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on happiness and parental sacrifice…

by Meagan Francis on January 14, 2010

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?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Melody January 14, 2010 at 8:29 pm

“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.”

That’s brilliant. I totally agree. And I actually think that sometimes the more we sacrifice, the harder we make it for our children — to think for themselves, to make their own guilt-free way in the world, to become full-fledged adults. Excellent, excellent post.

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Amber January 14, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I think I pretty much agree with you. If it comes down to safety or life and death I’ll sacrifice pretty much anything. They can eat our last piece of bread, say. But I matter, too. My sanity is important, as is my financial security.

I think that within reason requiring your children to make some sacrifices to meet their own goals is a good thing. For example, I’m not sure that receiving a car on your 16th birthday and a full ride through your post-secondary education really helps you appreciate what you have or manage your resources wisely. These are also things that are important to me – that my kids not only have the things that they need, but appreciate them and learn how to provide them for themselves sooner or later.

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Jen January 15, 2010 at 10:06 am

Spot on. This is excellent! I love your last paragraph in particular. While the role of “mom” is hugely important, there ARE other roles we fill in our lives, simultaneously. To me it seems disengenious to act is if all those other roles simply fade completely away.

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duck January 15, 2010 at 10:56 am

Interesting. To give you another perspective, I am infertile (exteme infertile) so while I will not pay for my child’s college education (I think if they want to go to Uni they should pay for it) or buy them a car, I have paid extrordinary amounts of money so that they can litterally have a life. So, when it comes to what I am willing to sacrifice to have a child (and therefore for our children), so far I have sacrificed my career,all vacations for the past 5 years, time and physical pain(including the loss of my left ovary).

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Ian Paul Marshall January 15, 2010 at 10:57 am

“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.”

Wow!

Love that. Stopped me in my tracks.

I have two kids and that resonated with me deeply.

As parents we need to ensure that we are happy too. That happiness radiates out from us and influences are children.

what good is it to them if I hate my job, hate my life and send out that energy to them 24/7?

If I’m happy they’re happy. And when they’re happy I’m happy.

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Li January 15, 2010 at 11:45 am

Great post! Love this.

In our family, there’s little things that my husband and I won’t sacrifice (date night is sacrosanct; kid not allowed in our bed since that’s our grown-up space) and big ones (I’m a writer, just completed a novel and I make time to work on my short stories each week. That feeds my soul and I can’t give that up). And I think that not only is this good for us, it’s good for our son as well. He’s an only child and he’s quite beloved and indulged by his parents, grandmother and nanny. It’s good for him to understand that there are times when he doesn’t get his way and he isn’t at the center of the universe (at least not all the time).

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oblio February 16, 2010 at 8:04 am

I feel so relieved every time I read one of your posts. Phew! Thanks for putting into words what I feel and believe.

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Liz June 14, 2010 at 9:25 pm

“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.”

I REALLY like that!!!

I believe if we sacrifice too much for our kids we end up with young adults who think that they have certain rights and they are not appreciative of what they have been given.

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modern education June 22, 2010 at 3:37 am

This post has some very fine insights and interpretations in it. Your thesis is good, clear, and the argument is persuasive.

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Lori February 20, 2011 at 7:46 am

As a single parent i can totally identify and agree with this post and am so thankful to have found it this morning! Because i do not have the typical nuclear family and am pretty much on my own raising my daughter, i often find myself giving, giving, giving until I feel completely depleted. So many times i have to literally stop myself and regroup. I have to say, “Hey, i matter too! I have needs and i am not happy!” I have to be doing things that make ME happy too! I love my daughter more than anything in the world. She is literally the lite of my life. BUT, my needs have to be met. And i can not stop livng my life the way i want to live it because it may not make my daughter happy. I homeschool, and have always been completely devoted and dedicated to ensuring she has all that she needs to thrive. She is now almost 16, and has the rest of her life to do the things that make her happy. Anyway, thank you for posting.

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shaun March 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm

When one decides to bring a child into this world ,it is his or her,responsibility to raise that child,without question or sacrifice of ones own life, the only person withing that family unit to have equal attention is the spouse, Most parents today want children just for the fact of saying to their friends and have little dedication and little interaction with them and believe that its still ok to act like a teenagers, and have guys night out or girls night out, for me this a pathetic parent who hasn’t quite matured yet and are the sign of the times

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Meagan Francis March 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm

That’s a pretty big generalization Shaun! Do you really believe that “most parents today” want children just to be able to brag and still live “like teenagers?” Gosh, not any of the parents I know.

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Alicia August 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I have sacrificed my career, my health, everything to stay home with my three children. If I had to do it over again I would. I would not feel comfortable with someone else raising my children. If they had to choose I know everyday they would choose to be with me rather than anyone else. To each their own, but I know that when my last child gets on that bus for the first time that in a few weeks I can revel in the fact that I raised my children- not someone else so I could shop, go to the gym, or get a manipedi. Too many women pretend to have “part time jobs” so they have an excuse to have someone else raise their children or are so self absorbed that they don’t care to pretend or they call their children’s day care “school”. You know what the best part is? You can never get these years back and I will never have any regrets.

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