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disappearing womanAt-home mothers who identify themselves as evangelical often suppress their callings to things beyond the sphere of home.

They often suppress their desire for intellectual stimulation, their need for connection and community, and their desire to be seen and known for the unique, gifted, complex persons that they are. The cumulative effect of this suppression often results in a ‘loss of self.’

Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira, former managing editor of Christian Parenting Today magazine, says that the moms who contacted Christian Parenting Today struggled with identity issues and felt as though “they’d lost themselves and their abilities and dreams in the midst of motherhood…These moms were convinced that no one knew who they really were and, worse, that no one cared.”[1]

“Read a mom-oriented magazine…and you’ll hear it: again and again moms rate loneliness and loss of self as two of their biggest issues.”[2]

Part of the problem stems from a lack of guidance and truth-telling in the evangelical community on core issues of a woman’s worth and identity. One mother describes her experience this way:

I was beginning to listen to the common teaching that a woman’s chief role is to be a support to her husband in his ministry, be a homemaker and raise children to follow the Lord. I was a woman at war with myself. While I tried to agree with my conscious mind to a view that limited a woman’s contribution to the kingdom, my subconscious revolted within me. …Trying to fit into the role of submissive homemaker, I felt myself losing my identity.[3]

This mother’s internal struggle resulted in many months of undiagnosed sickness and a deep depression.[4] Her experience, both the internal wrestling and the fact that the emotional turmoil manifested in physical symptoms, is not uncommon. “Emotions show up as body responses,”[5]says Dr. Virginia Todd Holeman, professor of counseling at Asbury Theological Seminary.

“Many women focus so much on pleasing other people that they are out of touch with their own desires and needs,” observes spiritual director Ruth Haley Barton. She continues:

A married woman may feel that her purpose in life is only to support her husband in the priorities of his life or to help her children find their niche—rather than finding one of her own where both husband and wife are encouraged and supported…[6]

Another reason evangelical mothers tend to have an underdeveloped sense of self and identity is because evangelical culture has misjudged and mislabeled the development of self a ‘selfish’ pursuit.

disappearing woman 2Thinking about “who we are and who God made us to be isn’t selfish and doesn’t mean we’re sacrificing our children on the altar of the god of Self. To the contrary, wanting to be known and loved as our true selves, as the complete, gifted, purposed women God created us to be, is a God-honoring way to live,” observes Rivadaneira.[7]

Holeman states, “Finding your self is a key to being able to truly give yourself fully to others—just the opposite of selfishness or self-centeredness.”[8]

Do you feel like you’ve lost parts of yourself since becoming a mother? How do you combat the gravitational pull toward loss of self? Right now, jot down three ways you can be more intentional about developing your self, then share them with a friend and/or in the comment area below.

[1] Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira, Mama’s Got a Fake I.D.: How to reveal the real you behind all that mom (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2009), 3.

[2] Rivadeneira, Fake I.D., 35.

[3] Ruth Haley Barton, Longing for More: A Woman’s Path to Transformation in Christ. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 31.

[4] Barton, Longing for More, 31.

[5] Virginia Todd Holeman, Reconcilable Differences: Hope and Healing for Troubled Marriages. (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 105.

[6] Barton, Longing for More, 33.

[7] Rivadeneira, Fake I.D., 37.

[8] Holeman, Reconcilable Differences, 97.