Big and Messy

A mother will sacrifice her own happiness in her life to ensure her children are well taken care of! ♥ I would make every sacrifice in the world for my children, They come first! ♥ They always have and always will (no matter how old they are!) ♥ Put this as your status if you’re a devoted mom who will always puts your ……children first 🙂

I copied that from somebody’s status on Facebook. I know I am going to ruffle feathers when I say that I could not disagree with it more. I try not to ruffle feathers on Facebook – for me, it’s not the place for that – but if I did, I’d have written an oppositional status that goes like this: “As a mother, I will teach by example that my children should value themselves, that they should not subjugate their happiness to another, and that real love does not require that. Real love is expansive, not restrictive; it encourages flight, not sacrifice or a loss of self.”

I could not love anyone more fiercely than I love my boys, and they know that. I have faced enormous odds on their behalf, stood up to bullies, risked being considered a bitch. I’ve lost sleep over them, worried myself sick. I’ve second,  and third, and fourth guessed my parenting decisions. I’ve been firm when I wanted desperately to cave, said no when it felt like the hardest thing to do.

My boys are both taller than I am now, and they astound me every day with their intelligence, empathy, presence and poise. They are surefooted in a way I never have been; they move through the world with compassion and insight and confidence in their worth. I am, at times, so full of pride in them, I hurt with the sheer force of my love.

But I have never sacrificed my happiness for theirs.

When The Boy was an infant, I quit my job as a systems analyst to stay home. I loved my job. It was not an easy decision for me to make, but I felt a need to be more present, physically, in their lives. And we were lucky. We could afford to make that choice. Within weeks of quitting, though, I began to feel trapped and sad. I cried a lot. I realized, with some dismay, that I was only there physically. Emotionally, I was lost. Psychologically, I was a mess. What saved me was going back to school. What saved me, and them, was that it never even occurred to me that they would (if they could) choose an unhappy mother over a happy and fulfilled one.

I’ve done a lot of things since I left my systems analyst job. I’ve taken many chances in pursuit of a what I’ve come to think of as my North Star life. And my biggest fans, my fiercest advocates, my greatest source for love and support and encouragement are my boys… My boys who would never, ever love me in a way that did not allow me to fly; my boys, who take flight all the time, because they know they can, because they know that the people who truly love them will never try to hold them down.

These are the beings I’ve raised, in an environment that celebrates big, messy, expansive, supportive love.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.


  1. Becky on March 13, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Wow. That is a powerful post. It’s so true and such a hard thing to make my own self believe. But, the more I listen to my kids the more I realize that they want me to be happy and whole and full of love just as much as I want it for them.
    Kids are funny.
    They have a better understanding of most things than we want them to or expect them to — I guess being a sacrificial lamb is no way to raise by example.

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:03 pm

      Yeah, I agree. Kids understand more than we think they do, and they are capable of more than we realize. I think you’re doing a great job.

  2. joannefirth on March 13, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Bravo! From one mom to another. You said it all.

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:04 pm

      Mom-hat-tip! 😉

  3. dressingmyself on March 13, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Hurrah! I so agree with you. If you make yourself unhappy for your children, how can you be the best possible parent to them? A martyr does not a good mother make (I just made that up).

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:05 pm

      “I just made that up” made me laugh. But I agree completely!

  4. kaleo on March 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for saying this. Why is this so hard to say in public?Creating a fulfilling life for ourselves should not mean feeling guilty all the time for “not being there” for our kids every second. It’s always a balance between the needs of the adults and the needs of the children. Every family finds the balance in a different way. Why is there still so much judgement of other people’s parenting choices?

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:06 pm

      Kaleo, Yes! Why is there so much guilt involved in this decision? I can’t think of any parents I know who do not love their children and want the best for them. We should start there, and then maybe avoid the whole judgment thing altogether.

    • terrepruitt on March 14, 2010 at 9:32 pm

      Maybe it connects with the apologizing when it really isn’t something we should be apologizing for? Maybe it connects to not just accepting a compliment? One feels guilty when they put their happiness as a top priority, even though one self being happy often is reflected in those around you so it helps make the WORLD a better place!

  5. John Pruitt on March 13, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Much in the lines with don’t give your life for your country. Help the other sides guys give their lives for their country.

    I’m with you Judy. I’m not an overly happy person all the time, but I do not believe I have ever ‘sacrificed’ my happiness for my boys happiness. I think it’s along the same power as sacrificing a goat (which I will have to try one of these days). I shared with the boys and they shared with me. I think we both found happiness there that otherwise we would have missed in life. So not having the boys at all would have been the sacrifice of my happiness.

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:10 pm

      John, Thank you… but please let the official record show that Zebra Sounds does not the condone the sacrificial use of goats.

  6. Mary on March 13, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    As I am not a mother I can only agree with you in principle, not in actual experience. Too many women are trapped in the 50’s mindset. I think that is one of the main reasons I never married. That sacrificial attitude was expected by many of the men of my age. You didn’t just sacrifice for the kids, but for the husband as well.
    The dreams of many women died, or were disregarded.

