Something clicked for me. The thing that has been bothering me about the martyrdom discussion is that it doesn't really acknowledge the fact that most people like to feel like their work is appreciated. And yes, motherhood involves a lot of work, some of which is hard and dirty and not a lot of fun. Motherhood also involves sacrifice, which is another thing that people generally like to have appreciated. Our culture can pretend all it wants that motherhood only adds to your life, but I disagree. I gained a lot from becoming a mother, but I lost a lot, too. Basically, a lot of parenting comes down to subjugating my own wants to my children's needs, in large ways and small. I call that sacrifice. You may not truly understand the sacrifices you're signing up for when you decide to have a child. I certainly didn't. But that's not the kid's fault, and most parents recognize that and try to do right by their child.
The thing is, sometimes that sacrifice comes easily and you don't really mind. But sometimes, it really stings. You suck it up and do whatever it is that needs doing anyway, because that is part of the job you signed up for, and you want to raise your child "right". Most of the benefit of that accrues to the child and to the parents, but a non-negligible part of the benefit accrues to the rest of society, too. Society has a stake in us parents doing a good job and raising our children to be good citizens.
I don't think that wanting to have that work and sacrifice acknowledged and appreciated is the same as being a martyr. But if we think about it, who is going to acknowledge it? I don't expect my kids to do so yet. In fact, I don't really want them to even know about some of the biggest sacrifices I make right now. Right now they are very young, and I want them to exist in their happy little world where parents always love their children and take good care of them, and where the happiness and love that they take for granted is every child's birthright. In short, I want them to live in the world I wish we had. There is time enough as they get older for me to explain how the world really is.
Don't get me wrong: my kids occasionally give me cookies- in fact, lately, Petunia has been literally giving me candy, as she empties out her Halloween bucket. She loves opening candies, but doesn't like eating any candy except gummy bears, so she gives the candy to me. Their awarding of cookies is mostly accidental, though. I get big hugs and genuine smiles. I get the second-hand pride in seeing them learn something new and I get the warm fuzzies when Pumpkin does something to help Petunia out or Petunia gives Pumpkin an unprompted hug- but that is not the same as appreciation. They don't have the context for that yet. To be honest, I don't think I really, truly appreciated all the things my parents did for me until I had my own kids. In fact, I may still have more to learn. I suspect the teenage years will be another revelation for me. (By the way, thanks, Mom and Dad!)
So maybe my husband should acknowledge my work and sacrifice? Sure. But I also need to acknowledge his, and neither of us has any energy to award the other cookies on a regular basis just for being parents.
What about the rest of the world? Well, fat chance. Honestly, I'm happy if I just get benign neglect from the rest of the world. More likely, I'll get told I'm doing this parenting thing all wrong- sort of the opposite of giving me a cookie. The rest of the world is Swiper, coming to swipe my cookies (Swiper! No Swiping!) I think that is wrong, and wish it would change, but in actual fact it isn't going to change, so I'd be smart to not let that get me down.
So do I just have to do without cookies? I thought about this some more while I was out walking today, and I realized that Gretchen Rubin has it right in her original Happiness Project book. If I want cookies, I need to make them for myself. (She frames it as gold stars, but while those are less fattening, cookies are yummier.) I can appreciate my own hard work and sacrifices. I can acknowledge to myself that this parenting thing is hard, and then give myself the cookies I want in payment.
I could go further. There are other things I do that involve work and/or sacrifice on my part, but which I do because I think they are the right thing to do or because I think that doing them will in some small way make the world a better place. No one else is likely to give me cookies for a lot of those things, either. I may never even know if they do, in fact, make the world a better place. I can acknowledge the effort to myself, though, and that should be enough.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't appreciate other people's sacrifices and acknowledge that they are making the world better. In fact, this line of thought made me more conscious of the things that other people do for which I'm grateful but rarely acknowledge. Thank you, garbage men, for taking my stinky trash away. Sorry about the diaper smell. Thank you, roadworkers, for clearing the debris to the side of the road so that no one runs over it and has an accident. Thank you, office cleaners, for removing the dust that makes me sneeze. Thank you, police officers, for dealing with the ugliness in the world so that I can mostly ignore it. Thank you, admins at work, for handling all that crappy paperwork.
I'll be happier, though, if I can find a way to let go of my desire to have someone else appreciate the things I do, and just appreciate them myself. I need to make my own damn cookies.