I think a lot about being a mom, and the state of motherhood, because I’m right in the middle of it. Although it started as a slow simmer, now it’s pissing me off into a roiling boil.
I am getting more and more disgusted by what I call the: Mommy-martyr.
Mommy-martyrdom idealizes and celebrates how hard, tedious, and self-abandoning motherhood is. How there is no time for moms to take care of their needs, and that there shouldn’t be time. Why? Because we are (and should be) everything to everyone and it would all fall apart without us holding up the world.
It moralizes motherhood and what it means to be a mother. Which means how much we DO and what we do as a mother becomes a moral issue to judge ourselves upon. Or for that matter, any well-meaning bystander for that matter who decides you’ve spent too much time checking your phone while your kids are swinging happily on monkey bars at the playground.
And it makes motherhood an identity rather than a role we get to borrow for a period of time in our children’s lives. This means that the “who we are” becomes completely tied into tight knots to the role of motherhood which is “what we do.”
This is dangerous for so many reasons. Firstly, our role as a mother eventually comes to an end because our kids eventually grow up and it’s not appropriate to try to parent a 35-year-old like they are still in kindergarten. If we believe who we are is our role, then when the role ends, who are we then? This is an existential crisis many mothers go through of suddenly being confronted with a loss of identity also known as having an empty nest. The identity that gave our lives meaning and our sense of self in the world is leaves with the role. Then, we are confronted with the question, “who am I?” Rather than knowing who you are and the roles that you have are separate.
It’s also dangerous because as soon as we identify ourselves as our role. Now it becomes something we have to defend and maintain. After all, no one wants to identify themselves as a bad person, let alone a bad mom. If we see it as a role, then we have the space to make mistakes, pivot to try new things, and have compassion for ourselves when we mess up. The difference is that if we see it as a role, we can say to ourselves, “I made a mistake, I’m still a good mom.” If we see it as an identity, it becomes, “I am the mistake, I’m a bad mom.”
Ugh, the pressure of internalizing this is toxic belief system is mindboggling. No wonder so many moms feel depleted, unappreciated, unseen, and resentful. We can’t win when we are not only constantly beating ourselves up, but we are shown examples of either “Pintrest worthy” mom goals, or scenes of Mom-martyrdom normalizing, and worse, glorifying how overwhelming motherhood is.
It’s not just that I’m sick of all the passive guilt passed through “bouncing back” and “pre-baby bodies.” But also all the productivity hacks for moms. Shaming moms who drop off their kids at activities rather than staying to watch them (the pressure of having kids in activities at all for that matter). Judging parenting styles, how we feed our babies and families, how many children we decide to have or not, or how clean our houses are. If we work outside or inside the home, how much time we have with our kids, or anything that makes moms wrong for trying to cope with all the demands handed to them and them alone.
We need to start giving each other kudos and high fives for getting up every morning and facing the day. Instead of judging and guilting moms for every choice they make, because they already feel enough from themselves.
The culture is so toxic that moms feel like they are never doing enough despite being the primary caregivers. Often with a full-time job, running the household, and the invisible load of motherhood like organizing childcare, making meals, getting groceries, remembering PD days, getting the orange shirt in time, playdates, knowing when to and signing up for extracurricular activities, and keeping up on parenting trends.
We have created a culture of motherhood that demands EVERYTHING of the mother and leaves no room for the woman.
A while ago I did a poll in several mom groups asking what was their biggest barrier to self-care. Do you know what the overwhelming answer was of over a thousand women? Time.
Moms are expected to give all of their time to everyone else (even in our workplaces. Who do you think orders the birthday cakes for our co-workers?). Our obligations, challenges in setting and maintaining boundaries, and disconnection from ourselves. These all contribute to prioritizing being everything for everyone else. While losing ourselves in the process.
Instead of carving out time for ourselves daily to do things that keep us mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy, many of us turn to the very cheap alternative of taking the edge off: wine.
This is not a rant about alcohol or shaming moms for having a drink. I’m shaming a culture that leaves this as the only option for moms to let go of their stress. Which is through a substance that that they can consume WHILE they continue to care for others through making dinner. Convenient, isn’t it? It’s bullshit, and a shitty alternative to real support.
Drinking alcohol, which is being a consumer for a product, and consuming a product that alters our state so that we can cope with the stress of our reality. This is the option provided because it allows us to keep doing what is expected of us. Rather than having real time and space to do the things that nourish and fulfill our deeper needs as human beings. Instead, we get this cheap dollar store version of decompression and relaxation. We accept an altered state that has health risks of its own because we are so overloaded and overwhelmed, we need SOMETHING to take the pressure off.
The problem is that it’s not just the expectations of your mother-in-law to keep a clean house AND do all the things she never had to worry about. It’s not neighbor down the street who eyes you up and down when you’re with your kids and check your phone. It’s an entire online and real-world culture that has bought into this idea that this is what’s expected of moms. Then everyone nodded their heads obediently, swallowed and accepted this as a universal truth.
We have bought into it so fully that there’s millions of memes on #momlife which exemplify the chaos and overwhelm of motherhood as a joke. Or the #winemommy memes which glorifies drinking as a way to cope. Because if we don’t meet these impossible standards there is something wrong with “us” (remember the identity vs role?). Not the ridiculous standards themselves.
I have more to say about this, like what I believe needs to be done about it. Like learning how to set boundaries, supporting other moms, separating ourselves from our role of mothers, creating a culture of self-maintenance in our families, among other things. But for now, I just want to hear your thoughts.
What are your biggest struggles as a mom? Where do you feel you are being failed by society? Where have you felt shamed in motherhood? Do you think the mommy-martyr is a thing and how does it impact your parenting choices? Or does it at all?
Hit “reply” and tell me everything. I have another email coming up soon with my thoughts, but I want to hear yours.
Lastly, it’s hard out there. I see you, I know you do your best (and your best is allowed to change daily), and I love you for WHO you are. I’m here, and I got you.