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Sacrifice Is Not Love!

The line between love and sacrifice is often unclear, but the distinction between the two can have a great impact on one’s parenting experience. It is not uncommon to hear parents lamenting: “How could you do this to me after all the sacrifices that I have made for you?”

Love is not defined by sacrifices Love is not defined by sacrifices

Most parents are driven by loving intentions. Many are willing to do whatever it takes to give their children their best. Increasingly, more and more professionals, both men and women, are trading in their promising careers to be full-time care givers for their young children (my wife is one of them). The number of stay-at-home mums and full-time-dads is definitely on the rise.

Some call these acts of sacrifice, while others think they are simply natural manifestations of love. The line between love and sacrifice is often unclear, but the distinction between the two can have a great impact on one’s parenting experience. It is not uncommon to hear parents lamenting: “How could you do this to me after all the sacrifices that I have made for you?”

It is equally common to find children retorting innocently (and in a seemingly ungrateful manner): “When did I ever ask you to sacrifice for me?”

There is often a grain of truth in children’s words. The truth usually hurts. And the cause of our hurt or suffering is often rooted in the misconceptions we have about the reality. The good news is that knowing the truth can be extremely liberating. It frees us to see things in new perspectives and to take new actions so as to generate our desired experiences.

To sacrifice means to give up or relinquish something of high value for the sake of another thing that one considers to be of greater value. Parents often confuse sacrifice with selfless love, when in fact, the former is a self-serving act driven by one’s innate desire to live up to one’s ideals. When we begin to appreciate that the act of sacrifice is simply a matter of choosing to devote one’s time and energy to something that we deem to be more important than others, it is evident that there is nothing inherently ‘selfless’ about sacrifice. More often, it is self-serving in that it helps get rid of the guilt from not living up to one’s ideals about what a ‘good’ parent ought to be or should do.

However, self-serving isn’t necessarily negative. It is human to act out of an innate desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Loving one’s child is but another form of self-serving act that brings immense pleasure. We have the capacity to love and the need to be loved. Parenting presents us with ample opportunities to actualize the former, while our marriage satisfies the latter.

It has often been said that parental love is perhaps the ‘purest’ form of love. To love one’s children essentially entails accepting them unconditionally. In other words, to accept them as who they are (with all the imperfections), whatever the circumstances. However, we tend to reject in our children the parts that we reject in ourselves, albeit unconsciously. It follows that full acceptance of our children is usually possible only when fully accept ourselves.

It is no secret that loving our children begins with loving ourselves. This wisdom has been around for thousands of years. Buddha once said: “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” And Jesus has taught us to “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Until we love and accept ourselves fully, how can we possibly love our children with all our hearts?