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Moms Who Are Martyrs Don't Do Anyone Any Good

The sacrifice isn't worth it. In fact, it's dangerous.

Key points

  • Some modern mothers are molded to be martyrs early, but their sacrifice hurts them and their children.
  • When moms learn to receive before they give, they can give more abundantly and authentically.
  • Working moms risk burnout, stress, and anxiety when they perpetuate a cycle of continual self-sacrifice at home and on the job.

Door slams.

You: Hi, sweetie! How was your day?

Your kid: Fine.

You: What did you do? Who did you sit with at lunch? What was your favorite part?

Kid: Nothing. My friends. Recess.

Sound familiar? Welcome to every day I pick up my kids.

And I know that I’m not the only one who experiences this daily. That “How was your day?” shuts them down completely. And there’s a reasonable explanation as to why and why the same thing happens every day.

When our kids are at school or daycare all day, there’s so much expected of them. They have to sit still, do their work, answer questions that their teacher asks of them. Don’t talk. Walk quietly. Respond when called upon.

They’re giving of themselves all day. I don’t mean sacrificially, but just that their energy is constantly going out. And not on their own terms either. It’s all based on what some other adult wants from their days.

It’s been output, output, output all day long. And by the time they get in the car, they’re done. They haven’t received or had their cup filled all day. So the last thing they’ll want to do (or really even be able to do) is give one more time, even for something simple as thoughtfully answering how their day was.

Now think of what your day looks like. Answering phone calls, doing the work your boss puts on your plate, 30 minutes shoving food in your face for lunch and racing back to the office, doing a presentation, sitting through meetings. Whatever your task list looks like, I can all but guarantee that it’s just like your kid’s: output, output, output. Give, give, give.

Some modern mothers are molded to be martyrs early, but their sacrifice hurts them and their children. We’ve all been there when even the last fumes of your energy are spent on work on your car ride home—thinking about ways to put out fires or taking even more phone calls. Then you roll up to your front door or your kids' school, immediately in give, give, give mom mode. That’s the job we signed up for.

There’s a fast and easy way to set yourself up to make those transitions less painless for you and your kids: flip the script from always giving to taking intentional times of receiving. It sounds complicated and a little bit meta, but it’s simply taking a few minutes to allow yourself time not to be needed for a hot second.

Instead of parking your car and immediately walking up to get your kids or walking through the front door of your house, try something like sitting in the car listening to your favorite song, watching a TedTalk, texting a friend, or reading a book. It will look different depending on what fills you up.

The only thing that matters is that it’s not something that stresses you out, and it doesn’t require any substantial effort or energy. It’s very passive.

For your kids, instead of jumping right into questions they have to answer, allow them to just chill (bearing in mind that some kids will decide that chilling looks like saying all the words they haven’t been able to during the day.) This could look like greeting them with “I missed you!” or playing a song they love to dance to. They’ve been giving all day, too, and need a chance to receive.

Then you can ask about the flavor of milk they chose at lunch.

We can also use this as a litmus test for how we make decisions. That workout or that commitment at your kids’ school–are you saying yes because you love it and it would fill you up, or are you saying yes out of obligation? Of course, I’m aware that there are things in life that you have to do because you’re obligated. Just don’t fill your days with them.

Author Annie Dillard says in her book The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.” Working moms risk burnout, stress, and anxiety when they perpetuate a cycle of continual self-sacrifice at home and on the job.

So what do you want to be doing with your life? Filling it with things that you have to do? Things that revolve around someone else’s life? Or would you rather fill your days based on what’s most important to you? What makes the most sense for your own family?

When moms learn to receive before they give, they are able to give more abundantly and authentically. That’s a centered life. One that's better for your health and everyone else around you too.

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