The Martyr Mother

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I recently read the much-hyped Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

I was resistant to reading it in part due to the obvious that I am a stay-at-home mom with no aspirations to join the corporate rat race and secondly, I didn’t want to squander my precious free time reading a book that was going to make me feel bad about myself for not wanting to join said race.

So naturally I was surprised when I read Sandberg’s well-researched tome that some of her points resonated with me – a stay-at-home mom.

Make Your Partner a Real Partner and The Myth of Doing It All are two chapters worth reading, regardless of your employment status.  Sandberg raises a topic that has weighed heavily on my mind since having my first child almost seven years ago.

Sandberg describes how (mostly) women crave this idea of perfection and assume all of the responsibilities of childrearing because “they know best”.  Eventually these mothers become exhausted, irritable, unhappy, and depressed because every waking moment is spent on trying to do everything themselves.

I have seen this time and again with many women that I have gotten to know over the years.  When my boys were 4, 3 and a newborn, I had made plans to go for dinner with friend.  She had two children ages 4 and 7 months.  She had not ever been separated from her children for more than 2 hours and was sleeping a maximum of four hours a night.  She was at the end of her rope.  She called me in tears and we decided that a dinner out was exactly what we both needed.

I informed my husband that I had a dinner date.  I plopped the older two in front of the TV and the baby in the exersaucer, showered, got made-up and put on an outfit that didn’t need to be puke-resistant.  My husband walked-in and I was prepared to walk out when the phone rang.

An hour before we were to meet, my dejected friend called to say that she was not going to make our dinner.  I was sad to hear this and when I pressed for the reason she said that her husband was not comfortable “babysitting” the two kids by himself and he doesn’t know the bedtime routine.  She felt it was best if she stayed with him so that the kids schedule wasn’t messed up.

Like Sandberg, I feel like sometimes women are their own worst enemy.  Women need to be able to let go of the reins and allow someone else to do take over.  Is it a big deal that dinnertime doesn’t follow the same structure as when you are there?  Will millions of bacteria eat away your child’s skin if they skip a bath for one night?  Does it really matter if the dishes are left to air dry just this once?

“Oh, but the baby will cry!”

“Oh, but he doesn’t know how to change the diaper!”

“Oh, he feels too overwhelmed when he has both of the kids!”

Well Martyr Mothers, I would like to echo Sandberg’s sentiments . . .

THERE IS NO SHINY TROPHY WITH YOUR NAME ON IT BECAUSE YOU SACRFICED EVERY OUNCE OF YOUR BEING!

Your baby will stop crying.

He will figure out how to change a diaper.

He may feel overwhelmed but he’s got this.

If you feel that everything has to be done by you, take a step back and examine why you feel that way.  Are you being too controlling?  Sandberg doesn’t suggest that you walk away from your responsibilities but rather that by acquiescing a desire for perfection comes a release, and an awareness of what really matters to you.

Perhaps I am not navigating the corporate jungle gym, but contrary my thoughts prior to reading Sandberg’s book, I am a leader.  I am leading my family and a good leader surrounds themselves with a supportive and dependable team.

What do you think?  Do you think that Martyr Mothers are becoming more prevalent?  Are you a Martyr Mother?  A reformed Martyr Mother?  

More importantly, doesn’t it drive you mad when people refer to fathers as babysitters?  It’s demeaning, no?

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Reliving My Childhood


To My Three Boys:

I have been surprised by myself in many ways throughout my life but never so much since all of you have come along.

I remember the extreme ebbs and flows of my emotions at your age toward just about anything whether it was an opportunity to pee off the boathouse at our cottage, the anticipation of a family vacation somewhere or begging for a new bike.   Elated and hung up over such things, I didn’t sleep, had butterflies in my stomach and well, I too, latched onto Papou and Baba like a leech from a weedy pond.  I recall my childhood and those emotions so vividly and since becoming a father find myself reliving these memories.

In adolescence and beyond, that elation and excitement was not as easily drawn – except of course for the boathouse experience.  If I may speculate, you will educate yourself, impatience will be your leading virtue through your teenage years and I expect that at some point you realize that you are not the only one in this world. If there are stages of life this one, childhood, is exploratory.

Since you have come into my world, it has been bliss.  And patience has become my virtue.

I am selfishly reliving my childhood with you.  How about that race car track I bought you at Christmas that you could barely operate?  And the remote control helicopter that you fly like a kamikaze that almost took out the eye of your play-date last week?

It’s not the gifts. It’s the excitement on your faces that have left an imprint on my memory that will stay with me for as long as I am here.

