5 Ways To Fix Your “Martyr Mom Syndrome”


Supermom. We’ve all heard this term, referring to the woman who does it all. With a big smile on her face.  They’re ladies who are lauded for being strong and selfless—truly super. But as a mom myself, this word always makes me bristle, because in my own in experience with parenthood, and in observing and talking with others, I’ve found that underneath that bright Mommy smile, there’s often not genuine happiness, but exhaustion, and even resentment.

I know, it’s complicated. The concept of motherhood and identity is an age-old conversation, one that’s ongoing and is partly influenced by culture and family-specific factors. But one of these factors has to do with mom herself, her choices and behaviors, which can lead to martyrdom. Pure intentions sometimes unintentionally transform. (I understand this well. I’m in it, too.) Ultimately, it’s a good reminder for all of us, to be aware of when this happens.

Here are five things moms do that lead to martyrdom, plus effective fixes.

1. They don’t empower their partners. Women are notorious for not trusting Dad to take care of the kids. Recently I even heard a few women say they asked their husband to “babysit” the kids. Um, a dad is a parent, not hired help.

The fix: The key here is a tough one for many moms to accept: You have to let Dad do things his way. Which means giving up control. This is super hard for some women, but really, so what if the pigtails are crooked? Or the kids eat off napkins in the living room? The bottom line is that he has just as much interest in keeping the kids alive as you do, and if you keep your mind open, you may well learn something from him. Consider it a fresh perspective. Also, kids love alone time with Dad, and you get… freedom!

2. They do everything for their kids. From folding clothes to picking up toys to entertaining their kids every minute, many moms shoulder it all, because that’s what it means to be a “good mom,” right? But actually, this behavior only teaches kids that the world revolves around them 24/7, which is not a useful life skill.

The fix: Our goal as parents is to raise kids who will live independently in the world. So, let them play alone on age-appropriate equipment at the park. Encourage them to overcome boredom on their own. In addition, you might be surprised to find that even very young children can help with household tasks. For example, toddlers can easily help gather up laundry, preschoolers can clear the table after dinner, and first-graders are capable of taking out the trash. Children can also clean up their own toys. And the best thing of all is that kids feel empowered when they do stuff without you.

3. They don’t leave, ever. A few weeks ago, I overheard a mom with school-age children say that she had never been away from her kids for even one night. Her partner stood at her side, insisting he’s suggested she go. This might sound extreme, but it’s actually not that uncommon. Women often have a hard time legitimizing their individual needs.

The fix: The good news is that it’s actually healthy for everyone in the family when parents to spend time away from their kids. For starters, you get a recharge, which positively affects your sense of well-being, making you a more effective mom. Also, it’s good when kids see you as an individual, because this provides early insight into the concept of identity. And finally, it’s great for kids to spend time with another loving caregiver. So go ahead and sign up for that dance class, girlfriend getaway, or solo mountain adventure.

4. They don’t raise the bar high enough. Moms are always lamenting what they have to “give up” when they have kids, especially related to travel and adventure. There’s no question that life changes. However, it’s still possible to do so many things. It’s partly a matter of expecting more from your kids.

The fix: If you don’t ask your kids to jump out of their comfort zone, they never have any reason to do so. However, the minute you urge this, you may be surprised at how flexible and adaptable they are, or at how much endurance they have. For example, if you love long walks or hikes but don’t think your preschooler will tolerate it, think again. Do you see how they run circles around you every day? They have enough energy. Take them out on a long walk, curb any whining, and reward them for a job well done along the way. If you keep it fun, they’ll likely want to do it again, and they’ll feel proud of the accomplishment.

5. They complain about all of the above with other moms. Okay, so venting is one thing, and it’s healthy for all of us to do this every now and then, because motherhood (and life) is very challenging at times. But there’s a line between healthy commiseration and suffocating negativity. Obsessive negativity only perpetuates more negativity.

The fix: If you hang around with a group of women who exclusively bitch about Items 1-4 on this list, take a chance and try to change the conversation. Talk about something that inspired you recently. Or something innovative you discovered in your life. Perhaps mention something that has everything to do with you as an individual. And if you find yourself caught in a negative cycle when you’re e-interacting with others (i.e. on social media), pull yourself away and do something that encourages positivity instead, like reading an uplifting magazine article or blog.