Motherhood: The Sacrifice

“But I just want to say here – to lock it forever in print, if only to honor my mother – that an awful lot of my advantages as a child were built on the ashes of her personal sacrifice. The fact remains that while our family as a whole profited immensely from my mother’s quitting her career, her life as an individual did not necessarily benefit so immensely. In the end, she did just what her female predecessors had always done: She sewed winter coats for her children from the leftover material of her heart’s more quiet desires.

And this is my beef, by the way, with social conservatives who are always harping about how the most nourishing home for a child is a two-parent household with a mother in the kitchen. If I –  as a beneficiary of that exact formula – will concede that my own life was indeed enriched by that precise familial structure, will the social conservatives please (for once!) concede that this arrangement has always put a disproportionately cumbersome burden on women? Such a system demands that mothers become selfless to the point of near invisibility in order to construct these exemplary environments for their families. And might those same social conservatives – instead of just praising mothers as “sacred” and “noble” – be willing to someday join a larger conversation about how we might work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised and healthy families prosper without women having to scrape the walls of their own soul to do it?

Excuse me for the rant. This is just a really, really big issue of mine”

~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed

These words written by Elizabeth Gilbert, from her new book Committed stayed with me for long time after reading them.  It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I realized the extent to which my mother had made sacrifices.  Did she have dreams of her own?  Sadly, I don’t know.  I was too busy being a kid.  Absorbed in my own play as a child, in my own drama as a teenager and staking out a life for myself as a young adult.  I never stopped to think about what it was she gave up to be our mother.

Many mothers, myself included, give ourselves up to raise children.  I do it willingly-ish. As Gilbert says, society has branded motherhood as “sacred” and “noble”, so I am laden with guilt every time I want to push the pause button, and re-assess who I am.  What is it that I want?  The problem remains that since having children I have changed, that it is not so much of a question of getting back to the dreams that I had but learning about this new woman I have become and what it is that she needs.

Thank you to Mommy Blogger X who originally posted this quotation from Elizabeth Gilbert on August 13, 2010.

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How has being a mother changed how you see your own mother?  How has being a mother changed what you thought you wanted in life?


7 thoughts on “Motherhood: The Sacrifice

  1. I too never stopped to ask if my mother had dreams and hopes and desires for her life as opposed to lives of her five children. Sadly, she is now stricken with Alzheimers and I’ll never know. Now I try to take care of her – possibly sacrificing some of my own dreams along the way!

    I’m still not sure what I want for my life. But I sure hope I figure it out before it’s too late!

  2. I guess self discovery is a constant journey. Motherhood has definitely changed what I thought that I had always wanted but at the same the demands of being a mother and shouldering over 90% of the household responsibilities has somewhat clouded the other aspects of me . . . so much so that I am not sure what they are.

    What I find disheartening is that many mothers (myself included) feel they have lost their identity. As much as they love being mothers, it is only a part of who they are. I find it equally disappointing that when a mom (working, stay-at-home, or otherwise) express these ambivalent* feelings she most often feels such guilt that she follows it up with a “I am so lucky” statement. Never was gratitude the issue.

    * ambivalent in the true sense of the word – having two distinct feelings towards something. Not apathy.

  3. “. . . having to scrape the walls of their own soul . . .” That’s so powerful .
    When I was a teenager my mother moved out of the house for a few weeks. She needed space to process some very distressing news and, although I barely remember it now, I know there were lots of self-absorbed teenage conversations with my brother and sister that started with “That’s stupid, why can’t she just “find herself” while she lives here?” “Is she missing?” As children growing up, we were given such freedom and space to discover who were were that it had never occurred to me that this gift wasn’t equally available to my mother in the same environment.

    With a daughter of my own now, I’m amazed at what even four or five consecutive hours away from the rest of my family does . . . it lets me discover where the new edges and boundaries of myself are, where she ends and I begin. It helps me to gain perspective in both directions – what to let go of and what feels essential. And it gives me time to get to know myself again. Whenever I worry about losing myself in motherhood, I think about my own mother – taking care of ourselves before we can care for others is such an essential thing to model for children, and I’m so lucky that she did that in many big and small ways throughout our lives. With that lofty goal, the reality is that my “old dreams” (that now aren’t really relevant to who I am) took hours (years?) of thought, contemplation and solitude. And now I’ve got to figure out some new dreams . . . but, for the next little while at least, I may have to do at least some of that thinking while I simultaneously sing my 12th consecutive rendition of “John the Rabbit” as I cook dinner and unload the dishwasher 🙂

    • Hi Heather:
      I can relate to your comment. It’s almost as if the “old dreams” don’t really fit the “new person” that I am. I am sure that there are many, many mothers out there that somehow fulfill their dreams and never lost sight of their identity. I am not one of those people. So, here I go, trying to re-discover my passions and somehow marrying the “old” me with the “new” me all the while guiding three little boys to become men.

      🙂 BA

  4. “learning about this new woman I have become and what it is that she needs”
    I love these words, Beth-Anne. We so often discuss motherhood and its steep learning curve, its wonderous and hard-gained lessons, the joy of watching our children learn. We do not discuss often enough the things we need to learn about ourselves, the things we resist knowing about our relationship to our new role, the struggle with having lost our own footing.
    I always come back to the metaphor of the oxygen mask in an airplane: put on your own before you assist others. How do we teach our children that Mum needs time too? Daily, and gently, and well, well before Mum gets so worn out that she has to scream or run or hide to get the space she needs. I think the more we can make alone time a natural part of everyone’s day, and a need as pressing as any other, the more we can instill in our children a respect for their own and other’s individuality.

  5. I have been a mother for over 27 years now, one daughter. I have worked outside of the home the whole time. My husband worked from home until our daughter was in 2nd grade. I did not choose to work ouside of the home finances sort of dictated that. I feel that this helped our daughter become her own person. Once she told my husband and I to get our own life, when she was a teenager – she was right. I spent a lot of years feeling guilty about not being there for her like my mother was for me.
    I do not feel however it all up to the “mother” to care for our children. The most nourishing home for a child is a household with love, where each person (that includes the children) has their own identity or at least the space to find it.

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