Are you a martyr parent?
Posted February 8
I’m getting more and more resentful as the years go by with all the work I do to keep the house and family running. I feel unappreciated about it and I’m just getting tired of these tasks. My family is not much help either. Unless I nag and yell, no one lifts a finger to help out. Do you have any advice for my overwhelming and lack of motivation?
Many parents experience resentment and are overwhelmed about the work it takes to keep the home clean and running smoothly. But choosing a martyr story and feeling anger or resentment about it will push other family members away and make them even less interested in helping.
In order to change things at your house, you must first take responsibility for your emotions and for creating a situation where no one helps you. You are at least partly to blame because you have either not asked for help or you are not handling it the right way.
You may have too many expectations or timelines (like wanting it done now or you’ll do it yourself) or you may communicate poorly what you need and how you want it done. If you are someone who complains about the quality of the job they do, you may have created a place where they can’t please you — so they’ve given up.
- What environment have you created in your family when it comes to household tasks and chores?
- Are you too attached to the tasks being done right or perfectly?
- Would you rather do it yourself as it’s quicker and easier than taking the time to teach the children?
- Do you get a benefit from your martyr story?
Here are some simple ways to drop the martyr story and include your children in the maintaining of the home:
• Detach from perfectionism — Unfortunately, many parents are attached to tasks done correctly and they have a hard time embracing the learning process and rewarding attempts made by their children to help. These parents experience fear of loss, that they are going to lose quality of life by forgoing the standards they desire. A practical way to adjust your perfectionism is to show your family you appreciate their efforts even if they aren’t up to your standards. The most common mistake we see from parents is going in to straighten things up after their children’s attempt to help. This tells your child their efforts weren’t good enough and this results in them being less willing to do the job again (at least not with the same enthusiasm).
Instead, reward their efforts.
Language such as, “Tim, I love how you straightened your bed cover like that.” Instead of, “Tim, you did a good job, but your forgot to tuck in the bottom sheet and you still have a pair of shoes that needs to go into the closet.” Your intentions are good in teaching them quality, but all your child hears is “I have failed, my best is never good enough and why do I even bother.”
The kids in our Tuesday night teen class say feeling like a failure is the primary reason they are not willing to help out around the house. You may think it’s because they’re lazy, but they say parents will be mad at them either way, so why try.
• See every experience with your children as your perfect classroom. Parents often feel fear of loss when they come home to find the children have made a mess in their house. You may have exaggerated angry reactions because you feel robbed or taken from. You feel robbed of the time and energy it will take to put things right. Instead of being triggered by fear, this is a beautiful opportunity to look at your need to be in control and why you have to have things perfectly clean.
Many parents are too invested in the opinions of other people and what their clean house says about their value. You may need to remind yourself your value is not tied to your house, and a happy family is more important than a house that looks like a museum. Whatever happens today in your home is your classroom and a chance to practice being the loving, mature, strong, kind, wise adult you really want to be. Every mess is a chance to practice seeing your value as infinite and not tied to any situation.
• Be realistic. You must have realistic expectations before asking your children to clean anything. You may want to clean it with them a few times first, so they are clear of your expectations. It also helps to be specific — “Tim, I would like you to clean your room, don't forget to make the bed and put all of your shoes in the closet.” Set them up for success by allowing a realistic time frame instead of placing high demands when there is little time or energy to achieve them. Setting your children up to succeed in their efforts maintains the enthusiasm and willingness to help you.
Children as young as 8 to 13 can learn most skills through watching you. Simple tasks such as taking the trash out, feeding the dog, collecting the mail and making their beds every day. Children younger than this can participate by cleaning up their toys or drawing materials, and learning to dress themselves and buckle themselves in their car seats. Teenagers and young adults can participate by maintaining the yard, washing cars, cooking meals and completing weekly laundry. Household tasks with weekly repetition provide great learning opportunities for your children.
Many parents at our weekly free parenting classes are uncomfortable with the idea of their children doing tasks wrong or not doing them. If your expectations are realistic though, you can allow children to make mistakes, to not follow through on their jobs, or not do the best job the first time and use these as positive learning opportunities. Instead of just yelling and demanding, take the time to talk through why they made the choice they did and what do they think about the job they did. When you take the time for this kind of learning you will make your child feel respected and you will give your children the skills to be a functional adult someday, which is definitely worth the time and effort.
By taking the time to allocate household tasks that are age appropriate and showing your children how to do them, you give them a sense of achievement while also relieving your burden.
Sit down and discuss the chores with the whole family so each person realizes what the tasks are and that this is an equal work zone. Explain your expectations and that everyone must pull their weight so no one has more responsibility or tasks than the others. As time goes on you can also invite flexibility and freedom and let the children rotate on specific tasks or swap with other family members. We heard about one son paying his sister to do his laundry, this is actually a great “real life” experience. You can do it yourself or pay someone to do it.
Another great idea is to tell kids they can either do their chores or they can hire the “Mom’s Cleaning Service” to do them. If the chores aren’t done by this specific date, then you will do them, but it will cost them. This cost comes out of their allowance. If they do their chores, they get the money, but if not you keep the money. You must be fine with it either way, so they get the freedom to choose. (This works really well with children who like control and choices.)
You can approach parenting without a martyr complex and become a calm, wise leader and get the whole family involved, if you just take the time to make this happen.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.