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Through our Journey to Parenthood series, we are exploring various paths to parenthood and the journey of parenthood itself, showing different perspectives of how there is never a straight-forward route to being a parent and an identity crisis is not uncommon.
There are twists and turns that many of our Dribble Community have been brave enough to share with us. There are some exceptional and inspiring stories in the series and we hope they bring comfort, understanding and acceptance to you, and maybe even open you to alternative experiences, as you hear what other parents have to say.
We are continuing with our story series hearing from Lynn Houmdi who became a mum in her 40s and found herself having an identity crisis for the first time in her life. As a self-assured woman, who had a successful career, where she was well-respected and on top of her game, she found this new role gave her a confidence knock that made her question who she was– read her journey below…
Have you ever felt you’ve lost who you are? Lynn has learnt from her experience of feeling like she was having an identity crisis and has come out the other side seeking to help other women too.
Reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, caused me to reflect upon my own life. During our lives as women, we take on many roles, different functions, but we don’t become anyone else. We are still ourselves with our own identity. But sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that.
When I became a mum, I had an identity crisis.
Taking on a new role at 42 was a major blow to my sense of who I was. Having been defined for so long by what I had become during a 20-year career – a first class graduate, an English teacher abroad, a civil service fast streamer, a diplomat, a co-organiser of a royal visit, the Head of this or that team – I had a hard time reconciling the successes I had enjoyed professionally with the total failure I felt as a parent. I felt crushed by uncertainty, by a lack of confidence I had seldom previously felt, and by the weight of a role with no training or manual.
During that career, which included 13 years in the public sector, I can honestly say I never directly experienced sexism, discrimination or inequality in the workplace. I never felt a man less able was offered a job over me and I was always confident that I was paid equally to my male colleagues.
However, once I took the time to listen, all around me I heard stories of women being made redundant while on maternity leave; of having to take work which was not commensurate with their skills just to fit it around family commitments, or being stuck in a position which accommodated those commitments but unable to move upwards or even sideways because other jobs were not as flexible. And these were largely well-educated, eloquent, highly-skilled women. I could only imagine how hard it is for single mums, women who have limited formal education or work experience, or those juggling work around the Kafkaesque benefits system.
I became more feminist.
I started questioning the world around me. Why should women “lean in”? Why should we be the ones who adapt to fit when we are largely responsible for nurturing and educating the next generation? Why are we constantly expected to jump through hoops to our own fulfilment and success with a child in one hand and a laptop and smartphone in the other?
After a year as a mum, I thought I wanted to get a ‘proper job’, as opposed to the bits and bobs of remote freelancing I had been doing immediately before and after giving birth. I started looking at job ads. I quickly realised that without the confidence I had childcare in place, I couldn’t confidently apply for jobs. But childcare in my neighbourhood didn’t seem flexible enough to adapt to a potential change in my requirements once I secured a role.
Despite the fact I was desperate to get out of the house and do something for myself, I knew I did not want our son to be in nursery full-time at the tender age of one. I observed that jobs advertised as flexible or part-time were seldom commensurate with my skills. I became introduced to the Gender Pay Gap.
I am very fortunate that in my pre-motherhood career I earned well enough to save and so I wasn’t in a position where I had to work. I know not everyone is in this position. Finally, rather than contort myself and my family routines to fit a job which would not be fulfilling or on a par with my skills, I decided to invest in myself and become a student. I signed up for a Master’s I had had my eye on for six years and funded it myself. I freelanced as a virtual assistant through a two-year course.
I graduated from Edinburgh University with an MSc in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies in autumn 2019. I was awarded for the best dissertation in my year. Through plunging myself into something new, I found a better balance for myself and my family. Although my friends baulked at the idea of me taking on another commitment, juggling work, studying and parenting did us all the world of good. My husband took on a greater share of parenting, and I feel I am better qualified academically and as a parent.
Everyone benefits from the confidence boost of getting positive feedback for something they are good at. As a new parent, we don’t always feel any good at the job and the constructive appraisal process is seriously lacking.
So, what have the first four years as a mum taught me? The list is long, but here’s my top three. For starters, we don’t talk enough about what it is like to become a mum, especially an older one. More women in the UK now have their first child in their 40s than women in their 20s, so that’s a conversation we need to have.
Secondly, we are all on our own journey, and what works for one mum or one family doesn’t necessarily work for another. It worked for us that I took on more by becoming a student again, because I am an extrovert who thrives on human contact, novelty and variety. But that wouldn’t have been possible without a husband who was willing and available to step up plus work I could do anywhere and at any time. Finally, we all operate at our own rhythm. Pre-motherhood, when I only had to worry about me, I was pretty much “on” 24/7. I worked hard, I played hard and I travelled loads. It’s taken some time to come to terms with it, but that isn’t my life now and that’s OK.
I haven’t become someone else; I am just at a different stage.
I am a member of Tribe Women in Portobello and Dawn Breslin spoke to us there, likening the cycles of life to the seasons – sometimes we are in full bloom, firing on all cylinders like the start of spring; other times we need to regroup and hibernate.
Never one to keep my ideas and opinions to myself, I want to channel the learning from my own experiences into helping others. I have been working on a business idea to support other women. Together with Challenges, an Edinburgh-based social enterprise, I am developing a set of tools to support women back into work after a career break, whether that’s because they have become a mum, become a carer, become unwell, or other reasons. Our Women Returners programme will include a management skills reboot, networking and confidence building support, plus a paid placement to put existing skills and new learning into practice.
We will be recruiting participants plus businesses to host the placements in the run up to the end of the year with a view to starting the programme in early 2020. If that resonates with you, your business, or your employer and you would like more information, please get in touch!
This wasn’t an identity crisis but just an identity expansion- thank you Lynn!
Contact Lynn Houmdi by email: email@example.com or via Twitter (@maroc_o_phile) for more information on her experience or any of the resources she mentions above.
If you can relate to Lynn’s story of feeling like you have had an identity crisis when becoming a parent and would like to connect with other parents in your situation; you’re not alone!
Our Dribble Facebook Community is full of advice, support, chat, events and much more to meet other Scottish families. We also try to take the online offline too by arranging some Dribble events, including our monthly Breastfeeding Meet-up.
Click here to join us for a bit of natter!
 Readers who feel impacted by these issues might find it useful to contact Sarah Wheatley of Birth and Beyond: https://birthandbeyond.com/sarahwheatley (I’m not on commission but she is a sanity saver)
 I’m reading The Mother of All Jobs by Christine Armstong at the moment, which talks about this.. (If you are interested here is a link https://amzn.to/2UM2kwF or if you want to support local try Portobello Bookstore, where it’s actually cheaper!)