“Do you ever regret having children?”
I know that every parent who reads the above line will surely shake their head and utter with disgust, “What kind of person regrets having their kids?!” because people assume that to admit this means that you don’t love your children and regret their very existence … which is not the same thing at all.
Two days ago I felt this very sentiment:
My husband, two children, and I were driving to the airport at some ungodly hour of the morning when my son suddenly announced he was about to be sick, whereupon he promptly threw up all over himself and then the sidewalk when he scrambled out of the car. I managed to clean him up, certain it was simply carsickness, and we arrived at the airport check-in.
It was then that our kids started to swing our large suitcase around until the handle snapped off completely, meaning that now my husband was lugging around an enormous, heavy suitcase by a side handle. To calm our frayed nerves, we bought coffee and muffins.
As we sat down waiting to board our flight, I reminded my son to watch out since my coffee was on the seat. Twice I said this. He ignored me, sat down, and knocked the coffee flying across me, my new handbag, and my new boots.
In that second, filled with frustration and tiredness and covered in hot milky coffee, I wished fervently to be child-free.
Recently on the question and answer website Quora, the question was asked, “What is it like to regret having children? Some people had kids and looking back wish they had never done it. What is that like?” and the responses have been viewed more than 400,000 times.
The first person to respond was Victoria, who admitted she married the first man that would have children with her and lived to regret it:
“[My husband] agreed to become a parent because he thought he could use our child to control my behavior. He didn’t want her and when she didn’t result in my undying devotion to him, he walked away from her. And now I was the mother of this tiny girl and whose great idea was that? I wasn’t cut out to be a mother.”
Victoria’s husband eventually joined the Navy and she went through many years of financial worry, adding:
“I’m sure there are plenty of people in this world who have children they suddenly can’t afford who never feel like having their children was a mistake. I felt like, and still feel like, I made a mistake. And to be clear, I LOVE my daughter and have referred to her as my magnum opus. If anything were to happen to her, I would be inconsolable. Forever. I would want to die with her if she died.”
But, despite and because of this all-consuming love, at her core Victoria feels tremendous guilt because she regrets becoming a parent.
It’s incredibly brave of this woman to admit this. Not everyone is born with maternal and paternal urges; not everyone wants to create a family. Somehow social expectation and spousal pressure result in many people becoming parents who, given the choice to do it all over again, wouldn’t.
I’m certain my father is one of them.
He and my mother separated a few weeks after their first wedding anniversary, and then several weeks later, my mom discovered she was pregnant and asked my dad if that changed anything. He replied, “No, I’d think about getting an abortion.” My mom refused and here I am.
My dad was an immature 26-year-old, not in any way ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood. Yes, I know he loves me — but does he regret having me? I’m sure he does. I wasn’t born into a happy, stable family; I was brought up by divorced and warring parents who frequently put their own needs before mine. Looking back, it’s probably because neither were ready to be parents and one of them didn’t even choose to have me in the first place.
On Quora a father writes about how he didn’t want to have kids and neither did his wife — until she hit 40 and changed her mind. The birth of his son sent him into a clinical depression and he writes, “I knew at a profound level that I Did Not Want This. It completely destroyed spontaneity and flexibility; everything needed planning, [because] our son, like all very small children, needed to be watched pretty much 24/7.”
While he writes that he is a good parent — he loves his son and wants him to have a good life — he goes on to say:
“I just wish that someone else would be actually enjoying the process of raising him, since on an objective and subjective level, my own life is just markedly less enjoyable since he came along. That’s simple honesty. The best analogy would be that, instead of being yourself, you’re enacting a script day in and day out … pretending to be enthusiastic about something you hate. It would wear you down. You’d long to break free of it and be yourself again.”
Being a parent is, in my mind, the most relentless, exhausting, and at-times tedious job one could ever have. No book or advice can ever prepare you for the birth of your first child. Your life does a complete 180 overnight. Loving your children but missing your old life are not mutually exclusive things. I wish people in general were more honest about the difficulties of parenthood — then we wouldn’t have to live up to some ridiculous expectation that parenthood defines us and is the very pinnacle of our happiness.
For my husband and I, raising our children in a town far away from the kids’ grandparents, aunts, and uncles has created unparalleled pressure; children are meant to be raised by a tribe, not by two full-time working parents. Before we cast judgment on others, we should remember that people who admit to regretting being parents are not monsters and they should not be vilified. They are simply saying their lives did not pan out like they expected. Parenthood does not fulfill them in a way that it does others. That is just being honest, like the father on Quora said.
Frequently I muse on the fact that you need a license to get a dog, but anyone can be a parent. Signing yourself up for the hardest job on the planet (albeit the most rewarding one) doesn’t automatically mean you will love it or be good at it. Isn’t it time that we showed compassion for those who struggle rather than wag our fingers?
After all, we’ve all felt this way … even if just for a second.