Jordan Peterson and Motherhood #1: Ultimate Sacrifice Equal Ultimate Reward

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 frontrow 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.

Madame-Vigee-Lebrun-Et-Sa-Fille,-Jeanne-Lucie-Louise-Mrs-Vigee-Lebrun-And-Her-Daughter,-Jeanne-Lucie-Louise

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 selfwas 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.

Start 52:34 

17 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson and Motherhood #1: Ultimate Sacrifice Equal Ultimate Reward

  1. Thank you for this blog. I can’t believe you have listened to 400 hours of Jordan Peterson! I remember when my toddlers were driving me to the edge I Very deliberately visualized wrapping “my life” up like a present and handing it to them. I haven’t really put in to conscious thoughts or words what has happened since then but I’ve absolutely experienced The continuous flow of rewards completely counter to the capitalist formula. It’s the illogical phenomenon of losing your life and finding it. Has to be experienced to be understood. Looking forward to you and JPs insights on mothering.

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    1. Yes…losing your life and finding it…that perfectly captures it. I am slowing down on listening to JP so much since my toddler isn’t napping now! I was kinda obsessed for a good 8 months:)

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  2. Congratulations!

    With these posts you have distilled the significance of a major cultural personality and phenomenon (Jordan Peterson and his theses) as pertains to a specific demographic (mothers) WAY better than any mainstream media product has managed to date. Not bad for a stay-at-home mom.

    Pretty sure NPR (for instance) has yet to acknowledge Jordan Peterson’s existence – shows you what they think of their educated, intellectually curious female audience.

    By way of contrast I urge readers to re-familiarize themselves with Obama’s ‘Life of Julia’ interactive media app (on the White House website for years) and ask themselves how enthusiastic they would be about having their daughters marry the government, supplanting traditional family structure in this way.

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  3. I recently lost my foster sister to cancer. I’m 57 and my foster sister was 6 months younger than me. My foster mother is still one of the people I love most in the world. I care about her heart hurting, so when I got the news, I immediately called to make sure she was ok. My foster father answered the phone and I immediately blurted out, “Is Donna there?” He handed the phone to her.

    I realized what an absolute jerk I was later and when my natural mother and I traveled to attend the funeral, I stayed at my foster parents’ home while my mother visited family…she had planned the trip before we got the news, we just had to move the schedule up a bit.

    I approached my foster father with several other women in the room, including my foster mother, and kneeled in front of his chair and said something like, “I need to apologize to you with all of my heart. When I lived with you guys as a child, Donna and I’s hearts touched and I have always been very close to her. I have always seen you as the rock that she leans on. I love you very much as well, but did not take into consideration that you, also, had lost a daughter. I was rude and insensitive and I am truly sorry. I have taken you for granted all these years because you sit quietly while we women talk all the time. But, I’ve always known you were there and could be leaned on. Thank you.”

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  4. Interesting article- but I have to say I do feel like the bulk of the points about who men are, who women are, and what a small sliver of non-intersectional feminists think are oversimplified and a lot of the things presented as “facts” about men or women simply aren’t the case.

    For example, when it says that “When we see our boys intently kicking a soccer ball against the garage after a devastating loss we understand that men don’t want to talk about their feelings, they need to “work” them out.” or “to “toughen them up” after being pegged by a baseball.” That makes me sad. We want to respect the way all our kids process their emotions regardless of their gender while also teaching them healthy skills.

    Being strong and resilient is a beautiful quality but you can’t be so in a real way if you haven’t been taught that your emotions are valid and deserve respect and sorting (which you say in several other places but seemingly respecting boys and mens emotions is appropriate only when it’s the response that you would expect of boys. What if he wants to cry when he gets hit by the baseball? That’s okay! Have a moment, have some hugs and snugs and a drink of water and go back out there and do your best! We love you!). It’s also worth noting that many little girls have the same sort of physical reaction to losing a game or some sort loss so it’s really not a biological thing. It’s expectations. My 4 yr old daughter lost when she and I played a memory game during her quiet time the other day and she chucked the box and threw the pieces against the wall and after she ran off and processed her feelings alone, she came back and we talked about it and role-played what she could do next time she lost a game.

    I think the reasons so many people but men in particular have issues feeling, identifying and expressing their emotions in a healthy way is bc we condition them to be that way- not bc it’s biologically part of what makes them men. We are cheating our sweet boys out of developing these important skills! And incidentally cheating our sweet girls out of spouses in the future with that kind of emotional intelligence. Also, if you can’t process your own feelings, it makes it more difficult to be empathetic and I do think that’s were a lot of children’s (not just boys) unrestrained or impulsive hitting towards others when it extends beyond toddlerhood takes place.

