What is a “mommy martyr?”
- steps up to “do it all,” taking on more than she can cheerfully do, then feels bitterness and frustration
- doesn’t ask (but still expects) others to help
- may keep an internal “list” of all the things she does that no one else appreciates
- magnifies her own responsibilities, contributions, and burdens, and thus expects that others would notice and pitch in
- minimizes the responsibilities, contributions, and burdens of others, and thus expects that others have plenty of extra energy and time to notice and pitch in to carry her load
- compares herself to others and may see herself as more holy/servant-like
- actively engages in self-pity
- may feel disdain for others who do things for fun and recharging
- sees tiredness and impending burn-out from her goings-on as a sign of her righteous strength rather than her human weakness
- lets everything pile up until she reaches a breaking point, boils over, and desperately, overwhelmingly NEEDS help
- is roiling and churning on the inside, though her outside may appear godly and put-together
A MISTAKEN IDEA OF LOVE
In all of her “doings,” the mommy martyr is likely convinced that she is doing what is best for the people in her life.
In reality, though, no one is best-loved who never has to pull their own weight. By doing it all, she is robbing the people in her home of the contributions they could make, and exhausting herself in the process. The “mommy martyr” does it all, but then grows bitter, whereas love doesn’t enable sin. Love doesn’t hold out unspoken expectations and a “list of wrongs.” Love speaks the truth. Also, as a mom, love looks like teaching our children to pull their own weight, and serve one another inside the home.
The mommy martyr needs to rightly see that her doings aren’t actually loving, and choose to actively, truly love the people around her.
POOR STEWARDSHIP OF HERSELF
This is the classic “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others” advice. The mommy martyr eventually reaches a drowning point of exhaustion and bitterness and doesn’t realize that she’s harming the people around her by her choice to serve, serve, serve, and never ask for help. She’s burnt-out, used-up, completely-spent, and looks around at other moms and doesn’t know how others do it.
By trying to “do it all,” she eventually puts herself in a position where she can’t do even the daily things with joy. Every part of her is maxed-out. Every task feels like “another item on the list” of things she does and no one appreciates. By failing to actively care for herself, and failing to reach out to and receive help from those within her household, she has torn apart her ability to continue loving and serving them with joy.
A verse that applies to this is Proverbs 14: 1: “Every wise woman builds her house, but a foolish one tears it down with her own hands.”
She thinks she is doing good to her household, but with each self-pitying action she takes, and with each additional burden she wearily adds to her load, this mom is tearing down her home. Her home is turned into a place where needs go unexpressed, service is taken for granted, and self-focused churning rules the inward places of those who dwell there.
Mark Altrogge said this: “The word hypocrite comes from a word meaning actor. A hypocrite’s an actor, a pretender. He professes some value or belief but his private life does not match it. He’s not pure in heart. So to be pure in heart means our words match our thoughts. Our outer life matches our inner life.”
The mommy martyr has an outside that looks one way, but inwardly, she is roiling with exhaustion and bitterness. In truth, this is hypocrisy of the soul.
IS THIS DESCRIBING YOU?
Do you see yourself in some of the mommy martyr description? Perhaps we can all find ourselves there, whether in whole, or in some piece or part. The good news is, we don’t have to stay there.
In my next post, Part 2, we examine 7 ways to stop being a “Mommy Martyr.”
IN THE COMMENTS:
- Would you consider sharing one story or example from your life or life experiences where you’ve seen a “mommy martyr” attitude?
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10 thoughts on “Are You a “Mommy Martyr?””
Well let me eat some humble pie. I can see myself in that list more than I want to admit. My disclaimer is that my spiritual gifting is acts of service and mercy, so I do tend to think everyone else should have the same feelings that I have about those two acts in particular. This is such a good post Jess because we have to open our eyes to our part in what makes us a martyr. Although we often will face persecution we may also be placing ourselves under pressure that God has not designed for us. A quick story.
I have a friend who is serving via an empty nest. She is older and although I would love to have weekly chats with her and spend time in fellowship she is busy. My kids seem to be an annoyance to her. This is my assumption because she does spend time with other Americans who do not have kids. It is easy to place blame on her when I feel tapped out or my love tank is on super low because I haven’t had enough friendly connection during the week.
Recently I have prayed more for the Lord to fill the void of ex-patriot friends with just friends in general. Wa-la, He has been doing it all along and within days of praying a new friend enters my life. A friend that I can sharpen and who sharpens me. She may not have my skin color but we share a kinship much deeper than our citizenship here on Earth.
It is easy to focus on the have nots when you are tired, over stretched and seemingly devalued. I find that instead of focusing more on Jesus during those times I tend to focus more on my problem of the day… whatever that may be. I must say as my household grows I am learning to take things off my plate instead of adding things. It would seem the opposite would be true, but living and learning to depend on the Lord and keep priorities in line helps ease the burden I usually place on myself.
