Are you the mother who always puts herself last? Who tends to everyone else’s needs before your own? You are? Well, stop it.
The martyred mother is one of the most commonly told narratives surrounding motherhood. It has endured through the ages and continues today, often in the form of the ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It‘ story. The working mother who continues to put cleaning the home, ironing uniforms and making costumes for ‘come as your favourite character from history day’ above her own paltry needs and desires. She is to be admired. She is a woman ‘having it all’ even though she, in reality, has very little except a worn out expression and a lack of sleep.
Of course, you don’t have to be a working mother to adhere to the martyred mother myth, since staying at home with your children is one of the hardest jobs there is. If you stay at home you probably don’t get a minute to yourself: you joke about dreaming of going to the loo on your own, with a tired, hollow laugh.
You are a mother. You come last now.
We hear this story so much that when we do put ourselves first, or take time to do something for ourselves, we feel immense guilt. Guilt is another part of the narrative of motherhood. You will feel guilty about just every decision that you make as a mother. You literally cannot win. The key to happiness lies in accepting this and being confident that you are making the right decisions for your family, with the hand that you are dealt.
Example: You feel guilty about putting your baby into childcare when you return to work. Can you afford to stay at home with your child?
No: Do not feel guilty in putting your child in the hands of experienced, caring professionals whose job it is to care for her.
Yes: Do not feel guilty about needing or wanting to be a working person providing for your family.
Because of the stories we are told about motherhood, it is natural to feel twinges of guilt. Acknowledge them, then move on. I started a course last autumn which is one evening a week for around 6 months. On the first evening of the course I felt guilty that I had committed to this, even though I spend very little of my free time away from the kids. My rational self knew it was madness to be feeling guilty ; I give so much of myself to my children. I acknowledged the feeling, then reminded myself of the myriad of reasons of why I should not feel guilty.
The top reason of which , by the way, is that you are a complete and individual person entitled to make choices for yourself. This does not stop just because you became a mother. In fact, its more important than ever to put yourself first as a mother. And I don’t just mean in a ‘ you can’t pour from an empty cup’ kind of way. You don’t need to give to yourself, just so you can give more to other people. Just do it for you. You know, because you’re worth it.
In thinking about feminist parenting we should consider the importance of being our fullest selves. Let your children see all the parts of who you are: worker, friend, daughter, reader, blogger, feminist, TV watcher, swimmer, mother. It’s a win/win situation.
It’s also glaringly apparent that this is just a mother thing. You never hear ‘ oh typical Dad, always putting himself last’. Paternal guilt is not a thing. And , like anything that is only or primarily negatively impacting women , it needs to be called out.
For the first few years of my children’s lives I spent too much time looking in. My world was work and home. In 2016, I began to look outwards more: getting involved, going to events, meeting new people. Living more. I am happier. My kids may see a little bit (and I do mean a little bit) less of me , but it’s worth it. For me , and for them.
Being a mother does not mean being a martyr. It does not mean putting yourself last. It does not mean always carrying around a burden of guilt. Why would it? Say no to the martyr myth and put yourself back to the top of the list.