I read an interesting but heartbreaking article about the growing number of women speaking out about regretting that they ever had children. The article claimed that feelings of regret surged after the Pill made motherhood a choice rather than just an inevitable season of married life and also highlighted the stories of several women who have experienced regret over having become mothers.
It’s easy to malign women when they express regret over motherhood. “How can she say that?!” we think. But while one’s first gut reaction might be horror, after reading the stories in this article I noticed something that made me really sad for these women.
The first woman for instance had a marriage dissolve after her spouse was unengaged and unhelpful as a parent. As a single mom she was overwhelmed by extracurriculars and sports for her young son and although hating the demands of this schedule felt that she had no choice but to keep her son in all these activities.
If she didn’t keep taxi-ing him from activity to activity she feared he would be left out of what “everybody” else was doing. She felt trapped and miserable. And you know what? That sounds hard. And lonely. But she expressed deep love for her child.
I wonder if what she regretted was the understandable difficulty of her situation, not the existence of her son. She regretted having to raise him alone. She regretted the lack of support and the overwhelming expectations of modern motherhood.
So is it the difficulties of life and the model of parenthood our culture has embraced that’s causing the regret? I think it might be. Having small humans depending on you is never a walk in the park. But why have we made motherhood so horribly difficult? It’s as if by making motherhood a choice through contraception we’ve completely altered the expectations of parenthood.
If you CHOOSE to have a child, you must be prepared to offer the best of all things to them and every second of your time and energy. If you don’t, you’re told you’re a bad parent. Motherhood is longer a natural season of life that communities support parents to navigate. YOU choose this. YOU handle it. And do it perfectly OR ELSE.
I just wanted to hug this mom and tell her that if sports every night is making her completely miserable and maxed out, it’s OKAY for her 5yo to NOT do it anymore. You can make choices about what you want your life to look like! “Everybody” else is not doing sports every night, even if it feels that way. Find new friends who won’t judge you for not having your kids in activities every waking hour! Those people are out there.
Love your kids to death, but watch out for your own wellbeing, too. You are part of a family, not a slave. While certain seasons of motherhood are just going to be overwhelming by nature (having 3 kids 4 and under was, admittedly, not my favorite season as a mom, for example) you should be allowed to experience joy.
You should be able to choose what will make your whole family thrive, even if that means little Huntington doesn’t get to do the traveling soccer team this year. I mean, maybe if you torture yourself with nightly practices and weekend games, he’s a shoo in for the World Cup. But I doubt it. And letting go of some of those unnecessary stressors will gain him a mother who can enjoy life again.
So give your kids the very best of yourself. But just say no to what everybody else seems to be doing if it’s making you completely miserable. You have the power to create the family model that will help ALL of your family to thrive. If those dance competitions are ruining your life, you get to decide it’s simply not a sacrifice that’s worth it to your family in this season.
Motherhood always requires us to lay down our lives for our children, but it doesn’t have to mean that unreasonable expectations need to trample us to death.
Photo by Matt Hoffman
This is really amazing!! What you shared about how since you “chose” to have a child, you are now obligated to give them the “best” of everything – I never really considered it in those terms before and that is SO profound!!
Yes! Loved this post!
I agree. I have been thinking a lot lately about how quickly sports can become dictators. Sports are great. But I am going to be that backwoods parent who lets their kid get bored sometimes *gasp*.
I read the article and found it interesting. I think that perhaps mothers don’t feel supported enough and that no one really acknowledges how hard parenting is (the celebrities glamorize it so much). I do think too many activities can be a problem, but I think the main thing is that moms in particular feel like they have to do so much of the work themselves with little help from others, especially if their spouses don’t help enough or if they don’t have family nearby. I know that I feel this way all the time. I do have family close by and my husband does help a lot, but I still feel like so much of the childrearing and taking care of the home fall to me, and it is just too much for me to handle by myself. I frequently feel burned out and exhausted (I also have 4 kids under 6 which is hard in itself). I do think that moms feel like if they choose to have kids then they are responsible for everything and feel like they aren’t allowed to ask for help. Maybe our communities need to be more supportive of mothers (and fathers) and go back to the village mentality when it comes to raising children.
Margaret Sky says
I wrote a similar comment, then went back and saw yours! Yes, community! It really does take a village. I often struggle being home alone with just two littles.
Thank you for this! I sit around a lot of moms at work and what I feel more often than anything else when I hear them talk about their families is sad. Everyone seems constantly overwhelmed, flustered, disconnected, and close to despair. The root issue always seems to be these choices they’re making that are totally in-line with our society’s “norm” – they really mean to be doing the best. On the other hand, I know so many thriving, beautiful, joyful (mostly – real life has suffering no matter what) families, and they all seem to have one thread in common – they don’t really care what’s the “norm”, they put each other first. I pray a lot for these moms I hear every day, because I hate the joy and peace they seem to be missing in the gift of family.
