Parental self-congratulation disguised as self-deprecation

@offbeathome runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.

Self-congratulation disguised as self-deprecation

An old friend sent me a link to Shopping, showers & self-sacrifice: the lesson of the blue dress, knowing that its message about misguided mommy martyrdom and self-sacrifice would resonate for me. And HOO-DOGGIES, did it ever:

I got home and learned of a Facebook status update that’s been making its way around the mom world:

“I traded eyeliner for dark circles, salon hair cuts for ponytails, designer jeans for sweat pants, long hot baths for lucky if i get a shower, late nights for early morning cartoons, designer purses for diaper bags and I wouldn’t change a thing!! ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Repost this if you don’t care what you gave up and will continue to give up for your children!”

Fellow moms, I have a problem with this kind of self-congratulation disguised as self-deprecation.

It’s not that I have anything against pony tails or diaper bags. I love pony tails. They’re cute and practical. Ditto diaper bags. I’m also not negating that motherhood is time-consuming and shifts a woman’s priorities (not to mention her budget) in a major way.

It’s just the idea that a pony tail is a sacrifice motherhood demands. That our kids are somehow better off if we live in sweats. The thing is, our kids did not ask us to give up our purses or our daily showers. Going without a bubble bath doesn’t make us better mothers.

Maybe designer jeans never were your thing anyway (they never were mine) or you couldn’t care less about giving up eyeliner. Then it’s no big deal. If you’re comfy in your sweats, fantastic! But unwashed hair or sloppy clothes isn’t a sign of virtuousness. Sacrificing the things that make us feel feminine or happy or heck, just human simply because we are mothers isn’t helping anyone in the long run.

I think that moms have a hard time investing in ourselves. Whether it’s spending more money on the clothes that we feel great in, or taking the time to do our hair, anything that could be considered shallow or frivolous or even overly feminine is supposed to fly out the window once we take on the Grave, Deep, and Meaningful job that is motherhood. We’re not really women anymore, we’re like asexual, frizzy-haired superheroes who live to sacrifice everything–even small things like showers, for crying out loud–for our children.

There’s nothing wrong with being a mom who likes designer jeans. Or who takes time for her daily bubble baths. Or who applies eyeliner. Or refuses to carry a diaper bag (ever noticed that diapers fit just fine in purses?) Or who, like me, decides to splurge on something as selfish as a dress she feels fantastic in.

We’re worth it. I promise. And you know, I think our kids would agree.

Join our community!

  1. This is awesome! It totally reminds me of that old Saturday Night Live spoof commercial for Mom Jeans ("because you're not a woman anymore… you're a MOM!"). The other day I was complaining to my sister about how all of the diaper bags in the big box stores are butt ugly. She went out and bought me a gorgeous diaper bag that looks like a designer purse and told me, "Baby showers aren't just for the baby. Your kid should never be better dressed than you!"

    6 agree
  2. Oh. My. God. The woman MUST get out of my head! I will forever take this post as a motto in my life from now on.

    Thank you Meagan for writing this post/blog, and thank you Ariel for bringing it to my attention!

    2 agree
  3. Oh! Thank you so much for posting this!!!! Hate those things to begin with but lately my mother has been giving me a lot of grief for wanting to go back to school in September [my son will only be 10 months old by then] saying that I should wait till he is in school for me to go back. I told her that I shouldn't have to give up my dreams because I have a child.
    She also hassles me on the fact that I want to dye my hair purple again… apparently this will scare my child.
    I love the mentality that you don't have to give up who you are because your a mother… I'm still a woman, a human being and just like my little one I have needs and wants as well.

    7 agree
    • I went back to school when my baby was six months old. My husband would bring her by the school in my breaks so we could nurse, or I pumped in the bathroom. If you want to go to school, do it! I feel better about myself, and it's nice to be doing something for me that will also help me take care of her more in the long run.

      1 agrees
      • Oh wow! Thank you! I can't wait to go back to school. The university I plan on going to has a day care! So hopefully I can get in and then he will be close at all times.

    • I went back to school for my masters when my girl was a year old. It wasn't easy and I felt a little selfish at first, but I decided I didn't ever want to feel resentment toward her because of something I'd given up "for her." I didn't have to give up getting my MFA to be a good mom; I just had to figure out a baby-compatible way to do it.

      If it's what you want, find a way to make it work and rock the education and the purple hair! It will be hard and sometimes you will feel like giving up and sometimes you will wear sweatpants for days because being a mom and going to school at the same time might actually mean you have no time to shower, but in the end your whole family will have accomplished something together.

      2 agree
    • I did the first half of my coursework Masters while pregnant, the second half with a newborn (mostly distance, a few lectures). My son went in to fulltime daycare at 13 months old when I took on fulltime work. He is fine now (he's six) and situations change and I am home educating him and working from home. Seriously, you are a human being first, a mother second. You still exist, you can't be a good mother if you are not self-fulfilled.

