You know her. She’s wearing the same dowdy clothes almost every time you see her. She looks exhausted and dragged out. She hasn’t changed her hairstyle or makeup since high school….oh wait, she rarely styles her hair or wears makeup. When you politely ask how she’s doing, she sighs deeply and and says “Oh, I’m fine,” in a resigned tone of voice that betrays her self-pity.
She’s a Martyr Mom. Maybe you are, too.
Martyr Moms don’t get new clothes because they’re too busy making sure everyone else in the family looks nice. They don’t have fun and they certainly don’t spend any extra money on themselves because, well, they really shouldn’t.
I can tell you all about her because I spent so many years being her.
How We Become Martyr Moms
Have you stopped to realize that being a martyr is not attractive to your children–especially your daughters? Think about what you’re giving them to look forward to: having a family and then never going anywhere or buying anything for yourself or receiving gifts or looking pretty or being a person. Just drudgery. In the name of noble sacrifice. Or so we tell ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but one of the main reasons I was a martyr mom was because I didn’t think I deserved anything. I believed that I didn’t deserve to be treated well or loved. I thought that I didn’t deserve nice things and I certainly didn’t deserve anything over and above the bare minimum. I had learned the lessons of childhood too well to let anyone tell me otherwise.
And now I’m finally learning that the antidote for self-hatred is the deep and absolute love of God.
Giving of yourself and sacrificing for others is good and necessary. It is a fact of mature adult life, and definitely a fact of the true Christian life. I’m not advocating a selfish disregard for the needs of others, especially those in your care. But there’s a point somewhere, when the opportunity for self-care presents itself and we shake our heads and carry on, sighing deeply about our plight.
Grabbing for “rights” and resenting it when others don’t meet your needs can get ugly. That’s not what I’m talking about.
But there’s a subtle form of this self-focused thinking, in which a person wistfully waits for their needs to be met and is disappointed time and again, so they take on the the role of a martyr so at least they can feel noble and righteous about it. Since I’ve been there, done that, I’ll tell you a little secret:
I did it to myself.
I sat around and stewed and hoped my husband would know what I wanted. And then I got mad when he wasn’t a mind reader, and nobly sighed and resigned myself to the martyr role once again. Poor me.
If you tell yourself something often enough you begin to believe it, whether it’s true or not. As a woman thinketh in her heart, so is she.
So on I went, until I managed to nearly burn myself out. Make no mistake, it was my choice, or rather a long series of little choices about which thoughts I would allow to take root. More than allow, I watered and fertilized and cherished those thoughts until they sprang up as deep-rooted weeds.
If your first thought is to immediately explain why your situation is different and it’s not your fault, take care. Justification smells like denial.
How to Stop Being a Martyr Mom
So what’s a martyr mom to do? I can only share what I’ve experienced and what helped me, so here’s a beginning list:
- Figure out what refreshes you. Reading Scripture and praying are absolute musts for your spirit, but there are things you need to do for your body and soul, too. Window shopping, bubble baths, coffee shops, library trips, funny movies, bowling, bike riding….remember what it is that brings you enjoyment and do it–regularly. Have some fun, for goodness sake!
- Take a break. If you absolutely can’t make childcare arrangements, take a break at home during your children’s naptime. Light a candle, put your feet up and browse a magazine. If you can, get out and about for a few hours alone. It can do wonders for your perspective.
- Get some support and mentoring. The internet has opened endless opportunities for groups, classes and coaching. Find help for the areas in which you’re struggling.
- Start your day in faith. Corral your thoughts and believe you’re going to have a great day. Start by noticing how you’ve been thinking at the beginning of the day–you’ll probably be surprised at the tone. No wonder you’re discouraged.
- Get some help. Often this is as simple as accepting help instead of trying to do it all yourself. Humble yourself and ask for help.
- Move your body. Exercise can change your life. It certainly changed mine (as in, going from size 22W to 6). To this day, I feel better both emotionally and physically when I keep up a regular (albeit short) routine of T-Tapp. Find something that you can realistically stick with.
- Fix yourself up. Spend a bit more time on hair and makeup. Choose a feminine, pretty outfit instead of yoga pants and a sloppy t-shirt. Like it or not, your appearance makes a difference in how you feel about yourself and how others treat you. Rather than seeing it as a chore, enjoy caring for your appearance and get creative.
Of course these to-do’s might just be a bandaid. Basic beliefs about yourself and what you choose to think about probably need an overhaul (see #3 above).
Stepping out of the Martyr Mom role will probably feel uncomfortable, crazy as it sounds. Hang in there, it will get better. You’ll be glad that you admitted to yourself that being a martyr really wasn’t all that great. When you care for yourself there will be more “you” to care for others, so it’s actually kinder to your family to leave martyrdom behind.
How do you get past the temptation to be a Martyr Mom? Please leave a comment…
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