Motherhood and Identity: Martyr Is NOT Spelled M-O-M

By June 23, 2010General

Not Awesome

I figure I’ll get the feather ruffling out of the way early in this series.

Here goes:

Most moms, especially new moms, go through a martyrdom phase. We somehow think that the more we sacrifice, the higher we move up in the awesome mom rankings.

I specifically remember hearing one mom of 6 (who had plenty of help) declare, “I haven’t slept through the night in 16 years.”

That’s not awesome. That’s dumb.

(Note: This isn’t about a new mom who is enduring a season of sleeplessness. This is about those who make it a life pattern – unnecessarily.) 

“Wow, Kat. A bit harsh, are we?”

Maybe, but I really want to get this point across. If we consistently put our children’s wants before our needs, we create a firestorm of unrealistic expectations, physical exhaustion, emotional stress and spiritual emptiness.

Moms are not called to be martyrs. We’re called to be leaders. Leaders can’t lead if they’re dead.

“Still with the harshness, Kat?”

Sorry. I’m on a roll…

As Rachel said in the comments of this post, “A stressed, hassled, worn-out person trying to keep up with everyone around [her] does not a happy mother or household make!!”


You’re job as a mom isn’t to give to your children out of what you sacrifice. That is finite. Your job is to pass out torches from what burns inside and makes you come alive.

So, today, I want you to take some time to really think about your needs. What do you need to “come alive?” Are you sacrificing sleep, your marriage, emotional well being, needed relationships or personal health in lieu of the wants of your children?

What are your needs? Are they being met right now?

(The line between needs and wants is a very, very fine line, but through prayer, I trust that God will make it clear.)

Leave a Comment



  • Tiff says:

    Well, I have slept through the night several times in the last 13 years, but I was just sitting here as I normally do this time of night lamenting the fact that I will once again not get enough sleep. This is my only time to have quiet for mind and spirit, but I don’t think it’s one of the things that truly refreshes. Trouble is, I’m not sure I know what the truly refreshing things are anymore!

    Many things in life, most of them internal, have come to a head as of late to convince me of the fact that I have to take care of me, to find my inner flame again. The difficulty there lies in getting the 5 people I live with and care for to cooperate with that….

    Thanks for the encouragement to take the steps I need to take, difficult as they may be in the transition, to find my way back to a sweeter place.

  • Kat,
    I love what you wrote here!

    Moms who take care of themselves can take better care of their family. We should not be at the bottom of the list every time. It is good for our children to learn that Mom has needs too.

    The line between needs and wants is so fine. I think many of us struggle with this. I don’t want to look back and see that I pursued my own interests to the detriment of my children, nor do I want to deny all of myself…which could also be to the detriment of my children! Finding balance is not simple 🙂

    Personally, I have been working on having my kids take an decent afternoon quiet time in which I can work on my own things. It keeps me sane. Of course I can’t do everything I want. But I know that this season is intense and will be over one day.

    I am really looking forward to the rest of this series!
    Thanks Kat.
    .-= Stacy @ Delighting in the Days´s last blog ..The Power of a Focused Mother =-.

  • Emma says:

    Thank you! I am so tired of hearing about how many years someone’s gone without sleep. Or how so-and-so had four children in such a short space of time.
    We need to look after ourselves more, and look after each other more too!
    .-= Emma´s last blog ..protected by glory. =-.

  • Leslie says:

    Thank you so much for this series, Kat. While I’ve never had the desire to go out and get a job for myself, lately I have been very burned out on motherhood, and I realize I need to rekindle a passion in my heart. I take so much time reading others blogs online, and feel like a failure as a mom, especially when it come to being green……I try to mimick them even when it’s not truly ‘my flame’ that’s burning, and it burns me out, not to mention my whole family. Your blog is truly practical, and helps me to keep things in check, and in reality. As far as deciding which is my needs and wants, that is a hard one!!! But I do know, after weaning my 1 and a half year old, I have been given the blessed gift of sleep, and realize it was way overdue! I wasn’t ready to wean him but after my dr put me on meds that he HAD to be weaned, well that kind of made my decision for me!!

