A Marie Claire piece published last week presented readers with one of society’s biggest taboos: parents who regret having their kids. One woman in the article describes motherhood as a “life-altering mistake” and a “middle-class prison.” The mostly career-oriented interviewees resent that changing diapers has kept them from writing books and describe themselves as “not mother material.” Facebook groups with names such as “I Regret Having Children” and books such as The Mother Bliss Lie: Regretting Motherhood prove these women are not alone.
As you can imagine, the article has proved controversial. You’re probably feeling a little worked up yourself. Some commenters have absurdly equated the motherly regret to “child abuse,” according to Marie Claire.
More reasonably, many have called the perspective “extreme” – sure, the first five years of parenting are harried but after that you’ve only got yourself to blame for a sub par career.
Of course, most mothers don’t wholeheartedly wish they never had children (sleeping in is cool but you know, so is raising an actual human). But talking about the ones who do helps dispel the myth that every woman should find satisfaction in raising kids.
The decision about whether to spawn or not won’t truly feel like a choice until there’s no longer a taboo against women who don’t want to be moms.
So long as we consider the childless life an inferior one, not raising a family will always feel more like rebellion than an acceptable choice.
Fewer millennials are looking to motherhood for fulfillment. Last year, the number of births in the U.S. hit a record low and a 2012 survey from the University of Pennsylvania found that in a 20-year span, the number of students who planned to have children dropped from 78 to 42 per cent. Yet cultural attitudes haven’t caught up with reality.
The dominant belief is that children make people happier, despite the conflicting scientific data. There’s always that relative – or, depending on your heritage, every single relative – who elbow you during the holidays and asks, “So, when can we expect a little bundle of joy?” If you’re not yet married, the elbow nudges multiply.
Pop culture doesn’t offer much inspiration either. Though there are many celebrities without kids, very few of them speak out about the benefits of a childless life. That’s why it was subversive when the comedian Chelsea Handler released a series of PSAs titled “Kids. They’re not that great,” featuring her sleeping in past 1 p.m. and smoking pot in her pyjamas.
It’s important to talk more about women who live happily without kids and acknowledge the hard reality that some mothers feel baby regret. So long as we consider the childless life an inferior one, not raising a family will always feel more like rebellion than an acceptable choice.
Now in our 30s, my friends and I think constantly about whether we want
to have babies (it’s important since our fertility apparently turns to dust at 35.) Some of us work so much we can barely keep a houseplant alive (that’s me). A few spend more time on dating apps such as Tinder than thinking of motherhood. Others have prioritized travelling over steady jobs, savings and stable housing, the basic building blocks of family life.
We all struggle with the tension between wanting family holidays in our 60s and keeping our diaper-less freedom now. But in addition to that inner conflict, even considering a life without kids feels like some sort of personal defect. The decision would be less burdensome if staying child-free wasn’t still considered selfish and short-sighted by many.
Women should choose motherhood because they want kids, not because of societal pressure. The horrible reality that some parents regret having children proves our expectations need to change. We’ve come a long way from a time when being childless made you a witch. But motherhood won’t be a true choice until we recognize that a life without kids has equal value.
*This post previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen