Being A 'Mom Martyr' Is Hurting Our Daughters

by Michaela Brown
Originally Published: 
A black and white photograph of a mom looking at her laptop in the kitchen, feeling like a 'mom mart...
Karen Hatch / Getty Images

I bet you know a woman like this. You know the one—she insists on doing everything herself, mostly so she can say she does everything herself. She accepts no help, for fear that she’ll lose her “I do everything for everyone at the expense of my own mental and physical health” crown. She’ll never ask her husband to help with the baby during the night. She’ll spend five hours cooking her great-grandmother’s homemade pasta recipe on Sundays, even if she’s eight months pregnant and hasn’t slept in weeks. You’ll never find a speck of dust or a store-bought cookie in her house. She’s a martyr, willing to fall on her motherhood sword, just so you know that everything she does, she does it for everyone else.

Do you know a woman like this? Or do you think you might be one? Someone who is perpetually exhausted, over-extended, endlessly trying to prove that she can do it all?

If you’ve been bitten by the martyrdom gene, I understand. Sometimes it happens and we don’t realize it. I came from a long line of women just like this, and I married into a family with similar lineage. I’ve watched woman after woman throughout my life sacrifice her own physical and mental well-being, just so her “famous apple pie” was Martha Stewart ready on Thanksgiving Day. Only guess what? Martha Stewart never came over for Thanksgiving. The only people who saw that pie that my grandmother probably put in the oven at 4 a.m. were her family—a bunch of oblivious and, frankly, relatively ungrateful people who ripped into said pie hours later, scarfed it down, may or may not have mumbled a thank you, and moved on to the cookies and booze.

But here’s the biggest problem with martyrdom—our girls are watching. I was watching. I grew up thinking this was what motherhood meant. What being a wife meant. What being a woman meant.

Thankfully, a fortunate gust of wind caused my bullshit flag to smack me in the face at some point, so I saw this life for what it was—thankless, tiresome, and empty. Not what I wanted for me, and certainly not what I wanted for my daughters.

I don’t want my girls growing up hearing everyone talk about me, saying “Oh, poor Michaela. She does it all, with no help.”

Fuck that. Michaela knows how to ask for help. Michaela knows how to work as a team and raise a family who pulls their own weight. Michaela is sure the hell NOT going to cook all night, clean all day, and then watch all the men in her family sit on the couch cheering on whatever NFL teams play on Thanksgiving while she plants her tired feet in the kitchen. Michaela is going to enjoy hosting family and friends, but she’ll also enjoy visiting with her family and friends. And everyone in her household (whether they have a penis or vagina or are 35 years old or 5 years old) will pitch the fuck in.

And the same rules apply to motherhood. Motherhood is hard enough, every effing day. What does a woman gain by refusing to ask for or accept help? I can recall some particularly exhausting nights, probably during those first couple months of my baby’s life, when I handed her off to my husband and went back to sleep. He got to walk the halls with the crying baby while I got some rest. And guess what? Maybe the next day he did some grocery shopping and cooking too.

I don’t need or want a badge, or award, or crown that says “she did it all, even though it destroyed her.” I want to be remembered for so many things—maybe my laugh, my love for travel, or how I always stole a few minutes to read a good book. I want my kids to remember family road trips, take-out on Friday nights, and marathon games of Monopoly. I want them to think of me as a mom who loved them so much it hurt her heart sometimes, but who also loved herself. A mom who was at damn-near every game and awards banquet, who was there to soothe them after a nightmare, and who made sure they had an outfit they loved for the first day of school. But who also went on trips with girlfriends, date nights with Daddy, and slept in when she was tired. Who sometimes baked homemade brownies and sometimes bought them at the store, and didn’t really care much either way.

And I want my daughters to see their primary role model live a life of joy, not of sacrifice. So that they can do the same. Because the truth is, there is no award, badge, or crown. There’s just this one life we are given. One shot to do it right by our kids. One shot to show all of our kids—boys and girls—what it means to be a wife, mom, and woman who works hard, loves her family, and takes care of herself too.

So that martyrdom gig? Yeah, that’ll be a hard pass from me.

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