How Do You Define Yourself After Having Kids? Hierarchy of Self and Other Fun Thoughts

how do you define yourself after having kidsSo here’s a question that may sound odd: How do you define yourself after having kids? Are you a mother first, or a wife, or a lawyer [insert your job here], or a woman? Where does wife/daughter/friend play into the mix? What is your hierarchy of self? Do you have a strict one that you refer to when, say, decisions need to get made — or is it something that kind of fluctuates? Is your hierarchy of self at odds with anything, such as a) your partner’s or boss’s view of what comes first, or b) oh, reality? If you’ve made internal adjustments to your self-definition, why/how did you make those adjustments?

For me, for example,how do working moms define themselves after kids I think I myself am pretty far down the list. I would say I’m a mother first, a blogger/business owner second, then probably wife/daughter/sister, then friend, then lastly a woman. As certain people might say, Sad!

The question is kind of an amorphous one because it’s not necessarily determined by tasks or workload balance or even importance to you — just in your head as how you define yourself. Do you see this as an extension of the postpartum identity crisis we’ve discussed before, a passing phase while you’re “in the weeds” with smaller kids (like what may be a passing phase when a parent or in-law gets sick), or is it the new normal until the empty-nester identity crisis (if that’s a thing, which I’m guessing it is)? I’d love to hear your thoughts on your own hierarchy of self and the general question of how you define yourself after having kids.

Great discussion with our working mom readers on this important question: how do you define yourself after kids? What's your hierarchy of self when comparing your roles as, say, mother, wife, daughter, employee, and more?


  1. This may sound weird but I’m not sure I define myself at all anymore. I just wear different hats at different times. But for some reason it always bothered me when people would say things like, “As a woman…” or “as a mother…” or “as a ——– …” Perhaps because you usually hear this in a sort of negative context? “I am offended as a woman” or “I would never do, I’m a mother!” or even “I find that sad/depressing as a lawyer.” It’s never “As a mother, of course I want to go jump on a trampoline with you!”

    But I do think becoming a parent changes you in some ways. I would love to hear how other people feel they’ve changed. In terms of the “not so good,” I think motherhood has made me more anxious. I worry about things all the time now, including about myself and my health, in ways I never did before and I think it’s because I feel such tremendous responsibility and pressure to be there for my kids. It’s overwhelming at times and I hope it gets easier as they get older. In terms of “the good,” I think I’m much more empathetic now. I look at people and I think “that’s someone’s kid,” at some point they were a child and I think of my kids and how they are now nd it makes me much kinder towards everyone generally. I am also a lot less judgmental of other people because I see how life happens around the best laid plans and intentions.

  2. I had a big identity crisis when I stopped competing in my sport. I hadn’t even realized how much of my life was defined by it, but I trained at a very high level for almost 10 years and decided not to continue due to a combination of injury and burnout. That led to one of the roughest patches of my life when I really couldn’t define myself (was also not super happy at my job, wasn’t married yet, etc).

    Since I went through that I have been pretty secure in my sense of self and didn’t feel anything shift when I got married or had a baby.

    I do think others in the professional context automatically give you more seniority in their mind when you are married/a parent. Which is stupid, because anyone can get married and have a kid, but it generally does signify “I’m older and have my life together”. I noticed the difference in the way people treated me when I said “my husband” as opposed to “my boyfriend”.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I also don’t define myself often, but that’s more a reflection of the fact that I have limited time/brain capacity right at this point in my life. If I had to, I’d probably define myself as a mom >> wife >>woman >> career >> friend/daughter.

    Being a mother has changed me and my priorities in a profound way. I have more empathy, compassion, and patience. DD has given me a sense of purpose I never knew before and our family is priority number 1. I care less about stuff that doesn’t matter or other people’s drama.

    On the other hand, I tend to wear myself down by trying to do all.the.things as a working mom. Even though DD sleeps, I find that I’m less forgetful (and honestly feel less intelligent), and I don’t feel like I have interesting things to talk about a lot of the time because I’m not reading or partaking in hobbies much.

    • FTMinFL says:

      I’m so glad someone mentioned, “I don’t feel like I have interesting things to talk about” <- ME TOO. I feel so out of the loop and generally uninteresting because my life is my very young children, my husband, my job, and the housework I do with the remaining energy. I love all of those things and I have found a lot of joy in this season, but, wow, I feel uninteresting. What did I talk about before this season?!

    • Anonymous says:

      “I find I’m less forgetful (and honestly feel less intelligent)” — i’m more forgetful, but I totally feel the less intelligent, now that I’m a mom. It feels like half my brain is filled with kid logistics. And, I totally agree with FTMinFL – not having anything interesting to talk about!

  4. Boston Legal Eagle says:

    Becoming a parent has made me question everything I was taught to believe was being “successful.” I’ve always been a good student, hard worker and enjoyed the praise that came with achieving academically, and then eventually in the workplace. Now, I’m realizing that what society promotes as successful doesn’t really align with my values if it means working all the time just to get a higher title and more money at the cost of spending time with my family. On the flip side, I think I would feel really unfulfilled if I quit to stay home full time, or even took on a less-demanding part-time role. I feel like these are still the binary choices presented to parents, particularly women, and it’s hard to find a space in between that combines all of my values.

    I am a mother, a wife, an attorney, a daughter, a friend, etc. I know I can’t be the “best” at each, but I’d like to at least try to be good at most by being a kind, empathetic person. I suppose that’s what having it all means to me now, which is pretty different from the image of that perfect woman who has the big successful career, multiple kids, bakes cookies, volunteers, has a clean house, etc. To me, that is an impossible standard, but it’s one that’s shown over and over again. So I would say that becoming a parent has really balanced out my life, it’s just that society hasn’t caught up yet!

