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Monday Morning Parenting: Mothers as Martyrs

Monday, July 26, 2010

I guess it's part of our culture as humans to put certain classes of people up on pedestals--movie stars, models...mothers. I have been straining under the weight of the motherhood mantle lately. The one where I am supposed to take care of my baby, keep my home immaculate, prepare a perfect dinner every night, make sure my husband gets some on the regular while maintaining perfectly coiffed hair, impeccable make-up, a fit body and wearing a cute sweater and tan pants. It's a voice that chants it's your job to do it all and make it look easy. The expectations are too high, unrealistic and practically inhumane. I would have to be superhuman to do it all. Oh, that's where the term supermom come from. Bump that foolishness. I am getting out of the trap.

See it's also our nature as humans to tear down those whom we build up. Read any comic books series and you'll see what I mean. I can't hop two feet on the Internet without tripping over an article vilifying mothers for doing a poor job of child-rearing. We pay our kids too little attention, we don't feed them the right foods, we don't engage them in the right enrichment activities, the list goes on. A mother can literally go insane trying to live up to a standard that is a moving target, and she will never be perfect. Accept that.

Which brings me to mommy guilt. I have read about mothers who feel bad when they buy themselves new clothes or go back to work because they feel their kid(s) are being robbed of something. So we get in the habit of sacrificing. We give up the manicures, the girls night out, the career. But the truth is that the price of too much self-sacrificing is very high. Your identity, even your sanity can quickly vanish in the name of giving your all to your child(ren).

You might wonder where all this is coming from. Last Monday I had a mommy meltdown (probably the first of many) brought on by exhaustion from being overworked. That day I did my usual with Marlie (fed her, played with her, put her down for her naps) and my usual chores (washed cloth diapers, cleaned the bathroom, tidied up the kitchen). Then evening came and Damon was not around to take over. I had to put Marlie to bed which is normally his thing. After a marathon day, I was not equipped to handle her resistance to going to sleep. From 6 pm to 10 am she put up a fight and was winning the battle. At one point, I plopped her down in her play yard and just started screaming. She was so frightened that she started to shake and cry. Then I started to cry. I went downstairs for a timeout. I was ashamed of myself. I had scared my baby. I scared myself. I felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness because there was no one around to help me. I kept thinking this is not how it should be.

I was able to collect myself after calling Damon and I eventually got her to sleep, but I didn't get much rest that night. The same feelings of guilt and incompetence kept washing over me in waves. I recognized the feeling. It was burn out. I realized that I had to get off this supermom train that was destined for martyrdom. One resolution is that I am no longer going to spend entire days alone with Marlie when Damon goes out of town. The other is for me to get some more time out of the house doing stuff that makes me happy (not running errands or grocery shopping or chauffeuring Marlie to play dates).

I am not vying for sainthood.
I am only human. I am a mother.


jmt said...

Indeed the meltdown. Been there. Done that. I am trying my best to recall all the lessons I learned from babies one and two so that I do not have a meltdown with baby three. So far, so good.

I think part of the mommy meltdown comes from staring at the house too much. At all the flaws in our mommy tasking. The dirt. The dust. The disorganization.

Ah. Now I'm looking around and starting to panic. Literally. I need to close my eyes and nap, I think.

L.A. Mommy said...

What a great post, T. You nailed it. It's true, we let the title "mother" change us from who we are to who we think we ought to be. We are only human, as you said, and we shouldn't allow ourselves to be caught up in all the hoopla that title conjures up. Be a mommy, but don't forget to also be you.


Anonymous said...

I've had plenty of metldowns. While Prnicess J is a good baby, I'm taking care of her all on my own. I get no relief. That's how it is and it can get to be too much some days. Sometimes I just have to put her in her bed and go take a moment for myself if she's screaming. *sigh* hugs! Well at least you know you have a partner who can take some of the strain from you most days. But do always remember to take some time just for you. I haven't yet, and its been 8 months but I do plan to lol.

Betsy said...

Oh I've so been there. Same scenario, the usual help didn't arrive in the evening, total meltdown, had to give myself a time out. It sucked, but I kind of felt I learned from it in the end; I know where my limit is and I make sure not to butt into it!

Debbie said...

We do need to lower the bar for ourselves! It is ridiculous that any mom who has spent the day like you had, taking care of everyone and everything, could feel so overwhelmed. I'm glad you posted this. You must be a terrific mom:)

keyalus said...

I don't think I've ever had full on 24hr baby duty but I've definitely had mommy breakdowns. I work, I come home, I play with my child, I cook dinner, I give bath, I put to bed, I go to bed...so little room in there for cleaning and other things. When the "other things" pile up I get so stressed out! My house is so messy right now I think I might have to take a day off of work to clean it right. Sigh.

Whether you work or stay at home - we mommies have a tough job. I have a few outlets that are just for me but they always come at the expense of something I should be doing.

Help! Mama Remote... said...

PREACH!!!!!!Amen!!!!YOu have said a mouthfull. We do sacrifice so much and feel the guilt when we become weary. This really is giving me a chance to think some things out. Thanks for this it really hit home.

septembermom said...

Amen from me too! I've been having on and off meltdown days for over 13 years. I agree that we're only human. It's tough day to day to keep it together sometimes. This was a great post for all of us because we can relate.

Jana Burrow said...

I love, love, LOVE this post. I went from being a working mom to being a stay at home mom. While I feel a great deal of relief that I am not going back to teaching this fall, the internal/external pressures of being the end all and be all for my child is overwhelming. Thank you for making it perfectly clear in an eloquent way that I am not alone ;-)

Alexia said...

Oh girl...you are SOOOOOOO right. We cannot do it all nor should we be expected to. I've had more than one freak out on my husband about needing a break after a 8+ hour caregiver day. But please don't beat yourself up for letting Marlie see her Mama have a real moment of frustration. Glad that you're going to have some help next time Damon goes out of town.

We all need some Mama Me time. I think I need some more often. But what are you gonna do with this free time? Do tell ; )

always4evamoi said...

let me put it this way: i wish i had done the blog thing way earlier. im a single mother so meltdown doesn't even begin to describe what i went thru. you are NOT alone, mama. it will get better. and please, please get over that guilt. you are a wonderful mother and your child still loves you no matter what.

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