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Mother does not mean martyr (so don’t let it)

Research shows that many women still complete the bulk of the housework and the child rearing, as well as completing their work outside the home. It means many women rush from one job to the next, leaving little time for themselves.

In many instances, when it is time for some self-indulgence, these same women are riddled with guilt, rushing through whatever personal activity they’re doing in order to get back to what they ‘should’ be doing.

“Over the past two or three generations, women moved in to what was traditionally the male role – going out to work – but over that same time they’ve retained most of the traditional female responsibilities as well,” says health coach Rachael Jansen, who is currently undertaking research for a new project dubbed, The Mother (over) Load.

It hasn’t been a conscious decision to take on so much though, it’s just happened that way as education and career opportunities opened up, especially since the 1980s.

The majority of the current-generation mums are tertiary-educated across the board and have sought careers as opposed to jobs. They have been reluctant to let go of their professional identity as they moved in to motherhood, so they have been trying to manage both.

According to Jansen, it’s in our DNA to want to care for children, so we have ended up in a position where we want individual fulfillment through our work and career commitments and personal fulfillment through our family commitments.

But who is responsible for this? Our husbands? Society? Or does some of the responsibility sit on our own shoulders? For refusing to change the status quo, stop playing the martyr and actually take some time for ourselves – without the guilt?

“Women are very good at putting pressure on themselves. They feel intense responsibility to their children and families, and a need to prove themselves in their careers, so will often tie themselves in knots trying to achieve unsustainable standards in both areas,” Jansen says. “Society accepts it as the norm because that’s what women do.”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said no to an event, rushed home from the shops (rather than stopping for a coffee), put down a book or knocked back a sleep-in, simply because of a sense of obligation – despite the fact that the fort and my family would be well and truly looked after without me.

The end result is often a feeling of resentment, brought on, in some part, by my own misplaced guilt and the decisions that result from that guilt.

“It feeds the frenzy of busyness and the end result is unhappiness, frustration and fatigue,” Jansen explains.

She says there are some steps we can take though to reduce that sense of obligation, stop playing the martyr and enjoy taking some time out for ourselves.

  • Understand that in order to do your best as a mother (or anything else) you must look after yourself first. Just like the oxygen mask lecture on a flight, fix your oxygen supply first so that you can help others. Shifting your mindset from one that says everyone else must come first to one that says ‘I matter too’ is the very first step to balance.
  • Set aside some time every day, even if it’s five or 10 minutes, for you. Walk outside, sit quietly, whatever appeals. It’s about creating some space in your days.
  • Do life, not chores. The to-do list never ends, but life does, so don’t play the martyr and say you’ve got too much to do when the opportunity for fun or relaxation comes up. Take the fun, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed – you’ll feel better and more able to cope with the chores when you get back to it.
  • Set some boundaries around your life so that you don’t spend it purely as a witness to the lives of your kids, husband and boss. Remember your kids still have their whole lives in front of them, but this is your life right now. If their basic needs are met – they are loved, fed, clothed – then everything else you are doing is over and above and you can afford to wind it back a little if and when you need to.