The Martyrdom Complex

I decided to subscribe to Working Mother magazine recently. While I was at the website ordering the subscription, I came across an interesting poll (it is currently up on the right side of that page, though it could switch soon). The question was “When was your last ‘Me-time?’” The answer choices were yesterday, today, last week, last month, and can’t remember. I decided to answer, mostly to see the results. I got a swimming work-out in today, so “today” was my answer. Also, I’m about to go read Steinbeck on the back porch for an hour before bed. I even have a hair appointment scheduled for Saturday AM!

That’s a fair amount of Me-Time, so I was curious what other people said. Interestingly, 8% said yesterday, 9% said today, 19% said last week, 13% said last month, and 51% said “can’t remember.”

Yes, 51%. Some 51% of Working Mother magazine readers can’t remember, say, turning on the television after their kids go to bed, or reading a book, or exercising, or getting a manicure or hair cut. They can’t remember the last time they went shopping by themselves. It’s really depressing, isn’t it?

Except it’s highly unlikely to be true. I don’t know why people decide it’s somehow fun to claim that being a mom with a job involves total martyrdom, but that’s our larger cultural narrative. Maybe it makes people feel better to lament that they just have no time. But the problem is that it paints a picture for younger women that it’s impossible to have a career, kids, and a life. Why bother to try if you’ll just be miserable?

I got pregnant with Jasper at age 27 — not young in the grand scheme of things, but young among my peers — and all the ambient noise about these things was deeply disturbing to me as I awaited his arrival. It would have been nice to learn that, 5 years later as I was one week away from welcoming my third child, my career would be in a better place, I would have managed to continue exercising, and I’d even be reading literature while listening to the breeze in the trees. I’m at least trying to spread that message, and hopefully — as I start reading Working Mother more regularly — I’ll see more articles to that effect in the pages.



19 Responses to The Martyrdom Complex


  1. Sarah says:

    I think moms know me-time is good for them but feel too guilty taking it or admitting to taking it. My daughter is 15 months, and I only recently started taking time for me because I felt so guilty leaving her. But then the more time that went by and the more I failed to take time out for me, the more frustrated and resentful I felt with me life. So now I work hard to schedule me time in while still making time for my family. It’s hard because guilt creeps in. But I know I am a better mom when I take a time out.

    • Laura says:

      @Sarah- I think you’re on to something, that people have me-time, but don’t like to admit it, or don’t view it as me-time because it’s not consciously planned and chosen. We think of me-time as an all-day visit to the spa or something. Which, let’s face it, will not happen that often for both logistical and financial reasons. But if you view me-time as non-childcare, non-paid work, non-housework and non-sleeping time, that opens things up quite a bit more. It can be reading a book, or watching a favorite TV show. As for guilt, sometimes guilt is justified. But I think this is often based on bizarre ideas of what other people are doing, or have done in the past, and making certain judgment calls about them. Like people feel guilty because their mom was always there when they got home from school, but don’t consider that she never earned a cent and you do, and that money will enable your kids to be more certain they can go to college, or something like that.

      • a different Cara says:

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. People don’t like to consider their t.v. watching or mindless internet browsing to be “me time,” though what else does that time count as? I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we tend to use those activities to procrastinate, or as default “I’m too exhausted to do what I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing” activities, and not as something enjoyable or relaxing.

        Nobody wants to admit to themselves that they’re about to spend the next hour watching House Hunters. And they really don’t want to admit that they do that several nights per week (it’s like you said in your book…nobody thinks the week they just had was typical). As though choosing to read a book (or work on a hobby, or whatever) would somehow be worse, since then they’re making a conscious choice not to do whatever it is they think they usually do during that time.

        • Laura says:

          @Cara- bingo. We get our me-time, even if it’s blog reading, FB, twitter, TV, puttering around the house to decompress, etc. That time would be better spent on real, restorative me-time activities (reading, hobbies) but that requires a conscious choice, reminding ourselves that we are in control of our time, and taking responsibility for it.

          • Twin Mom says:

            I think it’s not just a conscious choice, it’s CONTROL over how we spend our time. My husband is working late for the second night in a row (it’s 10:24 our time) and will be gone this weekend. I’ve spent the last couple hours picking up and putting kids to bed. I COULD go start the book on the history of smallpox I reserved at the library, but since the last 45 minutes involved short intervals between child breaks (potty training child needed to go potty and wash hands, turned out to be wet and needed to be changed, second child was lonely and needed stuffed animal found, third child required two visits because he went to bed early for hitting another child with the vacuum cleaner cord and then needed review of appropriate behavior), I waited for them all to be asleep. Yes, I’ve had roughly 25 minutes of that 45 minutes free- in 3 minute increments. And my husband will be out of town from Friday to Monday or Tuesday.

