MamaBlogger365 – The Martha Stewart Complex by Patti Ashley, Ph.D.

When interviewing seven women for my doctoral study in 2002, one of the women mentioned the unrealistic expectations that women often put on themselves as mothers. She called it the Martha Stewart Complex. Several of the others mothers also felt that women place too high expectations on themselves, resulting in judgment of self and others and tremendous amounts of guilt and feelings of inadequacy.

Lori, a thirty-nine year old mother of three boys ages sixteen, eleven and six, said that she feels inadequate most of the time. She shared two examples of times when she placed high expectations on herself that resulted in self-judgment and guilt.

One example was when she sent her child to school when he wasn’t feeling well, resulting in her wondering all day long if that was the right thing to do. Lori also recalled a Sunday afternoon when her middle son fell off his bike and hurt his arm. When his arm was still hurting on Monday, she took him to the doctor and found out that it was broken. She felt extremely guilty for not having taken him to the emergency room the same day of the injury.

Tara, a forty-nine year old mother of two children ages sixteen and eleven, thinks that mothers spend a lot of time feeling guilty. She used the example of the time that she forgot to make cupcakes for a birthday party at school. “There always seems to be someone out there that can do everything.” She feels really inadequate and guilty when her children compare her to other mothers. She hates it when they say: “so and so’s mom does this or lets them do that, she lets them go there, or takes them there, or makes that.”

The Martha Stewart Complex causes many women to continue on past the point of exhaustion in order to keep up with the image of mothering that is so often portrayed in our media and culture. The daily tasks of mothering include housework, cooking, grocery shopping, school events, volunteering, family chores, family fun, and being present for the children when they need the guidance of a primary caregiver. All of these tasks together add up to more that one full time job with no paycheck, benefits or time off.

Now that many mothers are working outside of the home, fathers and other adults have to assist with these tasks. Nonetheless, many mothers feel like a failure in some way if they are not the one to meet the majority of these demands.

The 2009 Rockefeller/Times report surveyed 3400 adults in America and found that 86% of women and 67% of men strongly agree that: “In households where both partners have jobs, women take on more responsibilities for the home than their male partners.” Additionally 69% of women reported that they are mostly responsible for taking care of the children, while only 13% of men reported being primarily responsible for the children.

In a desperate attempt to juggle all the balls, mothers often neglect to notice that the amount of things they set out to do in a day is not realistic. The problem with the way many mothers respond to these expectations is that they blame themselves.

The Martha Stewart Complex is one that is difficult for women to talk about without making jokes and light of the subject. I do not at all think that laughter is a bad thing, but are we putting on blinders to the unrealistic expectations, judgment and guilt that women carry everyday? The only real way to let it go is to identify it.

Make a list of all you do in a day, including the amount of time each task takes. If you compare this list to the expectations in a job outside of the home, my guess would be that each mother completed far more than would ever be expected of her in the workplace.

Now, think about ways to lighten your load and ease up on yourself and all the other mothers in the world. Sit down, have a cup of tea and breathe… and tell yourself… I AM ENOUGH!!!

About Patti Ashley: Mothering Beyond Image helps women connect more deeply to themselves and others, therefore feeling more authentic, mindful and whole. I will be presenting the five main themes from the soon-to-be-released book in a weekend workshop in Scottsdale, AZ, on March 9 & 10, 2012. For more information, or to register for the weekend, please visit www.motheringbeyondimage.com/workshops. Please sign up to be on my mailing list to stay updated on workshop information. Mothers always want to know whether or not they are doing a good job. This workshop will help you know that you ARE!

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Photo credit: bavejoan|MorgueFile

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