“You’re going to regret not having children.”
Whether this statement is given as a warning or uttered out of ignorance, if you’re childfree, you’ve probably heard this before. In retaliation to parents’ bluntness, some childfree people have been know to reply, “Well, do you regret having children?” This question is, of course, meant to be a conversation stopper. Little did we know though, some actually do regret having children.
Recently, we are seeing more and more brave individuals stepping forward and admitting that having kids isn’t all they thought it would be. The Guardian published an article last month featuring parents who regret having children. One of whom is Victoria Elder. After giving birth to her baby girl, her immediate instinct came by way of this thought:
“‘Oh, no. What have I done? This was a huge mistake.’”
When Colin and I were trying to determine whether or not to have children, regret is a topic that came up often. Our society as a whole seems to be regret-centric.
“…regret in cultures such as the U.S., where individuals have more choice over their life’s course, versus in cultures with arranged marriages, where family have much more control over life choices…regret is much more commonly experienced and reported…”
-Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D of The Psychology of Regret
I suppose it is not unusual, then, that I can quickly call to mind several of my regrets. From eating something unhealthy for dinner last week, to snapping at my boss a year ago, to the purchase of our fixer upper home some eight years ago, I’ve certainly felt my fair share of discomfort from poor life choices- both big and small.
Even though I am no stranger to this feeling, when I think of Elder’s experience of looking into the small eyes of her brand new and totally dependent human and seeing a giant mistake staring back at her, I can’t help but think her feelings are stronger than regret. When reading her story, I myself was overcome with an overwhelming sense of sadness. A sadness that gives way to empathy and helplessness. A sadness that makes me want to travel back in time to wrap my arms around both mother and child and replace remorse with assurance instead.
Shortly after the article on the guardian.com was published, a woman came forward saying she would give anything to not be her children’s mother. She was kind enough to speak with me and gave me permission to publish her words anonymously. Here is our conversation:
You say that you love your four children but “would give anything to not be their mom.” When did you begin feeling this way?
I noticed a real shift in my attitude when my husband was diagnosed with glioblastoma in November 2015. I was 5 months pregnant with my third baby and I had 14 month old twins and began to realise what a terminal diagnosis meant for me. Up until that point, I enjoyed being a mom and I loved my kids of course, but I never signed up to do it on my own and the thought of being a single mom to 3 under 2 was really overwhelming. My husband’s decline was pretty gradual, and when my third was 2 months old I found myself pregnant again. I was really really unhappy about the prospect of having yet another baby on my own and in the fourth month of my pregnancy, my husband’s condition took a turn for the worse and as he deteriorated, so did my emotional state. His death this past November has taken a pretty heavy toll on me and right now, I feel unable to care for myself and my children.
Do you think you would still regret being a mother if you had fewer children?
I think I would feel infinitely less overwhelmed, but still regret it to some extent. Being a single parent to one child or 4 children is a really hard task, and I wouldn’t have chosen it at all had I known where I would end up.
Would you say your husband was more interested in having children than you were?
To some extent, yes. While I never considered children until I was 18 or so, I remember him talking about wanting children and being excited for parenthood when we first started dating in 2005. Once I was old enough to really consider being a mom, I was completely sure I wanted to do it and our decision to start a family was mutual. He was always much more engaged with our kids than I was, especially when they were infants.
What advice would you give mothers who are feeling similar regret?
Talking about it has helped me just to get it off my chest. I haven’t felt comfortable expressing any of these feelings to anyone I know in real life, but some reddit communities have been helpful places for me to vent. It also helps me to read the similar stories that are out there. In a world where every mom gushes about everything her baby does, it is hard for me to remember that I’m not the first person to regret having kids or feel unfit to be a mother. But there are so many people who do regret having their children, and it’s so nice to know I’m not alone in that. I am also shopping around for a therapist which I think will be really helpful, but haven’t found one that I have great chemistry with yet.
What advice would you give women and men who are on the fence about becoming parents or remaining childless?
My instinct would be that if you are on the fence, it most likely means that you value some aspects of your childfree life and are hesitant to give that up. Children are a huge emotional and financial commitment, and they require a lot of time and effort. Unless you are 100% sure you have those things to give, I think there’s a good chance you might feel similar to me. The love I have for my children is instinctual and I will never stop loving them, but I would much rather live without that bond than live with the regret I feel.
Next week, I will share tips on how to overcome regret. If you or someone you know are struggling with feelings of regret, please share this article and check back on Monday.