By: Gigi IbrahimCC BY 2.0

Last week, I asked offbeat mamas via Facebook & Twitter: “What steps do YOU take to help you avoid mama martyrdom?” I got some great responses, which helped me clarify the issue for myself.

It basically boils down to this: I do not want to have a monogamous relationship with my son.

I’ve read a lot about “mommy martyrdom” because it freaks me out. It seems like a LOT of mothers shoulder this burden of “I am the only one who knows how to care for my child,” and while the result can be an empowering sense of mama bear “RAWR! YES I AM THE MOTHER DAMNIT!” it seems like it comes with a heavy tax…

One mother I talked to described it as painting yourself into a corner — if you think you’re the only one who knows how best to deal with your kid, you trap yourself in a little box where noone else is allowed to help, and then the burden is all on you, and then you’re exhausted and people get alienated and then noone else bothers trying to help (because they’ve hit road blocks with you telling them they’re doing it wrong) and then there you are: frazzled and feeling isolated and overburdened. I have fears come up because it seems like not only do you risk losing track of your own needs, but you also put strain on your relationships with those around you. “I’m so exhausted, this is so hard, you have no idea how much energy this takes — OMG WTF ARE YOU DOING?! DON’T HOLD THE BABY LIKE THAT, JEEZ!”

For me, part of why I wanted to be a mother is because I feel like I want to enjoy seeing my child with my partner and family. Obviously, I’m beyond excited to have a close relationship with my son. But I’m just as excited to sit back and watch Andreas fall in love with him. This has actually made me think positively blasphemous thoughts like, “Would I wean my son from breastmilk earlier if it meant that he and Andreas could bond more?” It’s a question of priorities — what will serve my son more in the long run: the health benefits of a year+ of breastmilk, or the relationships and bonds he forges with people other than me? I have no idea!

As an only child with pretty fucking awesome parents, bringing a grandchild into their life is also hugely important to me. My parents are cool and I really want them to have another little brain with which to share their wisdom. And then there’s so much other family! I’m so excited for our son to spend time exploring the wilds of Montana with Dre’s mom and her partner, to sit and read books with Dre’s dad, and to get to spend time with Dre’s siblings and their kids — there’s a total baby boom happening on that side of the family and there will be 3 cousins within 18 months of each other! And then there’s the greek chorus of crazy grand-aunties (my mom’s sisters). And how could I forget my stoner cousins who like to do “broga” yoga with Dre every Christmas? I want to give my kid a life filled with a whole community of amazing hilarious smart wacky family and friends — not just give him ME AND ONLY ME.

I don’t want to be my son’s one-and-only. I don’t want to micromanage his relationships with his community and lift him out of other people’s arms with a “Tutt, tutt: you’re doing it all wrong!” I want him to have a full range of experiences with the people I love. As an added bonus, these experiences might mean that I’m able to retain a bit more time to myself, and a bit more time for Andreas’ and my partnerhood, separate from our parenthood.

This comparison may be dumb, but I’m going to pull out my machete and stumble through the misguided allegorical thorns anyway: one of the big lessons I learned from my wedding was that the sense of community and contribution of people around me was more important than controlling the outcome. The cake? Who cared what it looked like as long as Susannah made it! The decorations? Meh, whatever: as long as it was done by the Sarah’s, that’s all I really cared about. The food? Serve whatever you want! As long as Andreas gets to dictate the vegan menu, and Dallas & Erin have fun preparing the food, I don’t really care.

I’m hoping that this same philosophy can come into play with parenting. Does Dre sooth the baby in the same ways I do? Meh, who cares: as long as the baby is soothed and they’re falling in love and it allows me to doze off. Is my mom as careful about the baby’s schedule as I am? Eh, as long as the baby is happy and developing a relationship with his grandma, that’s awesome! Is Nana’s cabin completely childproof? Pshaw: as long as it’s just minor injuries and Nana’s there to kiss the scrapes and bruises, it’s all probably fine. Obviously, I want Andreas and me to drive the core of the philosophies that play into how we raise our kid … but there are other people I want to be a part of it, too.

Clearly I’m writing this from a pre-parenting perspective — who knows how I’ll feel once the little dude arrives. But I think it’s a good idea to get one’s parenting intentions out there. As Hafidha Acuay Osuna said to me on Facebook:

Believe that other people (partner, parents, friends, etc.) have worthwhile things to teach your child(ren). That way you don’t feel like your child is better off spending 24/7 with you.



Author here, five years later. A few people on Facebook wished there was an update on this post, so here I am.

I’m happy to say that things turned out pretty well. When I was pregnant in 2009, I was super worried that my controlling, Type A, managerial personality would make me a controlling micromanaging mom… in reality, that’s just not how things turned out at all. I’m a pretty low-key parent, and my kid spends a lot of time with his extended family, and I don’t have any interest in meddling with it. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

I don’t know if this is because I really set the intent NOT to be be a martyr, or if it was just the luck of circumstance… but re-reading this post, I gotta say that yep. It all worked out about how I’d hoped it would.

Comments on How I want to avoid mommy martyrdom

  1. Argh! I wish I had read this before I had a baby. I got sucked into thinking I had to be the PERFECT AP parent. Though I think you can do that and not be a mommy martyr I couldn’t. It doesn’t help that I’m 20, I lost touch touch with most of my friends when I was pregnant and my boyfriend and I’s family, other than my mother, all moved away a couple months before I gave birth. I also didn’t realize that by not letting my bf soothe our daughter his way I would take away his confidence in soothing her at all. Our daughter is 6 months and I am now JUST trying to back track and get out of this mommy martyrdom. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s awesome…but I think I could keep the awesome parts AND get out of the house every once in a while. It also helps that the weather is warm again and we can take our daughter out to our dorky medieval foam fighting events where there is almost always some baby crazy wannabe mama on the sidelines begging to watch her while I fight.

  2. Not only that, but the ones that make everything harder on themselves for the sake of feeling superior to other mothers and the ones who don’t do anything for themselves. “I gave up salon haircuts and cute clothes for ponytails and sweatpants,” etc. I actually had a friend tell me my whole identity SHOULD be being a mother. Nuts to that!

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