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Wasting Away in Martyrville

Stressed out

There's this place I visit from time to time. It's called Martyrville. Perhaps you've been there?

It's really easy to find. You just zone out, miss the exit for the place you meant to go, and then find yourself broken down in Martyrville, a miserable city if ever there was one.

Martyrville's residents are, how do I put this? Unattractive. They like to look haggard and frazzled, because they want to remind people -- and especially their partners -- that their lives are not easy.

They might intentionally not wash their hair, or they might choose to wear the same ratty sweatshirt all week because they think people will be impressed with their miserableness.

They brag to anyone who will listen about how little sleep they're getting and how bad they feel. And they do all of this because there's only one game in Martyrville -- and only the most exhausted and unhealthy will win it.

It's especially easy for us Must-Have Parents to go and stay in Martyrville.

For many of us, parenting is the hardest job we will ever have. By far. And so we look for some sort of recognition for all that we're doing.

For MHPs, the parenting load is already imbalanced and -- as is particularly the case during military deployments -- it can seem neverending. Both those factors make it all the more appealing to put down roots in Martyrville.

See, there's this common misconception (particularly among those who aren't around kids much) that just because parenting is common, it must be easy. So easy that even cave men could do it. Because, you know, they did. 

But then we become parents and from those first horrific moments of giving birth right up through that child's college graduation, we are smacked in the face each and every day with reminders that we do not possess the necessary skills or training for this job.

We compensate by reminding anyone who will listen that our days are H-A-R-D.

And while it's good to be honest with our friends and loved ones when they ask how we're doing, if we answer with some variation of "awful" every time they ask, it's not likely that we're actually being honest. We're just being martyrs. 

What's worse is that we often make our lives even harder than they have to be in order to better secure our positions as martyrs.

We stress ourselves out by throwing huge birthday parties for infants and toddlers who don't even care. We overcommit our children to afterschool activities. Worst of all, we go full-on OCD on our spouses about things that don't even matter. (This is also known as "Why-in-the-world-would-you-put-the-Tupperware-lid-there?!!!-syndrome.)

We do it by being nitpicky over housework and especially by insisting that any parenting style other than ours is simply wrong. The experts call this "maternal gatekeeping," and here is how military families can avoid it.

So we complain because our lives are hard, and then we make our lives harder so that we'll be able to keep complaining. It's enough to make us crazy. And it does.

The great thing about Martyrville, however, is that we don't have to stay there. We can choose to leave.

We can take off the hairshirts. We can clue in that no one else thinks "she must be working hard" when they see us looking disheveled and that no expects a two-year-old's birthday party to have pony rides and theme-matched goody bags.

And really, in the grand scheme of things, a Tupperware lid in the wrong cabinet isn't a catastrophe and our spouses are fully capable of reading a bedtime story, breaking up a sibling fight and packing a school lunch -- even if they do it differently than we would.

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Military Parenting Family and Spouse Rebekah Sanderlin

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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