      And purple hair will scare your child? Seriously?

      4 agree
    • Go for it! I work full time and I'm taking a night class – my son is 7mo old. He is in daycare and he smiles SO big when he see those girls. =) That makes doing what I do alot easier. My hubby is totally supportive, my son is happy and so am I. My philosophy – A happy child is one whose parents are happy and satisfied with their lives, outside of their role as parents.

      2 agree
    • I am planning on both going back to school and having a child sometime within the next 2 or so years. It's scary and I really do worry that I won't manage, and that I will have to face a lot of judgment from our families for not sacrificing enough. It'll be hard and having our families' support will make things so much easier (and in turn, better for the child). Reading all the responses to your comment made me feel so much more confident in my ability to do all of this. I'd love to see an article on here about people who went to school while having a small child at home.

    • colorfull hair doesnt scare children lol. how ever it irks my 3 year old. but the baby greatly enjoys the contrast and bright colors.

    • My son *loves* my pink hair. I think it actually made him look at me more as a baby because it was so bright :)

    • I will add my support for going to school. I started veterinary school in September and my daughter turned 1 this past weekend. It can most definitely be done! The hardest thing for us so far is finding daycare… hopefully by January

  4. Great post! I personally never leave the house in anything like sweats and I plan on continuing that after our baby is born. I don't think that being a Mother means you are automatically resigned to being frumpy or a hot mess. How can you teach your children to take good care of themselves if you neglect yourself? You should lead by example!

    3 agree
    • Conversely, I occasionally leave the house in sweats now… and I'm currently childless. I don't plan for that to change, either! 😉

      5 agree
    • I love getting dressed for the day – wearing the exact same clothes I wore before I had a kid. My 7mo old sits in his bumbo seat in the bathroom playing while I do my make-up. We smile at each other in the mirror, then we go about our day. =)

  5. Dude. Your kid is going to LOVE your purple hair.

    2 agree
  6. Thanks for directing us to that. Great post and absolutely true. I think there's some sort of fear that you'll turn into some awful "Beverly Hills housewife" who neglects her children if you dare to take care of yourself as a woman(!), but that's simply not true – there's a balance, everything in moderation, etc.

    I remember some 10-15(?) years ago, a "revolutionary" study came out that said kids whose mothers work outside the home turn out just as well as kids whose mothers stay at home. Before that there was a slight "stigma" if you did not stay at home with your kids. Whaddaya know, kids are ok and (gasp!) understand that parents need to take care of themselves/provide for themselves too. Since then, that stigma has been (somewhat) removed and people no longer gasp if you tell them you're a working mother.

    As another note, most facebook "chain status updates" are either incorrect (there is NO "special education week"), or unhelpful (surprisingly, you do NOT help breast cancer research if you post your bra color – I know, it's crazy). They are the new incarnation of chain letters/chain emails. Sigh.

    1 agrees
  7. I noticed myself doing something recently that is sort of the opposite yet related to this: saying that things were for my kids, when they are really for me. For example, we adopted some zebra finches last week, and my reasoning was that "the kids will LOVE them!" when I knew that the truth was I would love them– the fact that I felt like I couldn't just get them for ME ends up in that same vein of "doing it for the kids because I am not important!"

    4 agree
  8. I was a stay-at-home dad for my daughter's first 14 months. During that time I didn't give up on sleep, had plenty of hot showers, never carried a diaper bag, ran a sofware startup, researched a book, baked bread, and got into the best shape I'd been for a while.

    I'm not super-human; I just believe that I can't be a great father unless I'm a great person first.

    6 agree
  9. I have also had to catch myself saying that things are for my son that are really for me. For the past five months, I have been really committed to working out three days a week, and I do one of these workouts during day care time which means I pick up him later. I justified to myself and others, "well, he needs a healthy mother." Well, yes, but the truth is, *I* deserve to be healthy and do something for *me* too. I believe this *does* make me a better mother, but most of all, I think it makes me a better me.

    3 agree
  10. Thank you! Its articles like this that keep me coming back here, even though I'm not a mother (yet). The more I read on here, the more I learn that all the things that scare me about becoming a mother don't necessarily have to be true for me.

    I see things like this on facebook and it always just seems so laden with judgments against other mothers. Actually it seems like everyone is very quick to judge other mothers. Kind of scary!

    2 agree
  11. I knew this, yet I NEEEDED to hear/read it. I put on my favorite 'daytime' look makeup, blew out my hair, and vaccumed in my new high heeled boots today. And I'm probably going to do it again tomorrow, because I liked it.

