Monday, March 3, 2014

Parenthood: Week 40: Parents as Martyrs

Everybody wants to be a martyr sometimes. Now I don’t mean that everyone literally wants to die for his or her religious beliefs. When I use the term martyr, I’m talking about that annoying person who complains that other people don’t give them their due credit. When I say that everyone feels this way, I’m saying that I feel this way sometimes therefore other people must feel this way. I may bewrong on this point, but I feel a need to generalize my feelings as part of a shared human experience, because if I don’t . . . life gets kind of sad.

Parenting and martyrdom seem to come hand in hand. Parents don’t get enough recognition by society. We have collectively made choices as a country to make parenting, harder as opposed to easier.  We systemically make the job of being a parent feel more like a burden than a joy.

It’s really difficult to not become bitter and annoyed when issues related to parenting don’t seem like a priority in our country. We can all celebrate the fact that children are our future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we will actively do anything to make that future brighter by investing in schools, lengthening paternity and maternity leave, subsidize and better regulate day care and make sure every child in America has enough food to eat.

If you let this bitterness at society mix with the sleep-deprived and often-frustrating job of being a parent then a feeling of being a martyr can quickly set in.  If you fall into this mindset and complain about deserving recognition, you will annoy all your friends and just become more bitter. The logical response is: no one forced you to be a parent, so don’t be such a martyr about it. The thing about logical responses is that they annoy people dealing with emotions than help because they invalidate feelings and push people in cycles of negative self-talk.

The crazy thing is that sometimes we choose to do things the hard way as parents so that we feel more like a martyr.  You don’t have to cook dinner, do the laundry and clean the house while taking care of your infant son while your husband is at work. However if you manage to get all of this done, it adds to your fuel, your righteous justification to demand more recognition.

At least one evening a week, I’m with Ollie by myself and sometimes I push myself to try to do way too much. It’s not that I want Diana to give me more credit when she gets home; it’s just that part of me wants to be that self-sacrificing super-parent. Part of me wants to be a martyr, a person who does so much that people will be awe not be able to deny me credit and adoration of my accomplishments.  At the end the day, I'm not going to get that kind of credit, so it's all a little silly, isn't it?

So when you feel like being a martyr, pick your audience carefully.  Whining about wanting more recognition may feel therapeutic but it's not going to get you anywhere.  At some point we need to accept as parents that what we do for our kids is not ever going to fully recognized.  Yes, this is a depressing thought, but this is what it's all about.

Evolving from parenting to get recognition to taking care of our children without expecting anything in return brings us closer to what it means to truly love our children. 

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