    Thanks so much for this!!!

  • rachel says:

    You’re so right with this post. To be good mothers we need to take good care of ourselves. This is something I consistently struggle with and need to be reminded of a lot! Thanks for doing the reminding! Right now I’m working on meeting my own basic needs for healthy food, exercise and enough sleep. I’ve sacrificed those things for too long and it’s been my kids who’ve suffered for it when I’ve been too tired, irritable and upset with myself to be fully there for them when they needed Mum. I’m trying to change that default position! As for what makes me come alive? Well that’s the next thing to work on…
    .-= rachel´s last blog ..Don’t Want To Talk About It. Nope. Nu-huh. =-.

  • Amanda says:

    I’ve observed that my frustration from “not getting my needs” med comes almost entirely–as far as I can think–from getting what I need not at the time that I want it. For instance: The other day, I was having a pity party because “It’s been over a year since I slept through the night” between the end of my pregnancy and my still-nursing 11 month old. The flip side is, I’ve never in my almost thirty years spent as much time NAPPING as I have during that same time. I”ll be frank: The way I REALLY want my sleep need met is to be able to sleep all night… so that during my son’s naps I can do things I want in the way I did before I had kids: spend time on the computer, work out uninterrupted, clean and tidy the house at my own pace, etc. And I WANT to be able to take two hours for coffee at the drop of a hat “when I really need some alone time”, even though when it comes right down to it I usually hesitate to schedule that coffee break a week ahead of time.

    • Leslie says:

      I agree alot of what we think are our needs, aren’t really needs but wants. Facebook? Computer time? I think alot of that for me is just a way of escape from the realities of life…..however during midmorning I start to get droopy if I don’t sit down for a short break and snack with the kids. If I put that off, then I start to get irratible and moody because of my sugar dropping. When I take care of my needs, I feel more refreshed and ready to give of myself to my children, instead of being cranky!

    • Deb says:

      Amanda, I so know what you mean! Often I’m not chasing what I need, I’m chasing what I want and getting frustrated with everyone in the process. The first six years of motherhood it was all new and there were little babies coming along to keep my from being able to do much more than just keep going. But now that my youngest has just turned two, I feel like I’ve hit a mother-burnout. I don’t want to do playdough and read the same books again. I want to get back to my life! I thought I was “sacrificing” before but I think I’m only just beginning to enter that phase. Intentional, purposeful giving and caring while still keeping myself sane and alive at the same time. When does this mothering business get easier?

  • Noelle says:

    I loved this post. Sacrifice is such an interesting word, too–if we’re sacrificing to our children, that makes them idols, doesn’t it? When I make lunch to please my kids (feeling like a martyr because each wants a different kind of sandwich, and the harder I try to make something healthy, the louder the whines are) it drains me. When I rejoice in the task God has given me–nourishing these young, growing bodies–and offer my work up as a sacrifice to Him, it fills me. We should only be sacrificing to God, when- and what-ever He requires. Which might mean sacrificing sleeping in (in my case!) in order to thankfully care for the house He has provided for us and gratefully prepare for the day I’ve been given to tend my children. (Sorry to be so Suzy-Sunshine-y about this…’s just the last couple of days I’ve been really mindful about this and it has made a huge difference.)

    Also, I think my greatest needs and my duties are not mutually exclusive. For my needs to be met, sometimes I discover that what I *don’t* need has to be deleted from my day first……like hanging out on facebook too long, or scrounging for comfort food in the pantry. Certainly it is needful to take a little time by myself, to take showers regularly (I’m ashamed to say this is a big challenge for me!), to get enough sleep. But I find that most of what I need is an attitude shift, a reminder about Who I’m working for, Who is working alongside me, and how much Joy is available for the asking.

    • Leslie says:

      Noelle I don’t think the correct term is ‘sacrificing to our children’, rather sacrificing for them. God’s Word does teach us to have a servant’ heart, and what is the meaning of servant? To serve……..but I think you’re right when we are doing it as unto God, it isn’t hard at all to serve them, but to realize that we are the vessels that God is using to bless and take care of these precious treasures!