    2 agree
  12. I agree. I am twenty-one weeks into my first pregnancy and I can't believe some of the things I'm hearing from other women. It seems that once you're pregnant (or a mother) one becomes public property on whom everyone can work out her feelings of inadequacy – whether or not they're well founded (most likely not).

    It's amazing that, in our (post?)feminist culture, some of us still see ourselves through the eyes of others and spend more time cataloguing our (misplaced) fears than our very real strengths.
    Thanks, OM, for giving me nourishing food for thought.

    (I wonder if "Bitch" magazine would be interested in this?)

    1 agrees
  13. I SO needed to read this today. I'm a million months pregnant with my second child (okay, not really, I'm due in 3 weeks but I FEEL a million months pregnant now) and I'm still working, albeit part time but only because my OB forced me to cut back. I work for a small law firm and I LOVE my job and had a client ask me in front of my boss today how long I'll be back. I told her as soon as I can have her and get her in daycare I'll be back and I felt selfish for saying that but I love my job. I really enjoy what I do. It doesn't mean I love my kids any less. Working makes me happy and I think a happy momma makes a better momma. I don't feel like other people are raising my kids because they know who loves them the most.

    There is a part of me that wishes we could afford for me to be a SAHM but it's not financially possible with the economy in the shape it's in. But (and I know I'm repeating myself) I love my job. I don't think I'm being selfish or depriving my children of anything by working full time.

    Not to mention…where else would I have an excuse to wear my fierce platform python Antonio Melani peep toe stiletto pumps? Walmart? lol

    3 agree
  14. I'm so flattered–thank you for the link and all the very kind comments. And I have also been guilty of claiming to do things "for my kids" when really, wanting to do them for ME should be reason enough!

    Nice to meet you all.

  15. I don't like the language of "sacrifice" around having children either. I chose to have my son so whatever I choose to forgo in order to best care for him is part of the package deal to me. But, pre-baby, I was HIGH femme. Now I'm decidedly LOOOOW femme. At first I felt insecure about not having my look just so every time I left the house. After some practice, I now feel much more comfortable as the woman that I am, without all the artifice. (Not that I don't still love me some artifice every now and then.) Motherhood gave me that gift. I suppose I could make the time and spend the money to continue the high femme lifestyle but I've found that having my nails done and eye makeup just right just doesn't matter to me like it used to. I've got way more important things to think about and revel in. Besides, by the way my son looks at me, I'm fairly certain I always look pretty awesome.

    2 agree
  16. I think this post raises something even more important than talking about looks – it is about the insidious 'mother-martyrdom' that is creeping in to being pregnant and a mother. The mothers who bang on about how they didn't drink when pregnant and breastfeeding (oh, it's such a small sacrifice to make), and things like the FB status mentioned above. It's a kind of passive-aggressive one-upmanship that is just is just as perfectly coiffed mothers arriving at playdates with perfectly iced home-made organic cupcakes. Parenting is not a competition, neither is how much you have sacrificed to be a parent. The reality on that one is – who cares? What are you proving, and to whom, other than that you are a gigantic bore?

    5 agree
    • The thing is, all it takes is "sorry, can you hard cook my egg" for someone to decide that you're a mummy-martyr and lording it about and boring and pathetic. When all you're doing is living your life the way you want.

      Yeah, I don't drink anymore. And I am surely going to say it's being pregnant/breastfeeding that does it. It's not a passive-agressive stab at you. It's nothing to do with you. It's my choice and I shouldn't have to not talk about my choice because you might get offended or upset. When I talk about not wanting to go out it isn't because I am judging someone else for wanting space, it's so people stop assuming I want the same thing, and planning it for me, and insinuating I've lost my 'identity' because I don't want to leave my kid at home and go drinking.

      1 agrees
      • Going out isnt about drinking. Its about not being defined by who we give birth to. It will become important when your child is gone to college, and you have nothing but your house, and maybe your partner to contend with. If you stay on top of it now you wont have to wonder what to do with them later….

  17. Oh thank you for articulating that icky feeling I felt when reading that facebook status.

    3 agree
  18. SO on topic with my martyrdom discussion earlier in the week. There are so many levels of problems with this. I think from where I sit, ONE of the problems is that way it pits woman against women, and places mothers on a pedestal above the non-moms. Non-moms are selfish and have cute jeans and nice haircuts. Moms prove how worthy they are by giving up cute jeans and nice haircuts (your kids did not ask for that sacrifice). Or, as Rebecca Wolf put it to me a month ago, "How much harder is to put on jeans than sweats?"

    Love this, as always.

    8 agree
    • "How much harder is to put on jeans than sweats?"

      Sure, it might be harder to find jeans that FIT, but once you have them?

