August 4, 2017

"When we cling to the idea of motherhood as sacrifice, what we really sacrifice is our sense of self, as if it is the price we pay for having children."

"Motherhood is not a sacrifice, but a privilege — one that many of us choose selfishly. At its most atavistic, procreating ensures that our genes survive into the next generation... On a personal level, when we bring into the world a being that is of us, someone we will protect and love.... By reframing motherhood as a privilege, we redirect agency back to the mother, empowering her, celebrating her autonomy instead of her sacrifice.... If we start referring to motherhood as the beautiful, messy privilege that it is, and to tending to our children as the most loving yet selfish thing we do, perhaps we can change the biased language my mother used. Only when we stop talking about motherhood as sacrifice can we start talking about mothers the way that we deserve."

The NYT op-ed "Motherhood Isn’t Sacrifice, It’s Selfishness," by novelist Karen Rinaldi, is a riff fueled by something irksome her mother said. Rinaldi was planning a summer vacation at a beach house with her husband and 2 young sons and her mother came out with: “Oh, that’s not much of a vacation for you. I’ll bet you can’t wait to get back to work. Motherhood, it’s the hardest job in the world. All sacrifice!”

I'll bet a hundred different essays (or novels) could be written with that remark as a prompt. If it were a creative writing assignment imposed on me, I'd go in the direction of: What possesses a mother to ruin her daughter's vacation like that? Is she trying to get back at her for some long-ago ruined vacation of her own? Or: Jeez, has an original thought ever passed through my mother's head?

Maybe that is where Rinaldi began, seeing her mother as a conduit of tiresome propaganda and looking for an alternative. No, it's not sacrifice, it's privilege. Don't feel sorry for me, celebrate me! This is the new propaganda. Come on, everyone. Be a conduit for the propaganda I've devised to blot out the old propaganda.

63 comments:

netmarcos said...

Perhaps someone should be reminded that the concept of sacrifice is to surrender one or more things for something better. Sacrifice should not be viewed as a negative. I was recently asked what I sacrificed to get where I am today. I responded, "nothing that I miss."

AReasonableMan said...

When did a discussion of the pluses and minuses of motherhood become a 'propaganda' war? Isn't this an extreme way of viewing the world?

rehajm said...

I'll let all y'all work it out.

Fernandinande said...

"At its most atavistic, procreating ensures"

fNYT scribbler doesn't realize that procreating can't be atavistic.

Martha said...

Successful mothering demands prioritizing the child's needs over the mother's.
I guess we dare not call that sacrifice.

Lem said...

Althouse has has become a gambling den ;-)

Oso Negro said...

It is sad that motherhood must be freighted with propaganda of any sort.

Snark said...

I had to look up atavistic.

D said...

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

rhhardin said...

John Gall _Systemantics_ cites the family as an example of a loosely coupled system that (therefore) can work.

The father ape gets more or less what he wants, namely the presence of the female, but also childen apes poking at him during his snooze.

Just call it a loosely coupled and successful system.

Krumhorn said...


When did a discussion of the pluses and minuses of motherhood become a 'propaganda' war? Isn't this an extreme way of viewing the world?


It would only be extreme if you accept the leftie feminist trope that women who embrace their opportunity to be central characters in the lives of their children are somehow prisoners of the phallocracy. Lefties are all about propaganda. Messenging. Framing. When you are a hopeless leftie, you don't see that, of course, and find the word as an extreme description of what you view as a cardinal truth.

- Krumhorn

Carol said...

My parent made it clear that she had missed out because she had us three. I took it to heart, and later she wondered why I hadn't had kids.

I think parents are a lot more sentimental in retrospect.

Eleanor said...

Mothers are often the most cruel to their own daughters. My own mother and I had our differences over a lot of stuff. When I decided to go to graduate school in my late 30's, my mom decided the time I would be using for school would come disproportionately from the time I spent with her. She did everything she could to let me and everyone around me know she thought going back to school "late in life" was pure foolishness. When I turned 40, I planned a lovely day out with her on my birthday, but when the waiter asked what we were celebrating, and I said it was my 40th birthday, she threw a tantrum because I had "told the world" she was old enough to have a 40-year-old child. I replied, "I could have said we're celebrating the completion of my thesis, but I'm too old to be a college student." Whether motherhood is a sacrifice or a privilege is only a question for any given day. Sometimes it's one and sometimes it's the other. At the end, we all have our own balance sheets.

rhhardin said...

