Last week, the Daily Mail published a first-person story by Isabella Dutton, a 57 year old mother of two who declared her children to be “the biggest regret of her life.” Since the Daily Mail is possibly the internet’s leading purveyor of “human interest in hating other humans” stories, it goes without saying that the article incited (and was intended to incite) a monstrous tsunami of scorn.
“A mother could never regret her children.” It’s a truism. But considering the life-altering effect of children on their mothers, it seems impossible that it could really be a universal truth. Isabella Dutton is clearly very unhappy. She feels trapped by the intense demands of her children, calling them parasites. I know lots of mothers who feel this way sometimes. But feeling like your kids are sucking your life force is one thing. Feeling like they “give nothing meaningful back in return”? That’s something different.
Dutton believes she simply lacked the wiring for motherhood. She never wanted kids, but didn’t want to deny her husband the experience. But then she says some things that make me wonder whether her feelings might have as much to do with the choices she made as a parent than her choice to be a parent in the first place.
“I cannot understand mothers who insist they want children – especially those who undergo years of fertility treatment – then race back to work at the earliest opportunity after giving birth, leaving the vital job of caring for them to strangers…Why have them at all if you don’t want to bring them up, or can’t afford to? And why pretend you wanted them if you have no intention of raising them? This hypocrisy is, in my view, far more pernicious and difficult to fathom than my own admission that my life would have been better without children.
And here, perhaps, is the nub of it: I would not take on the job of motherhood and do it half-heartedly.”
Harsh judgment from a happy mother. But when the woman who’s doling it out has written a newspaper article about how her kids have ruined her life, it’s a huge head-smack. What could be more “half-hearted” than devoting decades to caring for children and hating every minute of it? If this woman had been willing to enlist help, she would have had time to do the things she craved. Instead, she sacrificed her happiness in the interest of an idea about how to be a good mother. Maybe if she had been able to compromise her ironclad standards to meet a few of her own needs along the way, she might have a more balanced view of the parenting experience. And maybe not feel compelled to negate her children in a major newspaper (with photos, no less).
There’s an interesting conversation about this happening at The Hairpin, where Nicole Cliffe says she’s glad to see someone acknowledge the fact that children are not for everyone. A bunch of people thought this confession was a relief. Some even said the writer reminded them of their own mothers. Quite a few of them were totally ok with that, and said they respected their mothers more for being so honest. I wonder whether Isabella Dutton’s kids feel the same way.