    As for Facebook, I totally agree. But that is only because I dared challenge the facts in a political statement that was posted in the same manner. I made Marines mad. Don’t know as I will do that again, but I hate it when people blindly follow along without checking the facts.

    Excellent post!

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:12 pm

      Yes. Facebook. I decided at some point that in order to all live together happily ever after, I’d safe my rebel side for the blog. (You’re welcome.) 😉

  7. Tricia on March 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    well said.

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:16 pm

      Why thank you.

  8. simonscotland on March 13, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Best kind of love is the “big, messy, expansive, and supportive” kind. If I were ever to be a parent, I would hope that I would follow your example (as I’m not ~ I shall do my best to follow your example anyway). BIG, MESSY, EXPANSIVE and SUPPORTIVE LOVE to you

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:16 pm

      Awww! And right back to you, my friend. xo

  9. sue on March 13, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    ‘By example’ is the most influential way a parent of any species teaches their young. Your boys sound beyond awesome. Did I mention I have two girls? lol
    Thank you for posting this article. It is something too important to forget.

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:21 pm

      Thank you for your thank you. 🙂

  10. Amy on March 13, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Great post, Judy.

    I went from big time career to SAHM of two. Big shift. I know what I am about to say is very unpopular in 2010, but since we’re being honest – I find it incredibly sad and a major disservice to have children, and then ship them off to a daycare so someone else can raise them.

    It is by far the absolute hardest job in the world. No doubt. But we all make choices. If you make a choice to start a family, then hone up to the responsibility and raise your kids.

    Having said that, I TOTALLY agree that you cannot and should not sacrifice your own sanity and self-worth, just to be around your kids all the time. But isn’t that what your partner is for – to help you with breaks? To support you in an outlet (whatever that may be) ??

    Shit. Now I just know everyone is going to throw food at me!

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:25 pm

      I agree that parents should raise their kids (and I’m certain my boys will tell you I raised them… okay, they will probably say their dad helped). Look. Here we are on common ground. No food throwing necessary. (But if I’d thrown something, I promise it would have been yummy. Probably something I learned to make on your blog.) 😉

  11. Karen Hogan on March 13, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I saw that same Facebook post and thought, uh oh.

    I am 60. I’ve noticed that I am among a group of women who are within two years either side of my age (some two years older, others two years younger) who never had children. It was not, as some might think a selfish choice (you had to choose between motherhood and career). Rather it was something along the lines that you weren’t allowed to be a person and have children.

    That 50s shit was pretty heavy duty. I think it was a fall out from the recovery from the Depression and War that our parents went through. Sam Shepard has said that he noticed that women were trying to heal the men. I believe there is something to that. I think that the War ended and everyone just wanted to get back to being normal. Women swallowed a lot to do that.

    I’m not blaming men for this. I just think everyone wanted the bad times to stop.

    So, I grew up with the notion that women were supposed to sacrifice themselves to the family.

    That’s much different than being a mother bear — which you describe well, Judy.

    Staying at home or not staying at home with your children — either can work. I think the main thing is that it never works to sacrifice one’s essential self to others, which is what the Facebook post claims as the acme of motherhood.

    And, I guess, finally, I’m not sure that happiness should be the goal for their children. I think it’s more important to guide them towards an authentic life (which includes the range from joy to sorrow).

    Which, by the way, sounds like what you’ve done, Judy.


    Good post.

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:30 pm

      Excellent comment, Karen! And yes, what I object to in the FB status is the implication that a mother’s quality is measured by her level of sacrifice. That is ridiculous and, I think, a terrible thing to teach your children.

  12. George Angus on March 13, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Wowza J-madre.

    Once again your passion shines through. I agree with your take on this. I would want all of the things you mention for Maddy. I’m already seeing signs that she’s headed that way.


    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:34 pm

      Maddy is in excellent hands, G-padre! Every father should be as engaged and in love with their child as you are. (Every mother too, for that matter.)

  13. Dani H on March 13, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    imho, the most important trait that you listed your boys as having is “empathy” and I don’t believe it can be taught, but is only learned through example ~ I would have been shocked if your sons had not. You are one of the most empathetic people I’ve ever met, J, and it is one of many things I admire about you. I thought that I was going to be a stay-at-home mother, but life didn’t turn out that way and I had to work two jobs throughout most of my daughter’s life, up until she graduated from college. For the first 10 years, I was overprotective to the point of smothering. Then I fell in love with a wonderful man who showed me how unfair I was being both to Jennifer, and myself. If not for that change in my behavior, I don’t think we would have the close relationship we do today. As you say, a child doesn’t want an unhappy mother, and I’ve never met a happy martyr. A brave and wonderful post, J. And thank you for all of your inspiration. *hugs*

    • Amy on March 14, 2010 at 11:44 am

      “…HAD to work two jobs” – that is much different than people who can easily be with their children, but choose not to.

      I have enormous respect for women/men that work a 9 hour day and then come home to their second job of child-rearing, because they have no other option.

