When you’re aged 15, you’re often – understandably – seen as a schoolgirl. If you go to uni, you’re usually referred to as a student. Often the career you choose alters how people see you. But there is nothing that happens in our lives that defines us more than when we become a mum. Nothing else changes how we are viewed by others – and by ourselves – quite as much. When you become a mum, you’re immediately popped into a mum-shaped box, whether you like it or not.
To begin with, I didn’t like it. I fought against the assumptions, only posting a few (read: 78) photos of my newborn on Facebook, so scared of being the subject of eye rolls from my non-parent friends. I was determined to still see my friends as much as I had pre-baby which led to one particular day when I found myself sitting on the floor of the disabled loo of Liberty, with a noisy breast pump attached to my bosom, before heading to a Soho pub. I guess I wanted to be seen as one of those mums who just happened to have a baby. “Oh what me? Yeah, I have a baby. But I’m TOTALLY the same person as I was before.”
Except I wasn’t. Because alongside being branded as MUM by the world around us, something inside us changes too. And I don’t just mean the fact that our Boots Advantage Card gets a boost from all the nappies, Sudocem and wipes we’re buying. Or that we go from BugaWHO to Bugaboo. Something shifts and we see the world in a different way. For me, it suddenly seemed a terrible place where awful things happened every day and I feared for my child being brought up in that world. I already worried about my child being bullied when she went to school and I panicked about her growing up to be an unpleasant child who picked on others. For a good 18 months after having my daughter, I couldn’t even watch films or TV programmes where bad things happened – I avoided the news for months and I’ve missed out on watching the entire run of Luther because as a new mum, I just couldn’t handle people killing people!
I also distinctly remember becoming a nicer person after having my daughter. I was more thoughtful and considerate to others, holding doors open for people, moving to one side in a busy shop to allow people past, flashing the lights in my car to let another driver through before me. I guess, subconsciously, I wanted to help make the world a nicer place for my daughter to grow up in.
But despite all of this, to begin with, I didn’t like being branded MUM. And to be honest, nearly five years on, it’s still something I struggle with. My identity has altered forever. I find myself calling and texting people and introducing myself as someone’s mum. My social life is less Soho pubs and more family BBQ at a friend’s house. Work-wise, I’ve gone from writing/editing features about hangovers and must-buy shoes to writing parenting features and running social media accounts for mum and baby brands.
Oh and I write a mummy blog.
But here’s the thing – I kind of hate myself for struggling with this. There’s no question that having a child is my biggest achievement in life. I created another human! I gave birth. I battled through dark days (OK months) when I had undiagnosed post natal depression and anxiety. I learned how to be a parent. My daughter is a smart, considerate, spirited child which is in-part thanks to me. I bloody rock.
So why do I struggle with ‘mum’ becoming a large part of my identity? This piece on The Pool by Lauren Laverne really struck a chord. ‘In our cultural conversation, “mum” is a diminished status, often preceded by the qualifier “just a”,’ she writes. ‘Pregnancy, birth and (most of all) post-pregnancy is horrifying. Mothers are encouraged to cling on to or reclaim their pre-children lives – to get their bodies “back” after having a baby. The best compliment you can give a pregnant woman is to tell her she looks tiny. The nicest thing you can say to a new mother is that she doesn’t look like she’s had a baby at all. If “being a woman is the ultimate insult”, it follows that being a mother isn’t too far behind.’
I think it’s time for me to embrace my mum status, to celebrate it, rather than try to sweep it under the carpet and pretend nobody notices.
Thanks to the brilliant Kiran from Mummy Says for inspiring me to write this.
Great post Alison, and I relate to so much of it. It’s taken me ages to do what you’ve decided, to embrace ‘mum’ as a large part of my identity. But since choosing to do it, I’ve really been able to shape what ‘mum’ means to me. I’m only defined by my definition of the word and as far as I let it define me. Enjoy embracing it Alison, and enjoy being the you that you choose to be. I reckon we can, in doing this, work against the cultural assumptions Lauren Laverne discusses. Power in numbers… let’s do this. XX
I like your point that actually ‘mum’ means different things to different women and we need to discover what it means to us and shape it ourselves. You’re so wise Kiran.
“The nicest thing you can say to a new mother is that she doesn’t look like she’s had a baby at all.”
That’s really shocking isn’t it when you stop to think about it? What a massive insult, to think that the dream is to somehow pretend it never happened?
