Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Motherhood Badge of Martyrdom

Know what really grates on my nerves? The Motherhood Badge of Martyrdom that some women wear emblazoned on their being. It can be spotted from a mile away. Women who wear this badge like to portray themselves as some kind of saintly beings for all they sacrifice in their role as mother.

Case in point: my best friend's sister, a woman whose sole purpose in life is to convey to the world how completely put out she is by nature of being a mother. She's always huffing and puffing, and putting on the poor me facade, "I can't remember the last time I had a full night's sleep", "I can't remember what it was like to have a night out with hubby", "I never get any time to myself", "I am so wiped out from chauffering the kids all weekend". She loves to post daily updates on Facebook about how many times she was up the night before cleaning up throw-up, or how she spent the whole day doing 13 loads of laundry, or how hubby is out of town on business so she has to run the entire household by herself. It's as though her entire life is a big pity party and we're all invited.

For some reason, this behavior is not only tolerated from mothers, it's expected and reinforced. Always there is this perception of mothers as self-sacrificing saints, who give tirelessly of themselves for the benefit of others. The longer they stand on their martyr pedestal, the more we are supposed to recognize how hard they work, how wonderful they are and bow down to worship them appropriately. This is such a crock of BS.

Hubby and I own a house that has a large mortgage and immense property taxes, which, combined with all the other escalating expenses in life and the declining state of the economy, have become quite burdensome for us.

Now, imagine if I was constantly climbing onto a soapbox, whining and complaining about our financial obligations, posting Facebook updates every day about how draining my mortgage payments are, how hard I am working to make the payments, expecting everyone to feel sorry for me for the huge financial strain I undertook. Would anyone tolerate this or think I am some saint for meeting my responsibilities by paying my mortgage bill every month? No. The response would (rightly) be: you made the decision to buy the house, so you have to pay for it. Now shut the f*ck up already.

How about when I was going to graduate school? I was working full-time, going to class in the evening and burdened with tons of reading and a massive final thesis. Imagine if I was constantly climbing onto a pedestal to whine about my workload, expecting people to think I was some kind of saint for undertaking the endeavor of a graduate degree. Would anyone treat me like a saint for that, or offer me martyr status? Nope. Their response would be: so who put a gun to your head and made you go to graduate school? It was your choice, so stop complaining about it.

Same goes for having kids. Having kids is a choice, people. If you choose to have kids, it is understood that you are also choosing the tons of dirty work comes along with that lifestyle. It's part of the deal. People do not deserve martyr status or a pity party for taking care of the children that they decided to bring into the world.

I know I am a broken record, but I will say it again. People bring kids into the world for selfish reasons - not for the betterment of humanity. They want a little Mini-Me - a cute, cuddly being who looks like them to love unconditionally. They want to have fun buying little baby clothes, they want to be a powerful influence over somebody who is dependent on them and thinks they are god, they want someone to carry on their name, to take care of them in old age, they want to become a member of the Parent Club, they want to feel like they have a purpose in life and have accomplished something, they want fit in and fulfill other peoples' and society's expectations. The list of selfish reasons goes on and on. So when women like my sister-in-law put on the Big Martyr Act - the old Woe is Me routine, it truly makes me want to retch. I am supposed to feel sorry for her because the life she chose for herself is difficult? Spare me.

Oops - gotta run - time to make the mortgage payment.


Dave Ale said...

Ugh I hate those facebook statuses -- though I also hate the overly romantic, lovey dovey ones.

I had an argument on facebook about this just the other day... stupid me, opening my mouth and all. Basically:

Mom: *Complaining about something the kids did*

Me: Should've used a condom...

(Granted, not the most eloquent way of saying something, but I wasn't in a great mood)

Mom: Used a condom? I WANTED kids.

Me: So now you're complaining about something you wanted? That's like me wanting ice cream, buying it, then complaining that it was cold.

Other Mom: Dave, you don't have kids. You don't understand.


At this point I left the conversation, because my next response was going to be along the lines of:

You're right, I don't understand why you had something that you *KNEW* was going to consume a lot of time, resources, and effort and then you complain why it does that.

And I can even see complaining if the kid did something abnormally bad, ie got suspended from school for fighting -- but complaining because of the trivial, daily crap that comes with being a parent (like leaving dirty laundry around, not doing chores)?

/end rant

EY said...

And unfortunately, the cries of the martyrs further cover the quiet workings of parents who simply go about their business without a word. Not all parents are like this, but after hearing the griping and whining of *what you wanted your life to be like* it can be easy to assume that they are.

