Role Transitions: Becoming a Parent

Moving through life involves shifting through different roles, taking on new ones and stepping out of old ones.

You are someone’s child, you may be a sibling, you may be an athlete, a musician, an artist, a tinkerer, someone who enjoys social media, someone who meditates. You were once a student, but you may no longer have this role. You very likely have the role of someone with a career. Each role brings with it a set of activities, goals, expectations, skills and other components. Who we are is very much a function of the roles that we have and how we enact them. One of the ways we evaluate ourselves is considering how well we fulfill our various roles. Most people have a higher sense of self esteem in some roles than in others.

Taking on any new role, or losing a familiar one, brings a personal crisis. Although it may be exciting and very welcome, role changes require us to reconstitute ourselves. Each role shift marks a point and opportunity of personal development. Our roles give meaning to our lives, and for the most part, our days involve moving through the activities and purposes of our many roles. Each role change, whether adding a role or dropping one, involves an adaptation.

The role shift represented by becoming a parent is of course huge. Clearly it involves a change from being an independent adult, to becoming an adult with full-time responsibility for another very small person. For many people, it involves a shift from being a couple to being a couple with a baby, to eventually being a family. Becoming a first time parent includes both dropping a former role (being a couple or being an independent adult) as well as assuming an enormous new one.

The transition brings with it some changes that are not always obvious or easy. New parents who are familiar with infants and young children have learned and absorbed information about how infants behave and how to care for them. Regardless of previous experience, all parents grow into their new role with practice as they develop their skills and as they get to know both their infant and themselves.

New Ways of Evaluating Oneself

Becoming a parent, particularly becoming a mother, involves more than building new skills. It includes developing new ways for evaluating oneself as a mother, rather than as a working person, and requires different ways of structuring the environment and using time. Prior to parenthood, measures of self worth often center on effectiveness in the workforce. In these, there is high value in efficiency, multitasking, quick learning, eliminating unnecessary or redundant tasks, sticking with a timeline, and so on. All skills that are the antithesis of what is needed in caring for an infant. The first months of motherhood are a slow waltz. They require energy conservation, flexibility and learning to recognize and understand your infant. It inevitably means slowing down to an infant’s tempo for nursing, sleeping and being out in the world. It also means getting to know who you are now.

♥  Applying old forms of evaluation to the new role of parent can lead to a diminished sense of worth or a sense of being out of control.  These familiar forms of self-evaluation aren’t relevant.

The transition to new parenthood, particularly new motherhood, extends from biological changes due to hormonal shifts, to building a new sense of identity that includes new ways of valuing oneself.  It takes time.