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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