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Identity Shift in Motherhood: Navigating New Challenges & Rediscovering Yourself

March 19, 2024

Embarking on the journey of motherhood introduces a profound “identity shift in motherhood” that many are unprepared for. This transformative phase brings various challenges, from the loss of personal identity to the struggle to find joy amidst the chaos of parenting.

This blog delves into the heart of these experiences, offering insights and practical advice for new mothers grappling with their changed identities. CFR Staff Therast Sonja Spangler, LSW, explores ways to reclaim your sense of self, prioritize self-care, and reconnect with the world beyond your children. Join Sonja and CFR in discovering how to navigate the complex emotions of motherhood while fostering personal growth and happiness.

Infographic detailing 'The Journey of Identity Shift in Motherhood' with five key milestones. 'The grief of lost identity' shows a silhouette of a pensive woman. 'Finding joy and spontaneity in the chaos of parenting' features a playful dance icon. 'Breaking free from restrictive beliefs' is symbolized by a figure breaking chains. 'Accepting that you’re more than just "mom"' illustrates a multifaceted woman. 'Reconnecting with your values and strengths' displays a person in a meditative pose. All connected by a timeline, representing the path to rediscovering self. Logo: Council for Relationships.

Infographic by Council for Relationships

The Emotional Rollercoaster of New Motherhood: New Mother Challenges

Diapers, feeding schedules, sleepless nights.

Doctor’s appointments, tantrums, potty accidents.

School projects, soccer games, sibling rivalry.

These are common new mother challenges. Honestly, there is so much you must manage as a mother that getting lost in the chaos and the to-do list is easy.

So many of my clients have discussed the moment in time when they woke up and said, “This is not what I pictured.”

The Grief of Lost Identity

The responsibilities of motherhood can feel just plain boring, with no time for fun or spontaneity. But many new mothers also report a feeling of emptiness—a loss of identity.

Suddenly, all other parts of a person’s identity have melted away to become “mom.” So, let’s discuss motherhood and identity loss.

Motherhood and Identity: Beyond Just Being “Mom”

Becoming a mother is indeed an extraordinary life change, and finding yourself as a new mom can feel daunting. Of course, your identity as a whole will be irrevocably shifted. And, as with every big life change, there will be grief. Yes, you have likely lost some parts of a past version of yourself.

That’s not to say that you can’t build something new from here.

Motherhood and Grief

Seeing the shift in identity as just that—a shift—is important. The birth of your first child marks a significant transition in the way you engage with the world. You are now engaging with the world as a mother.

You can grieve the losses involved with motherhood while also intentionally building other parts of yourself.

In the chaos of motherhood, it can be hard to create the time and space to be intentional. So, here are some ideas to help guide you.

Motherhood Self-care is Best-care

My supervisor once described people and places outside the home as “mirrors”—things to help you reflect yourself back to yourself. The more people and spaces you engage with, the more you see yourself through different lenses. This helps you connect to different parts of your identity you don’t see when sitting alone at home.

When you become a mother, you become disconnected from the “mirrors” outside your children, reminding you that you are their mom. So, finding opportunities to engage with people and places outside the home becomes important.

Finding Joy and Spontaneity in the Chaos of Parenting

In motherhood, many yearn for the days filled with personal hobbies and freedoms. This section explores innovative strategies for reclaiming those cherished moments of self-expression and joy that seem to have slipped away with the arrival of your little ones.

Creative Ways to Recapture Lost Pleasures

If your only opportunity for outside engagement is taking the kids to storytime or playdates, you might be more intentional with how you engage in those spaces: introduce yourself with your name rather than “so-and-so’s mom,” or speak to the other parents about what they did over the weekend rather than discussing your children.

When you engage in these conversations, pay attention to what you notice being reflected back to you.

One thing that can be easy to do when you experience a loss of identity in motherhood is to name the things that you miss: going out dancing, sleeping in on the weekends, reading a book, putting on makeup, and a nice outfit.

Maybe there are some things you can do to help you get those back – picking out an outfit the night before, for example, or finding childcare once a month on Saturday mornings.

But if that doesn’t feel possible, ask yourself:

  • What was the pleasure of that experience for me?
  • Was it the self-expression?
  • The fun?
  • The feeling of being beautiful?

Then, think about how you might recreate the essence of those grieved experiences.

Maybe you turn off the Frozen soundtrack and put on something you used to vibe to when you were still going out dancing. Or perhaps you put on your iconic shade of lipstick in the mornings, even if you have nowhere to be.

"Illustrative 'Before and After' infographic showing an 'Identity Shift in Motherhood' for a blog. 'Before' depicts a mom multitasking with work, cooking, and baby care, surrounded by thought bubbles of chores and stress. 'After' shows a confident mom in business attire with a child, thought bubbles include love, career, and finance symbols, suggesting balanced life. Title: 'Rediscovering Yourself' with the logo of the Council for Relationships at the bottom.

Infographic by Council for Relationships

Reconnecting with Your Values and Strengths – Self-Identity Exercises for Mothers

An exercise I like to do with all my clients, especially those questioning their identity, is identifying their strengths and values.

Identifying Your Motherhood Strengths and Values

Knowing what you value can be incredibly important in guiding your actions.

Identify the 5 values most important to you and ask yourself if you align with them. If not, what actions can you take to bring yourself closer to your values? You can start small and take it one step at a time.

Knowing your strengths, too, is an invaluable resource in helping you get there. As a parent, external resources like time and money can feel sparse. So, draw upon what you already have internally.

Identify your top 5 strengths and use them to help you achieve your goals. Let’s say “intimacy” is a value from which you feel disconnected, and “creativity” is one of your top strengths. Create the prompt: How can I use my creativity to achieve greater intimacy?

Questioning Motherhood Narratives and Myths

Always question your beliefs and narratives about motherhood.

Breaking Free from Restrictive Beliefs

The idea that to be a good mother you must completely give yourself to your children is a myth.

You have to find what works for you and be flexible. Putting your needs first sometimes is okay. Do what you must to take care of yourself—and you don’t have to engage in self-care to be a better mother for your kids. Do it to be better for YOU!


The journey through the “identity shift in motherhood” is both challenging and rewarding. Embracing this new phase of life requires patience, self-love, and, often, a helping hand. Remember, seeking support as you navigate these changes is okay.

If you find yourself struggling to reconcile your past and present selves or if the journey seems overwhelming, consider seeking professional guidance. Requesting an appointment with a CFR therapist can be a valuable step towards rediscovering your identity and achieving a fulfilling balance in motherhood.

You’re not alone on this journey, and help is available.

Portrait of Sonja Spanger, author of blogs such as "Navigating Self-Care in the Age of Social Media."

CFR Staff Therapist Sonja Spangler, LSW

About the Author

Sonja Spangler, LSW, is a Staff Therapist at Council for Relationships. Contact her to book a therapy appointment with Sonja if you’re facing mental health challenges, including the challenges of identity shift in motherhood.

Sonja sees individuals, couples, and families in Philadelphia and Paoli, PA (in-person and online) and across Pennsylvania (online).  She specializes in the following areas:

  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Grief, Loss, and Bereavement
  • Life Transitions
  • Self-Discovery/Self-Analysis
  • Women’s Issues (including postpartum depression)

Tell your family and friends to reach out to her for support.

Parenting and personal growth can go hand in hand. Let CFR’s over 85 individual, couples, and family therapy experts help you build thriving relationships and flourishing communities. See our Therapist & Psychiatrist Directory for CFR therapists or psychiatrists near you.

If this is an emergency, please dial 9-1-1. 

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