  19. I loved this post too! i always said that when i became a mom i did not want to look like a mom! i want to look like me who happens to have a child. I think you are a better parent if you do take care of yourself instead of sacrificing things that make you feel good. If i don't get enough sleep, take a shower and get dressed in the morning i feel icky all day and my family pays for it with my bad attitude. It is much more beneficial for me to do house work or whatever with clean hair and clean clothes; if mommy ain't happy ain't nobody happy! we have to take those steps to make ourselves happy!

    2 agree
  20. One of the things that has been the hardest to adjust myself to is getting dressed for the day. Not getting dressed, but Getting Dressed. Before being a mom, I rarely got dressed in my "nice" clothes when I was lounging around at home on my days off. Ill fitted husband t-shirts and sloppy old sweats or yoga pants were the standard. It took a few months for me to realize that being a stay at home mom isn't the same as lounging around on my day off. Granted I probably wasn't ready to really Get Dressed for the first few months anyways.

    When my darling boy was about 3 months or so and I'd lost most of the major baby weight, my (amazing!!) mom came for a visit and took me shopping for a few new peices of clothing and I still get a real happy thrill when I put on one of my new pieces for the day. Feeling like I look good is a wonderful way to really FEEL good. And if I get spit-up or pee on my clothes…well, I was going to have to do laundry eventually anyways…

    1 agrees
  21. I keep getting told by other mommies that I will have to grow out my short-do to a pony tail, because I won't have the 2 minutes I take to do it each morning, and I'll never wear nice clothes or makeup again. I can't STAND being told I have to change myself to be a mother. They look at me like I'm crazy for saying I'll just ask for help and still have time for my career, hair, clothes etc. I'm myself first, a wife second, and a mommy third- I'm sure my kids will turn out fine :)

    3 agree
  22. There's another thread to this mommy-martyrdom: Middle Class Privilege. At least related to that facebook chain-post. If you're working a minimum wage job before you have the kid… this likely is not going to apply. Never mind minimum wage, debt or general low wage jobs make that sort of luxury a non-issue.

    Besides, the definition of sacrifice strikes me as kind of silly: the deprivation of luxury goods, painted as former necessities or things they should be entitled to. Really? My job gives me dark circles, gets me out of bed early in the morning and I've never been in a fiscal place to afford a designer handbag, and I cut my own hair because salons are also too expensive for my partner and I too afford. Like lots of other women. Give us a cookie too, for being employed in low wage work? (I love my job, and these do not bother me one bit, but I wouldn't congratulate myself for being employed, you know?) Of course not. I'm not saying kids aren't a drain on time or resources (TRUST ME), but that the language and examples used to depict this are painting pictures of normal women that are true to maybe someone's ideology, not life.

    Caregivers of elderly family members do not have the same angst. I wonder why? (serious question)

    3 agree
  23. Sorry this is not about the article but about the links below it. Did you know that one of the links bashes Pushba's wedding photos?? I think you need to check where your links are headed before you allow them on your page……just FYI as I am sure you didnt realise. xxx

    ( I see now that they change every time you re-load. It was the 20 worst wedding dresses or something……here is the link. )

  24. Hope I don't offend if I play the devil's advocate here for a minute, because I have to say my reaction to this post, and to the general theme of this discussion, is mixed. It's not that I think the mommy-martyr syndrome is undeserving of criticism. It's just that I'm surprised and a little disturbed at the notion of a woman's identity (whether before or after having children) being largely associated with how she's wearing her hair or what sort of bag she's carrying her stuff in. Really? Is that the best we've got? The OP accuses the martyr mommies of self-congratulation; meanwhile are we patting ourselves on the backs for taking bubble baths and wearing lipstick? Come on mamas, you're you and you're awesome, not because you can manage to both flat iron your hair and do the laundry, but because you're a strong, intelligent, caring, creative, (insert whatever adjectives characterize the real YOU) person.
    Being a mom does take sacrifice, and most moms have to prioritize when deciding what's got to give. Personally, whether my hair is in a ponytail and whether I'm carrying a diaper bag are pretty damn far down the list of things I'm going to worry about. That's not because I'm giving up "the real me", it's because the real me doesn't have anything to do with how I'm accessorizing.
    Mothers aren't amazing because they're selfless. (Nor should they be selfless.) But they're not amazing because they're cute either. Mothers are amazing because they are powerful, creative beings, capable of creating and sustaining life. And most are amazing in countless other ways that have nothing to do with being mothers, but that certainly don't have anything to do with their hair either.
    I guess we're at a midway point in history. Somewhere along the line, we women began to expect more of ourselves, and demand more for ourselves, than motherhood. And that's fantastic. And maybe for now it's okay that we're using our outward appearances as symbols (and hopefully JUST as symbols!) for our identities. But maybe someday, we'll get even more than that.

    3 agree

Comments are closed.