    These sweet little boys shouldn’t be told to “toughen up” when they experience pain or sadness. Just like girls, their feelings are valid and just like girls their personalities and interests and talents are diverse and not assigned to them bc of their sex or gender. Just like I don’t want to be looked at oddly like I’m deeply unfeminine or something 😉 by members of my ward/congregation bc I don’t know how to knit or sew etc and those pastimes aren’t really my thing, I don’t think men should be made to feel different or weird if they have interests that extend beyond sports. My husband is a wonderful father and husband. Very kind, very sweet (and super cuddly! Way more cuddly and snuggly than me actually!) He has very little interests in sports and hunting etc etc but for work he advises governments on how to help the poorest of the poor in their countries. He *cares* about people deeply, even if he doesn’t know them. He started a grass roots NGO in Haiti in college and poured himself into helping others for years and years for no money. He leaves the house at 430 am everyday bc he has a long commute so that he can be back by dinnertime to connect and play with our kids and equally participate in getting dinner ready, baths done and jammies on. For me, that is the height of what true masculinity is and that is how his learned emotional intelligence and empathy expresses itself. Of course it’s expressed in many different ways for all men bc all men and boys are different. We need to absolutely stop saying that boys are xyz and like xyz and girls are xyz and like xyz. It is hurting us.

    I think your post really could’ve rang truer if it did a better job of exploring the cultural biases that we have about men or women and their talents, proclivities and interests (a quick look at history indicates that men and women in a lot of different societies have been socially expected to fulfill roles that are quite opposite of what our Judeo-Christian heritage dictates in America) – and then exploring the beauty that could be this world for both men and women if we let people just people. Men be men and women be women as they are- not as we’re telling them they should be.

    Also, there are bits of this which is a bit classist. “Motherhood requires sacrifice of the financial security and potential recognition a career could bring – but is that really so devastating?” YES. Lack of financial security is devastating usually to the children the most. Many people, particularly people of color but also families that just don’t have a lot of money lack the generational wealth (both in terms of money but also in terms of other resources and knowledge that perpetuate and support the upper middle class in hard times upon which everyone falls) and also consider that most CHIP recipients are children and lack of food, a home, safety really negatively affects a child’s ability to learn and and their executive functioning and a mother working hard to protect that is a wonderful thing just like a mother staying home with her kids.

    What I did love about your post was the idea that mothers and fathers have extraordinary power to affect moral change in our society and that being a stay at home parent is a beautiful and important thing. And that it has such a refining power! I truly believe that 0-6 is such an important, shaping, formative time for the people building work that many mothers (especially mothers for me bc I’m the one at home!) and fathers do all day! I also believe that a fathers influence is *invaluable* and often overlooked for how important it is. My kids miss their dad whenever he’s at work and it’s amazing to see the growth that my little ones enjoy when they get a large chunk of time with daddy home (like a week and a half for Christmas or vacation etc).

    I also agree that the transition to motherhood can be hard! It has been hard for me as well for sure. The thing I love about this day and age we live in though is it’s much easier to engage in things that fill your cup without taking too much time away from your job as a stay at home mom (if that’s what whoever is doing). The trickiest thing about this day and age is prioritizing and learning when to say no and when to say yes bc the opportunities are endless.

    Anyway, I think it’s great that you took time to write out a post about your feelings about men and boys and masculinity bc I think it’s so important and I hope you don’t take my counter points as an attack bc they’re not meant to be so! I just wanted to share my ideas about these things. Best of luck!

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    1. Thanks for your feedback. I agree with a lot of what you have said It is hard to say it all in one post so hopefully in the future I can try and flesh out these issues more. I think mothers and fathers who are honest and loving can see what each unique child needs in each unique situation. Unfortunately I did need to generalize to a certain extent for brevity’s sake but I do believe our sons are seeing a generalized impression from culture that is undermining their nature and value.

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  5. Great blog- I’ll be looking forward to following future posts. I am a Mom of 4, right there in the trenches with you. I stay home and we homeschool. Peterson’s lectures have been a big part of my recent life as well- a source of inspiration to find greater meaning and purpose in my role as a mother and in the many challenges of raising a large family. Thank you for taking the time to write this blog.

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