Martyr mom

We all know that a good mother puts her family first. She makes sacrifices for her children without a hint of regret for what she gives up. She is saintly and holy and a perfect martyr for the cause, because the cause is so righteous. But what is this sacrifice costing us?

I was thinking about the image we have of what a good mother is when I saw a post from a male relative of mine on facebook wishing his mother a happy birthday. He wrote a beautiful tribute to her which included his comments that she is the best mother in the world because ‘she always puts everyone else first and never thinks of herself.’

I got an instant kick to my gut, realizing what a heavy load that is to bear. But what really surprised me were the comments. Not one person mentioned that constantly putting others first and never thinking of yourself might not be the healthiest way to live your life. They all applauded his beautiful tribute and reinforced his image of how a good mother behaves.

We have skewed the image of mother so completely that it can sit side by side in the dictionary under martyr. A good mother never puts herself first and if she does she feels guilty. But I’m wondering if this saintly and mostly unattainable image of martyr mom might be doing us tremendous harm.

There’s a reason flight attendants tell us to put our oxygen masks on before helping our children with theirs; because if we can’t breathe we won’t be able to help anyone.

Isn’t it also true that if we’re not happy, healthy and well-cared for we won’t be able to care for our families in the best way? You can’t give from an empty well.

Mothers are so over-laden with guilt, either for leaving their children to go to work, or not feeling like Mary Poppins every day if they’re stay at home moms, so to appease that guilt we sacrifice ourselves, our time, our wants and our needs.

We have jam-packed our schedules with children’s activities. Every day, nearly every waking moment is scheduled with places we have to bring our children. (Don’t forget it’s your turn to bring the snack! And make sure it’s healthy!) We are also obligated to stay and watch whatever it is they’re doing. Is this healthy for the children? Is it good preparation for life to teach them that they need a supportive audience at all times?

We have no time for ourselves but that’s okay because we know the standard for saintly mothers is not to have a minute to ourselves. We are sacrificing our happiness for our children’s happiness, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

Or is it?

What would happen if we took time for ourselves, even if it meant the kids would have to miss something? Or go without us? What would they think?

Perhaps they would think that their mother is someone who deserves a life of her own. Perhaps they would understand that we are all here to live our own lives and not meant to martyr ourselves for anyone. Maybe our sons would see women as people who deserve respect not for the sacrifices they make for others, but as autonomous beings with intrinsic value simply as they exist. Maybe our daughters would see their future role as women will not be one of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, but as a thing to be celebrated and enjoyed. She might get the idea that she has a right to happiness and can make choices that please her without feeling guilty. She might actually break the chain of women as servant to others. How terrible that would be!

Of course mothers often times make sacrifices for their families. That’s part of the gig. But wouldn’t it be a healthier, happier world if we did it from a heart that’s filled because we’ve taken good care of ourselves, rather than one that’s depleted?

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