Does a “Good Mother” Always Sacrifice Herself for Her Family?

In 2015, when my two little boys were just two years and nine months old, I left my home for a nine-day trip to California to pursue my dream of working directly with Jack Canfield, the co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series and creator of the Success Principles. It was a dream I had had for quite some time, and I was so excited to bring it to life.

I had to save my personal days at work and find the finances to make the cross-country trip affordable, but with my husband’s support, we made it work.

As I shared my plans with family and friends, I was surprised at how many people questioned it. They looked at me quizzically, like “how can you leave your kids for that long to do something you don’t have to do?” Nobody called me selfish, but it was implied. I’m a mom, after all…

My most important job is to take care of my children.

How could they survive without me?

What damage would I be doing to them?

I hate to admit it, but these thoughts ran through my head as well. Wasn’t I being self-centered in pursuing something like this, when my babies were so little and needed me the most?

It seems like motherhood in our culture is synonymous with sacrifice. “A good mother always puts her children and family first”.

She stays up all night with a sick baby, slaves away on a school project after putting in hours at the office, painstakingly plans beautiful birthday parties, all the while sacrificing her own mental, physical and emotional energy in favor of everyone else’s needs.

This is the vision of motherhood we exalt in our conversations and on social media, and it’s the standard we are all living up to. The more you sacrifice, the more exhausted you are and the more you put everyone else’s needs before your own, the better a mother you are.

But I have come to believe that being a great mother is more complicated than simply sacrificing yourself on the altar of your family. The book Raising Happiness by Christine Carter discusses the “extensive research” which shows the correlation between a mother’s overall happiness and that of her children. While we might slave away to ensure our children have every convenience modern times will allow, the happiest children are those raised in happy homes with happy parents who exude love, joy and satisfaction with the blessings they have been given.

It’s not because of genetics; happy parents simply have more of themselves to give to their children.

It’s the same reason you should put your oxygen mask on first if the plane is going down – you can’t help those around you if you can’t breathe.

While we might intuitively know this, the pressure to be everything and sacrifice ourselves, even when it isn’t making us happy, is intense. It made me question my decision to take my trip to California, but thank goodness, I didn’t let the pressure change my mind.

In the end, the trip brought me back to life at a time when I was feeling drained both personally and professionally. It helped me connect to my larger purpose, and I came back feeling ready to tackle anything.

My children and husband survived. I missed them terribly, but the time I had for myself was priceless. I’ve taken several trips, both alone and with my husband, since my children were born. And I haven’t regretted any of them.
Trips may not be your thing. Taking an hour out of your day to get a manicure or massage might be enough to rejuvenate you and bring a little more joy to your day. I want to encourage you not to ignore that voice in your head that says you are being selfish, or you should focus on someone else’s needs instead of your own. Hire a babysitter or ask a family member, make the appointment and go!

And make sure to remind yourself that a happier wife and mother makes everyone’s lives better, not just your own.

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