I thought of you just today. I hope you don’t mind me sharing. We visited with you several years ago while in the States. You had just purchased your home in Texas – the one with that great pool. We had planned our visit. When we arrived you were at peace and friendly as you always are – ready to talk about everything under the sun. The kids were swimming and playing and everything was just as it should be… but I noticed your house was not at all tidy. Now I do not mean dirty, because it was clean. I mean it wasn’t picked up. I have thought of you so many times since then when my house is a wreck and people are coming over. Last night my pastor and another mentor sat at my dining table. Toys littered the living room floor. I had not gotten around to sweeping and there were bits of garlic skin and other things on the floor around our bar. Things were out of place. I had just not had time to straighten it up and guess what, for the first time I did not care. Oh the joy! I realized it well into the evening that I had perfect joy. I did not need to over stretch myself to enjoy the gifts that God had in store for my family this week. God is good. We are all a work in progress.
Wow, Jen- thanks for being so honest & vulnerable.
And thanks for sharing the story. I kind of caught my breath, thinking, I wonder what she’s going to share. LOL. But yes you can share about my untidy home anytime you like. 🙂 8 people live here, 7 of us all day long. It is (mostly) clean, but yeah… rarely tidied up.
This is a really great observation: “It is easy to focus on the have nots when you are tired, over stretched and seemingly devalued. I find that instead of focusing more on Jesus during those times I tend to focus more on my problem of the day…”
So true. It reminds me of that old DC Talk (I think?) song, “If I keep my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on water…” The flip side is true. If I keep my eyes on me, my fears, my worries, other people, my circumstances, I start to drown.
Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to hear from you. 🙂
Unfortunately, for me, being a mommy martyr means criticizing and comparing myself with my husband. Asking questions like “Who is pulling more weight around here?” “Why does he kick back and take a break and I’m still going?” “What would this place be like if I stopped for a while?” Then I not only loose my joy, my focus on Christ, but I also have bitterness creep in between my husband and me!!! Which is really sad because in reality, my husband is a very hard worker and a great man. I don’t think we think clearly when we get in this self-centered attitude. Thanks for your post. This is a battle I always have to fight and I appreciate your follow up article and the tips you had in it! Thanks so much!!
Wow, great insight Whitney! I hadn’t considered how this could apply not just in comparison with other moms but with our own husbands.
Anytime we end up honing in on ourselves as having it the hardest/roughest/most to do/least help, etc., and internally criticize others for “having it easy”, not doing as much, not having the challenges we do, etc., we end up in a bitter and frustration-ridden place.
Great thoughts; thanks for sharing!
I was interested in the bit about not asking for help, but somehow expecting others to notice there is a need. I suppose I feel like that at times – we’re a long way from family, and it can seem too much of a handful to ask for help with a bundle of lively boys (other people do seem to struggle with their liveliness, which I just see as part of being a healthy young boy). But there are times – I could really do with going to the doctor, but I know I would be sent for tests and more appointments, and it is just so hard to get the childcare to do it. So I suffer a bit in my health (but am convinced it can’t be anything all that serious, so probably doesn’t matter). But its still hard at times. I can tend to feel envious of those who have hands-on mothers or mothers-in-law who take the children for a full day every week so that the mother gets some rest/ time/ whatever because for me to even be able to make a phone call would seem a luxury. But having said that, I don’t ask and others probably don’t realise I feel this way, because I always resolve to be positive and not moan about my children etc.
Also – I know that when I feel close to burnout, then I do start to feel irritable and bitter. It’s like a barometer. I know right now it feels like juggling too many things, sailing that bit too close to the wind most of the time. I know its probably just a season, but there are too many alarm bells ringing.
I’ll let you know when I come to a good solution here and what that is! Sometimes it involves doing something that sounds mad on the surface of things (ie we might camp out overnight in the hills on Friday night, so sleep seems quite unlikely, but it will just be so envigorating to be away from work/ computers/ noise and to enjoy the splendour of creation that we will more refreshed than we would through having a longer sleep).
Hey there. I’m sorry it’s taking me this long to get back to you but I’m going back through old posts and found this one unanswered.
Is there an older woman you could ask for help? Perhaps a woman at church who doesn’t have children nearby but would be willing to pinch-hit for you at times when you desire to run to the doctor? Another option would be to ask a couple who has had no children if they would be willing to “adopt” your children as their grandchildren and occasionally have them babysit?
I know these may not be possible for everyone, but they did come to mind as a couple ways that perhaps God could not only meet your needs, but perhaps the needs of others in the Body– to be useful & have meaningful relationships.
Have you had any progress in this area since leaving this comment?