I want to not be the child-hating harpy, but I'm not going to positively reinforce someone's martyrdom or entertain their kids while they ignore them. I chose differently for a reason

Anonymous said...

"Other Mom: Dave, you don't have kids. You don't understand."

I actually gasped when I read this part. So arrogant, this woman. It bothers me that these kinds of mothers are allowed to "represent" us all. Moms wants babies. Have you noticed they always say, "I want to have a baby!" Nobody ever thinks about a fussy toddler, bratty child, or rebellious teenager. Just cuddly widdle baybees. I would feel bad for them if they didn't do it to themselves - repeatedly.

As far as parenting martyrdom, parents of special needs children are the worst, in my opinion. Many of them seem more concerned with garnering sympathy and special treatment than they are caring for their impaired child. And a lot of them can't seem to decide which side of the fence they're on: "Jimmy is like everybody else...Oh no! You can't use that word around him. It's insensitive." What's worse is the way parents of special needs children are automatically sainted. I think some of these people see a deformed ultrasound photo and think, "Oh. I'm going to be such a hero for choosing life. Nobody can top this." Only to whine and complain to their supporters about the stress on their marriage and finances when the baby comes. Not that any of them would ever admit it.

Childfreeeee said...

We childfree folks UNDERSTAND perfectly well, which is why we have opted not to have children.

CFVixen said...

I never understood complaining about something you wanted either. I do think some parents see their childed lifestyles as a great attention-getter. I see this in real life constantly, but it seems even more pervasive on Facebook.

Some status updates from the last two days:

"When is it going to be naptime?"

"Somebody help me! I'm in a zoo!"

"Working on 2 hours of sleep. Mama needs some coffee!"

"Am I the only one who can recite every word of Finding Nemo?"

"Poop in my bed. That's what I woke up to this morning. Poop."

"Up with a colicky baby. Good thing I like infomercials."

This is your life? Or this is how you get attention?

Unknown said...

First, I am so glad I found this blog because it seems like I am alone, childless by choice, drowning in the kiddie pool!

I simply cannot comprehend why people who are, or at least seem to be, happy have children and then wonder what the hell happened. Hello!

I have no tolerance for the complaining and get especially angry over how friendships deteroriate when children come into the picture. I actually found myself saying "I hate babies" the other day. I am 40ish and cannot even tell you how many friends I have lost to motherhood.

I have tried to adapt, but it is hopeless. My friends with children have moved on to another life and they aren't coming back. I actually mourn when a friend turns up pregnant. (I have many friends younger than me because they are the only ones witout kids and then...)

I truly feel like a monster when I could care less and even despise the fact that another friend has a baby.

Maybe you saw a recent special on PBS about finding happiness. The show covered a lot but in summary things like a good job, social connections and religion do seem to give people happiness. But they actually came out and said on this show that for the most part having children does not make people happy, and sometimes causes more unhappiness.

Duh! I have known this for years and know I chose correctly. It is just so frustrating sometimes.

Kimberly Springer, PhD said...

I think I love you. RSS feed intravenously, please!

lauracarroll said...

Our society Loves the martyr -- "I do so much, for so many..for so little." Look at my life of self-sacrifice -- I must be a good person. It gives people of false sense of self-importance (over those who have not chosen the same sacrifice)and an illusory sense of personal power. Parents who are doing the martyr thing just tell me that at the core they are not feeling too good about themselves. If they were, they would not have to try to prove to the rest of us how "great" they are.. ~Laura Families of Two http//

Unknown said...

Well said and very brave. They never expect people to 'throw it back in their face'.

They bring it upon themselves although I do say that there is so much society pressure to have kids, you know with the 'so-called good stuff' they end up having them anyway and I wonder if this woman actually regrets having kids.

Toast McGhost said...

I was looking up reasons not to have kids yesterday and came across your blog! I'm so incredibly happy that I did! I stayed up all night reading every entry and love it!

Fanboy Wife said...

The friends of mine that have children don’t complain or even talk about their children all the time. Even though they have children, they are still interesting and intelligent human beings. (Most of them had children before we met.) However, I do know some people who do nothing but gripe about their children. It takes a lot of restraint not to ask, “Then why did you have kids in the first place?” Even if I can’t get a martyr-pedestal, perhaps I can make the slightly-saint ranks because it’s so hard not to be snarky sometimes?

Kristine said...

