A New York Times opinion piece by Karen Rinaldi is making the social media circuits at the moment. Unlike many others floating through digital channels, the title “Motherhood Isn’t Sacrifice, It’s Selfishness”, is not remotely misleading and is exactly the author’s point. No clickbait here.
You can read the article for yourself, but the essence of it is that by talking about the sacrifices of motherhood we perpetuate a sense of martyrdom that subtly oppresses us and prevents us from embracing our full identity as mothers. Which in theory, in a childless vacuum of fulfilled careers, full nights of sleep, clean floors, and privacy when you poop, that sounds ok I guess.
But, let me provide a reality check from the front lines. Whether it aligns with Ms. Rinaldi’s philosophies or not, sacrifices are happening. Every mother that I know is struggling to come to terms with the sacrifices of motherhood. I personally feel that I’m at my mental, emotional, and physical limit almost every single day. I’ve sacrificed my health, my body, and sometimes my sanity in the interest of providing the best I have to give to my daughter. And it’s a privilege.
Other moms I know are sacrificing careers that they loved and enjoyed because their domestic and financial situations don’t allow them to work and parent right now. New moms are sacrificing their comfort and rest to care for a newborn. Their body that was once solely theirs, is now solace, nutrition, and safety for another. The mental anxiety of figuring out how to take care of yourself in ways that don’t take from your child’s mental, emotional, and physical needs is taxing and sometimes feels impossible. Implementing it can be even more difficult and expensive to boot ($15-$20/hour for some time for yourself, plus whatever cost of drinks/massage/food/activity). It is a sacrifice, that does not preclude it from also being a privilege.
Ms. Rinaldi claims to want to empower women with her message of privilege not sacrifice, and while I believe her intent, I’m afraid the results will be quite different.
By denying what mothers give of themselves, so deeply and with love, for their children, she is denying us the opportunity to acknowledge and validate our realities. On top of that, she’s opening the door for others to remove or deny their support as a society or community, chocking up our struggles to a martyr complex instead of what it truly is – a seismic giving of ourselves that requires the support of every single family member, friend, neighbor, employer, and government entity that we can get on board.
Mothers in America have a hard enough time getting the support that the rest of the developed countries of the world have as it is, without having our efforts undermined and minimized.
Being a mother is really the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never been so scared to mess something up in all my life. I had not anticipated feeling that way. Every single day I give everything I have to being the best mother I can. I fail, often. I make mistakes and even coping with the mistakes I’ve made is more energy and emotion I need to expend. I sacrifice free time, physical comfort, and career ambitions to be the best mother that I can. And the way that motherhood draws on every part of yourself means that motherhood is not “hard work”…”like every other meaningful aspect of our lives.” It is not the only life experience that requires much of us, but it is certainly another level of sacrifice for the vast majority of us, unlike anything else we have ever encountered.
But these sacrifices are slowly and surprisingly transforming me as a person and even on the days when I ask myself what kind of ridiculous hubris causes a woman to think having a child is a good idea, I still wouldn’t go back and make a different choice if I could.
Under the pressure of motherhood, I have become kinder, more resilient, more understanding of other viewpoints, more dedicated to social justice, and less arrogant. I have sacrificed taut skin, greyless hair, and perky breasts, but in return, I received a confidence and awe in the power and capacity of my body. I have sacrificed my free time and in return, I received a realignment of priorities. I have sacrificed my prior ideas of dignity and identity and in return, I received an ability to laugh at myself and embrace a complex and changing identity.
I can think of few privileges that do not also demand sacrifices of us. The most rewarding and enriching life experiences require something of us in order to be worth anything to us. Motherhood is an incredible sacrifice, and it is an incredible privilege.