  • Mindy says:

    This is a great post and really spoke to me as I’ve been struggling with this since the kids got out of school. I’m very grateful for the extra time with them, but once they are out of the routine of school, homework, early bedtimes, etc. they look to me to fill up the hours. I need to remind them (and myself!) that a little boredom is okay and they don’t “need” something every 10 minutes from me. Getting enough quality sleep has been an issue with me for years, so trying to make that more of a priority and even taking a short 30-minute rest time in the afternoon if need be. I’m such a better mom when I take care of myself!

  • Susan says:

    YOU ROCK! Thanks for being blunt and to the point. This is so common – when I speak at MOPS groups I try to bring this point home, no one will take care of you except YOU! Always being at the mercy of others makes you a victim and that is NOT what God has intended for you to be in your home – he has given you a powerful position to influence your family and especially those children. I love working with moms and help them get out of this rut and live a more fulfilling life.

  • Kim says:

    What a hot topic! And it sounds like there are too many of us not getting enough sleep. Emma, I’m sorry if that bothers you so much, but that really is the stage of life that some of us are in. I cannot judge the mother of 6 who said she hasn’t slept through the night in 16 years. I don’t know her circumstance. What might seem dumb to one person may have actually been necessary in that particular situation. I don’t know. And I can’t judge.

    What I do know is that there is something about this topic that always makes me cringe just a little. While I agree that, as mothers, we do need to take care of ourselves, by all means, keep our identities intact, etc., I do not agree with the notion that laying down my needs/wants before the needs/wants of my children is wrong. Considering others before ourselves is one thing I think it truly wrong with our society at large. While I want to model balance and healthy living (that sounds like a magazine title), I also want to show my children that putting their needs before mine is a choice that I make, not out of dread but out of love. I so appreciate what Noelle said, that we have to remember that our sacrifice is to God, the choices we make are as unto the Lord. I agree that it all comes down to attitude.

    Getting back to the sleep issue (sorry, Emma), my 4-month old needs nourishment in the middle of the night. He only nurses. We’re trying to get him to take a bottle, but it’s taking longer than we anticipated. So, in the meantime, I am the one who must feed him in the middle of the night. And when my almost 4 year old wakes up in the middle of the night due to bad dreams or because she is sick, she typically only wants me. I don’t regard either one of these situations as martyrdom. One thing that requires something of me oftentimes takes from another. But how I choose to view that sacrifice is just that. My choice. I can either choose to become a victim to my stage of life or I can, yes, take care of myself and, at the same time, realize and accept and give myself to the fact that motherhood requires sacrifice. And that’s not wrong.

    • Noelle says:

      Kim, I think what makes this such an interesting topic, is the balance between meeting our children’s (and our own) needs and feeding their human sense of entitlement. Going without a couple hours sleep each night so you can nurse your baby (been there a few times! 🙂 or comfort your preschooler is part of your duty as a mother. BUT it is also your duty as a mother to teach your children how to sleep through a normal night (which they need as much as you or I do!). I know people who are always complaining about how little sleep their kids let them get, but these folks haven’t set consistent limits on what bedtime & nighttime means. I hope this makes sense……you are definitely in a phase of motherhood where you wouldn’t be sleeping though the night 🙂

      Meeting our own needs without feeding our own sense of entitlement is equally challenging!!! 🙂 But crucial, I think. That’s what I got out of today’s post.

  • Mama Koala says:

    I need “quality time,” as it is totally my love language (I need this time from spouse and friends, and need to not let myself feel guilty for making time for quality time). I went to breakfast with a friend for the first time in almost 3 years (I have 2 kiddos 2 and under) Saturday, and it was refreshing.

    I’m trying to work through priorities and needs vs. wants right now (categories: spiritual, marriage, children, job, friends, hobbies, etc). Your site is truly an inspiration, if I can just find the energy to take action!

