When my children were little, I would make dinner, sit everyone down at the table, and serve them all food. And it never failed that someone would finish their first helping and ask for seconds before I had even gotten to touch my own. I would tell them they must wait until I finished my first helping before they got a second helping, because they needed to consider me as well.
I carried this attitude throughout their childhoods, making them do things they were capable of doing themselves, like making a sandwich, or laundry when they’d run out. When they would get upset with me because I stopped doing these tasks, I would explain that they were being selfish. I told them, that all they could see was that I was making them do more work. But what they were failing to see, was that the task I was now having them do for themselves had been work for me as well. And it was only one of the things I had to do. So by making me do it for them, they were saying their comfort was more important than mine, and that it was okay if I was suffering, but not okay if they were.
I thought nothing of this, until other people started to comment on it. They were amazed at me telling my children to wait for seconds or do things themselves. My mother even said in awe one night, “I wished I’d been as selfish of a mother as you are.” When I was insulted, she said she truly meant it as a compliment.
This is not a parenting article, but I’m using motherhood because it is a great example of the cycle of sacrifice. We have been shown by example that mothers are there to serve their children, because our mothers served us. So when we become mothers, we naturally serve our children as well. This goes on through generations, and in each generation, the mother becomes a slave to her children. But it’s not just happening in motherhood.
There is a social stigma that it is selfish to refuse helping another person. That saying, “No,” makes us mean or uncaring. Or maybe we help someone else not because we feel obligated, but rather because we do care, but we find ourselves in situations where it is never reciprocated. All too often, helpful people (like mothers) are just required to thanklessly serve and then are punished as selfish when they refuse. No one stops to think about how it’s affecting the mother. They just go through life, letting her serve.
It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to require reciprocation. It doesn’t make your acts towards them any less loving. In fact, chances are, they’re just not aware in the same way you are. So making your own needs known could change the whole relationship dynamic. You could help them to see that you’re a person too, and that you have needs. They may want to know how to love you. It’s not automatic for many people.
When I stayed home, we had a very traditional household, as my husband made all the money, and I did all the house chores. But as I began to find my truth, I realized that was not the life I wanted. Instead, I wanted a 50/50 household. I wanted to work outside the home, and I wanted my husband to take on half the house chores. I spent months retraining my family and talking myself out of guilt when I asked for help, but eventually we got there. And as my job required more time from me than my husband’s, he actually ended up doing more around the house than me. It was really great. But when my father came to visit, he didn’t know about the changes that had been made in our family. And he began treating me like a housewife, even after I’d worked all day, asking me about dinner and laundry. It frustrated me and made me feel unloved, but I hadn’t told him my needs, so he was unaware.
This all came to a head one night when he asked me to bake him an apple pie. He was not being rude, apple pie from scratch had been one of my specialties, and he felt he was complimenting me by wanting some of my great pie. But my son, who was 9 at the time, stood up and said to him, “Poppi, we do not ask mom to make us pies! If she wants to make you a pie, she’ll make you a pie.”
That was such a triumphant moment for me. I had taught my son to think of a woman, a mother, differently. To consider her needs as well as his own. If we don’t stand up for ourselves (male or female), who will? No one knows we need standing up for. Make your needs known, set boundaries, and break the cycle of sacrifice.