Are You a Mommy Martyr?

Give Yourself These Gifts, and Shift Your Outlook


By Christina Elston

Doesn’t anyone else in this house …
… ever put a dish in the dishwasher?
… know how the vacuum cleaner works?
… have the motor skills required to replace a roll of toilet paper?

Why, yes, I’ll …
… bake 18 dozen cookies for Band Boosters tomorrow morning.
… drop your forgotten homework off at school so your grade won’t suffer.
… cancel my doctor check-up so I can take you to the orthodontist.

mom martyrIf you’ve spoken these words, or words like them – and hated yourself for it! – you could be a “Mommy Martyr,” putting your happy family (and happy you) in jeopardy.

“This isn’t good for our sanity, our marriage or our friendships,” says Joanne Kimes, co-author with Jennifer Worley of The Stay-At-Home Martyr (GPP Life, 2009).

But fear not, there is hope. Give yourself the following gifts this Mother’s Day and get out from under the guilt, stress, frustration, yelling, etc., etc., etc. …

1. Appreciation for yourself.

Whether you’re Secretary of State, working the cash register at the grocery store or keeping the home fires burning, you need a sense of the contribution you make to the world, insists Cheryl Saban, Ph.D., author of What Is Your Self-Worth? (Hay House, 2009). But we generally don’t take the time to take inventory. “We’re usually just too busy getting through life,” says Saban. Sadly, when our work is rewarded with a paycheck (Lilly Ledbetter Act notwithstanding), women still only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men doing the same jobs. And some of our most important work – you know, the house and the kids – isn’t compensated at all. “But it is a tremendous contribution to our civilization,” says Saban.

So sit back and take stock. “Once we have our own kids we are amazed at how our own mothers did this, plus be able to put a home-cooked meal on the table every night, keep a clean house, sew clothes, do laundry and ironing without any weekly cleaning service,” says Barbara Curren, a mom from Burbank CA. Amazed or not, you’re doing it. And it’s important.

2. Permission to say "no."

Your contributions are valuable, but you don’t have to “contribute” every time someone asks. Sure, it’s important to help out at your child’s school and in your community, says Kimes. But if stress from fundraisers, committee meetings or volunteer projects is making you miserable, let some of them go. “Do what you can, within your limits,” she advises.Respond to requests you can’t handle with a kindly, “I wish I could help but I don’t have the time right now.” A nice “no” up-front is much better than saying “yes” at first and backing out later. And people will still like you, Kimes promises.

3. Children who sometimes fail.

Save yourself from “saving” your kids (i. e. delivering forgotten homework to them at school) all the time, and let them learn something (i.e. to keep track of their homework) from their mistakes.

When Kimes’ daughter kept forgetting supplies for her art class – despite repeated reminders – Kimes decided to let nature take its course. “I watched her forget her art bag,” she says. “It was really difficult knowing she wouldn’t have her supplies, but I knew that constantly reminding her week after week wasn’t giving her the skills she needed.” Yes, her daughter was upset, but she has now become more responsible and gets her art bag ready without being asked. Kids who get the chance to learn responsibility when they’re young are better prepared to strike out on their own. And that’s your ultimate goal, right?

4. A partner who pitches in.

Do you tend to look your partner’s domestic gift horses in the mouth? Mom Susan Foster-Duncan goes so far as to call her husband an “80 percenter.” “Even on the days when I bring up the fact that I need the help, he only does 80% of the job,” she says. “And it drives me insane.” Her husband runs a paper towel over the place mats and counters, rather than using soap and water as she would, and leaves dirty dishes in the sink if the dishwasher is full. And his sweeping skills apparently leave much to be desired. “I still get food bits stuck to my socks when I walk in the kitchen,” says Foster-Duncan, who admits she would rather tackle the cleaning herself than see it done sub-par. But truly, unless you want him to give up on pitching in, you’ll need to embrace the idea that sometimes “good enough” is good enough.

5. A family chore list.

And speaking of good enough, housework is even better if the whole family pitches in – including the kids.“They need to feel like part of the family, not a guest at a hotel,” says Kimes. So stop taking on all the chores yourself and leaving your family with a mom who feels overwhelmed, tired, grumpy and unhappy. “You’re not being a good parent, and you’re not being a kind spouse,” Kimes says.

Barbara Carolina, mom of two, had to learn to stand by her rules and consequences before her two teenagers would pitch in. “I didn’t do the kids’ laundry during the summer when they were supposed to do it,” she says. “It piled up. I didn’t break down. Eventually they realized I was serious.” And her kids gained a new skill: “My son’s going off to college this year,” Carolina says.“He knows how to do laundry.”

6. A body you take care of.

Too many moms take care of business, but neglect themselves. “Women take care of everybody else first,” says Frances Ashe-Goins, R.N., deputy director of the Office On Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Keep it up, she warns, and you won’t be healthy enough to be anybody’s mom.Taking care of your health doesn’t have to mean radical changes or total deprivation. Ashe-Goins admits to indulging her cravings for Coca Cola and Hershey chocolate bars now and again, but balances that with a healthy lunchtime salad or a brisk walk. “It is these small steps that help you,” she explains.

Keep yourself on track with reminders in key places – like your bathroom mirror or on your desk at work – for small steps like fixing a healthy snack, drinking some water, taking a quick walk, or even taking a break. “Take a deep breath,” says Ashe-Goins. “Sometimes you need to count to 10 for your mental health.” Keep a calendar as well – to keep track of needed checkups and the results of health screenings like cholesterol level or blood pressure.

If you don’t have a regular healthcare provider, you’ll find free and low-cost services through community health centers and health fairs.

And here’s a special message from Ashe-Goins: “The best thing that women can do for themselves is to take care of themselves at whatever level they’re at with regard to weight,” she says. “No matter what their size, they can be healthy.”

7. Time to “hear” yourself think.

Few moms lack advice about what they should feel, think and do. But all those voices can crowd out our own thoughts and feelings. Saban suggests keeping a journal to help you get back in touch with your “authentic voice.” “Write your own story,” she urges. “Practice getting to know who you really are.” Journaling can also be a great way to get the negativity out of your head. Just imagine that after you write those negative thoughts and feelings down, it’s as if you’ve put them into a boat and set it adrift to sail far away.
“Sometimes that is all that it takes to put myself back in control of my feelings,” Saban says.

8. Power over your own happiness.

Even when things seem out of control, Saban stresses that you have some power over your situation and you should use it. If you notice that something is wrong in your life, take steps to change it. “You will get nowhere if you don’t do something,” says Saban, even if that is just reaching out to say you need help. “We need to adapt sometimes, not just blindly accept,” she says.


By patting yourself on the back occasionally, getting your family engaged, taking time with your own thoughts and feelings, taking care of your body, and keeping a sharp lookout for the silver lining in every cloud, you can put martyrdom aside and begin to enjoy the ride – even when it’s a bit bumpy. As Saban says: “Life is an amazing gift, and we need to use it properly.