About a week ago, a friend of mine - in a backhanded, passive-aggressive way - insinuated that I am a "martyr mommy" and that she is not. I'd never heard the phrase before, so I did not know what she meant, but I didn't like the way she said it. It was delivered with an air of superiority that made me bristle. I have since been on a mission to find out what it means so I can figure out how I am supposed to feel about being "called" it.
I checked http://www.urbandictionary.com/ and it says "martyr mommy" and "mommy martyr" are not defined. Yet. I guess it's only a matter of time. I googled the term and discovered that a martyr mommy is defined as a mom who sacrifices her own needs every time. According to one definition, a martyr mommy puts her personal needs, wants and wishes on the back burner, then she justifies her martyr behavior by convincing herself that this is what all mothers do. A 2005 article in The Washington Post said "There's a place for martyrs: in medieval town squares, TV soap operas and on the Senate floor. Nobody wants one in their own home." Ouch.
A blog here on blogspot (I Invented Motherhood) provided insight into how to spot a martyr mom. Here's the rundown and my self-assessment. A martyr mom is overwhelmed and sighs, a lot (I'm not guilty (+1)). She is distracted, unable to focus (guilty (-1)). She has difficulty making choices because there are so many to make (not guilty (+1)). A martyr mom is not organized and her house is cluttered (guilty (-1)). She can't find things, but spends a lot of time looking (guilty sometimes but not all the time (0)). She can't remember what she needed at the store so she either buys everything or nothing (not guilty - I take a list! (+1)). The martyr mom makes sure the family eats (except for herself - she lives off of snacks and bites of her children's food), and there are more drive-thru dinners and store-bought microwave-friendly meals (guilty - yikes. See my Two or More Times a Week post (-1)). Her family spends more time TV dining than eating at the table (we eat out a lot so this a cheater's not guilty (0)). The martyr mom coordinates the schedules of her kids but won't schedule time for herself (guilty of scheduling the kids but not guilty of refusing to schedule time for myself (0)). She finds it hard to separate from her children and familial obligations (guilty, but I'm getting better as my kids get older (-1)). When she has free time, she ends up doing stuff for the house and kids (not guilty - see "her house is cluttered" above (+1)). A martyr mom has been putting herself last for so long that she no longer remembers what she likes to do or how to have fun without her children (guilty of not remembering what I like to do but not guilty of being unable to have fun without my children (0)). Worse, she doesn't think having fun is important (definitely NOT guilty (+1)). She is exhausted; taking care of everyone else means she cannot take care of herself (guilty, guilty, guilty (-1)). She doesn't make time to exercise or eat well, and she is so overwhelmed that she stays up too late thinking she's doing something productive when the kids are asleep but usually ends up watching hours of bad television or playing around on the internet (gulp - guilty with a capital G (-1)). She's not writing, just reading and feeling overwhelmed by all of the information available (not guilty - I write something almost every night (+1)). When the martyr mom does things, they are rushed or not quite the way she wants them, but she doesn't have the energy to fix it (probably guilty (-1)). She spends a lot of time thinking, but isn't communicating or solving problems (not guilty - I communicate and solve problems daily (+1)). She's wallowing (not guilty, though I have spent time wallowing in the past (+1)). She has a hard time saying no, even if she's fully aware that adding one more thing to her plate means less getting done well (thankfully, not guilty (+1)).
On balance, I am NOT a martyr mommy, but boy am I close. Which brings me to my initial question: should I be flattered or offended? Everything I have read implies that martyr mommies are B-A-D, so I guess the answer is "offended." But really, what business is it of anyone else whether I am a martyr mommy or not? Since this "friend" implied that I am a martyr mommy, I have felt defensive. Suddenly I feel like I need to justify my parenting attitudes.
Confession time: I think it is appropriate for parents to make personal sacrifices for their children. I did it knowingly and voluntarily and I have no regrets, but doing so was definitely an issue for The Ex, who really has not altered his lifestyle at all. In my case, I lived a full and fun life before I had my children, so I have had no problem putting my personal "fun" on the back burner while my children are young. And besides, my version of "fun" is coming back into my life. My boys are the PERFECT age for traveling and adventures, so we're doing a lot more of that these days. I find I need some time to myself that I didn't need before; the constant noise, motion, chatter and bickering of two busy boys exhausts me far more than the constant care and feeding did when they were babies and toddlers. When they were babies, it physically hurt me to be away from them for too long. I still don't like to be away from them for too long - they are my heart and my loves and my center - but it doesn't physically hurt anymore. Do these attitudes make me a martyr mommy? Maybe, and if they do, so what??
My friend is definitely NOT a martyr mommy as I have defined it in this post. From my perspective, she is the complete opposite. She is very preoccupied with her own needs and wants. I do not understand why she had children at all because it seems like she is constantly trying to pawn them off on other people. She is a stay-at-home mom who puts her two young children in daycare. She claims it is so she can "work," but she has not held a regular job in about a decade so I'm not sure what "work" she's referring to. If it were me, I would hire a babysitter occasionally to get things done but I would not put my children in daycare if I did not have to. But that's just me. She has an au pair coming in about a week or so, which baffles me. Why does she need an au pair? We definitely have different attitudes about parenting. I try not to judge her for the choices she has made, so I guess it bugs me that I feel like she is judging me for the choices I have made. I mean really, was it necessary to put a label on me?
I know that not all mothers make the choices I made when it comes to prioritizing my own needs with those of my children. But guess what? I have surrounded myself with like-minded women. We support each other in the crazy chaos that is our lives. We tend to agree with each other's sacrifices. We celebrate when someone breaks out and does something nice for herself. I guess it comes as no surprise that my non-martyr mom friend and I don't spend much time together anymore.