How to Avoid Being a Mommy Martyr or Parental Scapegoat ….

Ask and Expect Help

Growing up my mom used to say to my brother and I, “If you want to do something do it. I’m not going to tell you what to do but you should do it out of the goodness of your heart and wanting to contribute.” We didn’t have assigned chores. The words resonated with me and I would wash the floor, bake, and do a few other tasks to help out, because I wanted to help. These gestures were appreciated.

Moving to Toronto in the early ’80s and living on my own was the height of self- indulgence! I didn’t have to account to anyone, my place could be as messy or tidy as I chose and when I decided to do something, I was able to do it my way.  In 1983 I married my elf king, life shifted to compromising perspectives as a couple. Mark wasn’t so much into decorating, organizing, and cleaning. I on the other hand was pretty anal about organization, cleaning and the aesthetics of our décor. I could be pretty obnoxious with my unyielding views on things being perfect. I remember one day washing the floor in our apartment galley kitchen then Mark came in and ate or prepared something resulting in crumbs on the floor. I could feel my anger boil. A few more instances occurred where Mark seemed to be disturbing my world of perfection. It must have been my guardian angel who gave me a swift hard kick, (Thank goodness!) because I suddenly looked at myself long and hard and thought, “You better relax and take a different approach, or you are going to either kill Mark or yourself.” The bottom line is that I realized the relationship would be toast if I didn’t change. I needed to not only ask for help or include Mark in household management, but I also needed to accept his way of performing a task.

During the ’90s while raising my children, my mother was carrying her own burden of mommy martyrdom. I would listen to her angry reflections on life as a stay-at-home mom, all that she did and all that she sacrificed. She did it all while my father did it all at work. He was a corporate workaholic, disengaged from household management while my mom on the other hand didn’t ask for help but dutifully did it.  This was another lesson by example, reminding me that if I didn’t engage others in household management, I might end up bitter and angry like my mom.

What did we do with our boys as they grew? A combination of sharing my mom’s message, “If you do something to help out, do it from your heart,” and assigning simple tasks. I don’t believe we were as good with the follow-through with the chores. It seemed what we did prioritize was schoolwork and rep sports. Luckily for us as a couple, we have shared duties and we have both asked for help when needed. Yes, we have tended to follow traditional gender chores, which if doing again, I would adjust. We have also reminded ourselves that life isn’t always even. Bottom line is that our boys have seen a collaborative relationship example to follow should they start a family.

In researching this topic of engagement of children in household chores I came upon Amy Macfarlane’s humorous and wise article in today’s Parent 2017 blog. Here is an interesting excerpt which I will leave for you to ponder:

On this side of the 1960s, we know while the truth won’t exactly set you free, it is ground zero of any resistance movement. And there is a movement burgeoning within mommy lit and blogs, says Andrea O’Reilly, founder and director of the influential Motherhood Initiative and professor of women’s studies at Toronto’s York University. These women, she says, aren’t merely whining—they’re pushing back against old standards of motherhood. “They’re saying, ‘This is what it really looks like,’ and ‘I’m not going to pretend I can do it without community and support.’”