What Happens to Our Identities When We Are Expecting A Baby?
When do we “feel” like adults? This question seems to hang over the heads of most individuals. Passing legally defined age markers, gaining the right to vote, or turning twenty-one seems to do little to solidify one’s feeling on fully embodying what it is to be a grown up. According to researchers studying human development, the path to adulthood is bound to five central markers: Finishing school, leaving home, acquiring stable work, marrying, and parenting. The transition into parenthood is perhaps the most significant of these markers, as as it drives individuals to leave their childhood behind in order to step into the role of a parent.
Approximately 81% of women in the United States give birth to a child at some point in their lives. According to the CDC about 47% of men reported fathering at least one biological or adopted child. That means there is a high likelihood that whoever is reading this will or already has breached this monumental rite of passage. What drives people to make this leap from a single autonomous livelihood to that of caretaker 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Besides the obvious value of passing on of genes and keeping our species alive through reproduction, parenthood holds societal values.
According to a November 2010 Pew Research study, 76% of adults say that their family is the single most important element of their lives. Modern day “parenthood” has become less of a necessity and more of an ideal. More people are becoming parents for reasons based on assumptions that this role will fulfill them and bring joy into their lives.
What Does Society Tell Us About Parenthood?
Societal norms propagated by the media fill the soon-to-be parent’s heads with information on how a new baby will change one’s life. It doesn’t take much time to find content on exactly what new parents can expect: “parenthood will take over your time, schedules, lifestyle, and dwindle your bank accounts”. In a nutshell, we live in a society that makes it very clear parenthood will transform everything. However, what is commonly left out of the pages of parenting magazines is that parenthood is supposed to transform our identities. When you become a parent, that new role supersedes all previous ones that you have occupied.
Is this a surprise to some of you? Think back to your own childhood. How did you view your parents? Did you see them in their roles as someone’s neighbor, employee, and child, or were they just your parents? My guess is they were simply “Mom” and “Dad,” until that one moment occurred when the realization struck you that they were not infallible, one dimensional figures, but rather regular people, just like you, with a lifetime of full of different experiences and roles. For many, that moment shifts your perception of your parents forever.
So how exactly did your parents transform into the “Mom” and “Dad” that you remember, and in what ways may you change once you become a parent? Research indicates that one predictor in how a person experiences personality changes after entering parenthood is directly correlated to their gender.
In our next post we will explore in more detail how each member of a couple is directly impacted by the change from person to parent.
--To be continued--
This is part one in a three part series on Parenthood and Pregnancy for the month of October, 2019
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- Jamie Mayo-Buttry, M.A., LPC-Intern, LCDC-Intern, Licensed Mediator