The first time I heard of a woman admitting she regretted motherhood, I was horrified.
But time has passed since that initial first judgement, and I’ve spent some of that time reading more into this subject and I’ve come to think it’s a lot more common than one might think. It’s just complicated, manifesting in a multitude of different ways and forming for a variety of different reasons, and drowning in secrecy and shame.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I occasionally worried that I would regret becoming a mother. The pregnancy was unexpected and I didn’t feel anywhere near ready and I assumed that once she was born I’d miss my old life and wish I could return to my wild and free days. I’ll admit there were moments in the early days of being a single mother, when she was so new and so was I, and exhaustion and inadequacy made me feel as though I had made a mistake. I wasn’t cut out for this. She deserved better than me.
As a disclaimer, I can’t say I personally regret motherhood. I’ve still over the years had thoughts that I wasn’t the right type of person to be a good mother, but I’ve come to learn that’s normal and nothing to worry about. I’ve also from time to time indulged in the thought of what route my life may have taken had I not become a mother, though it’s impossible to really know that for sure what might have been, but it is something I think many parents do. But I just want to be transparent about the fact that I’m writing this not technically as someone who understands entirely what it feels like to regret becoming a mother, but as someone who is working to educate themselves on the topic with an open mind.
Reasons Why Some Mothers May Regret Motherhood
Feeling trapped in a role they didn’t necessarily want but were forced to adopt due to pressures from society, their partner or other family members. From what I’ve discovered in all my reading on the subject, this is one of the biggest reasons behind why one may eventually regret becoming a mother. I’ve read countless stories of women who never really wanted to have kids in the first place who gave in and had them because they thought they should. This really speaks volumes about how little society as a whole respects women’s decisions and choices for their own lives and bodies. Women who openly state they don’t want children are treated as if they’re defective, heartless monsters. They’re told they’ll change their mind one day, especially when they meet a man who does want children. Which is a horrifying thing to say when you actually think about and dissect what that means, which is essentially:
It wasn’t what they expected it would be. This piggybacks a little bit off the first one in some cases, where one might decide to have children because it’s what they’re “supposed” to do and go into the experience with a specific idea in mind of what normal motherhood is going to be like, only to discover that reality is nothing like that. This is especially prevalent in our Pinterest/Instagram/Showcase My Life era where everyone is constantly subjected to the beautiful, airbrushed, and yes, staged photos depicting the so-called “reality” of other people’s lives. It’s easy to see how someone would fall for the the sparkling appeal and feel let down by the sometimes messy reality. The monotony alone of day to day parenting can be enough to break some people and it’s hard to know what to expect until you are in the thick of it.
Their own dreams and goals can get pushed to the wayside as they focus on their family. This can lead to a great deal of resentment over time, understandably so. There are exceptions, plenty of women have families and continue to pursue all the things they intended to, many climb up the ladder at work, obtain promotions and awards, further their education and continue to travel and have fulfilling life experiences outside of motherhood. And many don’t. For some families the costs of having children are higher than they realized and maybe instead of paying for daycare mom has to quit the job she loves or drop out of the college program she’s been excelling at and stay home.
Some women feel lost and essentially trapped in motherhood, as if they don’t exist as their own person anymore and are “just” a mom. In some cases at least partially due to the above mentioned section about giving up their own dreams, often hobbies and unique things that make a person who they are might get pushed aside as new priorities emerge. Wine tour weekends with the girls, curling up with a good book, taking a painting class, or indulging in a great pair of designer shoes or a spa day might become unattainable luxuries when once they were things woven into the fabric of who you were. We’re told as women that we should feel entirely fulfilled as mothers, but that’s simply not the case. Some women may feel that way, and that’s great for them, but many others still want to feel as if they are special and important as themselves and might not get that anymore.
Relationships can fall apart or change in unexpected ways. The stress of raising small humans can wreak havoc on some relationships. It can also have the opposite effect and bring some couples closer than ever, but it’s not unheard of for relationships that had previously seemed solid to fall apart once children enter the world. There are many reasons for this, a lot of them directly connected to everything I’ve already written above but when it happens it would be easy to understand that at least some parents might pinpoint the exact time when things changed and feel at least frustration if not outright irritation at the way these newest arrivals threw everything into chaos.
Some people might just not like their kids as much as they thought they would. Probably one of the more taboo causes of this type of thing, and I’m assuming one that emerges more so as the children get older and develop their own opinions and view but I can see how this could cause significant distress as you as a parent start to realize that though you’d do anything to protect, nurture and care for this human you’ve created, you find them really hard to actually like the vast majority of the time.
The Stigma of Admitting You Regret Becoming A Mother
In recent years more women have had the confidence to come forward–even anonymously–and admit that they sometimes regret motherhood. There is still a huge stigma surrounding it however, and even people trying to be open minded about the subject (like me!) can still have knee-jerk, unfair “What a monster!” type reactions. Why is that? What do we assume about these women that makes us see them–even for a split second–in a negative light for admitting something like this?
Contrary to what some may believe, not all women want to be mothers, should be mothers, or will feel fulfilled in that role. I mentioned this above but it’s worth mentioning again because it’s important. We have to stop pushing women into being mothers when they don’t want to or aren’t ready to. This spins off into a much bigger, much more complex topic regarding women’s rights to make choices for their own bodies including access to multiple forms of birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies, safe and reliable options and resources to deal with an unexpected, unwanted pregnancy if it does occur, and dismantling the societal pressures that tell women they Must! Be! Mothers! But all that is much deeper than what we’re going to get into here today. But understanding and accepting that not all women should be or want to be mothers, and there is nothing wrong with that, is a good first step.
Regretting motherhood doesn’t mean that a woman hates or dislikes her children, that she’s a bad mom, or that she’s going to or is more likely to harm her children. All of these misconceptions need to be wiped off the table immediately. Some of those Do-It-All, hyperactive PTA mom’s may regret motherhood and go above and beyond overcompensating because of it. Moms who seem like the most perfect doting mothers on the planet may secretly wish they could run away and start over but never admit it due to all that associated stigma. There are plenty of fierce Mama Bears who will fight anyone who dares mess with their offspring at a moments notice, yet still privately wish the didn’t have any cubs at all. None of these women are bad mothers, in fact most of them are exactly the type of women who may make other mothers feel inadequate, but they definitely exist.
More of us probably experience at least some feelings of something similar to regret, we just don’t always talk about it or label it that way. Wishing you had never had children is on the somewhat more extreme end of the scale, but everything from fantasizing longingly about the what-ifs and the grass on the other side, to eagerly anticipating one day having a finally empty nest can also be small-scale forms of at the very least acknowledging that parenting isn’t always sunshine and rainbows and sometimes we’re just Over It.
If you’d like to read more on this topic, here are a few of the articles I discovered and found helpful:
‘I regret having children’ (by Anne Kingston, published on Macleans)
The mothers who regret having children (by Jean Mackenzie, published on BBC News in April 2018)
Inside the Growing Movement of Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids (by Sarah Treleaven, published on Marie Claire in Sept 2016)
Regretting motherhood: What have I done to my life? (by Lola Augustine Brown, published on Today’s Parent in June 2017)
Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of this blog post. If you’ve experienced any of what I’ve described above and feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear from you.