Motherhood is full of sacrifices. This is what I have been told by many sources throughout my life. It is what I have felt as a truth from the time before I became a mother. As a mother I have experienced its power, the power of believing this as a truth. I have struggled with it, argued with it, and felt oppressed by it.
Most definitions of the word sacrifice indicate that it is the act of offering or surrendering, or that which is offered or surrendered. It is a word most use to mean giving up something of significant value, whether gratefully or reluctantly. Often there is a religious connotation, but not always. So what does it mean that motherhood is full of sacrifices?
Growing up my mother was constantly emphasizing the importance of getting my education. Going to school was an imperative. Going to college was not an option because this would lead to a job that would allow me to support myself. Boyfriends were fine, but they were not allowed to stand in the way of my educational goals. Marriage could wait until after I was set, and having children was not to be considered until all else had been accomplished. All this I managed.
I had never had a burning desire to be a mother. It was something I just accepted would happen at some point. Then I became a mother. It altered my perspective in a way nothing had prepared me for. In all the conversations on all the topics I had had with my mother, we had never really talked about what it felt like for her to be a mother. Suddenly it felt like there were choices I needed to make that meant sacrificing.
I could not be a stay at home mother, but I wanted to. That was something I hadn’t expected, the strength of the desire to be with my child. I had to sacrifice time with her because I had to work. I wanted to give her the best I could so I sacrificed lunch with my co-workers, my friends, to nurse her at her daycare. I began sacrificing my career incrementally to be the mother I thought I should be, and still it felt like I was sacrificing my ability as a mother to maintain my career.
As I’ve been reading for my personal edification, a kind of independent women’s studies pursuit, I’ve come up against the recurring theme of sacrifice. I am not the only woman to struggle with motherhood sacrifices. Women are constantly pressured to choose, it seems, between career and motherhood as if there can be no validation of a woman unless she chooses one over the other, or worse, no validation of a woman who does both. And I find myself asking more and more why this is?
Is being a mother so incompatible with maintaining a career? Or is it the model of maintaining a career that is incompatible with being a nurturing parent? Have men not also sacrificed fatherhood for career? Perhaps there are men that would argue that, but then I put forth all the hours invested in work and ask that they be compared to all the hours invested in family. There is a flaw in our collective thinking that doesn’t recognize this component.
Women biologically have a closer connection to their children, but I suspect that it is the time invested in the care of a child that truly makes a parent. What might the world be like if mothers and fathers truly shared the responsibility of their children? How might our lives be improved if our idea of a career were not so exclusively demanding of our time, and allowed for incorporation of family? Would we then have to sacrifice so much?