  2. Susan says:

    The “no me time” complaints (and TV shows depicting mothers as sleepless and unhappy) are why I like to hear news about mothers advancing their careers and finding enjoyment in life. As a young woman not yet with kids, I like to know that my future doesn’t have to be miserable (although I’m sure that being a mother is a lot of work). And I know that if women with kids can make time for these things, I can too.

    • Laura says:

      @Susan- thanks for your comment. No, it does not have to be miserable! Sure, it’s hard work to combine everything, but most things in life that are worthwhile involve hard work. If you are miserable, you can figure out a way to change things. That’s really what I’ve been trying to convey and hopefully will continue to do so.

  3. Calee says:

    Doesn’t reading this post count as me time? :)

    • Laura says:

      @Calee- it does! Those are the comments (like at BNET) that I particularly enjoy. People claim they have no free time… but are posting that on my blog. Which as far as I know, is not required reading for anyone’s job, except my editor’s.

  4. LaDawn says:

    I find it interesting that those who responded to the poll don’t consider time perusing a magazine as “me time.”

  5. I imagine those poll results are a combo of the vague language (everybody will define “me-time” differently…and many people won’t think of the mindless stuff we do (like tv) as real me-time anyway) and the guilt thing, like Sarah said in your comments. That’s big. I think, as moms, we have an internal conflict going on–wanting time for ourselves, but feeling kinda guilty about taking it.

    But your approach to turning this whole narrative of “omigosh i’m so busy i have no time for anything” on its head is what I love–and it’s why I read and adored your book. (and posted about it on my blog…and have been thrusting it in the hands of everyone I encounter…and am in the process of totally changing my life as a result…) You know, little things.

  6. Julia says:

    I like your line that says, “I don’t know why people decide it’s somehow fun to claim that being a mom with a job involves total martyrdom.” I just blogged about something along those lines the other day. I didn’t specifically reference motherhood but just how people in general like to brag when life is busy. This was inspired because I’m currently expecting my second child and other moms keep telling me I’ll pretty much never have a life ever again.

    Here’s the post: http://letterstodaughter.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/why-hardship-makes-us-feel-like-heroes/

    • Laura says:

      @Julie- Nice post. I liked this line: “If life is tough, or super busy, we tend to wear that as a badge of honor. Somehow, the more difficult life is, the more important we feel.” Yep.

  7. Cara says:

    First of all you have to tell me how you have an hour of time to read Steinbeck and workout… Yesterday, I took 15 minutes to or 1/2 hour to make an awesome eggplant recipe but that’s not really me time. I’d say I take conscious me time about once a week. Working out has been hard for me lately and exercise. I dropped my drycleaning off with my 2 year old. But I wouldn’t say there was any big me time in there.
    My biggest issue is that my first child never goes to bed before 10 p.m. My second child goes to bed by 8 or 8:30 every night. If they both did that I’d have an hour or two every night but never did crying it out. I think at some point I will have to revisit bedtime with her and carve in 9 to 10 p.m. I’m still breastfeeding and have that goal to one year for my little guy so I am hoping to put the time back in.

    I think if your husband can and does back you regularly that can be the time but mine is kind of inconsistent. He is supposed to do bedtime with my daughter but he doesn’t do it every night and the less consistent he is the more she prefers me.

    • Laura says:

      @Cara and @TwinMom – we have bedtime battles too. What’s started working lately (which of course will change with arrival of #3) is that my 2-year-old is now in a big boy bed, which is actually a trundle bed. He will eventually move into the full sized bed, but for now he’s in the trundle, and often my 4-year-old has a sleep over in the bed next to the trundle. He can also go through the bathroom that connects their two rooms to his room and bed. So basically, we get in jammies, get teeth brushed, turn out most lights except nightlight, then shut the bedroom doors. They can play and talk and entertain themselves, and eventually they go to sleep. Because they’re both in there, with access to a bathroom (for older one) with plenty of toys and books they don’t usually come out. They go to bed late (9:15 is good to get door closed) but then I can head out on the back porch and read.

  8. Holly says:

    Wow, I loved this post. I’m not a mom yet, but know a ton of young moms that have the “Martyrdom Complex” too. I personally love to see moms who make motherhood sound fun and enjoyable and not like a prison sentence. I’m glad to see that others feel the same way!

    • Laura says:

      @Holly- I think you can catch all of us at good times and bad times. It’s a lot of work. But if it feels like a prison sentence, then probably you need to change something about how you’re doing it!

  9. DawnV says:

    I love that you consider working out, a late night hour of tv or reading “me” time. I think many women believe that in order to qualify as “me” time it needs to be something they do outside of the house with no kids- such as shopping, massage, mani/pedi or such. If we’re cognizant, we can get small doses of “me” time in many ways. The key is how we use these moment to decompress or rejuvenate. :)