Motherhood ≠ Martyrdom
I’ve spent my life around mothers. Growing up I was consistently fascinated and yet repelled by motherhood as institution and experience. I noticed very early it’s multiple and conflicting representations: Motherhood is the completion and solidification of womanhood. Motherhood is the end of freedom and opportunity for self-actualization. Mothers are the root cause and responsible party for children’s problems and maladies. Good mothers are the picture of unyielding self-sacrifice, and responsible for all nurturing and love in the family. I take issue with most of the representations I’ve noticed throughout my life, because I’ve watched women struggle unnecessarily with what I believe to be unrealistic and unfair expectations.
I could talk at length about all these things and many of their subtleties. Today I’m focusing primarily on the expectation that to be a good mother you must sacrifice yourself, always.
Parenthood does involve lots of compromise and sacrifice. But being a good mother doesn’t mean being a martyr. Being a good mother does not mean treating yourself like you matter less than your children or life partner.
You matter to me, equally.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” You can’t. You must take care of yourself, and often this means owning your truth and expressing your needs to those around you. Chances are, those people look to you for warmth, softness and understanding. Do you feel uncomfortable requiring reciprocation of those qualities? Many mothers do, and it’s no surprise to any of us, nor a reason for judgment that you might as well.
Moms: I want you to be the best and happiest version of yourselves. This may require you forsake some ingrained expectations. It might require that you define yourself and expect others to define you as more than a mother. What would you do if you didn’t hold back? What would you ask for? What would you seek without permission?
I’ll tell you what drives me to ask these questions of myself and other women. I want my children to see their mother as someone with choices and opportunities, and someone who is unafraid to make and take them. I want them to see that motherhood doesn’t have to mean the end of the woman who came before the child. I want them to know I can love them and love myself.
The choices you make to ensure fulfillment and care for yourself are going to be different than many of the mothers you meet. There’s no singular right way. But what stands true for all of us is that we should not inflict guilt on ourselves when we need to put our needs above others to maintain our mental health and sense of self. I would argue it might even make you a happier and better parent.
“What will our children do in the morning if they do not see us fly?” – Rumi