Monday, 16 January 2012

Martyr Mum

As I sat down on Saturday morning, with a large vat of coffee, reading the newspapers, I stumbled upon an ‘agony aunt’ section with the headline: My wife’s turned into a ‘martyr mum’.

The writer of the letter was complaining that his wife “gives all her attention to the children.” And that “I no longer view her as a sexual being and do not find her attractive, but she demands sex from me.  Will this feeling change?”

Be under no illusion here…. I have met the ‘martyr mum’ type.  The ones who constantly moan about how much they have to do, how stressed they are, how useless their husband is etc etc.  And the way they discuss their endless responsibilities, suggests that they have a greater burden than all other mothers.  It can be very irritating to listen to…


As frustrating as it is to hear someone moan about having the same levels of responsibility and work that I have, I do understand where they’re coming from.  And before I go further, I think I should point out that my feelings extend to the stay-at-home Dad’s I know, as well as the mothers.

There will always be people who get a lot of support and help from family members.  But there are many more of us who do it alone.  We have no relatives to help, no army of housekeepers or nannies.  So as we bumble along, wiping noses and providing multiple catering and taxi services, all we really want is a bit of acknowledgement and support from the one we love.  And when that is not forthcoming and the working spouse looses interest in us as a sexual being, it is unsurprising that some people feel the need to validate themselves by reeling off the endless tasks they have completed, to anyone who will listen.

Many women and men I know have sacrificed a career path to bring up their children.  A decision was made between husband and wife to ensure that the child is raised with the values and love only a parent can offer. 

And whilst the caregiver is at home ensuring the children have everything they need, their own life changes beyond recognition.

No longer are they getting dressed smartly every day, to go to work.  No hanging round the coffee machine, flirting with the guy/girl from the third floor.  No one asking their opinion, based on the respect they have earned after spending years in their job.  No one praising them for a ‘good job done’, or paying them a bonus.

Just day-in day-out thankless drudgery.  And many people who are at work, whilst their partners stay at home with the kids, suddenly stop doing things at home that they used to do when they were both working. 

Up to a point, I understand this.  I certainly felt it was part of the job specification to ensure that kids were looked after, supper cooked, and the house tidy in the evenings.  But weekends are different.  And I see no reason why responsibility can’t be shared at this time – but very often, there is no respite. 

The woman advising in the article in the paper suggests that ‘going away’ to do something ‘novel and arousing’ might help save the marriage of the writer.  I can’t help wondering whether the wife might find it ‘novel and arousing’ to be given breakfast in bed on a Sunday morning, or a couple hours off on a Saturday afternoon.  Or even (God forbid) see her spouse get off his backside and empty the dishwasher. 

And if he/she helped lighten the load at the weekends, their other half might not feel the need to endlessly moan about how they have so much to do.  How’s that for ‘novel and arousing’?!

‘Mothering children’ is not valued.  It seems in our society that the value placed on a person is equal to their salary.  And that is grossly unfair.

I thought it was a bit pitiful that the only advice that was given, that could be acted upon, was to ‘smile more’.  Apparently, ‘according to the ‘facial feedback’ hypothesis, we feel happier when we smile…’

Oh and another option is to ‘go off without the kids to undertake a physical challenge…’  Because ‘research shows that couples who participate in “novel and arousing” activities experience higher levels of marital satisfaction”.

Assuming, of course, that we have people ‘on tap’ to look after our young children whilst we do so – that sounds just dandy.

But for so many people who are the primary carers for our children, life goes on, we clean, cook, get up at all hours of the night, and get no acknowledgement, let alone thanks.  We don’t need ‘novel and arousing’, we just need ‘understanding and support’.  But not many of us get it.

And this, I am sure, is why so many marriages fail.


  1. Brilliantly put again Lara! I find by the evenings I'm so tired that the idea of intimacy is over-whelming, let alone trying to turn myself into a sexual goddess after I've picked up all the toys/put on a load of washing/cooked supper/ cleared up/laid out school stuff and breakfast weekday eve's are out of the question - which leaves the weekends to be desirable but the kids are always around so the chance of being interrupted are HIGH!.. To pay a babysitter to take the kids out of the house whilst you make out with your partner to me seems a bit sleazy/not romantic and also expensive!! - It is a very tricky conundrum for all people with kids I think, and there is really no answer that can add "extra energy full/un-responsible hours" into the day - unless your partner can come home for a lunchtime tumble, which mine can thank goodness, but many can't. I think the newspaper man needs to ask around and see that probably all his friends have the same issues/that he is not alone and that he and his wife need to create a moment!
    Us mums chat about this type of thing all the time but I know my husband certainly felt short-changed on the love front until I got him to chat to all the other adults we know in the same situation - it was an eye opener for him to see how lucky he was in fact!!

  2. It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem, exactly what causes such shifts in marriages. But basically, the individuals lost sight of their marriage as their priority. The advice given in the column is short sighted and superficial. Just going off for a weekend alone won't do much good if all it does is highlight exactly how hollow the marriage is. This kind of problem requires more subtle repair in a shift of attitudes. Both need to start thinking about the kind of spouse they want to be rather than the kind of spouse they wish they had. If they start acting that way, the marriage will start to heal itself, and then a weekend away is appropriate. Monastery had a great post on this last week, Unwind, the tale of a glass of wine. My own marriage started down this road in the first year. My husband patiently remained the spouse he should be until I came around. I was curled in the fetal position on the bed, thinking how miserable marriage was, and then decided it didn't matter. I would do what needed to be done without regard to fairness. I got up, and everything changed., instantly.


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