Benjamin Ballon: Well, why not? It's my house. I've often been in that closet.
Clouseau: For what reason?
Benjamin Ballon: Last time was moths.
Clouseau: Meuths?
Benjamin Ballon: Moths.
Clouseau: Yes, meuths.
Benjamin Ballon: Maria was complaining of murths. (frowns at himself)
Clouseau: Is that right, Maria, that you were complaining about these meuths?
Maria Gambrelli: Yes, I did complain about moths.
Clouseau: Oh, you mean meuths! The little flying meuths, yes.

Fernandinande said...

Martha said...
Successful mothering demands prioritizing the child's needs over the mother's.


Cite?

I guess we dare not call that sacrifice.

It might feel nice to think you're making a sacrifice.

Pinker ->
"Why Parenting May Not Matter and Why Most Social Science Research is Probably Wrong"

GAHCindy said...

It's neither sacrifice nor privilege. Those are words this generation uses to assign status as victim or aggressor. It is, however, both duty and honor. I guess these are outdated words in this degenerate time, but they describe motherhood far better than either of those other two words.

JPS said...

Margot: "Is it [Royal and Ethel Tenenbaum's impending separation] our fault?"

Royal: "No, no. Obviously, we made certain sacrifices as a result of having children, but no, Lord, no."

TestTube said...

From the headline, and from my experience with those sorts of NYT articles, it sounds like having to read that article was a sacrifice. If nothing else, then the sacrifice of a good ten minutes.

Thank you, Ann, for undertaking that sacrifice, so that I did not have to.

Ann Althouse said...

The "hardest job in the world" propaganda is used to bolster the mood of the stay-at-home mother. It also works to harass the mother who works. Here you are working and shouldering your child-rearing responsibilities, and you're characterized as taking a break by going to work. It's aggravating. But I think it's better to try to understand the truth and how your really feel than to bullshit about everything. You're going to have to try to meet all your responsibilities, and it's awful to interfere with the hard work other people have to do -- whether it's the "hardest" work or not.

And I think we should all admit that we are not doing the hardest job in the world (or even the "most important" job in the world), though I do think that, overall, bringing up a new generation of human beings is our central task. But to be human involves much more than pulling off the procreation project. All who preserve and develop human culture are making it important that the human species continue to exist.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Moms have been laying guilt trips on kids forever. How many jokes have been told about Jewish mothers? “You go out and have fun, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine sitting here all alone.” Of course, motherhood entails sacrifice, but that comes with the job and should not be used as a stick to beat your child with.

This seems like the sort of thing an exasperated adolescent would write if exasperated adolescents had better vocabularies. “After all I’ve done for you….” “Oh, big deal!” (said with sulky voice, followed by stomp to bedroom).

tcrosse said...

Here you are working and shouldering your child-rearing responsibilities, and you're characterized as taking a break by going to work. It's aggravating.

Don't let the Mean Girls get you down.

Kevin said...

It's neither sacrifice nor privilege. Those are words this generation uses to assign status as victim or aggressor.

For most of my life saying anything against "motherhood as sacrifice" has been the deepest taboo. If we're going to put it on the table, it's only because "victim-oppressor" has taken it's place.

Birches said...

Some of you have some pretty crappy mothers.

Everything that is worth anything requires some sacrifice, but that doesn't make it a bad thing. None of us would be married if we weren't willing to sacrifice. I can't stand the naval gazing at the NYT about these topics.

Big Mike said...

@exiledonmainstreet, how many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?

"Never mind, dear, I'll just sit alone in the corner in the dark."

Big Mike said...

My wife says if you view motherhood as a sacrifice you're probably doing it wrong.

traditionalguy said...

But the Democrats say the State is your Momma and your Daddy. All this human family tradition is moot.

Infinite Monkeys said...

There's an opportunity cost to most big choices you make. It's only a sacrifice if you regret the choice you made.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Almost everything a person does in life requires some sort of compromise. If she/he views it as a "sacrifice" and as being a martyr, then that is their problem.

Example: You have to go to work to earn money so you can live. The 'sacrifice' is that you don't have as much free time to do the things you want to do.(boo hoo) It CAN be an either or situation if you make it so. You can not work and spend all your time hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. But then, how do you afford all the gear and other things that your hiking entails? So, you work all the time and never go hiking and make yourself a martyr to your 'sacrifice'.

Compromise: Sane people will not view themselves as martyrs making heroic sacrifices. You work and save and then take 'some' time to do your fun things.

Marriage is both a sacrifice and compromise
Child bearing and child raising are the same.

Neither of those are "the hardest jobs in the world". They are neither a sacrifice OR a privilege. That is just overly dramatic.

Of course you give up things when you are a parent. You also gain things that you didn't have before. Same with marriage. You have to give and take. Sacrifice and compromise.

