How the Glorification of Mommy Martyrdom is Putting Our Health at Risk and Jeopardizing Our Relationships
Definition: A mom who will do everything that she physically can for her family at the expense of her own health and happiness. A figurative freight train on a course for collision, whilst setting unrealistic expectations for her children.
A martyr is someone who has sacrificed their own life for a cause. There are all kinds of modern martyrs who might not give up their lives but who make other intense sacrifices. One version of this that is on the rise is the mommy martyr, the mom who will do everything, without asking for help, sacrificing her physical and emotional wellbeing.
Why is mommy martyrdom on the rise? It sounds terrifying. And it is. It's isolating. It's exhausting. It taxes our relationships with our partners, our children, and with our other supports. It can foster resentment. And yet, it's tantalizing for so many moms. Our current culture is glorifying this sacrificial motherhood through photo and video sharing apps.
We have a love/hate relationship with apps like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and others. On one hand, they perpetuate unrealistic expectations for life which has led to an increase in feelings of isolation, failure, and ultimately as far as anxiety and depression. But on the other hand, they offer us a way to come together over shared experiences, feelings, and desires. In this case, photos and videos of the overtired mom, resorting to an overindulgence in coffee and wine, is being normalized, and even glorified. This isolated mother is being put on a figurative pedestal as what we should all be striving for if we love our children.
Reality Check on Mommy Martyrdom
Yes, your kids require a lot from you. Your family needs your love, care, and dedication. And, if you are giving them all of these things to the point where you have nothing left to give, you are setting you and your family up for failure; a cataclysmic failure. As mothers we need to provide healthy examples for our children. We need to not only love and care for them, but we need to be able to do this sustainably, day after day.
In order to love and care sustainably, without sacrificing sanity and physical health, we need to create boundaries and let go of some control. We need to accept that it is totally okay that cleaning might not get done today, dinner does not have to be perfect every night, and your child has mismatched clothes on because they dressed themselves. As mothers, we need to re-learn the skill of prioritization so that we can do what is most important: to pour into ourselves so that we can continue to pour into our families.
You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup
If you stick around BeauGen long enough, and we sure hope you will, you’ll hear us say time and time again, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” This is a reference to our maternal health and wellness. It’s a rallying cry for self care. If you give everything you have to give, holding nothing back, soon you will have just that...nothing. Your kids will come running, tears streaming, expecting love and comfort only to be met with tears of your own. Or worse, we might unload on our little ones for no fault of their own, but for our inability to care for ourselves as their mother.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t move your children into a home, use and abuse this home, and then never shore it up or repair it. For if you did, one day that roof would come crashing down around all of you. Instead, you put the time in. You care for and clean your home. You fix what’s broken, and you invest in this structure for the security of your family.
If you do this for your home, why wouldn’t you do it for yourself? For your child, you are their home, their shelter, their safety, their comfort. If you don’t shore up your walls, you are going to come crashing down.
If we invest all of our time and effort into being a martyr, how does it change our relationships?
With our Partners:
Motherhood changes us. It changes our relationships. But the way in which it changes us is dependent upon the way we view motherhood. That’s a bit heady so let’s break it down a bit more. If you fall onto your proverbial sword as a mother, there is not going to be any time or energy left for your partner. This creates the potential for your partner to feel resentful of having started a family. Things were good beforehand and now, not so much. When we shake off the oppressive feeling of martyrdom, when we invest in ourselves we not only find that we have more to give to our children, but to our partners as well. There is new space for intimacy, emotionally if not physically as well.
With Our Children:
If you try to do everything yourself, without asking for help, when it comes time to spending time with your children, how can you have the energy to be fully present? Unless you’ve found some untapped source of limitless energy, you can’t. Mommy martyrs affect their children by being less engaged. Instead of participating in creative play, mommy martyrs might sit on the couch and observe, or worse, scroll through their phone in an unproductive search for connection or fulfillment. They may be too busy trying to do ALL of the things like the never-ending laundry, obsessively cleaning the floor since it just gets dirty as soon as it’s cleaned, and making time consuming meals because that’s what’s best for the kids.
If this goes on for too long, mommy martyrs might even begin to feel resentment toward their family. After all, the family, more specifically the children, are the ones creating all of the work, getting up throughout the night, and keeping mom from the activities she loved before having kids. It may cause the feeling of failure that everything done is never enough when in truth, everything being done is enough. Truthfully, taking a step back and spending time with the kids making memories is what will help things feel better; the other things can wait.
