Happy Martyr’s Day!
Take a moment with me to think back on the baby showers you’ve been to. It seems like inevitably, when seasoned moms get together, the floodgates open. After a while, the mom-to-be is sitting there thinking she officially made the worst decision of her life—one she can’t take back. Okay, most people don’t actually put it so bluntly, but with all the discussions about sleep (or the lack thereof), the way a baby will affect your marriage and work, and the prospect that you’ll never go to the bathroom alone again, you start wondering why the human race continues at all.
Most of the time these conversations are tied up with a bow that this is all worth it. As if you just watched a horror movie and the victim, who has been running around fearful and tortured the entire time, ends the film by saying, “This wasn’t so bad! There really were some good parts.” (To be fair, I have no idea if that’s what happens in horror films, because technically I haven’t seen one in fifteen years. But I can’t imagine that any of them actually end that way.)
We don’t have to look far to encounter the myth that motherhood is synonymous with martyrdom. We take the biblical idea of serving our children and laying down our lives for others to an unhealthy extreme and assume that we shouldn’t spend time taking care of ourselves (until the kids go to college, maybe).
In most cases this idea comes from a good heart, but it can easily get blown out of proportion. We want to be appreciated. We want people to know how hard we work for them, so we make sure to remind them at every turn. We compete with other moms to see who will win—and by win, I mean the mom who has it the hardest.
I’ve heard all of these phrases in the competition for Martyr Mom of the Year:
“Be glad you have girls. Boys are so much harder.”
“Oh, you are so lucky your kids are sleeping.”
“It must be so easy working from home.”
“Having three is like a thousand times harder than having two.” (This one may be an exaggeration, but it has definitely been said with the eyes!)
The thing is, no one wins when we try to compete over who has it hardest. Perhaps you made a very convincing case that your motherhood tragedy ruled the day. Congrats. Or maybe you listened to the most depressing story of motherhood ever, only to find yourself racking your brain, trying to tally up the reasons why your life is in fact harder than your opponent’s. Either way, everyone loses.
We have to stop competing.
If our goal is to find approval from other people, we will never end up victorious. Your husband or your mom or your best friend may never understand how hard you work. And even if they do, those pats on the back will still leave us wanting.
We cannot do motherhood for the praise.
No earthly praise will ever feel like enough for all we do as moms. So rest, friend. Stop fighting for it. If we don’t, we will turn into negative-focused, attention-starved women who dwell on the hard moments and file them away so we can bring them up later when someone forgets how hard we work.
Here is the question we have to answer: Do we care more about what others think of us or about becoming who God created us to be? Sometimes I wonder if we sacrifice the opportunity to live more abundantly because we don’t want people to judge us or assume we have it easy. Let’s accept the lifelines we’ve been given and thank God for meeting our needs, one day at a time.
Don’t feel ashamed of your weakness or the times you need to get away to reset. After all, those places of weakness are where God meets us. I love this paraphrase of the Beatitudes: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule” (Matthew 5:3, MSG). The passage goes on to say, “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world” (verse 8, MSG). See that? God blesses us when we tend to our minds and hearts. In other words, when we put our inside world right, we are able to see God’s view of motherhood, not simply the world’s definition. That’s hardly selfish or indulgent.
If you struggle to feel worthy of quality time for yourself, tuck these verses somewhere close and be willing to get creative to find that time. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it. You’re worth it.
1. Do something that really refreshes, not pseudo-refreshes, your soul. Hello, smartphone. I am rarely refreshed by screens in general. I’ve started asking myself, What’s the one thing I can do now that, if it’s the only thing I do with my free time, will refresh me for the remainder of the day? This has led me to use ten minutes of my ninety-minute nap breaks to read instead of just working or doing chores. Stealing ten minutes out of my work time is hardly noticeable when I look at my home or my e-mail, but it makes all the difference for my soul.
2. Don’t be afraid to let your kids see you working, and incorporate them into that work. Life isn’t one big board game, and you are not the game master. In other words, our role isn’t to entertain our kids and create a twenty-four-hour Disney-like experience for them. I have to remind myself that it’s not just okay for my kids to see me working (and to work alongside me); it also builds character. Reject any lie that says you’re being selfish when the mundane things of life happen in front of your kids.
3. Stop believing the lie that our kids are the reason we don’t take care of ourselves. Saying “These kids have kept me so busy it’s been days since I’ve had time to wash my hair!” is the mom-conversation-starter equivalent to “How about this weather?” I was never put together or dressed to a T before I had kids, but now I seem to think my kids are the only reason I’m not pulled together. It’s an easy out. The next time you’re tempted to make an excuse to this effect, own it and reflect on your unique personality. For example, you might say, “You didn’t know me then, but in college I was quite the tomboy. All I wore were torn jeans and white tank tops, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t own a dress.” This might seem out of left field, but it redirects the conversation off a negative view of our kids. Our joy will be restored if we stop seeing ourselves as victims and stop seeing our kids as a hindrance to our self-care.
Adapted from Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday: Say Goodbye to Stressed, Tired, and Anxious, and Say Hello to Renewed Joy in Motherhood by Valerie Woerner, releasing in April, 2019 from Tyndale House Publishers.