You Don't Have To Be A Martyr To Be A Mother

by Crystal Mackey Free
Originally Published: 

Have you ever been asked when you are going to bring a sibling into the world to join your current child? Or why you haven’t gotten pregnant yet? Or if you are trying? Or why the hell you have so many kids already? Or if you are going to “try for a girl (or a boy)”?

If you have lady parts of any configuration, one or more of these questions have likely been put to you at some point in your adult life. That is because what goes on in your own uterus is considered part of the public domain. In general society, these questions are considered “normal” rather than invasive, presumptuous and rude.

This is something that needs to change. However, it takes generations to shift these types of social norms. Unfortunately, we have no control over other people. We can answer politely, give them a big ol’ nunya or simply walk away, but we can’t stop them from continuing to ask every ovary owner the same prying questions. We cannot stop them from assuming that every female wants to have children and is completely and totally absorbed with thoughts of her fertility (or lack thereof) on a daily basis. We can’t stop them from thinking that motherhood is mandatory.

Something we can control is ourselves and the equally pervasive ideology that goes hand in hand with “mandatory motherhood,” and that is the concept of “total motherhood.” Total motherhood is the assumption that all child-rearing responsibilities rest solely on the mother. It is the idea that once a woman begins the raising of a child, she absolves herself of any and all worldly pleasures outside of said child. She alone must bear the weight of choices regarding the human she is in charge of, and any choice she might make will be the end all be all of her worth as a human, including but not limited to the feeding, sleeping, dressing, educating and cleaning of the child.

And this my friends, is a lie.

Yes, parenting takes sacrifice, but the cult of total motherhood when internalized takes it roughly one hundred steps too far. I have heard mothers say they haven’t been out of the house without their child since the kid was born (and their child is 4 years old). I have heard parents judge anyone who sends their child to day care, because they should be “raised by their parents, not strangers.” I am familiar with moms who skip taking care of themselves, even something as basic as a shower, and parents who don’t go on dates and who haven’t had a conversation without a child screaming in the background for years. There are people who literally give up every facet of themselves in order to focus their entire lives on the small being they are caring for.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? My experience has certainly shown this to be true. I tried the whole total mother and cult of domesticity thing. My only joy came from my child, his milestones, his giggles. However, I felt trapped, alone and miserable for a good portion of the time. And I spread that misery to the rest of my family.

This is not to say one can’t stay at home and be happy. I also found happiness in being a stay-at-home parent, after I quit martyring myself. I am one of the lucky ones, I figured out early that if I cared for myself, I could do an exponentially better job for others. When I took time to recharge, my child had a lot more giggles, and I could handle tantrums without feeling quite as frazzled.

For me, writing, yoga, sewing and running contribute to my overall life satisfaction. Sometimes, it is as simple as reading a chapter of a book, drinking a latte at the coffee shop while it is still hot or taking a walk alone with my dog. The ability to be a person who is not in charge of another person, if only for an hour, is enough to remind you of who you are.

Everyone needs space to think. Self-care is important because you are important. So reach out, and build a village. If you have family just dying to watch your little one, let them. Coordinate with other parents to swap child care every other week. Hand the baby to your partner and take off for the grocery store (go on and stop for a coffee and a cookie on the way). Let the preschooler veg out in front of Thomas & Friends or Frozen, and watch a movie of your own choosing on your computer with headphones.

Find a way. Find yourself. Your kid will thank you. (Okay, they probably won’t thank you until they are 30 or so, and then it will probably not be a thing they say to you, but trust me.)

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