comments 18

It’s Motherhood, Not Martyrhood

I love my children.

If the need ever arises, I would sacrifice myself for my children.

No question.

But, until that day comes, I am not a doormat or a chauffeur or an enabler, or a martyr to their cause.

I’m reminding myself of this, on a morning when they have been up since six, loudly playing a game of strategy that has them shouting at each other like a table of angry deaf elderly people arguing over who’s right.

I read this article in The Atlantic recently.  It’s primarily about children needing space, to explore and figure out how to maneuver risky situations as an important means of developing self esteem and other life skills. It’s great.

But,  as a sometimes burned out mother who has been raising her children in this generation of motherhood where the pressures are intense – I read this article as a cry for moms to step the heck away from their kids, even if only for ten minutes a day. I read it (perhaps between the lines) as an encouragement for moms to find joy in their own lives, while letting their kids have joy in theirs.

Hallelujah, and can I get an amen?

You see, what I remember about my own mother is that she was there, she was supportive, she was encouraging, she drove me to soccer practices, came to games when she was able. She dropped me off at girl scouts or the occasional play date.

But, I also remember long stretches of days, when we were apart. After school, on weekends, over the summer, my siblings and I were always outside. Without adult supervision. My mother was not sitting on the porch, watching our every move.

To be honest, I know about as much about what she was doing as she knew about what I was doing. I think I assumed laundry or dishes or cooking, and I think she assumed kickball or climbing Silver Hill down at the end of our street.

I was being a kid.

She was being a full-time working woman, who also happened to be a mother.

I also remember knowing that, though she loved me, her relationship with my father took precedence. As it should. You are married to your spouse forever, you raise your children until they’re ready to move out on their own.

I remember my parents going on dates, I remember them having parties and friends over, being social, having relationships that didn’t include me whatsoever. My parents were good parents, who also lived lives outside of parenthood.

Nowadays, however, motherhood is the thing.

Our children are the thing.

We’re supposed to deliver naturally, breastfeed or pump to the best of your ability (perhaps regardless of your personal preference,) eat everything organic, raise children who walk by one, potty train by two, read by three, excel in sports (or *something*) by five, and have thriving social lives by elementary school, all aided, of course, by elaborate birthday parties and countless afternoons spent shuttling children to and from play dates.

I’m not saying that putting your children ahead of yourself isn’t noble or right. I’m not saying that I haven’t been known to bake a cake (or three or five) to celebrate how awesome I think my kids are, or that I don’t drive them to karate twice a week or take a shameless amount of pictures of them, just being them.

Because I do. I’m a mom. I love my children.

But, I also know that sometimes, life in this generation of motherhood can feel like martyrdom.

And it shouldn’t.

I gave birth four times, with an epidural, and I formula fed four babies – which is to say, I chose my own sanity over what society expects from me. I chose to be comfortable and take a nap before delivering each of my babies. I chose to let my husband share in the intimacy of feeding our children, while I shared in some of the sleep that we were both so lacking.

There’s about as much shame in those choices for me, as there are special awards or trophies for women who deliver naturally and choose to exclusively breastfeed until they’re good and done. Which is to say – there’s none.

If you’re a mom who gave birth, with or without pain medicine – you gave birth – awesome! If you’re a mom who feeds and cares for her child with love and tenderness through that first year, (and beyond) awesome!

But don’t let how you delivered or how you feed your children define you. Actually, I’ll go one step further – don’t let motherhood define you (in and of itself.)

Because, before you were a mom, you were a person.

I know I was, I know I still am.

And I think, even more important than me knowing exactly what sort of mischief my children are getting into in the dirt yard outside my window, it’s important for my children to know that their father and I are people – not just parents.

I want my children to know that we are all individuals, we’re all people, just at different ages and stages. I want them to see me struggle with emotions, to see me apologize, to see me make mistakes and grow from them. I want them to know that I love them to the moon and back, but to also see me choose their father over them, out of love and respect, for that relationship.

Because, I want them to grow up and live full, incredible lives. I don’t want to be raising cautious porch dwellers. I want to be raising risk takers, adventurers, people with stories so interesting to tell that I’d want to have them over for dinner and drinks, not just because they’re my family, but because of who they are.

And I want my children to feel the same about me. 


  1. Oh my goodness, yes!! I feel like a bad mom sometimes for feeling this way, but I have NO desire to be with my children 24/7 and never do anything else. I love being a mom, but that doesn’t mean that that needs to consume my entire existence with no room left for anything else!

    • So glad it resonated with you, Brittany! I was hoping I wasn’t alone out there in “I don’t want to lose who I am, just because I’m a mom” land! 🙂

  2. Excellent post. We all need to remember this. Our children will learn the most from us by watching us respect ourselves, love ourselves, care for ourselves, make mistakes, and make amends. This post is an inspiration.

  3. jennifer

    Excellant article… I also raised 4 children who are now the ages of 33 to 28.. they were allowed to play in the dirt and drink water from a hose.. and now we all lead our own productive lives seperately, but also cherish the limited amount of time we get to spend together.

  4. I absolutely love it! Couldn’t agree more! Even as a homeschooling mom, my kids know that I have a life outside of that!

    • Yes, absolutely! We homeschool as well, that might be partially why I’m so passionate to remember that my kids are a part of my life, not all. 🙂

  5. Emily

    Such a great theme! I agree wholeheartedly with this view. I was once asking for babysitting recommendations when we moved to a new area and was told by the mom I was asking, “we just don’t get babysitters, we’re always with our kids”. I wanted to tell her, “I really hate that for you,” but I bit my tongue. Lol everyone needs some me or us time!

  6. I read the same article you did, and share many of the same thoughts. Thanks for writing this. I just wanted to add that it’s not just an issue for mothers but for fathers, too – both parents need to have a life outside of their kids’. Just not the birthing part… I wasn’t built that way.

  7. Jason

    “Because, I want them to grow up and live full, incredible lives. I don’t want to be raising cautious porch dwellers. I want to be raising risk takers, adventurers, people with stories so interesting to tell that I’d want to have them over for dinner and drinks, not just because they’re my family, but because of who they are. And I want my children to feel the same about me.” I’m not a parent, and never will be (my wife and I made that decision and don’t regret it), but I nearly stood up and cheered at this. THANK YOU for taking the Bigger View when it comes to raising kids. They’re children for a little while, but PEOPLE for much longer. This was beautifully said.

  8. This is amazing. Since the birth of my 4th this is something that I have been struggling with greatly. I have let motherhood define me, specifically in the last 3 years. The thought of changing this mentality caused me a ton of guilt and anxiety, but we are all way healthier now for it!

  9. carolyn

    YES! As an almost “empty nester”, I can’t tell you the raised eyebrows I have gotten from other moms because I am not in the fetal position, wracked with sobs as my children leave the nest. My husband and I are having a blast; being able to to whatever we want, whenever we want it and it is really, really fun. I am thankful my kids have lives of their own too, doing whatever they want whenever they want and having a really fun time.

  10. Donna

    Love this, Melanie. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage….. So the song goes. The rest is a balancing act of love and respect for your spouse, and all the little individual beings in your family.

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