“Deep down I just knew I’d made a terrible mistake and that I should never have become a mum.”
This is something most women would never admit. Even if they did feel this way. But several brave mums have stood up and shared just what it feels like to regret having children.
Many mums have a slight pang of motherhood regret every once in a while, especially when our kids are acting out or when we’re stuck at home with a teething infant or tricky toddler. But this thought doesn’t last. Usually, by the time they are safe and snug in bed, we are stroking their hair and counting our blessings.
But for other mums, this feeling of regret is constant. It’s relentless, time-consuming and awful to say the least. It’s more than postnatal depression, more than just parental burnout. As Israeli sociologist and author of Regretting Motherhood, Orna Donath explains, it’s “the wish to undo motherhood”.
As one mum explains,
Some women aren’t cut out for [motherhood], and 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.”
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“My heart isn’t in any of this.”
“Most days I don’t feel like I’m parenting, but shifting gears; doing the bare minimum to get my daughter to and from where she needs to be so that I can say I’ve done my job. It’s both the least I can do and the most I can do. My heart isn’t in any of this.
My daughter is 11 now and some days I feel like she’s onto me. She has a way of looking at me like she can see straight into my soul and I’m terrified I’m damaging her. I wish I could tell her it’s not that I don’t love her – I love her immensely and I’m so, so proud of the person she’s growing up to be – but it’s motherhood with all of its limitations that I struggle with.
I wish I could tell her that I’m just as surprised as she is and that I went into this with the best of intentions. But mostly, I think I would tell her that I’m sorry and that I would have wished better for her.”
“I dream of the day they’re older so I can go back to being me.”
“Sometimes, when I’m doing the school run or making dinner, I daydream about what my life could have been had I not had children so young. Would I have travelled? What kind of heights could I have reached in my career? But most of all, I wonder if I would be happier.
It’s easy to focus on all the things you’re missing out on – sometimes I can’t help myself. I think about the jobs I can’t go for because I’m currently limited in what I can do, and the friendships that have fallen by the wayside.
I know I shouldn’t wish my children’s childhood away but I dream of the day they’re older and have more independence so that I can stop being just a mum 24/7 and go back to being me.”
“Motherhood was just something everyone was expected to do.”
“I went into motherhood without thinking too much about how much I wanted it personally, only that it was just something everyone was expected to do. I hadn’t been around babies before and had no idea what I was doing, so the sense of shock when I first held my daughter was overwhelming.
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.”
“It just looked like a huge responsibility.”
Everyone speaks of having this child handed to them, and this wild fabulous love that runs through them. I didn’t get any of that. It just looked like a huge responsibility.
I didn’t seem to have a capacity to be that lovely kind, warm, cuddly sort of mum. I wanted to be back at work, I wanted to continue with my career, the business that I was building, and this was just a great big added extra.”
Mum regret could be more common than we think
These are only four of the countless stories involving motherhood regret. For every story told, there are hundreds of stories left unspoken. Felt inside but not discussed, because it’s not something anyone wants to admit in public.
According to a 2016 German survey by YouGov, 8% of 1,200 participants said they regretted becoming parents. But the real number could be a lot higher. It is impossible to know how many women feel this way because so few speak openly about it.
One look at the Facebook page, I Regret Having Children, and we see just how common these thoughts are.
Why do we regret having children?
According to Orna Donath:
“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.”
Other factors include:
The intense lifestyle change – No one can really prepare you for it either. Many mums will miss their care-free lifestyles and feel resentment towards this new addition that requires A LOT of attention. Life is no longer easy and sometimes mums wish they could reset the clock and return to those kid-free days.
The lack of support can leave mums overwhelmed and alone – Kids are constant and if you don’t have someone to lend a hand, it can be exhausting.
Expectation vs reality is SOOO different – Many mums have a beautiful notion of motherhood implanted in their minds. When this notion doesn’t quite pan out, it can lead to motherhood regret.
The pressure to be a good parent is too much – Society expects a lot from mums which can make it feel like we’re failing at being parents, even when we’re not.
What to do if you suspect motherhood regret
Please, understand that you are not alone. It is also not something to be ashamed of. The best call of action is to speak to a GP who may refer you to a therapist to talk to.