How to take back the power and lose the guilt……
You’ve just tidied your 10-year-olds bedroom, whipped up two batches of cookies for the school fete, bathed the dog, wrestled with sticky paper to cover your teenagers’ school books, and realised you didn’t even stop for lunch today.
Does this sound just a little bit like you?
The martyrdom trap
All parents make some sacrifices for their children; it’s a normal part of parenthood. What’s not ok is when selfless sacrifices are taken to extremes, says Professor Matt Sanders, Clinical Psychologist, Founder of the Triple P Positive Parenting Program, and Director of the Parenting and Family Support Centre at University of Queensland.
“This is when parents fall into the martyrdom trap,” he says. “Some parents suppress their own needs to such a degree that they become angry, miserable, and depressed,” he says.
Self sacrifice also has an evil twin that contributes to martyrdom – over protectiveness, and when the two join forces martyrdom mayhem results.
Martyr mums want to protect their child, and do things for them, but what they’re inadvertently teaching their child is that they can’t do it for themselves.
Children need to learn to positively deal with adversity, and how to manage conflict. There are a multitude of issues that kids have to learn to manage to help them navigate their way through life and all its ups and downs.
They need to know that we don’t always get what we want in life, and sometimes we have to make difficult choices, that do have consequences.
Are you a martyr mum?
You can usually spot a martyr mother by their anxious, tired expression. They’re overwhelmed, they feel underappreciated, and many are at their wits end.
Many mums also feel frustrated because they’re devoting all their time and energy to their kids, but the kids don’t seem to be grateful, says Professor Sanders.
“The children are either uncooperative, demanding in challenging in some way, and parents start to question the value of making all these sacrifices,” he says.
Despite all this, many mums consistently refuse to share the load. As they plough their way through the daily grind, they feel that they alone can do the job and do it right.
But not all martyr mums started out that way. Many tried in the past to get children to help around the house. And after gritting their teeth at the sheer frustration of asking them to do jobs that never get done, they eventually give up.
Many are also juggling dual responsibilities of running a household and paid employment. And with so many balls in the air, it’s little wonder some, if not all of them, eventually come crashing down.
The reality is martyrdom is a perilous slppery slope that impacts negatively not only on the parents, but also the child.
So what fuels the martyr mindset?
There are several factors that contribute, according to the experts. Some mums feel there’s a sense of self righteousness and respect gained from the knowledge that they’re the one keeping it together, and sacrificing everything for their family.
“Martyrdom is in some ways self serving,” agrees Professor Sanders. “The parent feels the need to be needed, and in doing everything for their children they are fulfilling that basic desire,” he says.
Others feel compelled to sacrifice their wants because they feel guilty.
Guilt and parenthood often go hand in hand. Parents feel guilty if they can’t afford the latest gizmo that their child’s friends have or they feel guilty if they don’t have the time to help at school excursions.
Parents also feel guilty if they take time out for themselves.
“Nurturing yourself is a vital part of positive parenting, because it helps you to nurture your family,” says Professor Sanders.
No is not a dirty word
Many parents find it hard to say no to their kids. But the inability to say no to your offspring is a definite big no-no.
“Children benefit by living in a world of certainty and predictability, with reasonable limits,” says Professor Sanders. “Parents need the confidence to say no at times and stick to their guns, without getting emotionally over aroused and screaming or smacking,” he says.
According to Joanne Kymes and Jennifer Worley, authors of The Stay at home Martyr: A survival guide for having a life outside your kids the ability to utter that one little word is one of the key challenges of parenting in the new millennium.
“Parents have lost the nerve to say no – worried that their child’s fragile self esteem will be forever scarred. So instead of equipping them with a tool belt and rugged boots that will help them to survive as grown ups, run ahead carpeting every precious step their child can take, cushioning every fall, and bailing them out of every predicament,” the authors say.
What martyrdom really teaches your child
If a parent always comes to the rescue, they’re denying their child the opportunity to grow and learn essential life skills.
If you do everything for your child, you’re also inadvertently promoting a sense of learned helplessness. The child gets the message that they aren’t as capable as other kids because their parents don’t trust them to do it on their own.
It’s vital to remember the fundamental goal of parenting is independence training, says Professor Sanders.
“It’s building a child’s capacity to do things, to be responsible and capable, in a supportive environment,” he says.
“Parents need to think of themselves as the scaffolding – and the child is the building they’re creating. The scaffolding supports the structure, but gradually the scaffolding is removed as the building grows more structurally sound until it can stand on its own,” he says.
If you feel that you are being a martyr – ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you let go – just a little? The house won’t fall down around your ears. Life will go on. You might also discover your offspring have a newfound respect for your new attitude.
Start by choosing a task or chore your child struggles with and allow them to work through it on their own. By encouraging them to help with a chore, you’ll not only be guiding them towards self sufficiency, they’ll also feel that they’re making a valuable contribution to the family.
Your child might stumble and fall, but you’ll be there to pick them up, dust them off, hug them, and cheer on their efforts.
Start small, offer encouragement, and watch them grow!
Taking care of you!
• Prioritise - think about what is the important, and not so important stuff.
• Nurture yourself - take time out to recharge emotionally and physically.
• Share the load - learn to delegate. Ask, and expect children to pitch in.
• Accept offers of help.
• Get organised - write a to do list. Maximise your trips. Could you run errands on the way home from work or book your child into day care near where you work?
• Rethink your work/play balance. Revise employment options - job share, work from home or go part-time.
• Combine tasks - create a play area near the kitchen so you can see baby while you cook dinner.
Remember, being a parent is a wonderous journey filled with love, laughter, crazy schedules, overflowing washing baskets, exhaustion, and the knowledge that despite all this, you’ll survive.
Oh, and ditch that martyr halo – it’s just not worth it.
By Carrol Baker