What is it about having children that completely consumes and overtakes a person’s sense of self? Articles and advice abound on what to do if you are “losing your identity”. But I’m wondering if there is a better approach to reclaiming yourself.
There’s a concept of doing life alongside your children that completely rocked my world when I heard about it. Author Dr. Michaeleen Doucleff speaks to this in her book Hunt, Gather, Parent (for which I’ll eventually post my review). The idea is of carrying on with your day – your plans, interests, and needs – and letting children be involved or simply be present alongside you. Simple, obvious, and yet in complete contrast to the way me and my generation approach parenting.
Honestly, it sounds great, and I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what my parents did when I was growing up. I was constantly around adults having their own conversations, cooking meals together, or playing cards. I even remember going to night school with my mom, entertaining myself quietly in the back of the classroom for an hour and a half. My parents basically just lived their lives and I got to witness and be a part of it.
Thinking about this approach now, the single most challenging part may very well be deciding what “your life” looks like. I’m just six years in and my pre-mom interests and hobbies already feel like they happened another lifetime ago. Maybe you spend so much time cleaning, feeding, working, instructing, …cleaning some more… that in no time your interests are replaced by chores and family duties. “Keeping those little humans alive” or “making sure the household keeps operating” is now your personal mission statement.
And so the process begins of rediscovering (or finding for the first time) your own adult interests. You work to identify your needs and desires and shape those things into a persona that can keep you from truly losing your identity. But then there’s the frustration of trying to maintain your individuality while picking up after, maintaining schedules for, and essentially keeping alive all the other individuals under your care. It can all be a lot.
Then it occurred to me, “how individualistic of me to mourn the ‘loss’ of my own special little snowflake identity.” Maybe it would be better to think about identity in a way that is rooted in community. What does it look like when your unique talents and skills are viewed through the lens of what you contribute and share with your village? Perhaps then there wouldn’t be such frustration at all the other duties that infringe on your time, because instead of distracting from your role, those things contribute to your fulfillment of it. That’s not to suggest you abandon all personal pursuits, or that your value is based wholly upon what you produce. But instead, maybe this is a nod to recognizing the full scope of your being in relationship to those around you and the range of value you bring to the world. A balance of “yes, and…” To me, the thought of that is lovely.
So what does a community-minded identity look like? Maybe start by taking a look at what you are already doing in your day-to-day. Are you the primary meal preparer? The neighborhood gatherer? The host? What tasks or activities do you find your energy going to? In what areas do you often end up helping? What do friends come to you for? How do you typically operate in your household, village, and broader community? These things will point you towards your community identity.
Now think about the special touch that you bring when doing those things – your attention to detail, or consideration for how others feel. Your ability to get things done efficiently. The way you delegate or organize moving parts. These all lend to the part you play in the world.
Look through the roles listed below. Do any of them strike a chord with you?
- The Nurturer
- The Teacher
- The Supporter / Encourager
- The Spirit Tender
- The Communicator
- The Builder / Fixer / Problem Solver
- The Planner
- The Healer
- The Advocate
- The Counselor
- The Analyst / Engineer
- The Leader
- The Peacemaker
- The Gatherer Host
- The Celebrator
- The Artisan / Creative
Do you see yourself in any of the words above? Considering what you do in these terms can move your day-to-day role from feeling mundane to one of power and pride. At least it does for me. And in that sense, are you really losing your identity or has having children merely expanded that identity?
Oh, and if this list reminds you of results from a personality test, there’s a reason for that. Many of the titles are taken directly or adapted from a popular assessment. But your personality absolutely contributes to your identity! Do you want to know yours? I’ve enjoyed learning about the Myers Briggs and Enneagram categories. (You can find free versions of these assessments online.) Click here to see my results and other nerdy details about me.
At the end of the day, you will always operate in the way that comes natural to you, regardless of what you are doing. That’s your one-of-a-kind individuality. But just maybe your identity is also made up of the impact you naturally have on the world around you. Your role in and effect on the community. So the next time you set your mind on completing that passion project only to have everyone around you demanding your time and attention, remember that both endeavors have meaningful value. Yes, and. And then set some boundaries so that you can accomplish both in their appropriate times. 😉
You are amazing, my friend.
If you do find out your personality type (or already know it) please share it with me down in the comments. I love learning about other people.