Motherhood and sacrifice seem to go together like strained peas and carrots. Starting the day you’re promoted to mama you’re sacrificing sleep, sex, and very likely sanity to keep your kids fed, healthy, happy, and out of trouble. Having less time for yourself is a expected part of parenting. Less space – including personal space – is, too. And yes, it’s likely that things like salsa lessons and that trip to Italy have probably been put on hold indefinitely. That’s all normal and natural.
What’s less normal and definitely not natural is going out of your way to completely bury the me that’s in every mother, including you. But that’s what too many mamas do because they think that’s the only way to be a good mom.
It’s not all that surprising that a lot of women enter into motherhood with the idea that for 18ish years they will give 100% of their time, energy, mental capacity, and money to their children. Mama the Martyr is a very real cultural icon that has been elevated to near goddess stature by people who see motherhood as not one aspect of a woman’s life but the highest (or only) calling a woman has.
And mothers, we’re told, have to be all in all the time. ‘Good enough’ is most certainly not enough when it comes to mothering these days. Unfailingly exceptional is the ideal we’re supposed to aim for and God help us if we fail to reach it.
Not only is mama expected to oversee schoolwork and extra-curriculars plus her little ones’ social lives; she is expected to actively manage them. She’s CEO of the home, a playmate and teacher for her children, and perfect partner to her spouse. Her personal interests? Who cares, she says flippantly, there will be time for those later when my kids are grown. For now my job is to devote myself to them completely. And she does! She proudly has no hobbies and never goes out with friends. She’s too busy making sure her children’s lives are enhanced and enriched and fully optimized to worry about enriching her own.
Sometimes she even silently (or not so silently criticizes) other moms for doing things like going on vacation sans kids or grabbing McDonalds instead of cooking from scratch or for simply being out of the house for a few hours two nights a week for yoga or book club or dance.
But does perfect mothering really have to mean giving up your dreams, pushing aside your passions, and ignoring your own happiness? Never nurturing the parts of yourself that don’t fall under the umbrella of ‘mom’?
I’d argue that no; being the best mother you can be should never mean being everything to everyone but no one to yourself. Losing your self in the care of your children and your household shouldn’t be something you aspire to. Your nourishment, all that you need to care for body and for soul, should never be your little one’s leftovers because you are a person, too.
Here’s something to consider: While you may love your children more than you could ever possibly love yourself, admitting that you are as an individual just as valuable as they are is actually in their best interest.
Why? Because good mothering means leading by example, and how do children learn to love themselves and to become well rounded adults if not by seeing their parents living rich, full lives? How else do children come to realize that they need to respect and celebrate the right of others to enjoy life if not by seeing the smiles on their parents faces when they have an opportunity to do what they enjoy? And how else do children learn the real value of sacrifice if not by sometimes being told that this minute or this hour or this day is for mommy or daddy. That sometimes all of us are called upon to put aside our own interests to help someone else find their way.
So you can feel guilty for not building a sensory table or being room mom or enrolling your children in circus school and Mandarin lessons and for secretly wanting the biggest slice of pie or the last piece of birthday cake, or you can embrace a version of motherhood that includes your own fulfillment and demonstrates to your kids that grownups are people, too.
Because no matter what, sacrifice will always be a part of motherhood. Sacrificing everything doesn’t have to be.