Wow. So many well-put words of wisdom and humor and insight. It's just like when I found the vegetarians. I finally found "my people." Twice! Thanks guys, I love the way you think.

LĂ­via Fernanda said...

"Having kids is a choice, people". I also think it´s a choice, of course. But for people in general this is an obligation. I see it when I say I don't wanna kids, then people say to me: "How you don't wanna kids, YOU HAVE TO HAVE THEM!!" Like a physiologic stuff: you eat, you drink water, you sleep, you breathe and you have kids.

paul said...

You wrote: "People bring kids into the world for selfish reasons - not for the betterment of humanity. They want a little Mini-Me - a cute, cuddly being who looks like them to love unconditionally. They want to have fun buying little baby clothes, they want to be a powerful influence over somebody who is dependent on them and thinks they are god, they want someone to carry on their name, to take care of them in old age, they want to become a member of the Parent Club, they want to feel like they have a purpose in life and have accomplished something, they want fit in and fulfill other peoples' and society's expectations. The list of selfish reasons goes on and on."

This may be true of some people, but it is a gross and over-reaching generalization. My choice to become a parent was nothing of the sort, nor was the same choice many of my friends made.

Your sanctimonious justification of remaining childless strikes me as a case of protesting too much.

Sorry but you've got it wrong. And it's true: you don't know unless you become a parent.

Stepher said...

This is truly brilliant! I've shared on Twitter & Facebook. THANK YOU for writing this EPIC blog!

Anonymous said...

There are idiots on both sides of this debate, but the most vapid responses are always from the "childfreebychoice" crowd.

People complain every day about their jobs, do you tell them to quit them? No, because they serve a purpose. Even if that purpose is just to keep us entertained in our old age when we can spoil the grandkids rotten and then hand them back. (I fully intend to give my grandchildren Mt. Dew and RedVines and hand them back to dad, because that's what we do.)

Hatred (or even mild annoyance) of someone for their personal choice is stupid.

Just because you've gone and made a religion (another bad word none of you like) out of not breeding, doesn't mean WE want to hear about it either. I'm not here calling you an idiot for your choice, and I expect the same courtesy.

Full disclosure. I don't complain about my kids in public. Period.

fbritt said...

i always love your blog. have been following it for a long time. this post really resonated. SPEAK. IT.

@dave: that last comment would have sent me over the edge. i try not to engage in those kinds of arguments b/c they always end there. that's all they have to say and it's done.

Krissy said...


MilaJosephine said...

Paul, the paragraph you quoted contained a lot of reasons that a lot of people have children. I'm sure Childfreeeee did not mean every single parent on Earth had kids for only one of those reasons. She was merely trying to point out that a lot of parents, especially those who call childless/childfree people "selfish" are guilty of being selfish as well. We all make choices that we think will bring us the most happiness and satisfaction. Surely that is one of the reasons you chose to have children. The difference is that childfreedom is scrutinized (largely) and parenthood is promoted as selfless sacrifice and glory, when it is BOTH that are choices made by people who want to gain something out of it. For example, I would rather have a nice wardrobe, a personal trainer, and extra vacation time for my travels rather than send what will most likely be an ungrateful brat to college.
ShredderFeeder, if you don't want to "hear about" childfreedom, then the obvious suggestion would be not to read and/or comment on childfree blogs. These blogs are many times the ONLY refuge from family-oriented and baby-centric society. You would have a much easier time finding a blog glorifying endless breeding and gushing about childrens' sunshine and rainbow faces. Why is it so bad to have a place to vent? It's not like we're going up to parents on the street and berating them. But a lot of parents I've met don't have a problem speaking out against the childfree lifestyle. "You're just... NOT going to have kids? Why?" "That's weird..." "Seriously? What else are you going to do?" "It's sad you'll never know unconditional love."
But I can't say, "Have fun getting pissed on, literally and figuratively, for the rest of your life"?
Lastly, Childfreeee has never implied or said that she HATES any parent for their choice to have children, so don't put words in her mouth.

charmed said...

when people complain about their kids it doesn't really bother me at all. But at the same time they get no sympathy from me what so ever, i do not feel bad for them at all b/c they made the choice to have kids. It just makes me extremely grateful I don't have kids and I will never have to deal with any of that stuff. EVER. your blog

Cathy said...

Amen to the post and most of the comments.

Unknown said...

I agree, using Facebook as a forum to either gripe about your kids or glorify everything they do is NOT healthy. I've hidden some people that I've friended on Facebook for that very reason because it really makes me mad/sad that their lives revolve around their children.

Chris said...

