No More Martyr Mom

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Take care of your body. Spend money (gasp) on special supplements and foods just for you. You MUST take care of yourself physically. Find ways of movement and exercise that you can realistically stick with.
  7. 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…


  1. A wonderful post! I was once in those shoes myself! To make matters worse, I was part of an online, large family community, that perpetuates the myth that this is what God requires of us.

    My life has completely changed in the year and a half since I have broken away from this way of thinking. Last year I worked on my health issues and this year I am pursuing my dreams. I am a MUCH happier and better homeschooling wife and mama now than I was then! 🙂

    Thank you for your wonderful site! You are such an inspiration!

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      I experienced some of the very same things, Mandy, and I agree!

  2. Wow! What an image for our daughters! I never thought about them as perceiving it that way. I know I need to “renew my mind”. Just this morning as I thought about what I needed to accomplish today inwardly I was thinking, “I don’t want to.”

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Often our thinking is such an automatic response, Deanna–ask me how I know, lol. What if you changed it to “I get to?” Sounds like a blog post… 🙂

  3. I, too, have been a martyr mom, so I recognize them a mile away! I always encourage moms to do something that energizes them, to rest, and to ask for (and accept) help. I would never ask for help because I didn’t want to inconvience anyone or I thought a good mom could (and should) do it all. How silly! Everyone needs help!

    And now I’ve chosen to help families educate their children from home.

    Thanks for posting Charlotte!

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Alecia, you will be a great mentor and coach for home educating families because you’ve been there, done that! I think that homeschooling mamas struggle with martyrdom more than they realize. Carry on with your good work!

  4. Oh, Charlotte… thank you so much for this article.

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      You are very welcome, Audrey. It was written out of experience, that’s for sure! 🙂

  5. This is a most timely post. I have dealt with these tendencies (martyrdom, codependency, lack of appropriate boundaries) all of my adult life, and am again revisiting these issues. It’s been like a strong smelling onion, one tearful peel at a time, and difficult to face at times. But I’m determined to live MY life according the Lord’s plan. No matter how long it takes me :-)!
    Thank you Charlotte! I have so enjoyed your website and your candid-speak-the-truth-in-love posts.

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Candi, what a great analogy–I’ve been peeling for years, too!

  6. That one hurt. Ouch. I am definitely that mom. When I first started reading this I did want to defend myself.-

    I wear my hair in a ponytail all the time because I have very fine, curly hair and I hate going to hairdressers because they all try to straighten it. Plus, after the extremely traumatic loss of my son 7 years ago, a lot of it fell out and what did grow back in (not a whole lot) grew in funky, finer and really dull. It looks bad no matter what I do and I know how to take care of curly hair. Nothing works anymore.

    I dress in frumpy old lady clothes because we’re doing terribly financially and the only way I get clothes is if my shopaholic mom buys them for me from Wallyworld. I dress awful and am embarrassed to go out. Not to mention the ton of weight I need to lose. I am so out of shape.

    I went through PPD for and entire year with my last baby and though my hubby is a nice guy, he didn’t believe me. He thought I should be happy to have a healthy baby, not sad. I tried to explain. Didn’t work.

    I have tons of other reasons too but you know what? I haven’t tried a whole lot either. I need to get back to T-Tapping. Exercise does a world of good. Actually I’ve started having “dance parties” with my girls using Just Dance. Now *that’s* something I can get in to.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants. I hope it works. 🙂

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Genny, my heart goes out to you! I am not in any way minimizing the stressful life events you have experienced. Please, please, do love and care for yourself as much as you can. Just baby steps like 5 minutes of T-Tapp or enjoying Just Dance and having fun with it. Ponytails are okay–they’re very girly! 🙂 And even if you have to shop at thrift stores (which I do all the time!), it doesn’t cost any more to buy something pretty and feminine than it does to buy something frumpy and plain.

      It sounds like you took these words as they are meant–a wake-up call to admit that we do have responsibility. I really hope that you are encouraged and inspired to carry on!

  7. I might just cry right now. Here I am with seven lovely children, in one of those bleak places. The inability to do things or go places is rough! I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I might as well…I’ve been dealing with an issue with my feet for YEARS. I start treatments, but give up because they are time consuming, and don’t fit in the schedule of taking care of eight other people. But, it isn’t getting any better on it’s own. Taking care of myself is going to begin there. Thank you for this post. It was timely!