I have to admit I started scrolling halfway through the article so maybe this was addressed, but I wonder if that regret changes as women age. When you are exhausted from spending all day managing a screaming toddler or a surly teen, it doesn’t surprise me that many moms would think “what have I done?!?!”
Yes, that is something that we should be talking more about. Sometimes I don’t like motherhood. It’s freakin’ hard. But I know those feelings are fleeting. In the worst of moments, even in deep regret, what the women in the article don’t seem to have is “His mercies are made new every morning.” I have HOPE because God is my Father and I know He will work all things out for the good of those who love him. He will help me and things will get better.
I like that mothers are talking more openly about struggles in mainstream media nowadays, but I worry that it’s being used as a tool to create fear around parenting. “I regret my child, and you might, too, so consider just not having any to avoid the hard feelings.”
I once heard someone say “Marriage isn’t really that hard. Not really. LIVING is hard.” And I feel like there is a connection with this topic. If my husband and I could just go on dates every night, have plenty of sex with no consequences, and money to burn, I think I would enjoy marriage a lot more. Wouldn’t we all? It seems to me that what’s hard is….life itself! Finances, chores, blah blah blah.
We’ve become so focused on being happy and taking the path of least resistance that we have forgotten how to be content and joyful in the moment, even in the work.
I completely agree. Often when family life has me worn down and I question some of our choices my husband reminds me that Gods will isn’t necessarily for our lives to be as simple and easy as they can possibly be. So often I get caught thinking that if I were doing things right, then life would be simpler and easier. It’s just not!
Mom of Six says
I’ve met a lot of middle-aged and older women who have said they wished they had been able to have more children, so I’m glad I took the opportunity God granted me to have children while still able. I do sometimes struggle with feeling like I should be out and about doing more, meeting with other moms and so forth. Good reminder that it’s ok to cut back activities to a level that is sane and responsible when you have children to care for. 🙂
Margaret Sky says
I have a toddler and a 3-month-old right now and I just went back to work (very part-time, thanks goodness). During the early days of my maternity leave, I remember thinking, “how do moms do this? How is it that so many moms throughout time and in all the world can handle doing this all by themselves?” I adore my kids like crazy; it was just a really hard season for a while there.
But then it occurred to me, throughout much of history, and in many parts of the world, moms aren’t and weren’t doing it all by themselves. They had their sisters, moms, cousins, in-laws, etc. there with them, helping out and all making it work together. Although that is not my life right now, it did make me feel a little better… that it’s okay if it feels really hard to me. (Fortunately, the most difficult part of that season seems to be over now). And it speaks to the importance of community and support for mothers!
I read that article and had many of the same thoughts you expressed. When I read the quotes from the women, I thought to myself “these women don’t regret their children. They are just super overwhelmed.” To me, articles like that seem to exist to give society one more way to judge women and moms!
I very much empathized with the women in the article. I am currently in a season of life that is very trying and I feel completely drained and tired of parenting pretty much every day. And honestly, the shift happened after our 4th child was born. But I don’t regret having him or regret him! I wish that I could somehow get on top of feeling so spent. My kids don’t even participate in many activities (I’m that mom telling all of my friends they need to chill out on the commitments and they are the ones giving me the side eye). My four are spread out over almost 9 years and while having the older kids can be helpful, I feel like I’ve been parenting littles fooooooorrrrever!
Amy @The Salt Stories says
Hey Haley!! I read this article when you shared it a while back and had the exact same reaction. It sounds like the women regretted the way they lived out motherhood, not motherhood itself.
The question I am still working through is how I can be a part of reframing this for the women around me. I am sure the answer lies at the intersection of my example, encouragement, and friendship.
So much yes but also our culture’s abhorrence of being a burden/needing [to ask for] help.
And yes, this too comes back to the idea that once we made having children a choice we lost the ability to have other choices. If we choose not to contracept how can we enforce the result of that decision on others? If we choose to have a child, how can we then choose our own needs? abortion culture, contraception culture, has perverted sacrificial love—rather than a daily and mutual dying to self in little ways, we are taught that either the child must die for real or the mother must sacrifice her complete self for the child that she chose because it is better to make the “problem” go away than admit you need something.
No, that’s really not it at all. I regret that I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I regret that I never got a chance to really want my kids because they came before I was ready. I regret that I can see them struggling, know what they need is more of my time, and yet not be able to supply that.
I am pretty sure that taking away the choice doesn’t lead to fewer regrets. But it does lead to an atmosphere where there’s massive pressure not to admit you’re unhappy or have regrets.