It’s safe to say that the majority of mothers have had fleeting thoughts as to whether they’re cut out for the parenting gig.
A long day alone with a sick baby. A toddler who is absolutely immovable in their desire not to wear pants. Just heading out for the millionth school run of the year can usher in resentment and the very real thought; Is this all there is?
Generally speaking, most mothers are able to move past these concerns. The good outweighs the bad and the challenges are negated by the positives. But for some women, these concerns and doubts don’t pass.
Motherhood regret and dissatisfaction
Motherhood regret is the topic of research sociologist and author Dr Orna Donath’s, new book ‘Regretting Motherhood‘. Dr Donath, who interviewed women who were united in their dissatisfaction of the motherhood experience, says it is likely to be a far more common phenomenon than we realise. “Often [the regret] boils down to two main reasons; the experience of responsibility that never ends – even as grandmothers – and the knowing feeling that motherhood doesn’t suit them,” she says.
We live in a society which tells women that bearing children is the ‘right’ thing to do. Floating against that status quo by not becoming mothers is still considered taboo. That taboo extends even further to the women who have children but realise, once they’ve become mothers, that parenthood really isn’t for them.
A different motherhood experience
Rhonda*, 44 and mother of an 11 year old, is one such mother. “”Most days I don’t feel like I’m parenting, but shifting gears; doing the bare minimum…so that I can say I’ve done my job,” she tells The Sydney Morning Herald. “Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of the constant demands, the damaged relationships or the loss of my freedom.” It’s an experience the Graphic Designer found shocking. Almost as shocking was the realisation that perhaps she’d made a terrible mistake in becoming a parent. “Some women aren’t cut out for it,” she says. “The unfortunate thing is that sometimes there’s just no way of knowing which way you’ll swing until you come home with a baby. And then it’s all too late, you’re trapped. And that’s exactly how I feel most days – trapped.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Corporate Lawyer and mother-of-two Leanne*. The ‘ultimate career woman’ found that motherhood brought her to her knees but not in the way she’d initially imagined. While the day-to-day aspects of parenting were tough, it was the loss of freedom and very real sense of regret that haunted Leanne.” Suddenly, here I was in this situation where I couldn’t run,” she says. “Instead of that grand rush of love everyone talks about, I became aware that I was no longer free, and that quite possibly I had ruined a life that had been pretty great.”
Sharing the load
Coming to terms with these feelings, let alone sharing them with a wider audience, is something that the majority of women who admit experiencing ‘motherhood regret’ struggle with. Many have explored counselling and medication to try and ‘fix’ their thinking. They have found however, that it’s not a fleeting issue nor one that can be bundled under the Post Natal Depression banner. It’s a real and ongoing sense of dissatisfaction and the uncomfortable knowledge of being different to the motherhood herd.
It’s most likely the reason why Facebook groups like ‘I Regret Having Children‘ and threads on forums like Mumsnet and Reddit end up with hundreds, if not thousands, of anonymous accounts and experiences. The cloak of anonymity allows mothers to share their own thoughts without fear of judgment.
Love and motherhood
What appears unanimous in the accounts from mothers who experience motherhood regret is that their love for their children is not absent. They care deeply about the little people they have created. Their feelings regarding their children are distinctly seperate from their feelings regarding being mothers.
Can motherhood regret be ‘cured’? It’s difficult to say. The sense of responsibility inherent with parenting never disappears. But as children grow older and their needs and wants lessen, some mothers find that they are able to reclaim a sense of their former self and the feeling of being trapped starts to diminish. Leanne* has found that, after 8 years of motherhood, she’s reached a point where she can say that she feels ok with parenting. “Today I can say my children are an absolute delight, but I don’t mind admitting it’s taken me many years and a lot of work on myself to get there,” she says. “While I still have days when I hate motherhood, it’s no longer every minute of every day. Some days are filled with pure joy.”
*Names have been changed