As a child of two near-perfect parents who were fully immersed in the world of parenting and all the sacrifice that we’re taught should come with it, you’d think I’d have become a similar type of parent. The truth is, I wouldn’t describe my own motherhood as a noble or sacred experience. Yes, it is wearisome and, at times, interminable, but it is also fun and a kind of restoration for the soul. But, it isn’t all about sacrifice—an attribute that has long been considered a necessity of good parenting. For me, sacrifice connotes dissatisfaction, regret, and solemnity. Whereas my parents cared for their children as they were always the top priority, the choices I make as a mother resemble a utilitarian bargaining of sorts.
Countless studies have shown that parents, compared to people without children, have lower emotional well-being, meaning they experience more negative feelings than positive ones. And, apparently, these same parents are less happy in their marriages and are more often sufferers of depression. Simultaneously, these parents will claim that their children are the main source of their happiness, that a life without them would be unbearable. The conundrum, as it would appear to be, is that too much sacrifice can bring great dissatisfaction in one’s life, but so can children.
My parents never seemed to resent their sacrifices. They made it look so simple, as if a switch turned on automatically in their brains that made them give up all their time, energy and money. There were no lazy Sundays or nights out with friends, or dare I say—dabbling in a dream or two. My father worked his way up the corporate ladder, and my mother stayed home until us kids were school age, whereby she returned to work as a secretary (administrative assistant). Meals were home-cooked every night, vacations were twice a year, and not a play or sporting event was missed. They helped with homework every night and bought us too many Christmas presents. My dad built us a tree house, my mom taught us to swim and packed our lunches every day. They gave advice, they listened, they pushed us on the swings when they were sick or tired. I don’t know if they ever struggled with identity or happiness. They were like the perfect parental machines.
“Parenting as sacrifice” seems to be a long-standing rule and most people would agree that sacrificing for your children is admirable. Just look at the way I talk about my own parents, as if they were godly, possessing some other-worldly power which enabled them to put my happiness before their own, no matter how small or big the task. Unfortunately, I think it, in some way, was damaging to their self-concept. Their children guided their pursuits in life, and I often wonder who they truly are, underneath the Financial Analyst and the doting mother.
Regardless of race, class, or economics, parents make tough choices in regards to their families. The problem occurs when a choice becomes a begrudged sacrifice. As a parent, I would sacrifice my life for my child’s life, but I will not sacrifice my dreams so my child can have the latest and greatest iPhone. There’s a difference even though some parents, like mine, will tell you there isn’t.
I don’t want my children to grow up feeling as though I had to give up on my own dreams, happiness, and health in order for her to indulge her every desire. I’d rather they learn who their mother and father really are, and that they have needs and wants too. Their needs will not always be met before ours; sometimes, they’ll be met in tandem. Surely, I am more limited in my decisions now that I have children, but I need not sacrifice everything for them. I believe that the quality of their lives, as well as my parenting, will improve as I pursue personal fulfillment.