When you regret having children

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 Photo: Getty Images

On a good day, I love my son wholeheartedly, enjoy the luxury of being a stay-at-home mum, and can't get enough of spending time with him.

On a bad day, I don't always like him, feel stifled by staying at home and wonder if preschool has another day free.  

These feelings ebb and flow, and are, I daresay, totally normal. After all, it's hard to be 'on' all the time. Because of this, it's easy to look back on life pre-children with rose tinted glasses.

Life was easy then. There were far less responsibilities. There were no sleepless nights and there was no thinking of anyone other than me.

But does that mean I would change it? Does it mean I regret having my son? Personally, no.

Yet for some parents, regretting having children is a reality.

A few years ago, an article in the Daily Mail sparked controversy when Isabella Dutton went on record to say that she regretted having her children.

Dutton expressed that she had never felt maternal and "quite simply, had always hated the idea of motherhood".

"My son Stuart was five days old when the realisation hit me like a physical blow: having a child had been the biggest mistake of my life," she told the Mail.

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She then went on to describe her children rather unfavourably, saying "I resented the time my children consumed. Like parasites, they took from me and didn't give back."

There is no doubt that such a public admission tackled a very 'taboo' subject. Naturally, the response to the article was, for the most part, negative. Dutton was slammed for being selfish, mentally ill and, in some extreme cases, completely evil.

Yet, through the comments and responses to the article, which was shared over hundreds of websites, there also came a smattering of appreciation and respect for Dutton.

Through the anonymity of the internet, women expressed a collective sigh of relief that they were not alone in feeling like this about parenthood. They related to Dutton's feelings and it became apparent on forums that many women had only had children because they didn't want to regret not having them.

Given the focus on this in today's society, this comes as no surprise. News stories and social media constantly tap into the psyche of women regaling the perils of waiting too late to have children and what you will miss out on if you don't have children at all.

But for some women, having children can be detrimental to other areas of their life. Some feel that the sacrifices they have made – whether from a career or personal perspective – were just not worth it, and this is when resentment and regret creep in.

Of course, getting anyone to directly admit that they regret having children is not easy. Yet, there is an underlying sea of anonymous confessions of regret floating around the internet.

You only have to look as far as websites such as Truu Confessions, The "I Wish I'd Never Had Children" page on Experience Project, and the "I Regret Having Children" Facebook group, to name a few.

Even on the Essential Baby forum, mums have shared their regrets. "I had no idea how much my life would change … Being a parent is turning me into a person I don't particularly like. I am constantly worried how my parenting is going to be remembered by my children when they are olde," wrote one mum.

"I especially regret having my youngest," another wrote. "Every day I fantasize about my life before I had my second child."

Amongst the most common reasons for regret are loss of identity, lack of freedom, career sacrifice, relationship issues and enforced selflessness. Many wish they had waited or had timed their families differently.

So why is there such a taboo around admitting that we regret having children?

According to psychotherapist and parenting expert Dr Karen Phillip, our fear of judgment is what stops us from talking openly about this topic.

"If we hear a parent, particularly a mother, express regret for having their child, this is never likely to be accepted well by society, especially considering the numbers of couples trying so hard to conceive," she says.

"Parents feel ashamed of their feelings and worry that others may believe they do not love their children."

Because of this, Phillip is not an advocate for it being an open topic for discussion, but rather one to be discussed with a professional confidentially. She also says that it's important to distinguish between feelings of true regret and fleeting regret.

"There are many parents who have times of regret, especially if the child is behaving in a challenging way," she explains. "Then the child smiles at you, cuddles you or tells you they love you, and your feelings of regret can simply dissolve."

For parents who have these ongoing feelings, Phillip recommends talking to a counsellor.

"Being able to opening speak and understand your feelings is the first step to healing, as any parent feeling these emotions can feel sick and confused," she says.

"Problems only arise if these feelings of regret escalate or remain. If the couple is happy, secure and safe, then a child should enhance these feelings, not detract."

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