Shrink

The psychology of weight loss.

Are You a Mom or a Martyr?

When moms wear their hardworking sleepless lives as a badge of honor.

The “Mommy Wars” came to a head recently when Maria Kang, a fitness enthusiast and mother advertised her “no excuses mom” movement with a picture of herself complete with perky cleavage and washboard abs-- noting how she exercises regularly despite how many hours she works, how many children she has, how little sleep she gets, how she is not a personal trainer, and how she has no hired help. The picture spurred both praise and criticism, and ultimately landed her on Nightline to confront the moms who feel her movement is insensitive, fat shames, and is critical to mothers who have different challenges. The critical mothers (in a Huff Post article called “We Don’t Need an Excuse”) struck back by noting the number of hours they work, the number of children they have, the few hours they sleep, their lack of household help, and a host of other challenges. And around we go.

As moms, we wear our hard-working, sleepless, “I get no help from anyone” lifestyles like a badge of honor.  We mentally assign ourselves as the busiest-most-stressed-out person on the planet and want constant praise and sympathy for our efforts.  We criticize other moms who have “breaks” we don’t have. Why is it so important to us to believe that we work harder and love our children more than other moms? Why do we need validation that our plight is so much worse than everyone else’s?  Do we not like our lives?  Do we not like each other?

I am reminded of Martyr Syndrome, a personality characteristic in which a person views her or himself as a self-sacrificing victim. This complex is accompanied by depression and lack of fulfillment typically resulting from denying one’s own needs for the sake of others. Such individuals view life as a struggle and frequently lament the contrast between their sacrifice and the ungratefulness and laziness of people around them. I can’t help but wonder if the Mommy Wars are really the Martyr Wars. The pressure on moms to be everything to everyone creates a vicious cycle of overworking, guilt, resentment, and self-neglect. Not surprisingly, this makes our lives unsatisfying and instead of looking inward, we turn on each other.  We boast about our accomplishments and treat others with disdain when they haven’t achieved what we think they should have. Perhaps we need to spend less time comparing work, kiddie, and sleep resumes and a little more time taking care of ourselves mentally and physically…..and not feeling guilty about it.

Regardless of whether we are the one critical of another mom’s “excuses” or her abs, the fact that we are critical means that to truly get healthy, we have some emotional work to do.

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Are you a new mom looking for a convenient post-partum workout?  See here and here.

See here and here for some tips to improve your sleep.

Need 31 Reasons You Shouldn’t Feel Mommy Guilt? See here.

Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, Department of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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