With Our Friends and Family:
In this post we’ve explained that mommy martyrs use up any stores of energy in carrying the burden of taking care of their families. How then, can they have any energy to give to anyone else? Eventually, moms stop making time to meet their friends and extended family members. They have no energy to have these people over to their home either. Relationships are partnerships. If one partner stops investing time and energy, the relationship will fail. Mommy martyrs will even sacrifice these vital relationships in an effort to be the perfect mom.
Moms, parents have a lot of different identities. Self, partner, parent, employee, friend/family member. When entering into parenthood it is really easy to lose sight of maintaining anything but the parent identity. It’s critical to maintain opportunities in which socialization feels good with friends and family.
How to Stop Sacrificing and Start Engaging
Your family needs you to stop making sacrifices and start re-engaging. Your children need a mom with energy, with emotions for that is the mom who can truly teach, protect, and raise them. You might say that we’ve proved that the perfect mom doesn’t exist, that no one can do it all. You’d be half right. No one can do it all. But that doesn’t mean the perfect mom doesn’t exist.
There are many types of perfect mom, one for each family. She delegates tasks to not only share the burden but to teach responsibility. She involves her family in the running of her home to teach and engage with her loved ones. The perfect mom invests in herself so that each day she is renewed and ready to give her very best to everyone she loves.
Regaining Agency By Setting Boundaries
If the thought of squeezing performative self care into your busy schedule sparks the feeling of guilt, you’re not alone and you’re not wrong. Dr. Pooja Lakshmin writes about this in a NY Times article. Her advice is to spend some time with your weekly schedule, and identify where you are able to set boundaries. This, she says, will help you take back control of your motherhood journey in order to regain some agency. In doing this, you’ll begin to communicate boundaries and reform your definition of motherhood.
A major part of setting boundaries is delegation. Doing everything yourself is unsustainable, but that doesn’t mean things magically will take care of themselves. Delegating these tasks is a big part of self care. By involving your family in the day to day tasks you can cross things off your to do list without having to spend the time and energy in doing them yourself.
Prioritizing Self Care
Taking care of ourselves is vital, but it often means time away from tending to the needs of our family. This makes us feel guilty and so we put it off. Whether it means tapping in your partner when the baby wakes so that you can get some sleep, or sending the family out on a walk so that you can roll out your yoga mat for some movement and meditation, we need to start investing in ourselves.
Depending on how old your children are, shifting your priorities to start focusing on self care can be difficult. One way to make this shift easier is to start small. Pick one thing that will help refill your empty cup, and try to make it happen at least three times a week. This tip comes from Sany J. Green of Empowered Pumping. In our podcast interview with Sandy, she dives into this topic by talking about her idea of radical self care and re-learning the skill of prioritization. Click here to listen to the episode.
We can’t give you a prescription for your own self care. It looks different for everyone. Perhaps that's a contributing factor in why it’s so difficult to invest in ourselves. There is no preset plan. For some people, it will look like reading or journaling. For other people, it will take the form of exercise. And for others still, it might look like coffee dates with friends. Only you know what makes your heart sing, leaves you feeling restored and re-energized. Don’t let someone tell you what your self care should be or look like, after all, they aren’t you.
We’re confident in saying that you will not only see how resilient your family is, and how it’s okay for you to take some time to invest in yourself, but that in taking some time for yourself, your family is actually benefiting even more than if you hadn’t.
Let’s Glorify the Right Stuff
Glorifying mommy martyrdom is as harmful to our children as perpetuating unhealthy body images. While this narrative is gaining momentum, another is being spoken into existence. Moms are speaking their truth, discovering and sharing how this all encompassing version of motherhood is leaving them broken and devoid of the ability to nurture their children. In this new narrative, moms are asking for help and seeking a community, even if that community is digital.
Together, we are pushing back on this conception of motherhood. We’re sharing the truth, what it means to mommy in this modern landscape. We’re showing how and where we need help. In doing so we are showing society that the mommy martyr is an unsustainable myth not deserving of glorification. We are showing up for the moms that are consciously making an effort to be the best version of themselves for the benefit of their children and their partner. Relationships are healing. Spouses are coming closer together, as their children blossom. Resentment is giving way to rejuvenation.