Not everyone is cut out for motherhood. (Photo: Ashley Jennett/Offset)
When I was about 12 years old, my mother told me she regretted having me.
“I hope you’ll think for a long time before becoming a mom,” she said on that warm summer morning. “If I had it to do over again, I’m not sure I would have had children.”
At 12, her words stung. I had no idea what she meant or why she said it. Did she really wish I hadn’t been born? It is only now, 20 years later, with three kids of my own, that I understand what she meant. It’s not that she didn’t love me. It’s not that she wished she didn’t have me. It’s that she knew becoming a mom meant her life would never again be entirely her own.
My mother isn’t the only one to feel such pangs of regret. There is even a robust Facebook page dedicated to likeminded women. So why aren’t we all talking about this?
A few years ago, Australian writer Sonja Ebbels penned an essay for the website Daily Life describing the moment of shock when a friend announced that, if she could do life over again, she wouldn’t have had children. “I realized that I had not heard this from a mother before, and judging from the expressions around me, neither had they,” wrote Ebbels. “I could tell my friend was hoping that the proverbial black hole would appear in the floor and she could disappear forever, so I quickly changed the subject and everyone immediately and with obvious relief followed suit.”
Yahoo Parenting could not reach Ebbels for comment, but she raised some interesting points. We all have moments of regret or pangs for our pre-children life — right? I love each one of my three children with the ferocity of a mother bear, but some Saturday nights, I feel like giving up everything in this world for one dinner and a movie with my husband without worrying about the logistics of childcare.
A number of factors can cause regret, such as postpartum depression or missing one’s childless lifestyle, Maryland-based psychologist Samantha Rodman, tells Yahoo Parenting. Some women also feel isolated or trapped by their daily lives and poor body image can be a contributor for women who mourn their pre-pregnancy figures.
“The important thing is to accept that all feelings are okay and that you’re having them,” says Rodman. “From there, you can work through what they mean. Of course, regretting kids is a huge taboo. Our evolutionary imperative as a species is to procreate. It can be hard to accept that something so ‘natural’ makes you so unhappy.”
Recent studies have found very little difference between the happiness levels of people with and without children. But mothers who are living through the daily grind might experience happiness in a different way.
I spend 90 percent of my time in some type of motion with my children, whether I’m driving them to dance or karate class, playing in the backyard, braiding hair, or cooking dinner. It is a rich, full, and beautiful life. But sometimes, when a kid is cranky or having a fit, I wonder what my life might have been like if I followed my mother’s advice. Would I have published my novel by now? Would I have time to read the stack of lonely books on my nightstand?
I think my mother was overwhelmed at times with the responsibility of raising two children. My father traveled for work and it was often just me, my sister, and my mom. I understand her now because when my husband travels, I feel the same way. When we married, I didn’t expect to be alone with three different sets of needs and no help. But then he comes home and I remember exactly what I wanted for my family.
“When a woman feels regret about her children, the best thing she can do is acknowledge those feelings silently to herself, then reach out to a professional child and parenting psychologist with whom she can process those important emotions,” Fran Walfish, PsyD, a Beverly Hills family psychotherapist, tells Yahoo Parenting.
In most cases, such feelings can be resolved by identifying the root of the issue. However, Walfish says there are a small percentage of mothers who knew from the start that they didn’t fit the role. "These mothers need lots of extra guidance, education, and support,” says Walfish. “In many cases, they were the victims of neglect, abuse, or some sort of parental mishandling during their own childhoods.”
To sort out your feelings, Walfish suggests analyzing your childhood — did your mother treat you well? Also, note when your feelings strike. If you only feel regret when your kids are having a meltdown or you’re having difficulty balancing your work and home life, you can probably relax. Conversely if you consistently feel regret, you may need to dig deeper.