Growing up Catholic, I learned a lot about martyrs. St. Margaret of Antioch, for example, was beheaded for her faith after she was swallowed whole by a dragon and lived. She is, incidentally, the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth, so the fact that she endured being swallowed by a dragon feels accurate. St. Lawrence was roasted alive over a spit and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, hilariously trolled his tormentors throughout his ordeal. Martyrdom seems to work for the saints, sure, but a mom should never be a martyr.
What is a martyr mom? She is the mom who subverts many, most, or all of her own wants, needs, and goals in order to serve her family, often without fanfare. I know what you're thinking: doesn't that describe any parent? I can see that. After all, being a parent requires you putting a lot of what you want to do on the back-burner to make sure your kids are happy and well-cared for. Non-martyr parents, to be sure, make plenty of sacrifices. However, the martyr mom is different, in my mind, and it largely comes down to two main things:
- How she communicates her needs
- How far down she places herself on a list of priorities, even when what she is doing for others is not necessary
"But I love my family!" you might insist. "I don't mind going or doing without, as I'm dedicating my life to ensuring that they're completely happy." To this I say, that's noble and beautifully intentioned, but you can do that without losing yourself in the process. Moreover, be careful: the whole martyr thing can (and usually does) spectacularly backfire in the long-run, especially when it comes to moms.
Martyrdom works well for saints, I'd say, because their martyrdom generally only lasts for so long. They're martyrs because they died for their cause. Living as a martyr? That's a long-ass time to endure completely subsuming yourself. So, let's get to specifics, shall we? Why exactly should you be sure to prioritize self-care? What are the drawbacks of Mommy Martyrdom?
It Encourages Clueless And Entitled Behavior In Family And Friends
When you are constantly putting yourself out to do things for others and/or cushion them from consequences of their own actions or inactions, they simply come to expect that you (or someone like you) will always handle their crap for them. They may think this consciously or unconsciously, but the end result is always the same: they are spoiled and expectant. Why should you (or the rest of society, for that matter) have to deal with spoiled and expectant people?
You Have Enough To Do
For real: being a human and dealing with your own life is tough enough. As a responsible parent, adding other little human's lives in the mix is even tougher. But, if all goes according to plan, as time goes on and those little humans become more capable (and, hopefully, less irrational) and require fewer and fewer interventions from you. Nurture that plan. For real.
It might seem easier, at first, to continue to let them coast (because, after all, you can deal with whatever needs done quicker and easily than they can), but before you know it you're exhausted from 15 years of being completely responsible for two or more people and you have a teenager who doesn't know how to make toast or stick to a deadline because you've always micromanaged their assignments (or, worse, done them yourself). You do not have time for this and you shouldn't try to make time for this.
Other People Need To Learn Self-Sufficiency
Remember that teenager I mentioned? You know, the one incapable of making toast? That's pretty pathetic, right? It's sort of like seeing a lion in captivity who doesn't know how to hunt — we all pity that lion. Of course that's sort of an extreme example (though I've seen it happen), but the point is when you martyr yourself to cater to your children's every single need (whether or not they actually need anyone's assistance), you do them a disservice.
So, not only are they now entitled since they've been shielded from consequences, but they're lacking some pretty fundamental life skills. Obviously this is done from a place of love, but sometimes love has to come in the form of letting go instead of keeping someone comfortable. Martyrs need to learn to take a longer view of what will bring their children (and them!) the most happiness.
Models Martyr Behavior For Kids
Children learn their behavior from parents, and if they see one parent constantly sacrificing their own wants and needs to accommodate everyone else in their life, those children are going to think that's what love looks like. As a result, they may a) martyr themselves for someone else b) expect a self-sacrificing love from others c) do both of those things. This isn't exactly a healthy way to approach relationships or family life.
Having Time And Space To Nurture Yourself Is Important
Because you matter, Martyr Mom! Your interests, well-being, and growth as an individual outside of who you are as a mother are all worth prioritizing. Now, if you somehow view this as selfish (you shouldn't, at all, because it simply isn't) think about it this way: you're modeling self-care and affirmation to your children, which is really important, too.
When you're yourself and have given yourself a chance to recharge, evolve, and thrive, you're going to be the best mom you can be, too. So, again, I can't stress enough how important this is to do as a human and not just to improve your mom game.
Martyrs Always Secretly Want To Be Recognized And Are Always Disappointed
You'd think that someone who willingly, uncomplainingly, and quietly sacrifices all of themselves for others, time and time again, would be appreciated and lauded for their noble efforts. They are usually not. When you take on all everyone else's problems, people stop noticing they had problems in the first place. The recognition you seek (even though you never officially ask for it) never comes because you have established a pattern that enables people to take you for granted.
Learning To Actively Speak Up For Yourself Is Important
Once again: you matter! It's OK that your loved ones know that and know that you know that.
Boundaries Are Important
Seriously. It's OK to have things that you don't do as a parent and let your kids figure out on their own. It's OK (and important) to not be so involved in their lives that you know what homework is due better than they do. Boundaries allow your child to learn responsibility, understand consequences, and grow into a mature and capable adult. They enable you to learn how to be comfortable giving up some control, and to relax because you're not feeling the constant pressure of being responsible for everything in your child's life. It's a win-win.
Other People Can't Read Minds And Shouldn't Be Expected To
Martyrs often wind up doing everything for everyone else, well, for a number of usually overlapping reasons. One is that they often like having control over a situation, even if they recognize it as a burden. Another is that they want to cater completely to their loved ones, even if they technically don't have to. A third, very common reason is that they are insecure about voicing their own wants and needs and expect that someone else will know what needs to be done, step up, and take on a task themselves.
In short, they expect someone to be a mind reader who instinctively knows what they need rather than gather up the courage to ask for help. The problem is that people aren't mind readers, but the expectation that they should be can often lead to bitterness on the part of the person always stuck doing everything for everyone. But for real: just ask for help. Even if you think the person should instinctively know to offer it. (Even if they should instinctively know to offer it.) The more you ask the more it will become intuitive for them and the less you will have to ask in the future.
Martyrs Are Striving For Impossible Personal Standards
Chances are, Martyr Moms feel the need to martyr themselves to motherhood because, somewhere along the line, they got the idea that this is just what mothers are supposed to do. It's not. You don't have to be endlessly accommodating. You don't have to ensure a perfect existence for your children. Even without all of that, you are enough; no martyrdom required.