Sacrifices in Motherhood
Sometimes we do it because it feels good and other times only because it is the right thing, and if not us then who because they are our responsibility.
Sometimes the love and devotion and care flow from us easily and other times they are torn from us with a pain reminiscent of the labor that brought our little ones into this world.
Motherhood is an exercise in sacrifice even on the best days. Your money, time, appearance, comfort, sleep, sanity — all of it, gone.
On a good day you give it all up for those little people you created who make your heart full and your teeth tight. On a bad day, when they’re still taking long after you’ve got nothing left to give, you get to show off your ugly cry.
As a society supporting mothers of all ages who are raising children of all ages, we are good at telling them that the sacrifice is worthwhile, that the challenging moments are part of the process, that those moments won’t last forever, and that they just need to keep trying, keep going, and keep doing their best. What is implied in that message, that we may not realize we are saying, is that their suffering is irrelevant, that the feeling of losing their minds and wanting to scream is also merely part of the process, and that their soul-crushing struggle to keep their own head above water cannot be that bad because it is temporary. We validate their efforts, but not their feelings. We ignore their mental and emotional strife altogether.
What we do not tell mothers is that it is okay to say the ugly, selfish things; it is okay to have the angry, fed up feels; no one will judge them while they let these emotions wash over them and, more importantly, that we will hold them, love them, and support them while they do. We’ve all hated our two-year-old while they’re in their seventeenth straight hour of behaving like a tyrannical dictator who is refusing to sleep, to eat anything other than goldfish snacks, or to wear pants. We all feel this way from time to time, or perhaps even a lot of the time. Why don’t we confess this to one another? Why don’t we reassure one another that these thoughts and feelings don’t make us bad mothers, and that it is okay?
I was standing on the pool deck last night listening to a mother vent about her struggles with a teenage daughter who is behaving badly. As a coach, you see this a lot, and you know that nine times out of ten it all turns out okay, but when a parent is in the throes of watching their baby engage in risky behavior that may wreck their future or even jeopardize their life, they don’t have that perspective. So, I listened, gave hugs, made comforting noises, and said over and over that this too shall pass and it will be okay. Then, trying to hold back her ugly cry, she wiped her eyes and said something to the affect of, “I’m getting old and with that I am getting sick and tired of taking care of everybody, and particularly of taking care of people who give nothing back, and who do not recognize or care at all about the sacrifices I have made for them to be happy, healthy, and successful.” She said that and for me the world froze; I felt that. This is a woman with a successful medical practice, a woman who waited years to have her babies to make sure she could give them the best life, a woman who works hard to keep her health and looks at least twenty years younger than she is even with four children and a demanding career. She looked guilty as soon as the words left her mouth, even though they were the tamest version of, “right now I hate my children and I want to run away,” that I have ever heard in my life, and I just looked at her, put my hands on her shoulders, and said, “you know what, that feeling you have right now, it is okay, that feeling is okay, too.” She looked so relieved and now I wonder if anyone has ever validated her when she is in the midst of being overwhelmed by all the sacrifices that motherhood requires. If not, her support network has let her down, either by failing to say that it is okay, or by failing to make her feel safe enough to show them the most vulnerable parts of herself, and that is a real shame. The fastest way to alienate any woman is to fail to validate what she feels. This will make her feel all alone and in motherhood the last thing we need to feel is any more alone.
Mom: one who sacrifices her body, sleep, social life, spending money, eating hot meals, peeing alone, patience, energy, and sanity for LOVE.
Next time you are feeling like taking an extra long bathroom break because it is the only place you can go to escape from your children, and even then they stick their fingers under the door and call your name over and over, tell yourself it is okay to feel this way and that you shouldn’t feel bad for taking five extra minutes for yourself. In fact, take ten, because you know right where the kids are, you can see their little fingers, and nothing bad will happen to them now or ten years from now because you said that for the next ten minutes you just cannot do this right now.
Next time one of your mommy friends gets that look on her face, one you know well because you’ve felt it on your own, laugh and tell her it is okay to be brutally honest about how she feels towards her kids in that moment, towards her whole life, and reassure her that she is not a horrible friend, spouse, mother, or person for feeling that way. Get her some wine, or some kombucha, whatever you toss back while you’re getting down during your ladies’ nights, and actively build a safe space where each of you lifts up the others when they are feeling those things we are all afraid to admit that we feel, and where you feel confident in being vulnerable with those genuine, raw, sensitive parts of yourself, too.
Motherhood is both a noble calling and a dirty job. It brings out the best of us and sometimes threatens to draw forth the worst in us, too. The biggest bit of advice I would give to any mother, having seen a lot of different examples of how motherhood works and doesn’t work in more than fifteen years of working with kids, is don’t lose yourself to motherhood. You are a mother and your children are lucky to have you, but that is not all you are. Don’t lose those other parts of yourself. Also, make sure you fill your own cup with the same love and care with which you fill your children’s, and everyone else’s. You cannot pour from an empty cup, after all, so don’t let yours run dry. They depend on you and, most importantly, you depend on you, too.