A person I sometimes see in my coaching practice is the mum martyr. This idealised saintly mother spends every waking minute tending to other people’s needs, following an imaginary set of mothering rules, secretly hoping for their reward on some imaginary scoreboard somewhere, and quietly resentful that it doesn’t appear to be forthcoming.
I get it. You really want to do what is right for your children. It is quite overwhelming when you sit back and consider the gravity of responsibility in your hands. Growing a tiny baby into a capable, functioning and good adult is an exhaustive process. As they grow you are constantly surveying and scanning, watching their emotional, intellectual and physical development. Stepping in instantly when something appears to be going off course, and gently steering them back in the right direction.
The responsibility is huge.
And there is so much noise around the right way to do things. There is a theory for everything. The attachment experts say you are extinguishing your child’s soul by letting them cry in the night. At the other end of the spectrum, the opinion is that if you get up for your child in the night, essentially you are a pushover being manipulated by a tiny tyrant. Both can feel insulting as you navigate your way through them.
But you really, really, deeply want to do what is healthiest for them. So you seek expert opinion, you follow rules and programmes. As your children grow, you become an expert child-whisperer.
Then add, on a practical level, is all the logistics of managing children. The appointments, the practices, the school supplies, the Hop card top-up.
And at the same time, many mothers maintain most of the responsibility for the household. So they are thinking of dog vaccinations, school fair baking, emptying the dishwasher, what’s for dinner, are tomorrows uniforms clean and the rubbish bins go out tonight.
There is so much on a mother’s plate.
Everything takes time. Every single task. Over and over, every single day.
But someone has to do it all, right?
In my home, 3-9pm can be an intensely busy time. Head down, getting through the to-do list of children and home. And I want to do it well. I hate a messy home or I feel quite stressed, I want my kid to be supervised doing homework, I want them to have a reasonably healthy meal, I want them off screens. And when you look at that length of time, that 6 hours is a reasonable chunk of time. It is nearly a full working day. Added on top of the work you did before school, and during school hours. It is a very long day. It is so easy for it to become all-consuming.
But please, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can still give your kids an exceptional start in life, and run your life well without sacrificing yourself to your commitments.
Self-care is admitting to yourself that you deserve some effort and time too. It is admitting you’re your sanity and wellbeing might deserve priority over taking the kids to soccer. It doesn’t have to mean going out for a girls’ night or having a massage. It can simply mean taking a walk at 830pm and letting your partner handle the closing stages of the bedtime routine. It can mean taking a bath while listening to nice music. It can mean taking the remote back and turning on something you want to watch, rather than just watching what the rest of the family feel like.
There are so many shortcuts you can make in your life administration if you get really serious about it. Some simple ideas include : Buy sushi one night a week for dinner, for a quick shortcut meal. Commit to shared driving to activities with other mums, and reduce the car time, limit the kids to one activity per week. And allow yourself the luxury of having a term off, with no activities.
Kids can do housework. I think I am on track to never empty a rubbish bin, or a dishwasher ever again in my life. We are working on me dropping the school lunches and weekend lunchbox baking too. I do a ’10-minute-tidy-up’ every second day. I stand at the kitchen bench, issuing instructions like a sergeant major. “Put these shoes in the wardrobe, put that soccer ball where it belongs, put the dog lead away, and stack that beer in the fridge and those potatoes in the basket” it’s only 10 minutes if we all do it, and left alone to do I feel so resentful and it takes so long.
There are oodles of ideas like this if you look online.
So the big questions are: do you ever feel resentful about how much you do for your home and family? Do you have time to look after yourself? Are you looking after yourself as well as you do your family? And, is there a possibility you are being a martyr?