It’s a bit of a weird one for me as my first daughter was born when I was 17, and so my identity as an adult has ALWAYS been as a mother too. I don’t know what it feels like to be a grown up without children. Perhaps that makes it easier for me as I’ve never had that shift, never had to change.
It probably does make it easier for you, from an identity point of view, but it must have been tough, having your daughter at 17, Jo.
Oh my goodness. What a strong, powerful read Alison. This has really struck a chord with me- I’ve always struggled with labels, fitting in & generally defining myself. I think becoming a parent has somehow made me even more rebellious to this & the judgements of others. Perhaps my hardest (inner) challenge is when people use the ‘JUST A mum’ comment – because I’m not JUST anything- but explaining to others that I’m self emloyed – Hustling for paid work whilst juggling running a house hold & being predominantly a stay at home mum (I have 2 child free days a week, when bear attends nursery) is tricky. I find it incredibly insulting & saddening. I couldn’t be prouder of being a Mum- it’s the most challenging (& rewarding) part of my life so far & I’m determined to wear my mama badge with pride.
Yes, the ‘just a mum’ comment grates with me too – it’s usually said when mums are worried they might be looked down on – it’s that classic British thing of putting ourselves down before someone else does it to us. LOVE that your wear your badge with pride x
This “Footsteps” bit wasn’t any good to begin with, and has officially crossed over into the “getting caught stealing pills in Canada” portion of its existence.
kkdg tu kita keramahan SA leh buat kita terpengaruh…nak nak bila ada yg ‘diminati’ plak kan kat barangan tu….tapi mmg naluri wanita…amik skit skit skit…bila time bayor terkujat gak aaa hehehehe…rasp recently posted..
This is something I have struggled with HUGELY since leaving London and I’m also a couple of months off that “Mum” label. I don’t want to fight it, I want to embrace it but I am a little bit concerned all I will talk about is Mum stuff. Given every time I’m with pregnant friends that’s all we talk about now. And whilst it obviously helps, I wonder what I talked about before this stage of my life!
Since leaving a career of nearly a decade in London I feel I’ve done myself a huge disservice when answering the “what do you do?” question. Because I left the career I had to work towards another, entirely new one, I feel I took a step back / down a bit. But the truth is, I’ve never been busier – or achieved more; working towards a four year diploma, three days a week as an office manager /PA, freelancing in between, launched a blog and committed to doing much more around the house as it seems only fair given Andy works far longer hours than I do and has a wage that does a lot for us both too.
Despite all this “I don’t want a label as a Mum” I even feel I’ve achieved so much merely conceiving (after a rocky start) never mind giving birth! I too expect to be there with my breast pump (love Liberty loos) but I hope they’ve come some way since you were expressing and there’s not such a din!
Thanks for sharing and writing such a brill post. Wish I was closer to pop round for a cuppa and discuss more. Big love xxx
Ahh Ruth this comment made me cry – and I’m not even sure why!! You’ve been through some massive changes and you have another big one to come. You’ll find your stride and you will LOVE being a mum. The identity thing definitely takes some getting used to (look at me, 5 years on….) but I think we do all get there, eventually. And you’re always welcome to pop in for a cuppa when you’re in south London!
I struggled in the first year because I felt like I wasn’t using my brain and I couldn’t deal with that after that’s ALL I used till I was 30ish and bustling a career. I do absolutely love being a mum title though and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever ever done. I had to take step back in my career though going part time and now accepting it’ll probably be like that for a good few years yet and I find that bit difficult. It sounds greedy but I want both but know I can’t have it so that irks me sometimes. Hopefully that doesn’t sound too selfish :-/
I already gave my vote for you before reading this Alison. You put things in such a clear and honest way. I can relate to this post so much. Labels are a pain in the ass, labels are in our everyday society from the womb to the day we are no longer here and its a sad thing. I think how we value ourselves is the main thing, when we lose sight of that – thats where the issue is, and yet only we can handle this. (if that makes any sense).. It frustrates me when you hear the, “oh you’re a stay at home mum… oh” – Yes I F*king am, I wear my ‘Mama’ badge with pride, but to say it still doesn’t feel real today is an understatement, I have those feelings of ‘I am not sure who I am anymore’ all the time, but its something only I can manage and the not letting anyone label me. because to be honest – it will not and will never define me as a mum, person, human! (I hope this makes sense.. I should be tucked up in bed due to feeling dog-tired but I had to leave a comment as i love this post!)xxx
I relate to this post so much as it’s something I’m struggling with too. I think the main reason is because at 23 I still feel like I’m really young to have a baby (although not classed as a ‘young mum’ so I’m in a weird sort of limbo). I feel like I spend a lot of time proving to my friends that I can still be fun and social even with a baby and that being a mum doesn’t define who I am. I love being a mum, but that’s just a part of who I am, I haven’t completely lost the person I was before I had a baby, she’s still there albeit hidden under clothes with vomit on! xx
Mums have to go through so much adjustment compared with dad (how typical – unless of course they’re SAHDs), so no wonder it’s hard to take being a mum on board. And you definitely become less selfish (a friend told me that and I didn’t believe her, but I am, and a lot more patient and laid back than previously)
I didn’t find it a problem earlier on, but now N’s approaching school, and I’m having to think about how I’m going to get him to and from school while working full time, it’s becoming more of an issue. It’s now that people are saying ‘you’ll have to reduce your hours’ and I’m realising that the working day isn’t conducive to all of those school meetings they expect you to be at. I don’t want to reduce my hours – I already took a massive pay cut when I changed job due to redundancy, even though I work full vs reduced hours I did before, so don’t want to have to lose more pay, and more time of being me at work than I already did before.