    My husband feels the same as I do, which I am grateful for because I would find it difficult to be the default parent if he was all gung-ho about work, and also would probably resent him if I was the sole earner. We’re each trying to keep our different roles going. The hardest part is finding time for just the two of us to be a couple, without the demands of work or home, but I find it so so important to maintain this relationship. Luckily my parents are willing and able to babysit so we try to squeeze in date nights when we can :)

  5. I have to say becoming a physician was more defining to me than becoming a parent. I can leave being a parent behind at times (at work I am not constantly thinking like a parent). I find it is much harder to be out in the world an not think like a doctor. That doesn’t mean I work all the time (I track time and consistently work 40-45 hours per week), it just means that the mindset of being a physician is pervasive. I was once asked while being voir dired for a jury, if I could read medical records without bringing my medical knowledge to the case. I know I could not. I even think being a physician has implications for my parenting. I am not a pediatrician, but I have some general medical knowledge beyond my specialty. I think this makes me both more anxious and more cavalier. My kids joke they have to be bleeding out or dying to go to the doctor for anything more than a check-up. We see a pediatrician who has a lot of patients with physicians for parents and I imagine we have a different relationship that we would if we were not also colleagues. Being a physician alters how I relate in every part of my life and is definitely my defining identity.

    I think after that all the other hats are more fluid parent, wife, daughter, sister, friend.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Honestly, I feel exactly the same as I did before, but now with more company. I love momming, but I don’t think it fundamentally changed who I already was.

    • Same for me. I also think I define myself as “me” first, at the risk of sounding like Kelly Taylor. I am a mom, and a wife, but I don’t define myself as those things. Friends have definitely asked me how marriage and/or motherhood changed me and I think the answer is…not really very much. I think I’m just more myself. Not like I haven’t changed at all, but life changes you too, you know?

      • shortperson says:

        i was just thinking this the other day. part of the reason is that ive felt about 35 since i was 15 or so. and now i actually am 35.

        • Ha! Yes, I agree with that, too. I also think getting married later (met at 30, married at 35) and having a baby when I was older (36) helped with this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Same for me. Parenthood has been an incredible experience and I love my daughter more than I can possibly explain but I feel like I’m basically the same person I was before. I think that’s partly because we have only one kid, so we just simply don’t spend as much time parenting as other people do, and also because my job is really laid back and 9-5 and my hobbies before kids were all kind of simple, low key things that have been easy to keep up after kids (reading, travel, cooking, etc.). I think if I’d done a competitive sport or worked a more intense job, I would have wanted to cut back on that for more time with my kid and then I would feel like I’ve given a part of myself up.

  7. I generally go mother, wife, attorney/employee, most other labels.

    I am trying very hard to give mother and wife equal slots tied for first, which is becoming a little better as our daughter gets older. I’ve realized that all the things I wish for my daughter in a partner, I haven’t been for my husband in the past few years. It is the normal adjusting to parenthood stuff, but I am trying much harder to be the type of partner for him that I pray my daughter will have.

    • Rainbow Hair says:

      I am trying to prioritize “wife” too! “Mother” just so easily takes up all the time and energy, so I have to carve out for “wife.”

  8. Rainbow Hair says:

    I don’t think I think “woman” in the abstract because I don’t do a lot of things just “as a woman.” Like “as a mother” I blah balah with Kiddo, “as a wife” I theoretically do stuff with my husband, “as a lawyer” obvs, “as a member of my #squad”… but “as a woman” … not so much. Though I strongly identify as a “woman lawyer” and a “woman beer aficionado” so there is that!

    Curious to hear how others think of that one.

  9. NewMomAnon says:

    I feel like becoming a mother has caused me to define myself much more as a woman and an advocate of women than I expected. Before having a kid, I really thought that we had achieved gender parity in the work place and home, and that if your workplace or home didn’t treat you as an equal, all you had to do was point out the failure and poof! People would adjust to fix it. Having a kid and failing to successfully negotiate that parity at home or at the office has brought out a rage and compassion that I didn’t have before. I’m a lot more likely to broadcast the accomplishments of my female peers and be their cheerleaders, and I see it as a responsibility to call out injustices in the moment (probably to my detriment).

  10. NerdyMom says:

    Mother– Programmer/Wife–Daughter–Woman–Friend/Sister.

    I am not exceptionally close with my siblings and part and parcel of being a young FTM with a lot of friends just now getting bit by the marriage bug, I don’t have a large group of friends that I keep in close enough contact to put that high on the list. I am, however, very close to my mother. As other’s have said I do find it difficult to carve out “wife” time, especially as our LO is 2 (next month!) and still is very mommy centered and have actively been trying to work on reconnecting with my DH.

    I think Shonda Rimes put it very well when she said “Women can have it all… just not all at once” If I am devoting time to my son, I’m ignoring tasks around the house or an upcoming deadline, if I give myself some “Mommy Time” I’m neglecting my husband, or if I stay late at work it’s my time with my son that suffers. I find it fundamentally impossible (in my situation) to keep all the plates up in the air, at the same time, at the same speed, without breaking a plate or 2 so I have learned (and am still learning), how to have them in a rotation. Becoming a mother has helped me learn to prioritize and really learn who and what it is worth spending energy on. And that it is okay to say No. And becoming a working mother has taught me exactly what I am capable of, and what those limitations are!

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