Saturday, May 9, 2009

Are You a Mother or a Martyr?

Martyr: One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle. One who endures great suffering or who makes a great show of suffering in order to arouse sympathy. [1]

Sacrifice: The act of losing or surrendering something as a penalty for a mistake or fault or failure to perform etc.; endure the loss of. [2] Hence, to destroy, surrender, or suffer to be lost, for the sake of obtaining something; to devote, with loss or suffering. [3]


As Mother's Day rolls around, we once again hear about the sacrifices of motherhood. Couple this with the way some women talk about their experience of "giving up" their very identity when they became a mother, and you get the idea such a state must require a life of painful martyrdom. Being burned at the stake couldn't be a worse destiny.

Yet, we hear it every year from the well-meaning media and even from the pulpits of conservative churches:

There is an adage: There's no love like a mother's love. At its finest, the love a mother possesses for her child embodies all the beautiful virtues that we, as human beings, hold sacred . . .And perhaps the greatest one of all, sacrifice. This aspect of a mother's love, the willingness to surrender her time, her dreams, her life for the sake of her children, is what makes her love so phenomenal. [4]

Is it any wonder mothers begin to feel sorry for themselves? With everyone else feeling sorry for us, it becomes so easy to slip into what I call a martyr mother complex.

I have had the unpleasant experience of knowing a few of these martyr mothers. One in particular often lets everyone within earshot know, "I am the mother of six children," as if to stir up sympathy from those unaware of her plight. Yet, I am ashamed to admit I was once a martyr mother myself. I remember with painful clarity the days of moping around all day while my babies played at my feet because I was "sacrificing" my talents to be home with them.

I wonder sometimes if my attitude was fueled by the feminist philosophies I was indoctrinated with in the public school system. However, the following list -- written by a shameless feminist -- describes perfectly the outlook of many conservative, Christian mothers:

Motherhood, when really overwhelmed by sacrifice can end up with a bunch of this thinking -
I gave up everything for you children…
my sacrifices aren’t appreciated by you..
I wanted to be more than a mother, but my children needed me…
if I don’t do it, no-one else will…
some people call it being a martyr but I call it being a good mother…
I’m suffering, but it’s ok, I do it for the children..
I don’t know what I would have done in my life if I hadn’t been a mother, I never knew what I wanted…
my family treats me like a doormat… [5]

Have you ever had these thoughts? I know I've experienced a few of them.

I was curious what other mothers consider "sacrifices," so I did an Internet search. Unfortunately, a really close look at them reveals a severe misplacement of personal priorities. For some, being a mother means you will not be able to
  • pluck your eyebrows, paint your nails, enjoy relaxing facials and baths, or put on makeup (including "perfectly-lined lips")
  • have a perfect body
  • go out for dinner and other entertainments every weekend
  • watch your favorite t.v. show
  • leave the house on a whim to go somewhere unplanned
  • see friends regularly
  • stay out all night
  • participate in stimulating adult conversation throughout the day
  • have a perpetually clean home/vehicle
  • give your prime years of life pursuing a career you love
  • spend time with friends who don't spend time with friends who have kids
  • get a full night's sleep on a regular basis
  • get any "me time" or enjoy complete solitude
  • do anything and everything you want
Those who gave up a second income to be home with their children endured the pain of even deeper deprivations such as
  • Having only one car (and a minivan, to boot! -- no sports car)
  • Having to keep a food budget
  • Having to go back to basics and prepare foods from scratch
  • Only buying necessities
  • Not wearing the latest fashions or having the latest gadgets (toys)
  • Not being able to afford the upkeep of the latest hair styles
  • Not being able to spend all the money you want on yourself
There were other "sacrifices" given in the many blogs I scanned, such as not being intellectually challenged, feeling as though their work at home with the children was not fully appreciated, and knowing the snub of people who seem to look down on you if you are "only" a mom.

As mentioned before, I was once guilty of many of these selfish thoughts and sentiments regarding my motherhood. However, I give thanks to God for showing me a better way.

Once I began meeting with other mothers in my home school circle, I saw a whole other side to being a mother which actually seemed to be .... joyful. I sat at their feet every chance I got. I observed their interactions with their children and marveled when they actually took them everywhere they went ... without complaining about it. Their interactions with their little ones were calm, sweet, and tender. Their children were actually welcome in their homes, rather than being treated as intruders. I must admit it totally changed my outlook on motherhood.

It has occurred to me we think it abnormal for an animal to push away and neglect to nurture its own young. Yet, there is a generation of human women who do it every day. They may not do so in action, but in their attitude toward the responsibilities of motherhood. They may not even be aware that they are emotionally pushing their children away or may even ignore them altogether. I must ask, who is really suffering in such a relationship?

In light of these sad truths, I would ask that each mother reading this do an examination of her own heart. It is much easier to point the finger at others, but that is unprofitable. Let us every one go before God and seek His ways to truly love and care for the precious souls He has entrusted to our care. Even if your children are teenagers or are completely grown to adulthood, it's not too late to give them a hug and tell them from your heart how much you love them. If you are guilty of openly complaining or even harboring only in your heart any grudges for having to "sacrifice" something to be a mother, then please ask the forgiveness of your dear family and seek the Lord for grace to develop a right attitude toward this most blessed role in life.

So, I ask again, are you a mother or a martyr? The choice is ultimately in how you look at it.

Read about the origins of Mother's Day here:

[4] BNet, News Publications, Jet "Celebrities reveal for Mother's Day: 'the greatest sacrifice my mother made for me" (May 12, 2002) (Accessed May 8, 2009)
[5] Anonymous, Blue Milk, "How motherhood sacrifice challenges your feminism", (February 11, 2008) (Accessed May 8, 2009)