Could it be there's no such thing as sacrifice? The more I ponder this, the more it all seems absurd unless there's lamb and blood involved. Some claims to sacrifice are transparently bogus, like—are you familiar with Project Runway? I was probably the last to know, but in case you're even less in the TV loop than I am, it's a reality show in which fashion designers fulfill a series of 24- or 48-hour challenges: make a party dress out of candy; make a high-fashion look out of flowers plus gadgets from a hardware store. Contestants (they're pretty adorable) represent a mix of straight and queer artistic types from various races and regions and even countries—so think accents, attitudes, affectations.
Each episode culminates in a runway show with models presenting the designers' creations. Each time, one designer wins the challenge and one gets kicked out, so that the numbers gradually shrink until a final champion gets oodles of prizes. The show follows participants through sleep deprivation, ruthless competition, deadlines in swift succession, camera exposure during the uglies, and the ever-present threat of dismissal by judges who permit themselves the most scathing remarks (“It looks like she's pooping fabric”). Everyone's stuff comes up, emotions run high, drama prevails. But then, so do forgiveness and redemption, as contestants rally in mutual support over competition. Also, these people teach themselves they can do—in glorious and inspired ways!—what they weren't sure they were capable of doing at all. It's inspiring.
Above all (and here's why I'm on this topic), participants have the huge honor of being one of sixteen, chosen from thousands who auditioned, to partake of this intense journey, experience the thrill of the challenge, get international exposure, and do what they love and are presumably good at in a seriously sought-after setting. Do I need to point out choice here? They choose to try out for this and are thrilled to be chosen by the judges.
At some point in each season, there's always the moment when some (usually weeping) contestant, fearing they're about to be dropped or fiercely monologuing to the camera about why they must win at all costs, declares sacrifice: “I've sacrificed EVERYTHING to be here”; “I've made soooo many sacrifices for this show.”
This is where I talk back to TV people. “You sacrificed NOTHING!” I yell. “You WANTED to do this more than anything else. Anything you did or gave up doing to be here was WORTH IT to you. It's a PRIVILEGE.” I might say these things gently to a client, but for some reason television brings out my evil-twin yelling coach. (My funny, sarcastic kid usurping the couch may be the reason.)
I'm all for plugging in choice wherever you might catch yourself claiming sacrifice. I'm not fan of TV and have been an avid non-watcher my whole adult life. So is it a sacrifice to watch it with my fashion-fascinated kid? It's one of a handful of ways I've found to spend time with the current version of this ever-changing wondrous being. I got involved with Project Runway in particular because it's actually fun for me to watch, and we make the most of the banter it begs for. Before that, I watched the Bachelor with this same kid for a couple of seasons too (so much yelling at TV people!), then when I found I couldn't stand the utter idiocy going into round three, I stopped. Choice.
With my younger extremely dyslexic kid, I choose to read aloud books about SWAT and military K-9 units and bombs—blowing-up stuff I'd rather blow off. Is this a sacrifice? Actually, it's pure love, and therefore pure bliss. I'm so in love with this character that I would—well, I'd sit around reading these things. If some handsome dyke showed up (say, a cross between Tig Notaro and—remember Grace Jones with a flattop?) and she wanted me to read those things aloud to her, I'd walk away thinking, Oh well, she sure looked good for a minute there.
I bring up these parenting examples because people are notorious for claiming sacrifice as parents. I visited a bio page on someone's website and was stunned to find “self-sacrificing mother” in a string of positive descriptors. (I sat there for a fruitless moment looking for irony.) If you're not a parent, please keep reading: make parenting a metaphor for any realm of life where you might needlessly superimpose sacrifice.
Anything you do as a parent, you do because you choose it. You choose it because it's what you most want for your child. You choose it because that choice makes you the kind of parent you want to be. I used to do without vacations and other dreamy things to have my kids in a Waldorf school. Sacrifice? Not a bit of it. I wanted my kids to spend half the day outside. I wanted them to card wool, carve wood, handle silk. All of this made me happy (whatever it did for them). It was a choice, and choice implies going for this and therefore not that. Do you want to claim you've sacrificed some that every time you choose some this? It's an option. Or you could feel great about choice.
Contestants on Project Runway also love to talk about all their single mom or poor immigrant parents sacrificed for them, therefore they HAVE to win: they'll be letting their entire family down if they lose. Oh, the burden! They typically say this when they're in the top three, preparing for the final challenge, which takes place at the Rockefeller Center during the apparently famous (I'm sure I'd never heard of it before) Fashion Week. Really, sweetheart, if you've gotten that far, you can feel like a winner. Harsh, harsh reality if only one person gets to feel proud while everyone else has to disappoint their family. Harsh world where parents teach their kids they've sacrificed for them and the kids must now make it all worthwhile.
Teach your kids you willingly do whatever you do for them. Teach them to become themselves, not that they owe you becoming who you want them to be. Teach them to give what they give with all their heart and no strings attached—by modeling this in what you do for them. Every once in a while (when I'm especially tired), I hear myself start to tell my kids all that I do in contrast to something they're not doing or haven't done (apples or oranges, anyone?). That's when I know it's time to course-correct, sort through my thinking, get crystal clear about my choices all over again. Am I giving more than I actually want to? Am I saying yes when I mean no? Have I gotten confused about what love is and what it isn't? (Is it time to go to bed?)
Teach your kids excellent self-care and supreme self-honoring through your conscious choices and how you language your power to choose. I'm pretty sure we could go through at least three generations of erring on the side of teaching our AFAB (assigned female at birth) kids to prioritize themselves—choose for themselves over others when in doubt. I'm amazed when any human being believes they must cut off their own appendages to give others a hand up. It's a poor model for all concerned. Notice this false concept of sacrifice adversely affects the very ones it seeks to help, because it weirdly displaces responsibility to those receiving what's given (whether they asked for it or not!). Set yourself free and set them free by never saying such a thing again (ah, or correcting it when you do), and by holding a clear consciousness of choice.
I've written before about cultivating a consciousness of choice to counteract victim mentality (chapter 22 of Scooch!: Edging into a Friendly Universe). You can't be a victim when you're in choice. When you're in sacrifice, though, victim is all you've got. Poor me, look at all I don't get because I'm being such a great mother (or whatever). You're no greater a mother/whatever than you choose to be. Choose well. Choose balance. Choose sometimes what's delectable just for you, just because you want it. And notice (drink in) all the joy and laughter and satisfaction you get from parenting these amazing beings in precisely the way you choose to parent. You haven't forgotten how badly you wanted this, have you?
Are you a non-parent using this as a metaphor? Where do you sacrifice? See if you can plug in choice instead. See if it makes more sense and feels more empowering. Do you sacrifice to be in a couple? Oops—have a single friend remind you of the privileges, all you get that no part of you wants to do without, all the gains to you in consistently weaving it all together with that other seriously worthwhile (honestly, precious) human being. Do you sacrifice for the job? Wait, don't you want the prestige, money, reliable paycheck plus benefits? Do you sacrifice to be on the board? Are you kidding? Quit today!
What if you called nothing sacrifice (except that bloody moment with the lamb), no matter how much you devote yourself with time, energy, skills, talent, money, or any and all resources? Do you want to give it or not? Choice is honest and clear and places responsibility squarely where it belongs. Choice is power. Between sacrifice and choice, every time, choose a consciousness of choice.
Love and blessings, Jaya