You don’t have to look far to find odes to all the sacrifices mothers make. We talk about all the things moms give up, the hardships we endure, the hurdles we overcome. And it’s true. Moms are awesome and we give up a lot. But you know what we don’t talk about enough? The joys of motherhood

What message does this send? In our silence, we make the joys of motherhood less meaningful and we elevate the sacrifices. 

Related: America runs on mothers’ sacrifice—and it’s not OK 

If we aren’t sacrificing—our time, body, goals, needs, relationships—we feel like we aren’t mom enough. As a new mom, I struggled mightily with breastfeeding. Struggle is an understatement, actually. I loathed it. Breastfeeding was bad for me, bad for my mental health, bad for the mother-child bond. I knew from the moment my son was born—probably even before giving birth—that I didn’t want to breastfeed. Yet I endured. Because I also was told from the moment my son was born—probably even before birth—that motherhood meant that I should sacrifice. That I should put my needs last. That I should endure. 

I believed that this is what it meant to be a mother—sacrificing your own needs, health, body, emotions, all of it, until you were bone dry—for the sake of your child. This is, after all, the message we send mothers, isn’t it? That if you aren’t putting your needs last, if you aren’t sacrificing, then you aren’t a “good mother.” 

Well, you know what? That’s nonsense.

Parenting is inherently filled with sacrifices, and motherhood is hard enough as it is. Let’s stop making it harder by celebrating unnecessary self-sacrifice.

Because as soon as I quit breastfeeding, an amazing thing happened: I found more joy in motherhood. Feeding my son became something enjoyable and peaceful. The mother-child bond grew. Today, that baby is a teenager and all that formula feeding didn’t harm him one bit. Nor did it harm his little brother, who I formula-fed right from the start. 

Over the years, I’ve leaned even further into this philosophy: I refuse to prioritize the sacrifices of motherhood over the joys. And there are so many joys.

Parenting is inherently filled with sacrifices, and motherhood is hard enough as it is. Let’s stop making it harder by celebrating unnecessary self-sacrifice.

There is no reward for constantly putting your needs last. We don’t get a prize for being a martyr mom. And perhaps most importantly, our sacrifice and self-imposed hardships don’t help our children. 

A few years ago I wrote an article in the Washington Post that is still making the rounds. In it, I wrote: “I don’t want my children to view me as some kind of self-sacrificing martyr; I want them to know that I loved them with all my heart and that they are part of a family — as well as a larger community — which means that their needs cannot always come first.”

Finding the joy and delight in motherhood looks different for everyone. But it starts with getting rid of this one-size-fits-all approach to what it means to be a “good mother”.

My children are now in the teen and pre-teen age group, and I believe this even more than ever. As they figure out their place in the world, I want them to know that they are special and amazing—and so is everyone else. I want them to know that they are unconditionally loved, but unconditional love doesn’t mean not loving myself. I am working to teach them that with great privilege (and as cisgender, white males, they have immense privilege) comes great responsibility. And I want my children to know that I loved being their mother and that being a mom was a great joy in my life. Challenging, yes—as any meaningful relationship is at times—but also an absolute delight. 

Finding the joy and delight in motherhood looks different for everyone. But it starts with getting rid of this one-size-fits-all approach to what it means to be a “good mother” (i.e., putting ourselves last). If we want to raise children who are compassionate, independent, and respectful of others, we can’t keep prioritizing the sacrifices of motherhood over the joys of motherhood.

Yet the sacrificial martyr mom persona persists. We tell ourselves we can’t “have it all” even though the world keeps telling us that we should be able to “do it all”. And we’re completely burned out. Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey found that 49% of Millennial moms report feeling burned out "often" or "always", and 66% of moms get less than one hour of time to themselves each day. Though the levels of burnout reported in Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey are slightly lower than last year, according to the New York Times, a new report shows that two-thirds of working parents meet the definition of parental burnout. Even more alarming is that the report’s authors say that it’s likely to persist even beyond the pandemic. We’re so burned out that research confirming parental burnout and predictions about its longevity don’t even phase us anymore. We’re too exhausted to care. 

Related: Motherly's State of Motherhood

Something has to give. For me, it has meant taking a KonMari approach to life and parenting. Does it bring me joy? If not, do I really need to be doing this? Does this really help my children? Does this really benefit our family? Or is it some kind of unnecessary self-sacrifice?

Of course, there are some non-negotiables that do not bring me joy. Bills need to be paid. Kids get sick. Tantrums need to be calmed. But all too often we put things in the necessity pile because that’s what the world tells us we should be doing. We should have a career and also go to every school event and sports game. We should find time for self-care while also cooking nutritious meals for our family every night. We should be nurturing our marriage and also put our kids to bed every night. But this just isn’t possible. With all these conflicting shoulds, we’re setting mothers up to fail. Or to feel like failures. 

Once I started tossing out shoulds and self-sacrifice, I was able to see all the joys—and dare I say, fun—of motherhood. I exercise every morning so my husband is on carpool duty. I have a career I enjoy so I sometimes miss a few of my kids’ baseball games. I volunteer for causes I am passionate about so I don’t help with PTA events. And I genuinely enjoy spending time with my kids. Being their mother is an absolute delight.

Our children are the focus of our lives, they are our great loves and I am amazed at how much love and genuine awe I feel to be their mom. How in the world did I get so lucky?

Raising children is hard work and an absolute joy at the same time. And it’s time for us to stop celebrating the sacrifices of motherhood at the expense of the joys.