The Sacrifice Myth

Every culture has their myths.  These myths could be an inherent part of their religion or an ethereal part of their superstitions, but no matter what they are important.  Myths are created out of a desire to better understand and explain the world around us.  They are created to give us a common understanding of what makes the wind blow and the sun come up, but a myth is more than just a story about why the world is what it is.  It is something to make the world outside seem a little less frightening.

Different cultures create different mythologies because their experience in the world is different – their climate and environment is different, as is their definition of a gallant hero, a great beauty or a terrible monster.

Today we still live with our own myths, particularly when it comes to motherhood.  Now, that doesn’t mean that any one group of mothers are running around like feral wolves or sticking their collective heads in the sand against all truth and logic.  Rather, every mother’s mythology is different.  What scares them and strengthens them is different and the monster knocking at their doors are not the same.  The ideas that they believe in, that allow them to sleep soundly at night are different.

As a working mother I face other mother’s myths constantly.  I’m told both directly and indirectly that if I was willing to make more sacrifices then I could stay home with my children.  It is the Sacrifice Myth, and every culture of motherhood has one.  So, trying shamelessly to adapt to another persons ideals I pinch my pennies and rack my brain long into the night writing budget after budget in the hopes that I can find that special combination of sacrifices that will allow me the life I wish for with every fiber of my being, but it remains illusive.  It is a beautiful story, one that I carry with me and read often, but to me, at this exact moment in my life, with all the truths about our environment, with our own personal monsters to battle it remains just that, a story.

The truth is my motherhood mythology is different than yours no matter how much I wish it was the same.  My environment is different, my demons are different and so the stories I tell myself at night are different.  In less poetic terms my mythology is shaped by crime rates, utility rates, medical expenses, dietary needs, education of the past, present and future; it is shaped by everything and anything down to the cost of milk and it changes my mythology and it changes my definition of sacrifice.

The truth is that no, not every family can afford to be a single income family and it’s not for lack of sacrifice; many of us make the same type of sacrifices I see on every “how to be a stay at home mom” list – we pinch every penny, deny ourselves vacations, dinners out and new anything and no matter how much we try it won’t work for us, not now and maybe not ever.  Perhaps we are working just for the insurance because our family needs it, perhaps we are paying off medical bills, and perhaps our breadwinner has been victim to downsizing and layoffs or taken a paycut so that he too can enjoy time with his children.  All of these things change our notions of heroes and monsters and all of these things change our notions of sacrifice.

 My mythology has a Sacrifice Myth of it’s own – one in which a struggling heroine see’s that a paycut before the birth her first born left her breadwinner without enough to afford food after keeping a roof over their heads – a paycut chosen so that he might see the child he made more than a few hours a week.  In my Sacrifice Myth the heroine chooses to work, with all of it’s costs and downfalls, because the other options is assistance programs and stressful, depression racked nights – all of which can be avoided by a job.  The heroine chooses a job that gets her up while her child still sleeps so she can be home sooner, a job that is flexible and stable.  She chooses that her sacrifice will be her own desires for she has a great desire to never leave her children’s side, until things get better.

It is still a sacrifice.  It just might not be your sacrifice.

Working Mothers and Stay at Home Mothers are all judged based on others supposition of what their life should look like too often.  It is unfair to you and to me.  Unless we know the minute detail of a family’s needs and fears, unless we can see into the minds and their pocketbooks we cannot judge them for not making the right sacrifice.  We, as mothers, will only gain peace and understanding by accepting that what might but an unalterable truth for one family is only a fairy-story to another.


15 thoughts on “The Sacrifice Myth

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  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS POST! Too often I read about other mom's ways of sacrificing and I feel like a failure because even if I did pinch those pennies or deny something then we'd still be in huge debt. I feel like some SAHMs gloat because they can make it all work. I'm going back to school to become a nurse, partly because I want to, but mostly to help pay off my student loans and to put our children into parochial school in the future.

    Thank you for this post. This is a subject that has been bothering me for awhile, but I could never find the right words.


