Monday, June 2, 2014

Parenthood: Week 53 - No Sacrfice

I hate it when parents talk about the sacrifices they make for their children.

If being a parent is an active choice that you make, then any choices that you make in respond to the consequences of having a child are just, that: a choice.

A sacrifice is giving up something you want to someone else. By that definition we sacrifice money to by Cheetos, but when most people use the term sacrifice there is a stronger implication. We choose to spend money on Cheetos; a soldier sacrifices his life to save his comrades. When parents use this word, it just reeks self-pity and a need for recognition, which should not be expressed, especially towards children.

If parenthood was thrust upon us by nature and was something that we could not control, then I would understand if people had a stronger need for recognition. “Hey, this baby is in my life, I HAVE to take care of it, so now I can’t do all of the things I wanted to do in life. I didn’t want this right now.” This person would feel that he or she is making sacrifices, and would feel a lack of justice.

For many people, like my wife and I, we chose to have a baby. We knew our lives would completely change, our budget would be turned upside down and many things that we enjoyed we might not be able to do in the same way. How can I complain about the choices I made to be a parent when I chose to be parent? It’s like wearing a sweater and then complaining that its’ itchy. No one forced you to wear that sweater and no one forced me to be a dad.

There’s two main problems that lead to people feeling this sense of sacrifice and not in a good way. Too many, WAY too many people don’t feel like they actively choose to have a baby. America’s abysmally sexual education and the misogynist and primeval view many Americans have on reproductive rights leads to children born every day that are not fully embraced as a life choice.

If that baby comes before you are in a place that you are ready to embrace the life changes of becoming a parent, of course there’s going to be a feeling of bitter sacrifice. I can only imagine how difficult it is to get over this feeling. A parent should look at a child and see all the possibilities of the future, not all the things this child prevents the parent from doing.

The other problem is the fact that many parents not feeling acknowledge for the great things they do every day for their children. There’s an old Chinese saying that instructs that a parent should never tell others what they do for their children or expect gratitude from their own children. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t teach your kids to be polite and gracious. However expecting your children, at any age, to give you the positive feedback and recognition so that you feel like a great parent will leave you constantly disappointed.

Children even at older ages don’t have the capacity to truly understand the choices that you make as a parent. Even when they themselves become parents they only have a vague sense of what you went through because chances are, their situation as a parent is going to be completely different.

Friends and extended family can help with this feeling of “hey you are a good parent,” but the majority of this encouragement lies on the shoulders of your partner, your husband or wife. In the same way that the worst insult comes from the person who knows you the best, the most amazing complement comes from the person who loves you the most.

Even with a grateful kid and a supportive partner, it can be tough to accept all of the choices we make for our kids. The strongest motivation to embrace these choices is our children themselves.

Telling your kid that you made sacrifices for him, doesn’t engender respect. It makes a kid feel like a burden, like something that stands in the way of happiness. "Sacrifice" implies that the choice of staying home over a career hasn’t panned out well. If you tell your children of all the sacrifices you made for them, instead of giving their lives meaning, you are taking meaning away.

I don’t believe the choices my parents made were sacrifices. My mom never used that word to describe the life choices she made as a parent. Do I feel gratitude for everything she did for me? Yes, every single day. How did she get me to appreciate her as mom without making me feel guilty by talking about the “sacrifices” she made for me? Through showing care and acting out of love, she taught me to do the same and in my actions, I feel gratitude for her kindness.

The greatest satisfaction you will feel in the act of caring for another soul is not in the recognition but in the action itself. Embrace your child not as a burden that weighs you down but a comforting breeze that can lift you up.

We make choices for our children every day. For most of us, it’s eating dinner a little quicker, not having as much time to watch a television show or not getting as much sleep. When you think about it, for the light that our children bring into our lives, these choices seem less like a sacrifice and more like the greatest deal in the universe.

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