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 9:54 pm

      Thank you, Dani. I agree. And what an awesome story your story is. I do think we have a skewed sense in our society of what makes a good mother. I’m reading Michael Chabon’s “Manhood for Amateurs.” He talks a lot about our society’s expectations of mothers. Like you, I am certain the reason I am close to my boys is because we are, all three of us, whole and happy and respectful of each other as individuals with individual lives and passions.

  14. Estrella Azul on March 14, 2010 at 6:52 am

    Wonderful post Judy! I’m so glad you spoke your mind on this subject, it’s sad that some people think like that.
    Your posts about family and motherhood are among my favorite and although I can only agree with you in principal, this is something I know I’ll always remember and when I have children, I’ll make sure they will first of all have a happy mother who can then make the best decisions and raise them to be happy.

    My mom made lots of sacrifices, raised me pretty much on her own as best as she could, and even today she doesn’t seem happy. Of course this only makes me sad, cause I know she could be if she just took the time to take care of her own happiness.
    I don’t want that for my family/children.

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 10:06 pm

      Thank you, Estrella. I think the main thing is that I don’t want my boys to look at me and think a mother lives her life for or through her children. A mother lives her life with her children. (Or, at least, this mother is living that way.)

  15. chezhui on March 14, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Judy, I love that you’ve empowered your children and yourself. I’ve been several things SAHM, working FT, and PT and sometimes it hard to remember to keep to your identity. I truly believe that my son will benefit from seeing that I have an life also independent of him – going out with my friends, having lots of interests, and sticking up for myself when someone tries to disrespect me. Like you said so elegantly “These are the beings I’ve raised, in an environment that celebrates big, messy, expansive, supportive love.” Kudos.

    Once again your an inspiration to many, including me.

    I’ve noticed something recently. In trying to be nice and kind to people, so people construe that trait as a weakness, and then exploit that by trying to walk over me. At this point I usually tell them they are being rude and disrespectful, even if it means hurting or walking away from our friendship. Since when did courtesy and kindness become a weakness. Just my rant for the day.

    Thanks again for you being true to you. Your a remarkable woman/mother…


    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 10:10 pm

      “I truly believe that my son will benefit from seeing that I have an life also independent of him – going out with my friends, having lots of interests, and sticking up for myself when someone tries to disrespect me.” <– I truly believe that too.

      Kindness as weakness makes me sad. I think yes, walk away. You're better off.

  16. terrepruitt on March 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm


    I think that sometimes it is forgotten that people need to take care of themselves first. If someone is not happy, people around him can suffer or just “miss out”. If a heart is not full it might not give as freely.

    Great post. Thanks!

    • judy on March 14, 2010 at 10:12 pm

      It’s like putting the gas mask on yourself first, I think. You have to be strong to lead. Thank you, Terre.

    • terrepruitt on March 14, 2010 at 10:27 pm

      Hmm. I never connected it like that, but that is right. You have to be “well” (breathing) in order to take care of others.

      I am still kind of walking in the clouds from our awesome visit on Saturday! Thanks for coming over.

      Oh, and the leftovers were even better. All the garlic really melding into the pasta! Mmm.

  17. Estrella Azul on March 15, 2010 at 3:37 am

    Judy and Mairi

    Sadly I also noticed that kindness is taken for granted and exploited in everyone’s benefit. No idea why many people are like that. But yes, walking away from that is a must do in order to lead a happy life overall.

  18. leacs on March 15, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Thank you so much for this valuable and beautiful post, Judy. As someone who’s been oh-so-slowly-and-painfully learning the lessons here, I know that my two little girls will someday thank me for waking up sooner rather than later.

    Big hug to you… and I bow to your wisdom! 🙂

  19. judy on March 15, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Lea, I do believe that. I know not everyone will agree with me. Clearly. Lots of people pasted that statement in their Facebook Statuses. But I know if you ask my boys, they would rather have the big full me… the one who keeps painfully learning the lessons. 😉

    Big hug back to you!

  20. Megan on March 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    I just stumbled upon your site and this post really hit home for me. As I am about to graduate from college this May (oh my god…I can’t believe it’s been four years!) I find myself struggling with my relationship with my Mom. We have always been very close but I am reaching a point in my life where I am really ready to fly off on my own. My Mom has always put us kids first so i feel as though she is desperately trying to hold onto us. I just wish she would find some happiness of her own outside the family so I wouldn’t feel so obligated to “entertain” her emotional happiness. Thanks for helping me realize I am not crazy for wanting this!

  21. Back to Basics « First Pages on July 26, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    […] than most. I stayed home, I put off my life to ensure theirs. Now, I question many decisions. I read this post by a wonderful writer, mother, and friend. And I started to question. Questioning leads to […]

  22. Becky on March 22, 2011 at 11:33 am

    This has always been one of my favorire posts of yours. I remember reading it a year ago, I was so lost. It kind of makes me smile now thinking about it. It was like this pivotal time and I was so worried about my mothering skills. It took me months and months to feel okay about doing things for me — but it never took my kids that long. They knew, they wanted happiness for me too. They’re so freaking smart.
    Evolution — always occurring.

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