Are you a martyr parent? Martyr parents love their children. They want their children to succeed. But they also harbor fears. They fear their child will feel bad when they don’t succeed. They fear their child will misbehave when frustrated by a task or limit. They fear their child’s self-esteem will falter if they don’t succeed easily and quickly. They fear feeling their own pain when they witness their child’s discomfort. (Why do I have to do everything?)
All these fears make them anxious every time their child struggles, becomes frustrated, or gets upset with a limit. As a result, martyr parents do whatever they can to alleviate their child’s frustration, stress, and anger.
Rather than let their child struggle with a homework assignment or coach them in asking their teacher for help, they do the homework for them. Rather than helping their child realize they can’t do every activity they would like, the martyr parent sacrifices their time and sanity to rush them from activity to activity. Martyr parents argue with teachers to reduce the homework that stresses their child. They give up their finances to get them everything they desire rather than risk their child’s tantrum over a strong limit or a firm “no.” (Learn to give A More Powerful No for Effective Parenting.)
In the process their child never develops the coping skills needed to deal with life. They don’t learn that their choices have consequences. They don’t learn how to prioritize and decide which activities they will pursue and which they will sacrifice due to time and financial constraints. They don’t learn problem-solving skills.
Instead, they witness their parents advocating for lower expectations around homework and chores. They witness parents saving them from stressful decisions or work struggles. They listen to their parents complain about time and finances as they rush from one activity to another. The implicit message they hear is, “You can’t do this on your own. You’re not capable. You’re incompetent. But everyone will sacrifice everything to make life easier for you.” Worse, they begin to believe that message and so avoid the difficult task. They let their parent do the work. Their growth is limited and their self-confidence struggles. (Sometimes it’s best for Good Parents to Do Nothing.)
What can a parent do to break out of the role of a martyr parent?
- Realize that doing everything for your child is hurting them and you. They will become more competent and confident as you step back and quit doing everything for them…and Give Your Child the Gift of Confidence instead.
- Think of one area in which you are willing to step back and let your child engage in the struggle or face the consequences. Schoolwork is often a great place to start.
- Take on the role of coach and teacher rather than fixer. Coach your child in understanding their options and let them problem-solve. Teach them the limits and the reason for the limits. Then teach them that choices have consequences by holding them accountable to the limits. Let them face the consequences of poor grades due to incomplete homework or loss of activity due to not doing a chore. Teach them that choices have consequences.
- Decide how much time, energy, and finances you can invest in your children’s activities. Set a reasonable limit on activities based on those resources. That may mean limiting your child to one or two extracurricular activities at any one time. Then coach your child in thinking through their schedule and helping them prioritize what they like the most. Let them decide what they will continue or stop based on the limited resources available. (Managing Your Child’s Schedule…or Seeking Balance in the Devil’s Playground.)
- Let your children stumble. You may see this as letting them fail. It’s ok. They don’t have to succeed at everything. They can mess up. They can have a bad day. They can be ordinary in some activity or skill…AND still be healthy, happy people. In fact, teach your children that failure is information, an opportunity to learn what does not work. Teach them to use the information gained through failure to “do better next time.” Teach your child to love mistakes.
These 5 steps will free you from the stress of being a martyr parent and allow your child to grow more competent, confident, and self-assured.