I hear this sentiment every once in a while, and it's intended as a compliment. My response is generally, "Oh it's no sacrifice at all! I'm passionate about my kids and this is something my husband and I have worked very hard to achieve. It's a value, not a sacrifice."
What do I mean by sacrifice (my emphasis)?
Concern for the welfare of those one loves is a rational part of one’s selfish interests. If a man who is passionately in love with his wife spends a fortune to cure her of a dangerous illness, it would be absurd to claim that he does it as a “sacrifice” for her sake, not his own, and that it makes no difference to him, personally and selfishly, whether she lives or dies.
Any action that a man undertakes for the benefit of those he loves is not a sacrifice if, in the hierarchy of his values, in the total context of the choices open to him, it achieves that which is of greatest personal (and rational) importance to him. In the above example, his wife’s survival is of greater value to the husband than anything else that his money could buy, it is of greatest importance to his own happiness and, therefore, his action is not a sacrifice.
But suppose he let her die in order to spend his money on saving the lives of ten other women, none of whom meant anything to him—as the ethics of altruism would require. That would be a sacrifice. Here the difference between Objectivism and altruism can be seen most clearly: if sacrifice is the moral principle of action, then that husband should sacrifice his wife for the sake of ten other women. What distinguishes the wife from the ten others? Nothing but her value to the husband who has to make the choice—nothing but the fact that his happiness requires her survival.
The Objectivist ethics would tell him: your highest moral purpose is the achievement of your own happiness, your money is yours, use it to save your wife, that is your moral right and your rational, moral choice.
Ayn Rand, “The Ethics of Emergencies,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 45.
Some enterprises are HARD, and parenting is one of them. That, as such, does not mean it's a sacrifice. Parenting is a Big Undertaking that requires certain trade-offs--and not just the commonly thought of not-so-great trade-offs like sleep, the ability to leave the house at a moment's notice, and laundry. There are advantages, too, things you do not necessarily get if you choose not to become a parent, like that first time you hear "Mommy," or the funny things they say, or the looks on their faces when they first notice an amazing thing like an airplane or a rock.
I say trade-offs, not sacrifices, because giving up a value does not necessarily entail making a sacrifice. It's only a sacrifice if you give up something more valuable in order to get something that's a lesser value. Sometimes it's not easy to make your decision, sometimes you must deal with some amount of uncertainty about the decision, and sometimes you don't realize until afterward that you've made a mistake or the right decision.
Take a common Big Parenting Decision for mommies like me--stay-at-home or work (or some combination of the two). I know many women who have kids and also have a career. Good for them, if that makes them happy! For me, though, it would be extremely difficult to be the mom of such young children and hold down a full-time job, because I know myself. I'd be unhappy if I felt unable to give 100% to that full-time outside career. I think I would be unable to work with that level of commitment to a job, knowing I might have to drop my work at any moment to take care of a sick kid or work around day care or school. I would also miss being with my kids and watching them grow, being here for them, being the one they are primarily attached to. So, schooling choices aside, that full-time work situation is not for me.
Another Big Parenting Decision--education. The decision to homeschool was relatively easy in many ways, but again, there are trade-offs. Honestly, I could do other things with my time if my older kids were in school (not to mention have a semi-presentable house most of the time). Some of those other things (up to and including a flexible part-time career) are really, really appealing. But given Brendan's and my values concerning the education of our children, we really want one of us to be home and to homeschool them. Sending them to public school (by the way, did you hear our county, 2nd best schools in the state, is kicking around the idea of putting 40 kids in some high school classes?) is not an option. Private school is not financially feasible.
Now, should there ever come a time when our circumstances change, if Brendan couldn't financially support us and I needed to work, then to continue on our current path could become a sacrifice. Falling down a financial hole, losing our house or the ability to feed our family, simply in order to have me stay home might not be worth the trade-off. I'll say this now, though--we'd trade off many other values in order to homeschool, though--it's such a high value for both of us. We'd be selling things left and right, foregoing many optional activities and services in favor of being able to keep me home. But if things were really, truly dire, I would have to make another choice. Would it be hard? Yes. Would I be sad about giving up this value? Yes (because it's still a great value, though a lesser one than the need for food or shelter.)
Similarly, if I was profoundly unhappy staying with the kids and homeschooling, if I thought I would be happier working in a different career, I would stop homeschooling and go to work. I don't anticipate that happening, but it's a possibility. In fact, I might actively explore that possibility once they're all much older and self-sufficient because I would be somewhat more available in certain chunks of time to choose regular work.
To stay home and homeschool, if it made me miserable, would be a sacrifice, even if I thought it was better for the kids. And so we'd find a new plan. Maybe we'd put them in school. Maybe Brendan could do the homeschooling. I don't know exactly what we'd do (and it's hard to imagine, because so far I love it so!). But I would not be willing to sacrifice my happiness by choosing a lower value over a higher one. Because I am rationally selfish, I am not willing to become a martyr to any cause, even a worthy one I really believe in, if it required the wrong kind of trade-off.
Is parenting difficult? Oh my, yes. More than I imagined before becoming a parent (that seems to be a common experience). Is working a full-time career difficult? Oh, yes indeedy, and I miss doing some of that sort of work (and I also miss the income). I do not miss dealing with grownups who behave like children, though. At least the children have a right to behave like children. :o)
Homeschooling as such has not been difficult, not so far--it takes up a certain amount of time, answering their questions and setting up history and reading out loud, but so far, not hard. What's hard about it is that they are with me every. single. second. Sometimes I fantasize about being able to take the morning and just sit in a coffee shop with me, myself, and a book. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.
No, I am not sacrificing anything to "stay" at home with my children. I am not sacrificing a thing to keep them out of school. Rather than sacrifices, it's quite the opposite--these are GOALS, things we desire for ourselves and our family, and we will do many, many things to keep our situation just this way for as long as we can.
This stay-at-home-homeschooling-mommy thing couldn't possibly be a sacrifice, given how much we want it, and how hard we have worked for it.
(UPDATE: By the way, this was my post for Secular Thursday!)