on happiness and parental sacrifice…

Today my good friend, writer, and very sane mom Denise Schipani let me know that she caught the tail end of a segment on the Brian Lehrer show which quoted my Babble.com essay about not paying for kids’ college. The show’s theme was parental sacrifice, and I found the examples given as well as the calls from parents (and the comments following the clip on the website) interesting. What are they willing to sacrifice for their kids? What are they not willing to sacrifice?

I find that the discussion surrounding these topics often takes a turn toward the extreme. With commenters saying things like “I really cannot think of anything I would not sacrifice for my child” and “People who are complaining that they sacrifice their body and their careers…these people CHOSE to have children” (that was pretty much a direct quote from my essay) and “Raising children is a huge undertaking…if you can’t afford it, or don’t want to lose what precious time you have for yourself outside of the 40 hour work week, then one should think twice about having kids” and even “after having heard on the BBC this morning, that children in Haiti are sleeping next to decaying bodies, perhaps this is a time to reflect on how grateful we are for our children, and not venting our gripes and frustrations?”

There is a difference between being unwilling to sacrifice anything for your kids, and being unwilling to sacrifice everything for your kids. The fact that there are children in horrible conditions in Haiti only serves to put into crystal-clear perspective that my kids instead worry about things like whether I got them the brand of cereal they want or whether they might have to take out student loans or go to community college for a year or two–in other words, by world standards they are incredibly lucky, and yet as an American parents we’re still expected to do more, more, more. Admitting that you sacrifice a lot for your kids isn’t whining, griping, or venting. It’s a simple statement. And being unwilling to sacrifice certain things doesn’t make you a bad parent…in fact, it may make you a better one.

There is nothing I would not sacrifice for my children…if it meant a difference between life and death. But it’s not my job to make my kids happy, and it’s not my job to create as easy as possible a path for them. It’s my job to give them the tools to make their own happiness, and to create their own paths. Sometimes that means I sacrifice for them, and sometimes it means I don’t. I am – gasp – a person too, and as much as I know my kids didn’t ask to be born, I also know I give them as good a life as I can, and put them first…most of the time. So on the relatively rare occasions that I give somebody else’s needs priority, I really don’t feel too bad about it.

I’m not suggesting parents should never sacrifice for their kids. I do it every minute of every day, in big and small ways, and that’s not a complaint – just a fact. But I think we have to choose our sacrifices wisely. If we sacrifice everything we are, everything we hope for and want, then who are we? I’m more than my childrens’ caretaker and the family maid. I also owe it to them and the world to be a wife, sister, friend, daughter, niece, colleague, neighbor, and citizen. But I can’t do that if my cup has emptied totally into theirs.

What about you? What will- and won’t-you sacrifice for your kids?

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