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Bless your heart, Sharron! That is awesome that you are going to care for your feet–all fitness begins with the feet. (Your issue doesn’t happen to be plantar fasciitis, does it? T-Tapp rehabilitates that, by the way). When we care for ourselves we can care for other from a place of strength rather than, as Bilbo said, “feeling thin, like butter scraped over too much bread.” 🙂

  8. I am this mom,without a doubt. And I am burnt out. I’ve been trying to step up and do.something to change it, but its not easy at all. My husband works away from the home for 2 weeks at a time, so its just me and our 4 kids 6,5,3, and 9 months. We also homeschooling. I have been feeling so burnt out. I hardly get a shower let alone make myself look nice. I have been working on exercising again after the kids are in bed, its my only me time. I think I need to work a free time into my day, while they have quiet reading time, I take a break, but often waste it checking emails or something on the internet, and its gonebefore I know it. Maybe I will start sewing a new dress with some beautiful fabric my husband bought me for Christmas, and I’m going to talk to my husband about getting a new wand hair curled, I’ve seen tutorials where they take less then 10 min to curl long hair, which is actually possible. We can afford it, but I always feel so guilty about it. This makes me feel so much better thinking about doing things for me. I just love this blog by the way, I feel like I can relate to every article of yours I’ve read. Thank you!

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Sarah, just doing those little things will help refresh your soul! Ask God to help you understand how much He loves you, and how you are worth taking care of. Your family will benefit, and you will be happier!

  9. Wow, I suddenly don’t feel so alone in the way I have been feeling. Adrenal fatigue for around 10 years now, 5 kids who I try to homeschool despite constantly being tired and drained. I just delivered our still-born baby boy 4 months ago when he was due in just 2 weeks, understanding that these things happen, but also I tell myself often that I don’t deserve him anyway, and I wouldn’t blame God if He didn’t want to give me another baby. It’s hard enough to keep up with all that He’s given me as it is. But I have such a hole in my heart and children who were aching for that baby, that I feel like we can’t end our baby bearing years on such a bad note. But then every baby brings me further into despair with my adrenals, not to mention a twisted spine that’s not handling being pregnant very well. That sounds so very “Martyr Mom” because I know that’s very much how I have been. But, how to break these chains…
    I do thank you for this article, and for your website I have just found. I too have been enjoying t-tapping, though not nearly as often as I’d like. Just have to set that time aside for me. Thank you for the push I needed today!!

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Tina, I wish I could give you a big hug! Please don’t tell yourself you don’t deserve another baby! You don’t want to create that thought pattern or strengthen it because it is a LIE. Please soak yourself in music that feeds your soul. You are in the very depths of grief and your despair is understandable. Weep for your baby and for yourself. Your hormones are probably up and down, too. Blessings to you and your family.

  10. So i am currently working on changing my thoughts on what i “deserve” and trying to change my martyr mom habits. what advice would you give regarding spending? I realized that i haven’t bought myself anything just for fun because i couldn’t justify the purchase. I only buy clothing items when my current ones are threadbare. Somewhere along the way I began feeling the need to justify every purchase i make and am not sure how to break that cycle. I do try to live within our means and budget expenses. wondering if watching the finances has helped me become hypersensitive?

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Sahar, for me, that was a poverty and lack mindset, based on fear that there wouldn’t be enough. But it’s also related to self-worth. Start small and buy some things that make you smile. Put it in the budget “one new shirt for me this month” or whatever helps. Enjoy dressing pretty and have a season of sprucing up your wardrobe and accessories. It doesn’t have to go on forever, but for a time work on this area of your life. 🙂

  11. I just found you Charlotte and I am so glad…this Martar Mom post describes me so well. Thank you so much for opening my eyes…and now I can go buy me some new underwear guilt free…I do deserve it even though the reason I need it is because I have gained weight. I am starting to TTAPP too…just finished 4 day boot camp. Reading through all your posts…what a gift you have!

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Love this–even something as simple as new underwear makes a difference! Happy that you’ve started T-Tapp, too–that is a gift to yourself!!

  12. Something deep inside me wants to sob after reading this post. It describes me ( along with the adrenal fatigue post) I am so tired of being a martyr mom!! I agree, it is a mental thought pattern that needs to change. I want to learn how to do things that rejuvenate me, and to do it without guilt. My husband would completely support me, but I feel like I have been in this rut so many years I literally have to learn how to take baby steps to freedom. Anyway, your post felt like a hug from a mentoring experienced mom. I wish I could sit at your feet and learn 🙂

    1. Charlotte Siems says:

      Esther, go ahead and have a good cry–then remember that God loves you so much and He wants you to care for yourself! Work with your husband to figure out what restores and refreshes you. You’ll be a better mom and wife for it!

  13. I’m sitting here crying. This is so me. I have struggled with adrenal fatigue for years, though I just figured that out. My emotions and thoughts have been a massive battle. One that I have mostly lost over the years. The Lord is helping me, little by little. Yet I still fall into those thought traps of never being enough, not being fit as a mother or wife, just not ever being….
    Thank you for your honesty and encouragement. I have had TTapp dvds sitting in a drawer for months. I tried it awhile back, but the forms were so difficult, my knees and ankles and back hurt, and I gave up. After reading your posts today, I’m going to get them out and try again. Thank you for helping me tonight.

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