Real life: I stopped being a mum martyr and it destroyed my marriage

Woman thinking on bench

Mums, this is a cautionary tale.

There is a time when our small children need us a little less, and it makes space in our mind to dream. If you have aspirations of grandeur, such as caring about your career once more, wanting your body to be strong and, okay, sexy, and developing other interests outside of your family, I hope you have the right partner.

I didn’t and here’s what happened.

It started with a photo

An innocent photo of me on holidays with the kids. It’s taken from the back and I’m wearing a control-your-tummy-torture-cozzie. But there is back fat, and a double chin. Flicking through the phone I stumbled across it and it made me gasp.

It shouldn’t matter, but it did to me. When had this happened? When had I stopped caring? This photo was symbolic of the woman I had become as opposed to the woman I shoved aside when I started my gorgeous, all consuming family.

She used to be confident, popular, creative, kooky, and fit. She had interests and opinions. She was fucking cool. Now, she was hiding in uncomfortable wired swimsuits.

Then I made a choice

I stopped being a martyr and telling myself I couldn’t. I worked hard, carved out space for myself and started caring again. I cared about friends I had neglected, I cared about how I looked, I wanted more from my career, which had been sailing along in an I-have-small-children-and-therefore-can’t-commit-too-much way.

I had a mini personal revolution, and it felt amazing.

I even wrote about it, urging mums everywhere to do it! Grab life by the kahunas and get back in there! Your family will be fine! They will thrive! Happy mum, happy family, I said.

I was wrong.

The kids were fine, but my husband was not

By all appearances he was supportive, but he would sprinkle little seeds of doubt over my new-found awesomeness. He told me he liked the old me more, and that it was fine to want to be fit, but I was becoming selfish and superficial.

I agreed. Yes! I said, isn’t it wonderful?

I started pole dancing lessons, but I soon learned to keep my excitement to myself. My husband didn’t approve. I started seeing my friends more, reconnecting with old friends I thought I had lost, making new friends. This was met with accusations of family neglect and suspicions of god knows what. He told me I was trying too hard, and I was hanging out with people who were too young (I had a work friend who was 10 years younger than me and who I adored), or that there were too many men in my circle of friends. I was told one night, after a huge karaoke session with a bunch of work friends, “You have a family! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

I wasn’t. I was happier than I had been in years.

I had finally got the balance right

After years of pretty much sole parenting my lovely kids, I was burnt out. Every aspect of my family’s life from sun up to sun down was up to me. The mental load had become too much. My husband was a great provider, but I felt like I was taken for granted. I was a 1960’s housewife, only I also had a job and no time for ‘a bex and a good lie down.’

So I was happy, I felt free, I felt like a whole new person. I felt beautiful, sexual, inspired, energetic. I was suddenly aware that life is short and I wanted to use it all well, to jump in head first. I laughed more. I think this made me a better parent and partner.

But I started to hide my triumphs and ambitions

I began to live a double life. It felt like I had grown these beautiful, bright, shiny wings. And at work, out with friends, at my writing course, in the music studio, at the gym and with the kids, I was free to have them out, sparkling in the sun. But at home with my husband, I had to hide them. I numbed them.

He became depressed. The happier I was, the sadder he was. The scales tipped further apart everyday. A black cloud descended on our house. There were arguments and hurtful words. The kids began to notice.

My husband was desperately unhappy and I was feeling nothing much at all at home. I couldn’t feel all the things I should be feeling, I had nothing left to give him. So I began to act. It was an award-winning role and I played it with aplomb. I was the good wifey at home, full of compassion and understanding, and the new me everywhere else.

It was exhausting, I was holding on by a thread, but it was working. I lost half my hair and developed psoriasis. My husband went on meds and started seeing a counsellor. We drank too much.

Then it all became too much

I couldn’t do it anymore, and neither could he. And now we are apart. I’ve never felt freer. Or sadder. But sad is better than numb.

We are at the beginning of a long, intensely difficult journey, for us and for the kids. Christmas was an emotional minefield. Selling the house with someone who won’t speak to you is a nightmare. Parenting has become a competitive sport.

But I hope one day we will be okay. We have to be. We are in each other’s lives forever.

And so, mums who have decided to grow your wings, and show them to the world, just make sure you have the right partner.

And if you don’t, fuck it and let them fly anyway.

*This article has been published anonymously to protect the writer’s privacy due to the sensitive nature of the topic.

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