Pregnant woman touching her belly
Holding onto your identity throughout motherhood begins first with listening to your intuition.

Yesterday, my 7 year old daughter asked me what it’s like to be a mom. This girl is wildly empathetic and has asked similar questions before, trying to understand what it’s like to walk in my shoes. She asked me if it was overwhelming, always having someone who needs you. I told her that, sure, the responsibility can be overwhelming at times, but it’s also so wonderful and fulfilling to be able to love and raise my children and that it brings me so much joy. 

Before I was a parent, I worried about what it would be like too. I worried I’d lose myself in parenthood. I worried that my marriage would fade into the background, shadowed by the persistent needs of our children. But, the desire to have a family far outweighed the concerns, and gratefully we were able to have children and have been blessed with three awesome daughters.

Now that I’m here, it’s easy to recognize how easily one can get lost in the role of motherhood. The two decades it takes to raise a child are all consuming. There’s always more you can do and the love you feel for your children is indescribable. Plus, culturally, mothers are fed a string of conflicting messages about what it looks like to be “doing it right.” 

“Doing it right” includes an unreachable target of maintaining supermodel-level beauty standards, a perfect marriage, consistently healthy meals, a pristine home, great taste, regular exercise, fulfilling careers, meaningful friendships and high achieving, beautiful children who are at once stylish as well as brilliant and kind. The exhaustion I feel just by typing that list is heavy, yet that’s the mental load we as women carry each day because that is what our patriarchy expects of us. 

So, yeah, it’s no wonder that it’s easy for a woman to lose herself in motherhood. The moment we pause to rest, we need to immediately silence the voice that screams into our ears, “You aren’t perfect yet, thus you have not earned your rest. You must keep working to be better!” 

What if we stopped buying into it, though? What if we were able to take that list of expectations and toss it, instead deciding what matters to us? What we want out of this life. What we enjoy doing. 

What if we didn’t define “self-care” as following the beauty ritual that will help us stave off the inevitable effects of aging thereby preserving our ability to appear attractive to everyone around us, but instead as living a life free of outer expectations. What if we as women, instead, defined “self-care” as identifying for ourselves what we want to do, and doing it? What would it look like if all the women in the world turned up the volume on their intuition and gave her a voice louder than everyone else’s? 

I used to spend a lot of energy worrying about the state of my house when people came over. I’d feel panic at the way they’d perceive me if they knew I was a lousy housekeeper, that I allowed clutter and crumbs to pile up in our dining room and I didn’t do anything about it. That our floors didn’t get mopped nearly as regularly as they should. But, when I released myself from even that small expectation, I was free to invite my friends into our home regardless of its state and they knew they were welcome and safe because it wasn’t a reflection of our perfection on them, judging them in accordance. Instead, it felt like a home and I was able to open my heart to welcome and engage with them fully.

Moms, if we want to maintain our identities throughout motherhood, then we need to be in touch with ourselves. We need to discard what everyone else tells us about what we should like, do or be, and just spend our finite amount of time pursuing the things we actually want to like, do or be.

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.