  • Ellen says:

    I think that is the biggest mistake mothers make, putting the children first and neglecting their husbans, their needs, making their children so dependent on them that it is unhealthy. God is loaning our children to us and it is our job to grow them up to the best of our ability, to be independent, healthy, Godly young people. I have a friend with a 17 yr. old that still crys everytime her daughter goes away more than a night or two. Can you imagine what is going to happen to her when her chold goes off to college. Will her child know what to do with out mom right there. I have raised two independent, Godly, happy and healthy young adults. Yes I miss them when they are gone, but it is the way it is supposed to be!

  • Nina Nelson says:

    I love that you distinctly say our needs versus their wants. There is no question that we as mothers should do what we need to do to take care of our child’s needs, but when it comes down to their wants we need to be firm yet loving. Putting their wants above our needs does nobody good.

    I recently got over my “martyrdom” attitude when it came to getting out of the house. I had the attitude, “oh look at me, I haven’t gone out is soooooo long. I’m not leaving my four little children. I’m such a good mom.” Yeah. Until I started screaming at them over anything. Now that I get out on a regular basis to refresh, I am so much more mellow and, well, loving. Thanks for the post, Kat!

  • Thank you, I needed this. I’m going to go take a nap! 😀
    .-= Alicia’s Homemaking´s last blog ..Try New Adventures Thursday: Mission Meet The Neighbors =-.

  • This is something I have been thinking about lately…what do I need? I spend so much time thinking about what my family needs that I usually put my own desires aside.

    Recently, I’ve decided that I NEED (yes, I want it, too, but it is a true need) to interact with adults at least once a week. Whether it’s dinner with a friend or just coffee after the tot is in bed, I need the social aspect and the intellectual aspect of saying more than, “Yes, that’s a ball! Good boy!” Pre-baby, I was super social. Post-baby? Not so much. Fortunately I have a husband who is willing to work with me to provide me with the time to socialize at least once a week. He’s a keeper!

    Mommies need to be pampered, too! So go out and get that pedicure, Mommy. You earned it! lol
    .-= Lisa Middleton´s last blog ..12 Month Pics! =-.

  • Natalie says:

    First of all, Kat, preach it sister! I am a recovering Mommy Martyr myself :). It makes me so happy to see this topic being brought out into the open, among other Christian moms, so we can advise and encourage each other. In most Christian circles it does seem a taboo topic. I have been greatly helped on this journey by wise, godly counsel and opening your blog up to this topic will hopefully help others get that counsel and encouragement! Distinguishing between a need and a want *is* hard but key to being free to take care of ourselves while remaining servant leaders to our children.

    Thanks again! I am really enjoying this series.
    .-= Natalie´s last blog ..Things I NEVER Thought I’d Say to My Children =-.

  • You make a very important point in this post. You must take care of yourself in order to care for anyone else. I think for most moms, or anyone in general really, it’s a constant process. In the cyclic events of life there will always be some part that is more demanding of us than others, which in turn will cause those other parts to be neglected a bit. Sometimes that is ourselves. What we all must remember to do though, is take a step back once in a while and recognize when this is happening. You are right on with this. Looking forward to the next post in this series! 🙂
    .-= Doing the Mom Thing´s last blog ..Evidence of Summer =-.

  • Kelly Cook says:

    Interesting view…I don’t consider myself a mommy martyr, but I also haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since our (foster) son came to live with us at age two. He’s now 4 1/2 and while he’s better at sleeping thru the night, I have sleep issues that aren’t related to him. I NEED to nap during the day but since he doesn’t, I rarely actually fall asleep or get rest. I end up cranky and impatient and neither is good for me or my family. I’ve tried various approches, seeking a solution, but have yet to find one. Typically he’ll watch a movie and I’ll snooze on the couch, but lately he hasn’t been so quiet during quiet time. Just today I totally lost my cool because he refused to leave me alone, despite the multiple times I told him to go back to his room. When my husband got home I left for the evening. It kept me from being nasty to my family, but it did nothing for my sleep deprivation. So what’s the solution?
    .-= Kelly Cook´s last blog ..Congratulations =-.

  • Wow, I needed this today…everyday really:)

    Thank you:D

  • amen to all of this.