It seems that people today just want to make things more complicated. Freaking drama queens.

As to the the comment by the mother in the article, my response as the daughter would have been a version of Gee Mom, too bad you thought that my existence was a terrible sacrifice for you. I won't bother you with my horrible presence to remind you any further of your sacrifice. I bit longer than STFU Mom!

William said...

Fortunately there have been great advances in transgender surgery and uterus transplants. Soon men will be having children, and it won't be long before they solve and simplify all the problems associated with motherhood......,,,,There's a precedent for this. Obstetrics used to be the exclusive province of midwives, but when men took it over in the late 19th century, there was no more puerperal fever and some neat instruments were invented to assist in difficult deliveries. We can only hope that women defer to the problem solving ability of men and accept the useful lessons that transgendered mothers will offer them.

hombre said...

The quoted portion expresses a beautiful sentiment. Unfortunately and 50 million abortions later, thanks to misguided feminists, it is too late for the country and its families.

James Pawlak said...

I pity her children!

exhelodrvr1 said...

"Propaganda" implies a lack of validity. That's not the case with what the author wrote.

mockturtle said...

And I think we should all admit that we are not doing the hardest job in the world (or even the "most important" job in the world), though I do think that, overall, bringing up a new generation of human beings is our central task. But to be human involves much more than pulling off the procreation project. All who preserve and develop human culture are making it important that the human species continue to exist.

So true, Ann. It is unfortunate that our culture today is forming our children's worldview without the value promotion that good parenting imparts.

I was blessed with a terrific mother and maybe as a result I thoroughly enjoyed motherhood in spite of its challenges.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

@ GAHCindy

"It's neither sacrifice nor privilege. Those are words this generation uses to assign status as victim or aggressor. It is, however, both duty and honor. "

Your comment made me think of this quote from R A Heinlein about Duty and Obligations.

“Do not confuse "duty" with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.

But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants "just a few minutes of your time, please—this won't take long." Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time—and squawk for more!

So learn to say No—and to be rude about it when necessary. Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.
(This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don't do it because it is "expected" of you.)”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

mockturtle said...

William, your view of medical history is flawed. Puerperal fever was rife when male doctors delivered babies in hospitals without washing their hands between deliveries. It was the discovery of bacteria and antiseptic practices that stemmed this scourge. Yes, men discovered bacteria and sterilization techniques but midwives delivered babies in homes for many centuries--millennia even--without puerperal fever.

Bay Area Guy said...

My wife is a terrific Mother. And she's a good earner outside the home, so I am extremely lucky.

My Mom was great when I was a child, but kinda lost it when I became an adult. She lost her purpose and meaning in the world. Never found her footing as a stay at home Mom or a Professional working woman. But her heart was always in the right place.

I do not envy young women today. The enormous pressure to get into the work place, build a career, and THEN find the right guy to start a family isn't a good recipe for happiness (in my opinion). It is a relatively new phenomenon that a woman "can have it all". It's damn hard to work, and extra damn hard to work while raising kids, and keeping the homelife intact.



Left Bank of the Charles said...

Does this deserve the children in politics tag? I imagine the grandmother was just selfishly angling to get the daughter to leave the grandkids with her.

Feste said...

~
“ .. novelist Karen Rinald ..”

A short course in the biconditional modalities of motherhood might confuse more than abet Rinald. Beyond the easy stuff modes, complex biological traits of motherhood owe to cumulative effects from many gene loci, and I doubt that ‘motherhood-reduction’ could ever involve less than many-to-many locations. Beats me whether novelists serve best when they become entirely unraveled. In the local book of Mistress Mine, often unreadable, I’m too much in love to serve as a mere donor and our children, having reached the age, are too virile for easy parental controls. My poor attention span is happy to keep it that way.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Motherhood, it’s the hardest job in the world.

Seems like I have to post this here one every few months. Ok, here goes:

Bill Burr: The Most Difficult Job On the Planet

Achilles said...

"Motherhood is not a sacrifice, but a privilege — one that many of us choose selfishly."

These people are deranged.

Sebastian said...

"What possesses a mother to ruin her daughter's vacation like that?" Bitchiness? Can't-STFU-syndrome?

"Is she trying to get back at her for some long-ago ruined vacation of her own?" Possibly. Issues, for sure.

"Or: Jeez, has an original thought ever passed through my mother's head?" I am happy to say that the question if an original thought ever passed through my mother's head has never passed through my head.

As the case in point shows, the personal may be political, but actually the political is personal.

Roger Sweeny said...

It's both.

Like ice cream is both delicious and fattening.

Mark said...

Neither one of them is very appealing. But we might expect that the daughter got her mixed up views from her mother, whose comment was something of a giveaway of her resentment toward her own child.

