Jordan Peterson talks a lot about sacrifice. In his book, “12 Rules for Life”, he says if you extrapolate the idea of sacrifice to its endpoint the “ultimate sacrifice would produce the ultimate reward”. I found this idea very enlightening as to my own experience with motherhood. I am hesitant to highlight the hardships of motherhood because it is already often portrayed as drudgery – hard work and no gratification, self-sacrifice with no joy attached. Young women are bombarded by depictions of housewives berated by their husbands and disrespected by their children. Mothers are a waste of talent and potential. Why not avoid this enterprise all together. Marriage rates are plummeting and the birthrate is at an all-time low, except for women over 35 – when regret sets in..but we will get to that later.
Where are the portrayals of happy moms living meaningful lives with their families? I believe there’s a reason for the lack of such portrayals. It is easy to list all the hard things about motherhood and they are easily recognizable – piles of laundry, cooking, cleaning, rebellious children. But how do you show the love you feel for a newborn baby, the pride you have in your children’s accomplishments, or your bond with your teenage son? The joys of motherhood are not easily described because they are more spiritual and emotional in nature. Secondly, women don’t want to brag or make others feel inadequate if their family life is not ideal. We don’t want to be accused of boasting or “Mom-shaming”. Instead we just complain about motherhood and the next generation continues to ask – Why would l ever want that, it doesn’t look very fun?
When I got married I knew I wanted kids but I am not a naturally “maternal” woman. I am sure if I never had kids I would see all children as sticky and annoying. I had gotten into several prestigious grad programs in the U.K. and was ambitious to eventually move to Africa and “change the world”. However, because I am religious and was raised in a big family I knew I wanted to have kids. No, I was not brainwashed – but as a child I got a front–row seat to not just the challenges of motherhood but all the joys of family life. My husband and I never doubted our desire to have children.
Honestly, the first few years of motherhood were rough. I decided if I was going to do this thing I was going to try and be the best mom I could. However, I wasn’t acclimating to motherhood the way I wanted. Everytime I sat down to play pretend with my toddler it was painful, like this wasn’t the REAL me, the REAL me was adventurous and intellectual…NOT into Dora the Explorer. However, I did have that incredible God-given love for my children that spurred me on – guilt was always there to goad me to do better and go out of my comfort zone. Often, as I was changing dirty diapers, I thought “Where did the old me go? Has she been lost forever? All my travels, all my studies and passions gone – inside a soiled diaper?” This is where my upbringing and faith stepped in. Instead of going the route I see some women go – decide that I am going against my true nature and quit (either by disengaging or making excuses for their deficiencies); I decided that THIS is what sacrifice felt like and I keep going. Jordan Peterson calls this “carrying your cross”…life turned out to not be all about me – it wasn’t “fun”, it was work…meaningful work. Mothers learn quickly that if you don’t carry that cross – no one else will – kids need their mom and no one else can fill that need.
Jordan Peterson speaks about fears – He says we don’t really overcome fears as much as gain courage. I think in motherhood we don’t necessarily overcome our weaknesses but instead gain the capacity to rise above them – we can sit on the floor and teach our stubborn 5 year old to read not because we enjoy it but because we are capable of it – through years of practice grounded in unconditional love. What other experience would push women to do so many hours of thankless labor, what other situation would create as many unique experiences and challenges through which to navigate and strengthen our character? Jordan Peterson’s main point is that meaning is found in responsibility. Motherhood is the ultimate responsibility.
Sacrifice for motherhood is about giving up the material for the meaningful. One of my great hero’s is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Once, a reporter was following her around the compound where she was caring for the sick and dying. As she was cleaning up vomit and excrement, he remarked, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars”. She just looked over her shoulder at him and replied, “Neither would I”. So why would you sacrifice if not for material gain?
Perhaps at the root of the modern feminist movement away from motherhood is simply that – desire for money and recognition. Recently in an interview with British GQ Jordan Peterson was told that motherhood was de-emphasized by feminists because careers “are the only thing you get paid for under capitalism”. When the material is prioritized then motherhood will always be downgraded. But perhaps there is something superior to mere material – perhaps as Jordan Peterson says – “meaning” is what truly fulfills us. Of course not all women can prioritize motherhood – but we are making a mistake by throwing it out as the ideal. Motherhood requires sacrifice of the financial security and potential recognition a career could bring – but is that really so devastating?
I found a recent interview Jordan Peterson did with a Spanish woman at UVF Madrid extremely engaging. In fact, the repressed social-constructionist in me wants it to be required viewing for all young woman. (posted below) They talk about the masculinizing effect of feminism on women and the lie we are being fed about the necessity of putting career first. JP pointed out that very few people will ever have a true career vs a job, and those that do are unlikely to find it preeminently meaningful. “It’s a lie, as far as I am concerned, because what most people realize as they get older – is that what people find most satisfying about life is…well… love. A good marriage, kids…” Lets not pull out the “meaning rug” from under women by telling them the lie that career will fill the void.
Eventually women figure it out, stats show women in their 30’s are fleeing demanding professional careers to try and beat their fertility deadline. Jordan Peterson says, “Your main job as a parent is to socialize your child in the first four years of life”. Those early years are critical in building resiliency, emotional attachment, teaching values and guiding their perceptions. In an interview with Dave Rubin Jordan Peterson talked of the criticalness of the first 4 years of the child’s life. “You have little kids for four years, and if you miss it it’s done! And that’s that. That period between 0-5 is a peak experience in life and it isn’t much of your life and if you miss it – it’s gone! You miss it at your peril and you don’t get it back.”
Now, five kids in – I still wince when my daughter asks me to play princess with her- but I do not feel like my “true self” was lost inside a soiled diaper. No, I think I have found a much better version of myself in motherhood. The old me saw a screaming kid at the park and thought “What a brat”. Now, I go up and smile at the kid and try and calm him down. The old me felt degraded to be changing dirty diapers all day. Now, I see the nobility in hard-work. So what is all the sacrifice for? It is for a better version of myself. It is for a better world as I try and raise honest future-leaders, it is being able to depend on a loving family, it is seeing that it is not about Me and my happiness – but about others. Motherhood is a fast-track to self improvement. I still have a long way to go but I am grateful I made the sacrifices I did to get where I am. Let’s start finding the meaning and reward in motherhood again.