  • Katrina says:

    Thank you for this reminder. Reminds me of the oxygen mask story – they tell you on the plane to put on your oxygen mask before helping your children with theirs. You won’t be any help to them if you’re passed out! And spiritually, emotionally we need to breathe deeply of what inspires and encourages us, even if it’s only in little bits here and there. I know I need to breathe more!

  • Love this post! I have seen moms who don’t think they are doing a good job as a mother unless they are exhausted and spent. I think as moms not only are we unrealistic with ourselves but we are often unrealistic about other moms! I have to remind myself (and my husband is good at helping me) that if I’m not really enjoying being a wife and mom then I’m doing something wrong! Yes, there are days that are long and hard and there are seasons where sleep and uninterrupted mealtimes are rare gifts, but overall I should see my family as a source of joy, a blessing in my mind that causes me to rejoice in the author of all blessings. They should be a sunbeam that directs me to the bright and shining sun (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis). Thanks for your honesty, looking forward to what comes next!
    .-= Paula@Motherhood Outloud´s last blog ..One Real Family’s Tips for Going Green =-.

  • Jenn says:

    Thanks for this Kat! I’ve definitely struggled with feeling guilty about wanting/needing some time to myself while taking care of my kiddos. Thankfully, I have a husband who can tell if I’m burned out who insists that I get away. 🙂 One, thing I’ve been learning is how to take care of myself before the burn out happens.
    The area of my life that I wish I’d done better in is taking care of my health and exercising. I just didn’t make enough of a priority of it when my children were young and now I’m trying to get myself out of some bad habits… It makes me sad to see how healthy I was before having kids compared to now.
    .-= Jenn´s last blog ..A Trip Away =-.

  • hallie ann says:

    My Japanese mother played the martyr quite well (“Look what I gave up for you!”) and passed the trait to me. It wasn’t until I was in a therapist’s office at age 33 did I hear for the first time that I have to take care of myself if I want to take care of my family. The very thought of putting myself first was blasphemous! The therapist likened it to flight crew performing the pre-flight instructions on what to do in an emergency: put the oxygen mask on yourself FIRST before putting it on your child. Six years later I still struggle not to be the martyl, your article was what I needed!

  • […] Motherhood and Identity:  Martyr Is NOT Spelled M-O-M ~ @ Inspired to Action […]

  • Cathy says:

    A wise friend told me once: their needs come before your needs, but your needs come before their wants. The trick is identifying our needs and refusing to feel guilty for filling them. It is not an easy task; it is often much easier to fall into the role of martyr, particularly if we have been conditioned to do so. Strength and courage to all of us, that we may learn to care for ourselves as we care for our families! We deserve that!

    • I love this, Cathy: “Their needs come before your needs, but your needs come before their wants.” I’ll have to think on that a while, but it makes tons of sense,

  • Lauren says:

    “That’s not awesome. That’s dumb.”

    lololololol! love it.

  • Nicole says:

    Hallelujah! I am tired of being made to feel guilty for wanting to put myself first once in a while. No matter what, Thursday night is date night and Saturday afternoon is me-time. Without those two things, I would be burnt out and worthless!
    .-= Nicole´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday =-.

  • ashley l says:

    Interesting read!
    .-= ashley l´s last blog ..I want to remember =-.

  • Chelsa Knepp says:

    Thank you for this- I found it off of Organizing Junkies fave links. I needed to hear this- I am getting ready to start a new bible study tonight with some friends and I’m having total mommy guilt over leaving my boys when I’m gone from them during the day for work, but I know I NEED and WANT to do the bible study…. thanks for telling me it is okay!

  • lesley says:

    This was an eye opening blog for me to read- I have seen myself of a leader of sorts out in the community, but have been aware I have been quietly (or not so quietly!) resisting fully embracing the house manager role that so often seems paired with becoming a mother. To put it into terms of stepping into a leadership role somehow highlights it differently for me- thanks.
    Secondly, I am a waaaaay better mom (and medical doctor and life coach) when I am well rested. A rested brain, body and soothed soul makes life so much more pleasant. it’s discipline, but I get ready for bed at 10 pm – it’s just about the #1 thing you can do to radically change your well-being.