When did "sacrifice" get to be a bad word? I know, fairly early in feminist thought. It perhaps got equated with slavery or some other nonsense like that.

Actually, sacrifice is about love. It is about the gift of self. It is, yes, about subordinating one's self-centered, me-first, attitudes and actions, and seeking instead the good of the other. And such action, such love and sacrifice does not degrade, but instead is the key to raising one up to new heights.

Mark said...

As for motherhood being "privilege," well that is a pretty privileged way of thinking that really needs to be checked.

It is not a privilege, but is a natural part of womanhood. By their very nature, women are made to have the capacity to be a mother. That, in fact, is part of the very definition of "woman."

And, no, a man cannot be a mother, despite what the modern culture would have you believe.

Richard Dolan said...

IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married woman in possession of a good family must be in want of a servant.

Scott M said...

Motherhood is not a sacrifice, but a privilege

I'm married to a mother and, yes, had one growing up. It might be a privilege and it might be soul-satisfying in a way nothing else on Earth can come close to, but let's not kid ourselves. It's also a long stream of sacrifices, for both mothers and fathers.

Every time this comes up, I always remember that scene from The Simpsons where Marge is confronting a childhood friend that's single, successful, and wealthy. Marge has the kids in tow and looks in her purse to get something, only to find the baby has thrown up in it. The wealthy friend says, "Nothing in my purse but disposable income." :)

Scott M said...

IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married woman in possession of a good family must be in want of a servant.

We just finished three weeks "vacation" (my wife and I commuted to work) at a little cottage town a couple hours from home. It's specifically set up for kids, so that's why we did it. Still, with both parents working, we needed someone to ride herd on our herd, so we paid a family friend $500 per week to handle the kids, the laundry, etc, basically be a live-in nanny. But, being a family friend, she was also hanging out with us in the mornings for coffee and beers in the evening.

I can tell you...the whole polygamy thing really starts to make sense when you see a three-way (no pun) split of the labor. Two full-time incomes coming in with the kids and home still taken care of? Yeah, I can see that.

Howard said...

Motherhood is a right endowed by Gaia, not a privilege granted by opinion writers. If a job is that difficult, you are obviously not doing it right. Women can't help it because every time a child crys or whines, their uterus contracts, their breasts weep milk and a flood of estrogen pours into their veins.

dbp said...

GAHCindy said...
It's neither sacrifice nor privilege. Those are words this generation uses to assign status as victim or aggressor.

I am with GAHCindy on this. My wife and I enjoy having our kids around. One is half way through college and the other two are in high school, so the empty nest is looming. But we enjoyed them at every stage of their development. Obviously, there are unpleasant parts, but these are outweighed by the rest.

Sure, somebody needs to create the next generation and we are aware of the role we have played in that, but that played no part in our decision to have kids. My parents and people in their generation, did not seem to enjoy the child raising process and hence did a pretty good job of it by being as hands-off as possible.

As for vacations, from a fun standpoint: The inclusion of the whole family is a plus. It is just not something we can always manage due to the logistics of the kid's school and job commitments.

mockturtle said...

Left Bank proposes: Does this deserve the children in politics tag? I imagine the grandmother was just selfishly angling to get the daughter to leave the grandkids with her.

Most of the grandmas I know are employed full time and aren't eager to be saddled with grandkids, much as they may love them.

Feste said...

" .. Motherhood is a right endowed by Gaia .."

And what a Tough Bitch she is!

TDP said...

"Sacrifice", is a good thing, a necessary attribute of both women and men in a healthy, sustainable society of free, independent human beings.

The societal opposite of sacrifice is entitlement. The 'fundamentally transformed' society pushed by the Left is rooted in entitlement and dependence - as opposed to the ideas of sacrifice and independence in traditional American society.

A society of entitlement and dependence on government is the end-state of Leftism. Massive government as owner-operator of the People and the economy who will make sure that everyone and everything obeys the glorious ideals of "equality", "inclusion", "diversity" and "non-whiteness".

Ann Althouse said...

"My wife says if you view motherhood as a sacrifice you're probably doing it wrong."

Nothing against your wife, but part of the sacrifice is sacrifice of the freedom to say what you really think and often the freedom to think about the things that would make it even more difficult such as wondering if this is a sacrifice.

tcrosse said...

My wife (mother of three) says that motherhood means you're no longer the most important person in your own life. Not that that's a bad thing.

Sarah from VA said...

