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Interview: Unpacking the Overwhelming & Identity Changing Elements of Motherhood

By Jess Feldt

Often as moms, we’re always giving our time and ourselves to everyone else in our lives. Whether it be our families, friends, our careers – when we slow down and take a step back, it’s overwhelming. 

It’s only when we take a pause that we often realize we’re barely treading water. We sat down with life and leadership coach Jess Feldt of Jess Feldt Coaching to answer our mom-member questions and unpack that feeling of “drowning” and what we can do to not only keep our heads above water but how we can live life on our terms. 

Most importantly, what are the signs that we are “drowning” or feeling overwhelmed? It can be hard to recognize when we’re in the thick of it.

The signs could be different for everyone, but generally, it’s a feeling of having lost control or a loss of empowerment. For some people, that may come through physically, everything from having difficulty sleeping to getting physically sick. For some, the signs may be emotional, through higher levels of anxiety or a shorter fuse – snapping at kids, partners, or colleagues. For others, it may seem like everything is 100% figured out, but the second one thing goes wrong, it triggers a breakdown of the precarious house of cards that had been holding everything up.

How much do boundaries play a part in living life on our terms? And how do we create them without guilt?

Boundaries are SO important. If you think of boundaries in the same terms as physical boundaries, such as fences or geographical boundaries, they help us keep order and make sense of the world. Boundaries are a way to draw a line to protect the important things and make distinctions between things to organize our lives. The costs of living with no boundaries are our sense of empowerment and ownership over our time and energy.

In an ideal world, we would create and hold our boundaries without guilt, but I don’t think that’s realistic. I think it is realistic to look at the guilt we feel and ask ourselves if it’s rational or irrational. Rational guilt is where we have actually done something wrong or have violated a value or belief we hold. We can identify the wrong and try to make it right. The guilt is productive. Irrational guilt is where we believe we have done something wrong but really have not or have held ourselves to such unrealistic standards that we have no chance of actually succeeding. The guilt is not productive. 

I came up against this just last week. I have a hard boundary that I don’t work on Wednesdays so that I can spend that time with my boys. I had two different clients try to schedule time with me on Wednesday, and I felt guilty that I was saying I wasn’t available in the middle of the workweek. It was unproductive guilt. I wasn’t doing anything wrong – I own my availability – and both clients were available at other times. I had to let go of this feeling that I was somehow letting them down (I wasn’t) and embrace the boundary that allows me to have quality and uninterrupted time with my kids. (We had a great day at the zoo!)

Moms often joke about the identity crisis they have once they enter motherhood, but it’s a real thing. How do we reset or re-identify who we are and who we want to be? 

It is absolutely a real thing! Our identity is literally the thing that defines our sense of self. When you have a huge life-transforming event, such as having a child, the things that define who you are change, and we have to learn to embrace that identity and love that identity just as much as the identity we had before. I often have new moms draw a self-portrait representing their identity pre-baby. We then talk through which aspects of that identity they want to make sure don’t get lost through this mom-evolution. 

For example, if a career is something that was a huge part of Mom’s identity pre-baby and she wants to make sure it stays an important part of her identity post-baby, we talk about what that looks like. Likely, it may not look the same now. Or maybe it does! But it requires a different level of intentionality. I encourage moms to keep that self-portrait in a visible place and think of it as a work in progress because your identity is always evolving. It’s never static. We’re never losing who we were; we’re just adding layers.

More on identity and my personal experience in the article, The Motherhood Identity Shift.

For those working moms who are nearing retirement, what tactics and strategies can they begin to think about now so that they don’t feel lost later on?

Very similar to new moms who are learning to embrace this evolving identity, moms who are nearing retirement go through a similar transition. Career has often been such a HUGE part of their identity; it can feel really scary to be “losing” that part of themselves. This is often where thinking through core values, or guiding life principles, can be a great north star. 

These values often give us a sense of fulfillment or purpose. For example, maybe “Progress” is a value for you. You know you don’t really feel like yourself unless you’re making progress toward something. This value may have been fulfilled through your career. Post-retirement, what might be a way to feel you’re making progress on something outside the context of work? Building something? Learning something? This can even be a hugely liberating experience because your time can now be spent on activities that are meaningful and purposeful to you that you may not have felt you had the time to ever focus on before.

The daily grind often becomes this hamster wheel we hop on and fail to get off until we’re really unhappy. How can we take better stock of ourselves and our interests to make sure we don’t lose sight of what we love – both professionally and personally?

Short answer: intentional reflection. The hamster wheel never stops. It goes and goes and goes and goes…and all of a sudden, you’re somewhere you never wanted to be or thought you’d be, and you don’t even know how you got there. Even just creating a habit of taking ten minutes a couple of times a week to reflect on where you are can make a HUGE difference in creating an intentional focus on how you live your life. 

And write it down. On paper. I get it – some people don’t think they’re “journalers,” but it’s been proven that our brain thinks differently when we’re actually writing down our thoughts versus just pondering or typing on a screen.

For those of us who feel stuck professionally or personally – where do we start when it can feel overwhelming and lonely? Often, it seems we have a hard time knowing what it is we even need and want. 

First, just know you are not alone. I have an entire industry of coaches behind me that can attest to that! Second, start with what you know. We tend to focus on the negative – what we don’t know, what we don’t feel we have enough of or the uncertainty of it all. Make a list of all the things you do know, even if the first thing on the list is “I know I’m stuck.” 

It’s a shift from “I don’t know what I want” to “Here’s what I know I don’t want” and “Here’s what I know I’d like it to feel like.” That list of things you do know will often point you in the direction of what you’d like to learn. It shifts the energy from uncertainty and doubt to empowerment and choice. And of course, working with a trained professional coach who can help guide you, support you, and hold you accountable is a great option!

The bottom line is that you can make intentional changes to take back areas of your life you’ve felt you lost. You owe it to yourself to evaluate your needs and wants, put the pen to paper, and start making a plan to get there. The daily grind is not something we want to get in the habit of churning out without taking pause for how we’re feeling and where we’re at with who we want to be, and what we want to be doing.

Our families need us to be happy and fulfilled, and just as importantly, we need that for ourselves too.

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