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When sacrificing for your kids does more harm than good

By Alice Bradley

A friend of mine –let’s call her Julie—faced the following dilemma: she had organized a night out with her best friends, the first time they could all get together, without kids, in months. Her friends all being busy mothers, organizing that particular night took a great deal of planning. Needless to say, she was looking forward to it.
And then her daughter’s school rescheduled her violin concert. For that same night.
Now, Julie was coming out of a particularly tough winter—there had been one illness after another in her family, a constant stream of sick days for either her or her kids. She more than deserved this night out. If she didn’t make it this time, she probably wouldn’t have another chance for a while. And as for her daughter, she’s young, and probably not aspiring to be a professional violinist. It was just another end-of-the-year concert, the kind that Julie’s husband had missed before due to work conflicts.
Of course, this wasn’t work, tearing Julie away from her daughter’s concert. But did that make it less important?
There were more complicating factors. Her daughter was going through an easily wounded phase, and might be hurt by her absence. And as for her friends, they all believed her it was her motherly duty to attend the concert. So even though her husband encouraged her to go out and have fun, if her friends disagreed, how could she go?
When Julie first wrote to me about this dilemma, my first reaction was to recommend that she move next door to me. I would take her away from all that horror. I would take her out for the night and not mention anything about any concert. It was time her husband stepped up to the plate and let her have her night off, damn it. The fact that her friends would make her feel even a little bad about that made me nuts.
One of her friends then argued that, as mothers, we simply feel more guilt than our husbands. That mommies mean more to the kids than daddies do. That we would have to wait until the kids left home until we could really revel in ourselves and not constantly sacrifice for our babies.
Insert expletive here.
I can’t help but think my own experience I had as a kid. I was twelve, and it was my first voice recital. It was my secret, fervent wish to be a singer, and no one but my teacher had heard me sing, not even my parents. After the recital, I walked up to my parents, who were waiting for me in the wings. My mother looked pained. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. And I burst into tears.
Afterward it turned out that she had a terrible headache and should have stayed home. It’s a moment she probably wishes she could take back. She was feeling terrible, and I’m sure the caterwauling of all those voice students didn’t help. But she went, because that’s what mothers are expected to do. Miss her daughter’s first recital? Unthinkable.
But by being there, my mother failed me. Would I have been hurt if she had missed it? Possibly, but I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t recall her absence with the same clarity that I can now recall that look on her face—the one I took to be a reflection of my performance.
There’s no question that we all sacrifice for our children. We go to the concerts and the games; we put their needs before ours time and again. But there’s a point in which sacrificing does them more harm than good. We need to fill our emotional wells so that we can give something back to our families. If we’re drained dry, what can we do for them? What good is our presence if we’re resentful and sad?
Why should a mother apologize for occasionally wanting something for herself?
And you know, maybe her daughter would be hurt that she didn’t go. Maybe that would start a conversation between mother and daughter, in which the daughter got to hear that her mother loves herself enough to put her own needs first, every now and then. And yes, to be a little selfish. We all have to start being okay with that.
Have you had similar experiences? What do you think Julie should have done?

Published June 6, 2008. Last updated May 10, 2010.
Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

...

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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