Just the other day, I came across an article written by a well-meaning Mom who had–like so many of us before her (myself included)–fallen victim to Motherhood Martyrdom. She was looking forward to the birth of her child so she could experience a “post-delivery vacation.” In the hospital. While I admittedly don’t know what kind of hospital she was referring to, unless it was some sort of tropical resort, this is maybe the craziest thing I have ever heard. Not because she doesn’t deserve some peace and quiet (Lord knows we all do—but especially Moms who have just birthed a human), but because she felt she had to visit a medical facility to get one.
After my daughter was born, my hospital stay was hell. Yes, I got an “uninterrupted bath” afterward, but was it worth all the rest? I can safely assure you—it wasn’t.
I sympathize with this Mom: I really do. Motherhood is singlehandedly the hardest thing I have done or will ever do. It’s the hardest thing any of us will ever do.
And while I do grasp the general concept of satire, I sensed some truth to her words. This got me thinking about just how often I hear Mothers express similar sentiments about needing a “break”, thinly veiled as magical-fairy-dust-unicorn wishes which will never be granted.
Here’s the thing I notice constantly: Moms are Martyrs. And the more kids you have, the worse it seems to get. You give up your beds, your sex lives, your food, your relationships, your work, and–most importantly, your sanity. Moms become so consumed with their roles as mothers that all other relationships deteriorate. And, for many, this isolation leads invariably to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
I’m guilty of it too. When my daughter was born and in those early, sleep deprived days, my world screeched to a halt. I was the parent who got up (so many times) during the night to nurse her. In reflecting back, I can see that those were the early stages of Motherhood Martyrdom for me. I didn’t want to leave my spouse with a screaming baby, as “I” was the only one who could pat her back in that way that calmed her cries. “I” was the only one who could feed her. Even now, three years later, I still occasionally find myself teetering on the periphery of Martyrdom.
I am my own worst enemy. And you—tired Mama—are your own worst enemy, too.
I get that children are all consuming. But, there are things I am not willing to do for my child:
1) I am not willing to give up my sanity for my child.
This is why, when I knew early on that I couldn’t cope, I sought help. I took the medication I so desperately needed to make it through. This is why I continue to work every day to be Amanda–not Amanda the Mother, or Amanda the Spouse or Amanda the Law Student or Amanda the Best Friend: just Amanda. Sometimes this means taking an hour long bath with the door locked. Sometimes this means telling my spouse that I just need to “tap out” tonight. And I encourage him to do the same: to maintain his own identity outside of Fatherhood.
2) I am not willing to put my child before my spouse.
I know this sounds horribly selfish. But hear me out. I put my relationship first because when my spouse and I peacefully co-exist, I am a happier, more fulfilled version of myself. When things are good between us, I’m a great mother. I am showing my daughter what it means to be in a loving, stable, long-term relationship. Most importantly, I might even be paving the way for her to choose the same for herself one day.
3) I am not willing to accept that I bear the brunt of parenting.
This is huge. And, as mentioned, I still struggle with it on a daily basis. But, it is 2016: a man can clean a house and tend to children just as well as a woman can–in fact, my spouse has a totally refreshing parenting perspective that I truly appreciate and our daughter needs. He is certainly capable of sharing in 50% of all household and parenting duties. This means that if the dishes need to be washed, he is just as capable. If the laundry needs to be folded, he’s just as much on the hook as I am. He bathes, cleans, cooks, and comforts. We share in this experience 50/50 (some times more successfully than others).
No mother should ever have to wish to escape to a hospital for an uninterrupted bath. Tap out, ladies. Tell your spouse (or your caregiver–I cannot emphasize the importance of finding a reliable caregiver, single Mamas) that you’re in need of a break. Do the same for them when they need a break. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! It will make you a happier, more loving and well-adjusted parent, mother, spouse, friend and employee. There is no “gold medal” for parenting. Your martyrdom doesn’t serve you. It won’t serve your marriage or relationships with others. And it especially won’t serve your children.
I have heard so many Moms lately who’ve taken those critical first steps in addressing their underlying depression or general dissatisfaction with life. And you know what their therapists tell them to do? Go “find yourself.” We’ve lost ourselves in this thing called Motherhood.
So take a damn break. Enroll in that class. Lock the bathroom door and disappear for an hour with your favourite book, a glass of wine and some bubble bath. Sleep train your children (or at least try). Be you. Be the wonderful person your spouse fell in love with. Be the artist, the dreamer, the scholar. Find something that makes you feel like you again.
Motherhood is hard. But we’re making it harder than it has to be. We don’t have to be Martyrs anymore.