I’m pleased I am a mum though – especially because I didn’t think I wanted children. Then I changed my mind, and now I’ve got N, I can’t believe I’d ever have thought I wouldn’t have wanted to have any kids.
Good luck with your change of mindset about being ‘mum’ and hope it leads to even more opportunities for you.
this is a great post Alison. I had undiagnosed post natal depression for over a year. I think deep down I knew but didn’t want to admit I wasn’t coping. This post is inspirational thanks for writing it x
Wow. I so enjoyed reading this post. I’m new to your blog having stumbled across it on the internet after just finding out I’m pregnant (still less than 12 weeks!) and this is so honest and refreshing. To hear someone say aloud the things at the back of my mind is so reassuring. My baby is a long way off and already I’m struggling to come to terms with the Mum label, I’ve found myself thinking I should be buying different clothing already, and I’m already worrying about losing the baby weight I’m yet to gain and how on earth I’m going to juggle mum with business owner. Thank you for helping me feel that all this is perfectly normal, and we’re all in this together.
I often think about this topic im still new to being a mum and dealing with being a single parent so whether what i think will shift or settle into..i dont even know what it should be. When i was pregnant i believe i thought that everything would just click into place…how i thought…how i felt…my new experiences…theres so many views of what an ideal mum should be eapecially in the media but i find myself thinking how should i feel…is what i feel now how every mother feels (i don”t mean in a depressed way) but at times i feel kind of detatched as in i feel like this isnt real….that he’s not mine, im taking care of him for someone if that makes sense? The first time i recall feeling fear almost was whilst having a cesarean and my son was delieverd/being cleaned up i was scared that when they handed him to me i wouldnt feel how i was supposed to feel.
I have noticed strangers treat me differently now with taking the time to start a conversation (usually commenting on my son) where as they wouldnt usually speak to me.
I think the moment you become a parent your identity does change and whether thats a good or bad thing depends on the individual and the situation.
Sometimes I still struggle to think that I am a grown up who is responsible for 3 little people but then I am so hugely grateful for them and proud to be their mum (actually prefer mummy still while they’re little enough to use it – don’t know why). Great article, that sums up how a lot of us felt / feel about motherhood! xx
great post Alison…. I was a huge big mess in my teens/early twenties… really didn’t know who I was… so then having a baby at 22 instantly gave me this identity. Sometimes I still struggle with ‘just’ being so-and-so’s mum. though less since I have started working as I have something that is ME.
I had a huge identity crisis a few months after having Cherry, it’s when I started blogging actually and I also did a college course, learnt to drive etc. I just wanted to do as much as possible so that I didn’t feel like my only job was changing nappies. There is nothing wrong with people who only do that and enjoy it, I actually thought I would be one of those people but I just wasn’t. I hate labels of any kind. Great post x
Great post – I think a lot of us feel like this. Despite wanting desperately to be a Mum for years, I struggled to give up my career and salary more than I thought. And ‘just be’ a Mum. However more recently I feel empowered by it. I think that blogging / writing has given me a little identity again and time to be a grown up – plus seeing my twins grow up so quickly before my eyes means I don’t want to wish it all away. Jess xx
IMHO you’ve got the right answer!