I just found this blog and immediately bookmarked it to my favorites.

I'll add that one of the things that annoys the piss out of me about some parents, and it tends to be the newer ones, is that they act like they, themselves, are saints for choosing to procreate. Like they somehow walk in some type of invisible holy light, that the rest of us do not, for bringing one or more completely unremarkable and superfluous humans into the world. This tends to be the mom rather than the dad, but I've seen nauseating self righteousness from both.

Like becoming a mom or a dad is some special feat, and not the mistake that half the time it likely was.

But of course, each child is a special little snowflake to them and not an additional cell of bacteria building up on this planet, adding to the out-of-control infection that the human race actually is; spurred on by unlimited access to food.

I think it just gives some people purpose, where there was none before.

From my perspective, trying to bring fulfillment into an unfilled life with children is akin to failure. Thats like saying "My life alone isn't worthwhile, so perhaps the next generation will have a better shot. As a bonus, I'll gain my purpose through them." If you want to have kids, the decision shouldn't be guided by what would fulfill you, but by your desire to give to them. Sadly, I think that this is rarely the case. The selfish nature of most humans indicates otherwise.

If you want kids, then quietly be happy with them and raise them to be adults capable of free and critical thinking. Don't burden the rest of us with your judgment and self righteousness.

Juniper Jupiter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ozjeppe said...

Great title of this equally great post on the phenomenon! And yes, we have many of those martyr columnists over here in Sweden, dropping weekly rants of their heroic sacrifices as parents. Like "charmed" points out, I have zero sympathy for their bitching, and try to feel greatful of my childfreedom instead of raising my annoyance level...

Jenn said...

ok, "paul", why did you have kids then? funny you didn't tell us not one of your unselfish reasons.. maybe you should enlighten us!

"shredderfeeder" ~ If you don't like someone's "religion" would you go to their church? if you don't want to hear childfree people's opinions, then DON'T COME TO ONE OF THEIR BLOGS AND READ IT! Simple as that!

Jenn said...

oh and another thing "paul". i think YOU are "protesting too much" if you're seeking out childfree websites to come justify your choice on. get over yourself.

Little Type Amy said...

Im new here and just disovered this blog, so why im replying to really old posts.
Anyway, I am so happy to have found this blog.It feels great to know that I am not alone, in a society that seems obsessed with motherhood, I truly have felt like I live in a world that wasnt quite made for someone like me who isnt thrilled about having kids and have other goals in mind.
I am approaching my 30s, and still do not feel any more ready to have children than I did years ago. I thought this was something i would grown out of, but it seems unlikely at this time. These feelings become more confirmed as I hear constant complaining from my mom friends about their kids. All i hear is how much they need a break and never have time to themselves and how much their kid stresses them out every day. Then I got to also hear the pregnacny and childbirth stories whihc I dont find all that pleasnt
Im not meaning to be cruel, but what exactly did you think you signed up for and what did you expect? I dont understand why people want kids so desperately, then seem to want a break from them and plot to get them out of their hard just as badly.
MY feelings have become more confirmed as I witness the overscheduled headless chicken life of my mom friends. It seems like every waking second of her life is overrun by her kids, with all that chaos and drama they cause and all the millions of errands and appointments and activiies she has to chauffer for every day.It is as if her whole is so regimented and overscheduled.
I hate to tell the mom who hope to change my mind, but all these accounting of childrearing are not exactly making it look like anything all that appealling to me. to be im not sold on it
I couldnt imagine being in her shoes and dont really want to be. I know that my life may be empty and boring being childfree, but I cherish being able to enjoy as much free time and privacy whenever I need it.
I love knowing that I can come and go as I wish.I like being free to enjoy a glass of wine, or a good book, or indulge in a relaxing bath or shower or eat whatever I want for dinner, without feeling any guilt, as some mom seem to experience when they so much as think about taking time to do something for themselves, I truly feel that this constant responsibility ( and the financial drains) would be far too much pressure for me and not sure is something that I feel would work for me..
I know this is totallhy off topic, but are there any other contributers to the blog that have struggled inheriting the stepmother role and if so, what affect do you think it has in your choice to not have a child of your own. Not only has my friends issues with her son started to factor into my feelings about being childfree, but enduring a lot of drama from my husbands child from a prior relationship and the ex wh knowingly causes so much problems and chaos in our marriage that Im ready to jump off a cliff and go out of my mind.All of these issues has not exactly been selling me on changing my attitudes about children.I have had to be stressed out enough tyring to be a mom to someone else's kid who is very troubled and out of control...
and it just failed in spite all my best and well meaning efforts to create this happy family for us, but that didnt work out for me at all. Maybe there are others who can relate to this..struggles with being a stepmom, while also not trying too hard to have your own child, as the steppareting problems and how hard it is been to endure, I have is certainly giving me more reasons why I dont feel all that excited about reproducing

Christine said...