It’s the hugs, kisses, bedtime stories, your attempts to report the events of the day and all of the questions and little things you do to and for me that I will remember forever.

Emotions ebb and flow once again. You have connected the cycle of life for me and now it seems simple.

Mom and I love you, love to be with you and look forward to spending the rest of our lives with you.

Love,

Dad

Written by Paul Jones who is the dad to three boys, ages 4, 3 and 9 months and husband to a beautiful domestic goddess, without whom he would be utterly lost.  (Author bio written by said goddess)

Why Don’t You Put a Blanket Over Your Face?

It rarely happens to me – being speechless.  I was sitting in Starbucks, cup in hand, and my mouth agape.  Eyes wide.  I could not believe what I had just heard – and trust me, I have heard a lot of crazy spew in my day.

On Monday evenings my son has cooking class with his best buddy and it just so happens that his mom is one of my best buddies. After the boys are aproned and spoons are in their hands, we practically trample over the gaggle of nannies signing-in their charges, to make the most of our alone time.

For forty-five minutes we gossip, vent, plan birthdays, and lament how we don’t fit into our skinny jeans since having our babies.  Recently a new girl joined our coffee-talk, my girlfriend’s five-month-old daughter.

Obviously being 5 months old her addiction to caffeine has not yet fully developed and after some moments of being fussy, communicating her desire for both sleep and food, my friend removed her own down vest, placed it on the chair behind her and facing me, discreetly pulled up her top to allow her baby to latch onto her breast.  Within seconds, her daughter was calmly nursing and the conversation returned to what skating lessons we’d be signing the boys up for.

That’s when it happened.  A man dressed in a suit and tie, obsessively fondling his iPad, looked up.  Red-faced, he extended his arms wide, as if to give a bear hug, and in a loud, obnoxious voice said, “Would you mind putting a blanket over you or something?  You’re making me very uncomfortable!”

That’s when the mouth dropped, the eyes bulged and all the witty comebacks retreated from the tip of my tongue.  I thought I was the only one having this reaction but I noticed a similar look on the mother of three sitting at the table next to us and the gum-smacking high-school girls behind us appeared more uncomfortable with his outburst than the feeding baby.

My friend mumbled that she didn’t realize he could see anything and reached for a blanket to cover her daughter’s face.

I never breastfed any of my three children but regardless I felt that this ignorant comment meant to shame was an attack on mothering.

First of all, breastfeeding a child is natural. If it makes you uncomfortable, then YOU turn away.  Breastfeeding does not have to take place in a dingy washroom stall or underneath a suffocating blanket so other people are made to feel comfortable.  I once saw a woman breastfeeding her baby while pushing a grocery cart.  I wasn’t uncomfortable at the sight of her bare breast; I was more in awe of her dexterity.  I am not able to talk on my phone and push the cart, never mind provide nourishment for my infant while plucking a box of Cheerios from the shelf.

Comments such as this and the one I received while bottle-feeding my infant son years ago (from a nosey witch well-meaning individual:  “Breast is best you know!”) further perpetuate the struggle that many mothers, especially new mothers have.  It’s hard enough being a mom without constant judgment from passersby.  My husband believes that this man never would have said anything to my friend had a man been with us because men, whether we like it or not, are held to a different social standard.  Had my husband been bottle-feeding our infant in public more likely than not he would have been perceived as a doting father, whereas I was practically hissed at.

Society bashes mothers over the head about the benefits of breastfeeding and to persevere through cracked, bleeding nipples, sleepless nights, and insufficient milk supply.  What new mothers don’t need is to be on the receiving end of boorish comments and sideway glances.

Once the mother sitting next to us recovered from shock, she silently offered her support with a thumbs-up.  After the baby had fallen asleep and was returned to her stroller, we got up to leave, the mood at coffee-talk definitely dampened.  When we walked passed the table with the man, who had been joined by female companion, my friend politely said, “I am sorry if you were uncomfortable but next time why don’t you move to another seat.”

Before she could even finish, right after the word “sorry” was spoken, he interrupted and replied, “Well, I appreciate you covering up.  I was very uncomfortable.”

Seeing that her message wasn’t heard, my hurt friend pushed her stroller out the door.  I couldn’t let this go.  I had to stand up for her and her daughter.  I looked at him, sitting there with a smug expression on his face, and this time let the witty comeback flow freely from my mouth:

“She was feeding her baby.  If it makes you so uncomfortable why don’t you go and sit in the corner with a blanket over your head.  That would make me feel more comfortable.”

photo credit: http://pregnancy.about.com/od/feedingyourbaby/ig/Breastfeeding-Gallery/