Oh Alison, I totally resonate with this. I struggled for the first couple of years of being a Mum, as I although I loved it, non of my friends had babies yet and I was desperate to cling on to my old social life and pretend I could juggle big nights out and babies (I couldn’t, well not very well anyway!). It’s only now I feel more settled into my ‘role’ as a parent, but also realise that I can do lots of other cool things too, that don’t involve proving myself down the pub all the time. Society IS too negative towards Mums overall, even though we do an AWESOME job. Keep rocking lady! x
Reading your closing statement has made me want to put on my most American cheerleader accent and say something really corny like ‘you go girlfriend, power to you’! Wishing you all the best with embracing the mum part of your persona.
I’m fortunate because I had a huge journey (mental breakdowns, drug & booze addictions, rock bottom…and a whole load of fun in between) before I became a mum. I was also told two years before falling pregnant that I would need fertility assistance due to PCOS. When my eldest came along totally naturally and by accident it was the best thing ever, and I was completely ready to embrace being a mum. It hasn’t escaped me how lucky I am to have felt like this though…
Fab post. When I left work full time it did make life a bit harder rather than easier. The two days I am there I am aware I am just the Mum who turns up and teaches a bit. It’s took me a good 18months to finally feel a bit happier about myself. I’m still not fully there mind. Hopefully one day I will feel fully settled x
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately…I’ve changed so much already being pregnant and I don’t feel like my old self…does this ever go away or is this the new me? xx
Really interesting post – I’d never really thought about why I struggle with this, but it is true that in our society, if we change after having a baby we have somehow ‘given in’ – as though we are weak for losing sight of our ‘pre-baby’ selves. The truth is, becoming a mum changes everything and as you say, I do think I have also become a much nicer, more considerate person. Perhaps it’s because having a baby makes you appreciate life so much more and how precious it is. I also find that I’ve become more passionate about things and will speak out and stand up for things more than I used to, which I have to say, I quite like!
Really enjoyed reading this post – I too struggled with it, in fact when my first born came along I didn’t blog for 3 months (started the blog before having kids) as I didn’t know how to introduce him to my mainly younger kid free readership, I thought they would put me in a box as if I no longer had interests which is simply not true – like you said we are still the same people but different – let’s embrace it
Oh Alison, you clever thing, you have such a way with words that so often has me nodding along as I read. I struggled with my identity especially starting our family in my early twenties I always felt I had to justify myself as a mother and a grown up. Now I’ve hit 30 it’s been a bit of a revelation, being a mum is a massive part of who I am and always will be but it doesn’t define me. I no longer feel the need to prove myself or adjust who I am to fit into a box.
Great post – and you’ve got my vote – obvs 😉
I think so many of us can relate with you Alison as the general public love labelling people and I think I struggle with this because I get the your JUST a mom comment way too often. And the questions like “What else do you do?” I really get my back up with these but trying to brush them under the carpet these days and embrace it more openly and just laugh at them for thinking like that. Great read hunny.
This is such a great post, and one that I think every Mum can relate to. I always had an image of a Mum being old and fuddy duddy, who talk about other Mums behind their backs if they aren’t seen to be doing the done parenting thing and are so competitive with other Mum’s about their baby/child’s developments and achievements.
However their are so many amazing Mum role models out there now and I don’t think you notice them until you become a mum yourself. I think my image of Mums has definitely changed since I have become a Mum myself. I made some amazing friends through my antenatal classes who have been an amazing support. We also try and still do the things we used to do before having a baby, although slightly modified. We only go out for food if it is in the afternoon and never stay out past 6pm. If we are going to stay out later we will be at someones house so the babies can sleep. Gone are the days of spending Saturday afternoons in the pub, enjoying a few pints with friends and not having to worry about getting home for feeds or bath time.
You do lose your identity when you become a mum, but I think you become a better person like you said. You have brought a human being into the world and you want to make this world a better place for them to live in. But I also have a lot more empathy for other mums out there, so if I see a Mum struggling getting through a door with their pram I will stop and help, and if I am at a play group and I see a mum sat alone, I will go and talk to her, because it has probably taken her every effort to get out the door. You also have an insight into what parents go through. the sleepless nights, teething, explosive poos and endless outfit changes, and you want to give them a high 5 every time you see a Mum or Dad out and about with their kids, knowing what an effort it was to get out the front door.
Absolutely perfect post Alison that completely hits home. I often say to my husband i don’t know who i am anymore and he thinks i’m nuts, but sometimes after running your own business and having everything under control then splitting myself between one then two kids alongside my dance school (oh and my blog) i feel like nothing ever gets my full attention anymore, especially not me. And sometimes thats exactly what you need some time to just remember who you are (who you think you are not what/who other people think) and embrace it all as you say! Thank You x