We, the mama martyrs, will never admit that this is who we are.
We, the mama martyrs, are terrible at accepting help. We think we are somehow lesser mothers, or not entitled to sport that badge of honour, if we don’t do everything – everything – ourselves.
We, the mama martyrs, will make excuses, over and over, for why we have to keep essentially torturing ourselves, and running ourselves into the ground, because it is for the sake of our children, and more importantly, because that’s what a good mother does.
We, the mama martyrs, need to stop. We need to stop.
Both of my kids have gone through, and still go through, absolutely terrible, terrible sleep phases. My husband tells me on a regular basis to sleep in another room and leave the sleepless child to him so that I can get some rest. He is an amazing and capable father and it would probably all go just fine.
And yet, in our almost three years of co-parenting kids that don’t sleep, I have never taken him up on that offer.
“She’s teething – she needs me to comfort her. No, it’s probably a growth spurt so she needs to nurse all night. Oh, it’s okay, you have to go to work in the morning. I think she might be coming down with something so I’d better not just in case.”
With Tuna, our first, I micro-managed everything so hard that he actually had to sit me down and tell me to let go. I felt like I had to do everything related to the baby myself. I stubbornly refused help. When he tried to do something, I’d point out 2356 reasons why it wasn’t done right (a.k.a. my way) and exasperatedly do the whole, “here, let me just do it.” But the key thing here is – it was me that felt that way. It was pressure I put on myself because I felt like if I wasn’t suffering, and struggling, and going half crazy, then I wasn’t doing it right.
The thing with being a mama martyr is that it will creep up on you without you even realising it sometimes.
I’ve been going to the gym for the past couple of months. I leave the kids in the care of someone else for a couple of hours and dash out to get a workout in.
It has changed my life.
I’ll almost always grab a coffee when I’m done, maybe squeeze in a luxurious grocery store run on my own, and then come back to my kids rejuvenated and excited to see them. I’ll even go so far as to say that having that time to myself, and exercising, has made me a more positive person and definitely a better mother.
This morning however, even before I left the house, there was a tut-tutting little voice in the back of my head. It’s a voice that I know well. She’s always there in the background, with her head cocked to the side and eyes slightly narrowed, giving me a look and asking me with a false concern, but a genuine intention to induce guilt, “do you think you’re doing your best as a mother today?”
I felt a lump right in the centre of my chest as I sat in the car, having just kissed my two-and-a-half-year-old goodbye as she gleefully ran off to play. She didn’t have a care in the world and wasn’t troubled at all by the fact that I was leaving. The lump burrowed deeper into my heart and expanded to the pit of my stomach. I felt sick – sick – with guilt. I wasn’t leaving to go to work, or something that I had to do out of pure necessity. It was voluntary; it was purely for my benefit; and it was…well…fun.
I found myself turning to my own mother, who lives in a different time zone, thousands of miles away, but always answers my messages especially when I drop these penetrating motherhood-bomb-questions on her. Our Whatsapp message history dating back to circa March 2014 when Tuna was born should really be edited into a book on new motherhood.
“Did you ever feel guilty when you left us with someone to go do something for yourself?” I typed out my Big Question of the day and hit the send button.
“Normal. I always felt guilty and imagined the worst,” she replied a little while later.
Oh my gosh. We are the same person, I thought to myself.
“Why do we feel like the only way to be a good mother is to give 100000% of ourselves until there is nothing left? We’re honestly nuts,” I said to her.
She agreed. And told me it was probably also genetic. We laughed – or, rather, “LOL-ed”.
This is a problem though. Why are we as mothers equating the complete and utter obliteration of our own needs and enjoyment with being a good mother? Why are we consciously and deliberately rejecting genuine offers of help and support in favour of doing it ourselves because otherwise we feel guilty that it wasn’t us that did it for our child?
These days, when I come home from the gym, I take it upon myself to take my parenting up 12,402 notches because I feel like I need to put every last drop of myself into compensating for the fact that I abandoned and neglected my babies for a couple of hours. This should be a consequence of the fact that because I’ve taken some time for myself, I actually want to do all of these things, but if I’m taking a real, honest, hard look at myself, part of why I do it is because of the guilt. It’s like a ridiculous self-imposed punishment.
If today has not consumed you, if today has not taken away every single last ounce of energy away from you, if you’re not exhausted and on the brink of insanity at the end of the day – then you’re doing it wrong and you haven’t mothered hard enough.
We’re crazy. Honestly, we’re crazy.
And look, because this is the internet, and because this ain’t my first rodeo, I know there will be those of you who will say “I don’t relate to this. I’ve never for one day in my life felt this way. How can I pour from an empty glass? My kids do not define me” and so on and so forth. That’s great. No, I genuinely mean it. I’m glad you’ve come to that landing point so early on because – well – some of us are still working on it.
So, my dear, sweet, exhausted, fellow mama martyr – the next time someone offers to watch your toddler while you take a nap, say yes.
The next time he tells you to take a day to yourself and just do whatever you like and leave the baby with him, say yes.
The next time your friend messages you asking if she could please bring you a home-cooked meal because she knows how meal-planning and cooking plummet to the bottom of the priorities list when you’ve just had a baby, for the love of all things good, say yes.
Say yes. There is no shame in not doing it all yourself. We weren’t meant to parent alone and in isolation. And I get that sometimes, you do have to do it all yourself. There are a multitude of circumstances out there that mean that help and support is scarce or impossible to facilitate. But if a genuine offer of help comes your way, even a small one, you are no less of a mother for saying “yes”.