  2. thank you for this. i constantly berate myself for not staying home which i wanted to do but could not being a suddenly single mother with a 5 and 7 year old. over the past few years i've tried to reframe my attitude because the truth is i need to value that my job provides us the stability we need. having so many stay at home mom friends sometimes makes me jealous and getting us all out the door in the morning sucks but i need to be thankful for having a flexible job, close to home that i like.

    thanks for this i needed it today 🙂


  3. AMAZING post. I think how our mythology changes as we come to a better understanding of ourselves in relation to those around us, and the past. I was thinking this morning about fairytales, and I realized that I am Snow White, but I am also the wicked witch. Obviously I want to be less witch and more Snow Whitish, in the mythological context, but that is something that comes with greater self-knowledge, and from my self-knowledge, the ability to choose wisely.


  4. Absolutely our mythology changes – Years ago I would have given everything to never be a SAHM, and here I am doing everything in my power to have more kids and work closer to being home with them as much as possible!


  5. GREAT post! Having been on both sides, it is never easy and no one except you and your immediate family know the choices you've made and why. I am very thankful for the chance to be home with my kids but it has required some unexpected consequences and sacrifices that I wasn't prepared for. I get very frustrated with people who make judgments about this issue and think there is only one right way.


  6. This was so well written. I work from home and sacrifice quite a bit of potential income to homeschool. Sometimes I feel a different kind of judgment, like if only I sent them to private school I'd have the money for private school and a bigger house because I could just work all those hours they're gone. Our house is tiny, but it's part if what makes me not working constantly possible.


  7. I hear you on the house thing – we've definitely been adjusting our mind frame on things like that and other materials things so that once these bills are paid off we can get by on a smaller salary. It takes some getting used to though.


  8. “In my Sacrifice Myth the heroine chooses to work, with all of it's costs and downfalls, because the other options is assistance programs and stressful, depression racked nights – all of which can be avoided by a job.” I'm a STAHM and my husband is working on his PhD. We are, for now, on assistance. My getting a job wouldn't make a difference. Even if I did work full-time, all my money would go towards childcare for my two children. And then we'd still be broke and struggling to put food on the table, on top of my not spending time with them during the day. Although my pride hurts every day that I have to deal with the dozens of phone calls, millions of forms (government programs are OH, so fun to deal with), and swiping that EBT card at the grocery store, I realize that this is how it has to be right now. When my husband graduates and gets a good job, we will be done with this particularly hard season of life and I cannot wait.


  9. Hey Neely! I'm so glad to you hear your story of your sacrifice.

    I hope you didn't feel I was taking a jab a assistance programs – I love them and the people who use them – it's just that for us (with managing to find a job that allowed us to come out ahead after childcare, etc.) and my experience with anxiety problems we know I am more stable with our current situation. Just thinking about them a few years ago was enough to give me a full blown panic attack and my panic attacks can often be loud, angry affairs that make scared to be too close to my child.

    I know you're making the best decision for your family – if we had had more children closer together I'd be exactly where you are because the benefits wouldn't equal the sacrifice any more.

    Prayers for you to get through this rough patch. I also want you to know that every time I see an EBT get swiped or a WIC check come out I'm proud of the parent using it; I know it's can hurt your pride, but I'm proud that option is there so that more people don't have to make that choice between working, time away and still not making things balance out.


  10. You are such a wonderful mama! Beautiful share. The way you put this into words is perfect and just tells such a story that we all can relate to. Our own mythologies are all valuable and that last paragraph…amen!


  11. Thanks, Molly! I didn't feel you were taking a jab at all! Just wanted to share the flipside of that coin. My hubby actually just told me last night he wants to switch Phd programs and add one more year to his education. Ack! Will it ever end?? Lol I know it will work out when all said and done, I'm just racking up brownie points in heaven in the meantime. 😉

    And thanks for your supportive words. It's hard to spend every day feeling shame about your situation and wondering if you're making the right choices (I freak out and apply for jobs about every three months. Nothing ever works out – God must be telling me something!) I enjoy your blog and thank you for sharing your experiences! 🙂


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