You know, I hear so many moms tell me that part of motherhood is “sacrificing” your own needs for the needs of your children. The maternal sacrifice.
For the longest time I have had a real reaction to this. I don’t like having to sacrifice anything for anything. It get’s my back up. And you know what? I suspect it gets most people’s back up when they feel they are having to sacrifice something.
Sacrifice Contributes to the Maternal Load
John Gottman speaks about compromising vs. sacrificing in relationships. He explains how partners will always feel resentful and short-changed if they feel they are sacrificing their needs, desires or values in exchange for their partner’s. Gottman encourages compromise. And compromise is all about giving a little and receiving a little. It is not about giving everything and receiving nothing.
The same way as we are in relationship with our partners, so too do we have relationships with our kids. So I want to apply this concept to the relationship we have with our children. And the idea that mother’s have to sacrifice themselves in the interest of their kids.
Maternal sacrifice is what perpetuates and drives mothers to feeling overwhelmed, depleted and just a teeny tiny bit resentful of their role as mother. Remember, no one wants to sacrifice themselves!
Put another way – Would you encourage your child to sacrifice their own needs in the interest of someone else? Hell no! Would you encourage your adult child to sacrifice themselves for their family? I should hope not!
Yet, we believe mothers should…
Well – Maybe not all mothers… Maybe maternal sacrifice only applies to ourselves? And if we object to this idea of having to sacrifice ourselves then we feel guilty and not good enough. We believe we are not fulfilling the role of motherhood well enough (with all its sacrificial requirements).
Why Is This Coming Up For Me Now?
Well we have been blessed with an amazing au pair to help with the care of our children while I work full time. Yes, it took me many moons to get over the guilt of handing my children to the care of another. I felt that I was “selfishly” following my dreams. Maybe that is a story for another day. But I did get an au pair and my children have flourished for it. And so have I. But she is leaving soon and we are due to hire another au pair.
But then Coronavirus happened.
Yip, the borders have been closed and any potential dreams of another Mary Poppins au pair for the future have been quarantined like so many of us. Aside from this, my little 4 year old is struggling with some really big emotions. He is fairly rigid, stubborn and, of course, four years old so he is a little tough to contend with right now. I recognise that he may need a little more guidance in managing himself at present. My window period for helping him with these things is slowly getting smaller.
Now is the time for me to step in.
It did cross my mind that I would need to sacrifice my time and freedoms in order to be home with kids before and after school. I realised that solo shop runs would become a distant memory. Perhaps I would have to sacrifice….
Oh that word! It makes me cringe.
And then, I had an extremely powerful conversation with my coach today. I came to realise that I am not sacrificing a damn thing!!! I am choosing, in this moment, to take an action that feels more aligned with my values at present.
Yes – staying home with my kids makes more sense to me right now than having freedom and solo retail therapy. I am not sacrificing anything at all.
I am choosing this.
And it will be a compromise, you see, because in return I will get the fulfilment of being present for my son when he needs me most.
The Feeling Of Maternal Sacrifice Is A Red Flag
Along with this realisation I came to the conclusion that if we are, indeed, sacrificing something then there is work to be done.
Many mother’s do choose their children above themselves regularly. Especially when taking that role aligns with their values . But this is a gain and not a sacrifice.
If it feels like a sacrifice; staying home because you believe that is what you should be doing rather than it being a choice that feels good, then it needs to change.
At other times, mothers are choosing to follow their own dreams. Build their own careers. Work on their own personal growth or health. They are not sacrificing their children for this. And to nurture that belief would be detrimental and foolish.
Mothers who choose to pursue something else beyond the realms of parenting children are not being selfish. They are role-modelling self care, success and the pursuing of dreams.
Unless, of course, these pursuits are not aligning with their values in that moment.
When, for example, they are away from children because they are forced to be and feel like they are sacrificing their motherhood in favour of their job requirements. This is painful and, as with all sacrifices, should be promptly addressed.
You see, as long as the exchange is not viewed as a sacrifice, it is tolerable and even encouraged.
However, when mothers are sacrificing their self care, their time, their dreams, their small freedoms, or even their wish to be stay-at-home-mothers, it only breeds resentment and contributes to overwhelm.
It can never feel good if it is a sacrifice.
I implore you today to have a good hard look at your choices and how you show up for your children.
Are you sacrificing something? Or is there a compromise being made? What needs to shift? How are you showing up for yourself? And would you want your kids doing the same one day?