The Mommy Martyr Makeover

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It’s the occupational hazard of motherhood: martyrdom. Don’t laugh — mommy martyrs, you know who you are — moms who, at all costs, make sure everything gets done, everyone is happy and every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed before they collapse with panache and a big sigh into their easy chairs. Though it’s easy to joke, this is a serious, but avoidable, side effect of modern motherhood.

Certified Life Coach Mary Tucker has seen many women fall prey to martyrdom. “There are several reasons for martyrdom,” says Tucker, “including the expectations society sets before us.” Many of us, she says, “mother from our needs, our own reaction to our parenting. We have an expectation of motherhood, about doing it all.” This develops into an ideal that is unrealistic and unattainable. “Most women would rather be accused of anything besides being a bad mom,” says Tucker.

As mothers, most of us have felt, at one time or another, like a bad mom. That’s because none of us is perfect and, though we’re probably trying our best, we occasionally fail. There’s no harm in our children knowing we’re human.

Are You a Mommy Martyr?

If you’re not sure if the term applies to you, here are a few warning signs:

1. Do you volunteer for projects and tasks and then resent the amount of work you have to do?

2. Do you ensure all the members of your household are groomed, fed, and ready for their day before you even get to your coffee?

3. Are you so busy with your obligations (family or otherwise) that you don’t have time to get a haircut or make a doctor’s appointment for yourself?

4. Do your daily obligations make it difficult for you to enjoy a loving relationship with your spouse?

5. Are you short-tempered with your children because you resent your responsibilities?

I’m sorry, Mom; if you’ve said yes to these questions, it’s likely you fall into the martyr category. So what’s a mommy martyr to do?

Tucker suggests thinking about this question: “What is my powerful intention as a mother?” She advises, “Be clear about what motherhood means to you as a woman and act accordingly.”

Guidelines for Recovering Martyrs

Know your limits. “When you know your own limits, other people will recognize them,” says Tucker. If you are approached with a new project, know how much time you must commit, and how much time you have available to commit, before saying yes. With a sheet of paper, chart out your week, and be honest about time spent each day on various tasks from the mundane (dishes) to the altruistic (volunteer work) and everything in between. Revise this chart on a regular basis to track your time and energy.

Make time for yourself. When you make your chart, add time for yourself. If this is a new concept for you, that’s OK. Make a small commitment here and there — schedule a manicure, an hour of time to read at the library, extra time to run errands you’ve been putting off. Making yourself more of a priority is essential for breaking the martyr mindset.

Just say “no.” Practice this often and know that it’s OK. You do not have to make someone else’s emergency your own. Saying “no” works when dealing with adults and children alike. Though the needs of others are sometimes are more important than our own, our entire lives should not be lived in this crisis mode. Giving yourself permission to say “no” when you don’t have to say “yes” will make it easier to deal with those crises when they arise.

Don’t be a victim. “Be responsible for your boundaries and standards,” says Tucker. Your boundaries are external, giving yourself permission to say “no” when you need to. Your standards are internal, giving yourself permission to say “yes” to caring for yourself.

Make this your mantra: Multitasking is for martyrs. Multitasking can be like a drug — desirable and easy to abuse. It might seem multitasking would allow us to get more done during our too-short days, but it actually robs us of time.

A study by CNN revealed multitasking increased the amount of time needed to carry out tasks when the brain shifted from one task to another. So, while multitasking in the form of returning a phone call while doing dishes is fine, combining more tasks may be a recipe for a headache. In 100 AD, Roman philosopher Pubilius Syrus wrote, “To do two things at once is to do neither.” Just say no to excessive multitasking.

Enforce the 10-minute rule. Commit 10 minutes of time to something and reap the benefits. If you children are clamoring for fun and attention, get down to their level and play for 10 minutes. If you are in need of a break, sit in a quiet room for 10 minutes. You will be delighted and amazed to see the impact of 10 minutes spent totally immersed in an activity. Overwhelmed by housework? Take 10 and see how much you can get done in one room.

Don’t feel guilty. It’s OK to take time for yourself. If your inner mommy martyr wants to be everything to everybody, remember that by taking time for yourself, you are modeling exactly that, which includes you. Don’t feel guilty if you sit down alone to regroup — you’re teaching your children it’s good to prioritize yourself sometimes.

“It’s important to model appropriate behavior. When you value yourself, it shows that you also value others,” says Tucker.

When we moms show others that we value ourselves along with our families and responsibilities, we are not only taking care of ourselves, we are taking better care of our families and modeling positive behavior to the world at large.

“When we make decisions, we have to think about whose lives are most impacted,” says Tucker. Live positively to make a positive impact.

Mari Farthing is an experienced editor and the mother of two. Being a mom is her full-time job and writing maintains her sanity.