I don’t want motherhood to be all there is to me.

Has this thought ever crossed your mind?

When I look in the mirror, I see a compassionate soul, a bubbly extrovert, a caring friend, a singer/actress who wishes she could dance, a bookworm, a Georgetown and Michigan grad, a passionate advocate, and so much more. Those closest to me see all (or at least most) of those things, too.

But I have this nagging fear that most people see me as “just a mom.”

Now, don’t get me wrong—even if I were “just a mom” (which literally no one is, but I digress), that would be a fabulous, glorious thing. Motherhood is a million jobs in one, a profound and fulfilling calling, and an incredible feat of which every single one of us should be deeply proud.

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But I still want to be me—fully me. I want to be seen, to be known, to be valued for all of my passions and little quirks and unique skills.

It’s not that I want to throw motherhood under the bus because it doesn’t boost my resume. And I don’t feel like I’m somehow “overqualified” and not living out my potential. But I do think the way society devalues motherhood creeps into my thinking and makes me want to push back against the “mom” label.

The longing to be fully known is universal. No one wants to be pigeonholed as “just so-and-so’s daughter” or “just that quiet girl” or even “just a doctor.” But being seen as “just a mom” adds an extra layer because it carries a particular connotation in our minds: one-dimensional; bland; lacking vibrancy, color, and nuance. And who wants to pour their whole heart and soul into a job that (we fear) others perceive in this way? This thought pattern leaves us feeling not only insecure, but demotivated.

This characterization of motherhood is a lie.

And it’s a dangerous one because when I fall into this mental trap, I’m giving others permission to define how I feel about myself.

Who cares if 99 percent of the world doesn’t know that I taught myself to cook and bake from scratch, or that I was high school valedictorian, or that I watched every Jim Carrey movie released between ‘94-’04? Does that somehow make me less interesting, less intelligent, less creative? How could it?

Yet I can easily hand that power to others and, in so doing, forget to water my own grass and cultivate what makes me me. When others’ perceptions infiltrate my own, I’m more likely to neglect the parts of me that make me feel unique, fun, and whole. As self-sabotaging as it is, I subconsciously resign myself to the attitude, “If they don’t care, why should I?”

To counter this narrative, I’ve learned it’s so important for us to never stop basking in and uncovering who we are as whole people.

Take some time to really examine, “Who am I at my core?” Motherhood changes every facet of our lives, but it doesn’t erase the beautiful complexity of who we were created to be. We’ll almost certainly grow new passions and discover new priorities, but everything that has brought us to this point is still with us. And the best parts of motherhood only serve to enhance and sharpen who we were “before.”

One of my favorite things about motherhood has been the way I can integrate my passions and interests into the way I parent. One example: I’ve always been deeply invested in the fight for racial and economic justice. In parenthood, I cherish taking my children to protests, choosing books that help them understand history and embrace their power, and answering their questions in a way that inspires deeper thought. This energizes me and reminds me that my passion hasn’t been put on a shelf, even though I can’t attend many community meetings or research current policies as much as I’d like in this season.

What’s important to you? How can you creatively integrate self-expression into your parenting?

Maybe it looks like more museum trips or science projects, or creating incredible household routines, or choosing some new supplies for arts and crafts time, or trying a new workout/dance class together. Whatever gets you excited!

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The more I’m expressing my core identities in the little moments of parenting, the more I can truly celebrate motherhood—not seeing it as something that ties me down or limits the fullness of who I am, but something that is intricately woven into all the things that make me me.

And in those quiet, kid-free moments (however rare they may be these days), we can nourish those parts of ourselves, too. This year, I am thankful to have four hours per week set aside in my schedule to write. I look forward to this time to explore whatever topic is on my mind, and it fulfills me in a way that helps me enter the rest of the day satisfied and renewed.

Maybe you don’t have four hours you can dedicate in that way. But what can you do? Maybe find an audiobook or podcast on a topic you wish you had the time to engage in more, and just listen for 10 minutes before you go to bed or while you’re folding laundry. (This is another practice that gives me so much life, and occasionally even makes me excited to get to folding!) Any time you carve out for you will have a ripple effect on your family.

We also need to ask ourselves, “Who and what am I living for?”

It’s so easy for the perceptions of others to be a driving force in our decisions. Take this very article, for example. It’s one of several reflections on identity in motherhood that I’ve penned lately, and I keep having this nagging thought: “But I don’t want people to think I’m ‘just’ a mommy blogger!’” (There goes that “just” again.) Because I’ve internalized society’s valuation of motherhood, I think I have to put all the other amazing aspects of myself on display in order to “be” somebody in the eyes of others.

RELATED: I Long To Be Seen As More Than a Mom

But if approval is what I’m chasing, I’ll end up drained. When I pursue purpose, I find myself recharged and empowered to walk in the fullness of who I am.

Take a moment to remove others’ perceptions from how you evaluate your choices. What truly makes you feel as though you’re walking in your purpose? For me, my evaluation consists of:

  1. Am I living in a way that’s consistent with my deepest values?
  2. Am I honoring the unique way I was created, maximizing the gifts and passions I’ve been given?
  3. Am I impacting those around me in a positive way, while tending to my own mental and emotional health?

Figure out what questions get at the heart of what matters most to you, and don’t settle for choices that make sense to others at the sacrifice of what you’ve decided is most important.

The work you do is of infinite worth, mama—and so are all of the things that make you who you are. Hold your head up high and walk in your worthiness!

Ellie Hunja

Ellie is a mother of two (ages 6 & 2) who is passionate about her faith, racial justice, autism acceptance, and mental health. She believes that empathy and vulnerability can change the world, and that there is ALWAYS room for dessert. She shares about her journey to cultivate a life of purpose, authenticity, and joy on Facebook at @EllieHunjaWriter and Instagram at @elliehunja