On being a mother: between ego and sacrifice

Among all the roles I play in life, motherhood is the one that keeps me reflecting the most. Where is the line between my responsibility and my kids’ own path in life? Where do my attitudes and behaviours stem from? A genuine wish to guide my children or my ego? How much am I ‘supposed’ to sacrifice in the name of motherhood?

I understand that being a mother is not what defines me. I understand that motherhood is one of the roles I play in life, but who I am is not limited to being a mum. I understand that I would harm myself and my kids if I were too attached to this role because every action then would come from ego. This said, I do believe that of all the roles I play in life, being a mum is the most important right now. My kids came to the world into our family, and at least during their first eighteen years or so, we have the responsibility to create a safe environment for them. Since they are young, they are still creating their own perception of who they are and the world around them. I know that this perception will change through experience, but I feel that I have the responsibility to at least try to help them have a positive experience of these first years.

Still, when I think about myself as a child, I can recognise that already then, I had my own way of perceiving things. Sometimes, no matter what my parents or other adults said. This means that as a mum, my job is to be clear about what my intentions are, but at the end of the day, the way my kids develop will be pretty much out of my hands. I can only guide and live the life I want them to be inspired by, but they will eventually live the life they will choose and learn the lessons they came to learn.

The way I understand it, ego, or ahamkara in sanskrit, is the aspect of our self that limits us. When we let ego guide us, we act in limited ways. Ego feeds itself, among other things from believing that its importance in this world is connected to how much control we have of our surroundings. Ego is the part of us that is attached to the practical world: what we do, the titles we have, the ideas and believes we have, the material possessions we have, our achievements and our defeats. So, as a mum, how can I keep ego in check? By letting go of control? By not being selfish? By sacrificing everything to my children? Maybe, but there is a catch in this idea of sacrifice too.

One of the basic principles in Karma yoga is yadnya which is translated as sacrifice. Anyone that is a parent would say that in order to be a good parent, we need to make some sacrifice. But what does sacrifice really mean? Can our understanding of sacrifice also feed into our ego?

Sacrifice is explained by Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita as offering our actions to something bigger than us. So, yes, we play our role of parents as a sacrifice when we keep in check our intentions and avoid acting out of fear, own ambition, or a need to control our children. Sacrifice is by no means a concept of self-neglect because connected to the concept of sacrifice is the idea of sustainability. Can I go on like this for long? Also, because once we put ourself in a role of martyr, it is very easy to feed the ego with it. So, where goes the line between not being selfish and neglecting yourself? From personal experience, I know this line is very thin, and it keeps moving.

I have observed myself rejecting projects or even opportunities using my kids as an excuse. ‘I don’t have time because I want to be present for my kids’. I do want to be present for them, and I think I am, but to be honest, I have, in some occasions asked myself if I wasn’t using my kids as an excuse to not come out of my comfort zone.

This weekend, I signed up to a webinar of an hour and a half each day. In addition, I had some small things I wanted to do that do not include involving the whole family. To begin with, I felt bad conscience, I felt selfish and stressed. Especially towards one of our daughters who needs daily physical activity, and who is quite lonely during the weekends. But I had to let go of my need of always having control over everything. It is ok, from time to time, to dedicate some of our common free time to my own personal and professional growth. I think our daughter has appreciated the opportunity to spend time on her own with her things, and just relax for the weekend. I have made agreements with her, and both yesterday and today she went outside to move either walking or biking. My family do need me, but it doesn’t collapse if I sometimes let go of my need to organise and control everything. This for my own peace of mind, and for my kids to discover that they are completely capable of managing their free time on their own.