One of the great sacrifices of motherhood is that it's damn near impossible to participate in a blog conversation! I frequently read an Althouse post when nursing and want to make a reply, but then the baby needs to be burped, changed, interacted with, the big kids need something, the toddler's done napping, dinner needs to be made and then it's the end of the day and the post I wanted to comment on is 6 or so posts down on the page and I doubt anybody else is engaged in that thread anymore.

But there are two separate issues here, I think -- one, is regular motherhood a sacrifice or something more selfish, two, is mothering children while trying to take a vacation a sacrifice or something more selfish? Obviously, in both cases it's not binary but a whole complicated system of some sacrifice and some rewards in both cases, and where a person ends up depends a lot on themselves, their children, how many children they have and their social networks.

But mothering particularly young children on vacation is always going to be much harder and much less relaxing than regular mothering. Children thrive on routine -- you spend so much energy and effort teaching them to sleep in their own beds and eat food at your dinner table and obey the household rules and they can't just SWITCH to vacation mode and suddenly sleep in a hotel room and eat at restaurants twice a day and not have their afternoon nap. They're cranky, they're out of sorts and you have to plan most of your activities around their amusement. And if you have a baby, you're dealing with all the disruption of routine PLUS hauling around a heavy baby and all their baby gear with you, typically in the summertime, probably with limited access to a laundry machine. It's hard! You might decide it's worth it to have certain experiences or build memories, but you do not typically do much RELAXING on a vacation with young kids.

(What I'm saying is, I only take my kids on vacation if it's been a really, really long time since we've seen family, or if there will be someone there to help with the kids/provide activities for them. Once we went to a "family camp" that entertained my kids and held my baby from 9-11:30 and 1-4:00 so that I could relax and have adult conversations with my husband and adult siblings, and it was AMAZING. But otherwise we do "staycations" and take frequent days off to do fun activities during the summer, and it works out much better.)

I want to edit this comment and I have more to say, but the baby has gotten tired of wiggling on the floor next to me and must be attended to. I will see people's responses in 3-5 hours, probably! (I also want to comment on the breastfeeding thread, but alas -- not going to happen today.)

mockturtle said...

Of course motherhood is a sacrifice! Just as childbirth is a painful experience but the product is so well worth it! I believe God/Nature made childbirth painful for a reason: To make us appreciate our offspring more than if they had just popped out effortlessly. And there is a strong maternal instinct in most females.

Krumhorn said...

Mockturtleneck makes an interesting point. Of course, the pain could be a feature of the procreation project so that there is some chance of more children. A child that just plops out is less likely to be followed by a sibling than ...well, you get the point.

God help me, more Laslo channeling.

- Krumhorn

CStanley said...

The feminists did choose to create the propoganda of motherhood as a burden. We'd all be a lot better off if they'd chose to foster the propoganda of motherhood as a privilege. The power to incubate new little humans is vested naturally with women, but rather than embracing this the feminists acted like the dog with the bone in Aesop's fable- reaching for the reflected powers that are inherent in males of our species.

mockturtle said...

Krumhorn proposes: Of course, the pain could be a feature of the procreation project so that there is some chance of more children.

Counterintuitive. When I was in hard labor with my first, I didn't think I'd ever go through that again. I did, though...

CStanley said...

@Sarah from VA-
Depending on finances, I have found that renting houses makes for the best vacations. We're fortunate now to be able to rent out nice beach houses but have also done more modest ones and renting cabins in state and national parks. Everyone has a room or kids double up but we have our own space. If there is stuff to do within walking distance it's ideal, and I do a bunch of work ahead of time (freezing meals so we don't eat out the whole time but I don't have to cook while there.) There's still that factor of kids being too excited to go to bed at usual time, but we spend family time playing games in the evening till they're ready to crash or some nights let them watch a movie in their rooms so we get grown up time.

Unknown said...

For me it was neither sacrifice nor privilege. It was exactly what I wanted and exactly what I wanted to be doing. Helping kids with homework was simply a delight to me, as was taking them for a walk etc. That doesn't mean it wasn't tiring.

Sarah from VA said...

@CStanley -- I agree that renting a house is the best plan. But even then, I can picture it being fun with my 4-year-old and 6-year old ... but with the 2-year-old and the baby? Unless I wanted to deal with hours of crying, they would be sleeping in our bed and hooked to my hip all day long. (I mean, I won't ALWAYS have kids that are 6, 4, 2 and 0. But right now I do and a vacation doesn't seem appealing unless I get a vacation nanny.)

mockturtle said...

But right now I do and a vacation doesn't seem appealing unless I get a vacation nanny. Why, yes. A vacation nanny would be very helpful and the nanny might enjoy the outing, too. Alternatively, you could leave the two little ones with someone. I agree they are too young to appreciate it.