A recent post to Mamapedia, “Does Motherhood Equal Identity Loss?” explored the identity changes that come with motherhood and quickly gathered over a hundred comments saying, “I am faced daily with the question of my own personhood. For weeks I’ve been milk maker, soother, diaper changer and occasionally ‘lady who showers and smells nice’… I stress ‘occasionally’ here.” I felt there was so much to say about identity that it is the only topic to have TWO chapters dedicated to it in my book, This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today, some of which is here in my Identity Pie blog post.
What we don’t often realize is that the same reasons we experience major shifts in our own identities are often the cause of a disconnect between us and our husbands. In our own heads and all around us are unconscious stereotypes that Mothers are responsible for and are naturally better at children and family and Fathers are responsible for and are naturally better at employment and earning money. As a result, women and men incorporate the roles of mother and father into their identities in different ways and at different paces and end up with a big old identity disconnect.
My assumptions about the expectations of a good mother kicked in when I was pregnant, so I started reading parenting books and researching baby gear. People cooed over me and my pregnant belly. Being a mother quickly took over a big chunk of my identity and started crowding out other pieces. Not my husband. Except for the baby showers and doctor’s appointments, being a father hadn’t really forced itself into his identity yet. Research tells us that Women take on MOTHER part of identity bigger and faster than men take on FATHER.
You’ve seen or heard this disconnect in action before. It comes in many forms.
- An increased feeling of you-just-don’t-understand-me. As one mother said, “Sometimes I feel a million miles away from him and he doesn’t understand what I’ve gone through after having both kids.”
- He’s jealous of the attention she gives to the kids; she sees that as selfish.
- He wants to go on a date; she’s reluctant to get a baby-sitter. As Mother, she feels bad about leaving the children. As Partner, he doesn’t understand; he wants to spend time with his wife.
When we were in the midst of this disconnect I saw the world and talked to my husband as this person:
A MOTHER who happened to also be a Partner, a Worker, and
once in a long while Myself.
My husband saw the world and talked to me as this person:
A WORKER and PARTNER who happened to be a Father and
Ultimately, the bigger the difference between husbands and wives in the size of the Parent piece of their identity when the baby is six months old, the less satisfied they both are with the quality of the marriage, and the more satisfaction continues to decline through the baby’s eighteen-month mark. This Identity Disconnect is at the root of a lot of conflict, dissatisfaction, and failure to communicate in our marriages.
So what to do? Get fathers involved in caring for family to strengthen the Father part of their identity, and make sure mothers get the time and space to hang on to their OTHER than Mother parts of their identity. As with most things, remodeling identity is something mothers and fathers should tackle together.
- Have both spouses fill out one of my Identity Pie worksheets and compare. How big is the difference between the two charts? What is one small thing you could each do for the other to close the gap?
- Listen to my FREE Remodeling Identity class for even more on this and other challenges to our identity that come from outdated stereotypes about mothers.
- Check out When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples by Carolyn Pape Cowan and Philip A. Cowan.