  • Sistergirl says:

    Thanks for the reminder.

    I hate hearing about moms giving up sleep because they have “ran themselves ragged.” If you don’t get enough sleep you don’t think straight, you get a bad attitude, your patience goes out the door and your poor husband gets neglected.

    Many moms are so afraid that their children will grow up and not “call them blessed” that they become martyrs.
    .-= Sistergirl´s last blog .. =-.

  • Sistergirl says:

    Thanks for the reminder.

    I hate hearing about moms giving up sleep because they have “ran themselves ragged.” If you don’t get enough sleep you don’t think straight, you get a bad attitude, your patience goes out the door and your poor husband gets neglected.

    Many moms are so afraid that their children will grow up and not “call them blessed” that they become martyrs.

  • I agree with this. I would only add that most moms I see who have this mentality are also raising some of the most self-centered kids I’ve seen. They seem to believe the world revolves around them because… well, their world does.

    My problem is that the thing that refreshes me is being with godly women who challenge and encourage me and sometimes I can let that go too far and it becomes an idol. I believe this is the tendency though (you know, if baths refresh us we want to take more of them and then we get ticked off if we can’t have all the baths we’d like) and we have to be balanced.

    Great post.

  • This is so well-written, Kat. I laughed out loud at: “That’s not awesome. That’s dumb.” I’ve thought that so many times. But of course, you can’t usually say it to someone’s face.

    I’m certainly not a martyr, but I do struggle with how to keep things balanced. What do I do, for example, when there just isn’t much me time? My husband travels a lot for work, he works a lot of hours when he’s home, we have four kids 9 and under and thanks to a recent move, I don’t have any help. I’ve dealt with this by refining my expectations about life and then looking for little ways to refresh myself during the day (a cup of coffee in the morning, some computer time in the afternoon while the kids are napping/watching TV, etc.). But I do think there can be seasons or stages of life when our own needs as mothers tend to get short-shrift. The important thing, to me, is not to fall into martyrdom over it and to right the ship again once the storm calms down. Would you agree?

  • Christine says:

    I would hate to have a mom who loves night nursing read this and feel ridiculed and dumb. Some do better than others with night nursing and with broken sleep. I night nursed one of my sons for two years, and I found that I was only sleep deprived when I stayed up too late doing other things–not when I exercised discipline and turned in at a decent hour. This same son is now 6.5, and far from spoiled. He’s an awesome kid! And he has no sleeping issues.

    Nightmares, teething, nursing..they all make for broken sleep, but all we have to do is go to bed at a decent hour to compensate. Should we be callous toward children experiencing these developmental issues, in the interest of sleep training, or should we look for ways to compensate so we can still be there? A less than perfect house, laundry that doesn’t always get folded promptly…etc.? They won’t remember the day–or the week–the couch was full of unfolded laundry, but they will remember the willing hug Mom gave in the middle of the night.

    They are only babies for a short time! Many who follow strict sleep training might later regret not taking the time to enjoy those middle-of-the-night cuddles. That would be a shame!

    I am now nursing a twenty-month-old daughter who is struggling with teething pain, and it is the same thing–I am only sleep deprived when I stay up too late–too many blogs, or spending every night blogging, rather than a few nights a week. I am guilty of lamenting, but deep down I know who is to blame when I feel overtired and cranky. Me!

    Some woman really love night nursing, and night-time comforting. And that is just fine!

    Not that you’re saying it isn’t. Using the word dumb just seems harsh to me. I realize you are just trying to make a point.

    • amy says:

      Thank you Christine,
      I am one said nursing mother who believes I can strive and succeed in giving all my children need – and I do believe it is a need, by co-sleeping. It’s not the best sleep, but it is waaaaay better than getting up and dealing with the screams and cries and bangings. I am in no way shape or form a martyr mom i don’t think, but i do so love parenting my babes both nights and days. Same as Christine, if i get to bed at a decent hour i get a decent sleep…

  • […] Kat describes the ongoing years of sleepless nights as dumb. I respectfully disagree (as much as I admire this delightful lady). […]