This post is horrible. I'm glad you think you know the psychology of mothers well enough to determine for the rest of us why we had children. Nice to know it was purely for selfish reasons.


I'm a mother of four. I don't complain about being a mother. I LOVE being a mother--even with all the sacrifices it entails.

I was horribly selfish, self-centered, uncompassionate, unwilling to sacrifice BEFORE I had children. Having children has expanded my heart, enlarged my capacity to love, stretched me and pushed me and caused me to grow in ways unimaginable and delightful. Hard work? Yes. Worth it? Every bit.

I am sorry you deliberately refuse such blessings, and then attack mothers for the beautiful and worthwhile choices they have made.

The very fact that you are so obsessed with "selfishness" reveals much more about you than about those whom you criticize.

Freelance Feminist said...

It might be true for you that motherhood has given you blessings, fulfillment, and joy, but that experience is not true for many women and I know wouldn't be true for me and many people who comment on this blog.

Many women do not grow as people when they become mothers. I have seen women who have simply lost themselves due to all the pressures, sacrifices, and drudgery of motherhood. They have become empty shells of themselves. I have an aunt who once warned me, "make sure you do everything you want to do for you before you have a child, because once you have a child, YOU are done. It's all about them." For a lot of women, the hard work of parenting reaps more misery than rewards.

From my observations, I have noticed that those who do not have children, whether by choice or not, are more self-actualized and have grown more as people because they have not had to sacrifice as much.

Which brings me to the "selfishness" topic...The childfree are constantly criticized by the childed for being selfish when they do not deserve this criticism any more than do parents. Like Mandy and other commenters have said countless times before; both groups have made their decisions for the same reason: to live the happiest life possible. The fact that you love being a mother is a testament to this statement. You chose to be a mother so you could reap the happiness and fulfillment that you have received from the job. Is that not as selfish as one choosing NOT to be a parent so she can reap the same happiness and fulfillment?

Mandy's "obsession" with selfishness tells more about our culture's glorification of motherhood and condemnation of childfreedom than it does about her personality. She wouldn't need to make blog posts like this if the childfree were not attacked so much about a personal life choice and parents were not given so much undeserved praise.

Krissy said...

Hey Christine,

Thanks for your comment and your thoughts. One thing though that I feel like I should point out:

Just because YOU were, as you said in your own words "...horribly selfish, self-centered, uncompassionate,and unwilling to sacrifice" before you had children does not mean that every other person is the same way. Sometimes it takes a certain level of maturity to become selfless and to learn what life is really about - and it certainly does not take bringing a child into the world to get to this point. A lot of times you either have it or you don't...regardless of parental status

I know plenty of extremely selfish, rude, and corrupt people that have children. Having a child does NOT always change who you are. This has to come from within and it takes self-reflection to make a difference on your personality. Saddam Hussein had kids - but that didn't make him have an enlarged capacity to love or an expanded heart. He was always a selfish person and his fatherhood did nothing to change this. You can say the same for many people in this world.

The child-free are not "obsessed with 'selfishness'" as you said... it is usually those who have children who want to paint child-free adults as selfish. We do not "refuse such blessings" of being parents...we DECIDE not to be parents. Refusing and making a calculated choice are two different things. There are hundreds of reasons to have or to not have kids... but those reasons are all our own. Just as you don't want to be judged for being a mother, it's unfair of you to judge why people on this blog have decided not to have kids. Maybe people have decided that financially it's not possible for them - is it right of you to bash them on this blog and say that because they cannot afford it they are "refusing" the blessings?

All I can say is that blessings come in MANY forms and are definitely in they eye of the beholder. I count my blessings each day that I can live the life that I truly am destined to live (a child-free one) and not one that society tells me I should live. It is a blessing to be able to volunteer and help OTHERS (see, this is because I'm not selfish) every week and to be able to spend extra time giving back to those that need my help and can benefit from my time. My biological childbearing abilities do not define who I am or what I will become; the way I treat others and live my life will determine this.

Please keep in mind that a "blessing" to you may be considered a curse to me. Please don't judge others with the expectation of not being judged in return.