Trying To Be A Martyr Mom Put My Marriage On The Line
Before becoming a parent, I knew I didn't want to be a controlling, martyr mother: the kind of mom who has to do everything, be everything, and give everything when it comes to her baby. I knew I wanted to have a great balance between me and my partner, and since my husband and I seem to strengthen each other where we are weak, I felt confident that we'd be able to rise to the challenge of raising our child together. It's been an adventure for sure, but I never thought the one thing I didn't want to do would be the very thing that I would struggle so much with.
There's nothing like the rush of being a new mother. Getting used to the unfamiliar role is all-consuming. Even after six months of acclimating to the job, a lot of times I still feel as if I can (and should) do everything that has to do with my child better than anybody else. I catch myself thinking that no one — not even my husband —can see to my child the way I can. And on one hand, there's some major legitimacy to my perspective. After all, my daughter and I spent 10 months bonding in a way no one else could. She grew and developed inside of me, and the many nights I couldn't sleep were spent thinking about how things would be with her once she was born and what her personality would be like. She's my first, and I don't know how I'll be in any future pregnancies, but in this one at least, I felt like I understood her long before I ever put my arms around her, like I knew certain aspects of her personality before even meeting her.
The ironic thing, though, about having such a special bond with my daughter is that there are still times where I feel like I have no clue what's going on. Then I doubt what I'm doing and end up feeling super inadequate. For all the times I feel like I've got this whole mothering thing down, there are probably an equal amount of times I still need help.
I became the kind of mom I never dreamed of being: not just the kind who wanted to do it all, but the type who felt she had to do it all.
The amount of things that have to be done for one tiny human in the course of a day are alarming. It's gotten a lot easier with practice, but sometimes the list of tasks can be overwhelming: feeding, burping, diapering, and clothing her is one thing. Add going out to the picture and there's another whole list to attend to: making sure the diaper bag has enough diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes, putting her in the car seat, grabbing the necessary toys, milk, formula, and snacks, grabbing a hat or coat if necessary. Then add in all the other household chores that suddenly increase with a baby like extra laundry (oh, the laundry!) and cleaning the bottles and pumping equipment.
My partner and I try to balance out the responsibilities, but despite our efforts to share the load, often times I can't help but take on more of the everyday duties in taking care of our daughter. And so, quickly, I became the kind of mom I never dreamed of being: not just the kind who wanted to do it all, but the type who felt she had to do it all.
When I write for work in the hours that my husband isn't working, I have to shut myself away at my desk in our room and trust in my husband's ability to take care of our daughter.
But trying to do it all all of the time just wore me down and made my husband feel like he had no place. It's hard to describe the control I often feel like I need to have. I can be watching my husband putting my daughter in the car seat, and if I feel like he is taking too long and that's the reason she's crying so much, there's this crazy urge to go over and move him out of the way and do it myself. Since our daughter stopped needing breastfeeding through the night, my husband can see to her if she randomly starts crying or needs a diaper change, but I still have to stop myself at times from worrying whether or not he's going to remember the diaper rash cream. If we're getting ready to go out, and I want to take a shower after I've fed my daughter, it often makes sense to let my husband dress our baby to save time. I've had to remind myself that not allowing him to pick her clothes out, because I just have to choose what's best, keeps him from bonding with her.
My husband and I have identified the things that seem to trigger my need for control: preparing to go somewhere; hearing my daughter cry when I'm not in the room; and the fear of not knowing absolutely everything that happens to her are the main things that provoke me to take over.
The tension this has put on our marriage has turned everyday tasks into full-on arguments. On some occasions, my husband has had to give up and walk out of the room because I've taken over the job he was trying to do. Once, we decided to bathe our daughter while I was in the tub with her. It was a sweet time bonding with her in the bath, but of course, as I was undressed, he had to wrap her up in the towel and take her to her room to get her ready for bed. I was supposed to finish my own bath and then come in when I was ready to feed her, but I heard her crying and assumed he wasn't keeping her covered like I would. I jumped out of the tub, barely wrapped myself in my towel, and barged in the room taking over the task, all too eager to remind him that he was "doing it wrong." My husband left defeated by what I tried to cover up as my innate desire to "help." Clearly, after talking about it, I realized I wasn't helping at all.
At this point in the game, after taking time to talk about it, my husband and I have identified the things that seem to trigger my need for control: preparing to go somewhere; hearing my daughter cry when I'm not in the room; and the fear of not knowing absolutely everything that happens to her are the main things that provoke me to take over. The truth of the matter is that it's really OK if I'm faster than he is getting her into the car seat (and honestly, she sometimes cries being put in by me even if I am faster.) It'll be OK if she goes without diaper rash cream every now and then. And it certainly isn't the end of the world if her dad puts on a onesie that doesn't match her leggings.
When I try to do it all, I unknowingly put pressure on myself to get it right every time, too. So when I mess up, I feel even worse. To make matters even more complicated, I become jealous of my husband who is "off the hook," even though it's me who puts him there.
Taking over everything undermines my partner's role in caring for our new daughter. Not to mention, if she grows up with a mother who operates as if she's the only one who can properly do things for her, she might have a harder time trusting others, or worse yet, resent me for not allowing other people, especially her father, into her world.
I realized I could only keep up my attempt at being the end all, be all to my daughter for so long before I'd completely burnt out. And the burnt-out version of myself is not what I want my motherhood to look like, either.
In feeling like I can do all things better, I also assume I know everything. And I know I don't. When I try to do it all, I unknowingly put pressure on myself to get it right every time, too. So when I mess up, I feel even worse. To make matters even more complicated, I become jealous of my husband who is "off the hook," even though it's me who puts him there. I think somewhere along the way I adopted the idea of a martyr mom: someone who is always right, who can do anything, who is perfect, and because of her flawless performance, she can love and be loved by her child. This is the thing — this unrealistic expectation and detrimental mentality — that makes it so hard for me to let go of my control and then beat myself up when I don't measure up.
Knowing that this way of parenting isn't ideal and controlling my urge to do it are two very different things. It's just taken time to get out of this mindset, and I still struggle daily to do it. But I realized I could only keep up my attempt at being the end all, be all to my daughter for so long before I'd completely burnt out. And the burnt-out version of myself is not what I want my motherhood to look like, either.
So I started forcing myself not to follow my urges to take over with my daughter. I voiced my thoughts to my husband about how I think things should be done with her, and he's graciously taken on many of my suggestions. But he's also spoken up and told me that he has preferences, too. I have to remind myself to let it go. When I write for work in the hours that my husband isn't working, I have to shut myself away at my desk in our room and trust in my husband's ability to take care of our daughter. When I come out to see him playing with her on the floor, or feeding her the milk I've pumped, or changing her clothes from her many blowout diapers, I smile and remember how fortunate I am to have him as my partner and a loving father to our girl. Seeing her have eyes for her dad lets me know we're getting to that place of balance I wanted, because it doesn't change the fact that she has eyes for me, too.
Parenting from a place of peace, balance, and understanding with my partner, instead of striving to be her everything all the time, has empowered me to be a the type of mother she'll be inspired by instead of controlled by. I've learned that giving my daughter a parent she can be proud of is more important than any pair of leggings I pick out or any number of diaper changes I provide.