that activity and see how you feel. Did it feel right? off? stressful? fun? energizing? rejuvenating? Give yourself permission to play the hot, warm, cold game with your life (usually a kids game to find things) – ie, does this activity stimulate and make me feel great (hot!) or I could take it or leave it, meh! (warm) or does it leave me feeling exhausted, stressed (cold). Themes will start to develop and by listening you will start to take note of them and appreciate learning yourself. Also think back to your young childhood and see if anything stands out as something you love or one of your favorite times ever. It may translate into an adult interest that will define you.

    I think it’s also important to build these exploring times/ “me” times into your schedule. Not when you’re stressed and feeling overwhelmed but regularly. Weekly, biweekly, something consistent.

  18. I am so, so psyched to read all the comments! Not only have the advice comments been very eye-opening and helpful, but the i-feel-like-that-too comments mean a lot to me; just the knowledge that other people struggle with some of the same things you do is really comforting. Thank you to everybody for posting such wonderful, thought-provoking answers to my question!

  19. One of the best things I ever did was to organize a block party in my neighbourhood. That led to getting to know other parents, which led to baby-sitting trades. Then you have more time to explore your own interests!

  20. This is me- I was 20 when I forgot to take the pill! Wasn’t sure who I was for quite a while!

    Things I do to be me / find me / feel like a real grown-up!:

    Regular Monday night movie- the independent cinema near me has cheap tix on a Monday- works for me as no-one ever has plans on a Monday so I can get someone to come along and have something arts/culture ish to think and talk about

    Make jewellery- I always thought I was creatively barren in the area of arts and crafts, but I tried it and I like it and am good at it. People even buy it from me, which is amazing!

    Read books- I buy one from the op shop every week or so, its cheap and I feel like a real-life grown up when I read, and again I have something to ‘think’/ talk about

    Trying, trying and trying some more to find mothers that I actually like and who like me- hard when none of your friends have kids and all the mothers are like, closer your mother’s age. But I kept at it and found some gems.

    Self development- in learning about myself and my parenting, what kind of mum I want to be, through reading books, counselling etc, I did discover what I stood for and who I was

    What DIDN’T work for me:

    starting vocational courses thinking I had to get a qualification to feel validated, then feeling like a failure when I didn’t finish. I know now that I am valid anyway and there really isn’t room for study that I am not committed to in my life

    Comparing myself to people my age without kids, or people my kids who were older- comparison was the thief of joy for me and I had to stop!

  21. I’ve never totally understood the concept of “finding” yourself…how do you know when you’re found/how do you know if you should still be looking?

  22. Totally relate to this question because when i was unplanned pregnant at 24 I was looking for a house to live together, finishing my studies, needed a steady income and therefore trew myself at the first reasonable job (that turned out not so cool) and had to deal with the stress of an 3 month premature baby. I found myself kind of lost of who I was when things settled down.
    I am not sure if it helps you but for me 4 years later I realise that beside ‘me time’ and mutual interesting things to do with your child (which are important!), I had to learn to give myself a break. Giving myself time turned out important but difficult as a young woman used to live life on a fast track. It allowed me to relax and to realise that it is ok if I am a little lost after an intense and hectic period. It allowed me to reflect how I dealt with the first mommyhood years and what I liked and what not. It allowed me to realise that my friends without kids also have trouble to identify who they are. And it allowed me to realise that as a mom I am much more rooted so it is now easier for me to focus on the important stuff instead of distractions which is really handy when doing some soulsearching. And all off a sudden I find myself dreaming and making plans to build our own selfsustainable earthship house in spain. Something to give me enough energy to be a mom, wife and collegue during the rest of the day.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation