“Traditionally, regret has been viewed as the purview of the childless.”
So claims an article in Canadian classic Maclean’s.
What? I understand childless people are often threatened with regret, but they don’t tend to voice it themselves.
Whereas, any parent can tell you that none of us do it right. Everyone comes out on the other side wishing they had known or understood something better. That they’d had more money or perspective.
But author Anne Kingston says when mothers express regret it’s “taboo.”
“Unsurprisingly, women who express regret are called selfish, unnatural, abusive,”
Which dovetails nicely with some Feminist ideas but just isn’t true in my experience. And I’ve been making small talk on playgrounds for over 10 years.
She lists other authors and articles along the same lines, illustrating the supposed trend of mothers admitting regret at having kids, and the backlash.
Really, anyone with an average understanding of feminine roles could imagine that reluctant mothers would be dumped on by a society that judges them by their children.
But down in the trenches it just isn’t this way.
Sure, there are tons of Mommy Bloggers whose beautifully curated lives make us all feel like Marge Simpson. But only Sanctimommies tear down other moms.
Reddit alone has several places where you can find real talk about mothering.
BreakingMom (Which I was recently auto-banned from for participating in Gender Critical spaces) is nothing but moms railing against the insanity that is parenthood.
BabyBumps has a lot of nursery pics and cute baby stories, but also plenty of scary moments and moms asking for advice.
Yes, being a mom is fucking hard, sometimes in ways only other moms can understand. Sometimes we wish we were somewhere else. Sometimes we wonder what we might be doing if things were different.
Sometimes we even wish we had made different choices.
“Feeling trapped or suffocated is a common theme in Donath’s work; mothers felt “as if the metaphorical umbilical cord binding them to their children were in fact wrapped around their neck.” Many women said they felt pressured to have children.”
No shit. That’s what Patriarchy does.
Obviously, we need to talk about it. But framing this as a babe-in-the-woods ambush is insulting to everyone.
If you feel suffocated by your children, first try reevaluating your approach to parenting. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, and with so much coming at us all the time, we probably feel like we are not doing enough.
Yesterday I was walking out of the bank at noon and realized literally the only thing I had done for myself that day was use the bathroom!
There are only so many hours in a day, but childhood is long. Every moment is precious, but not crucial, if that makes sense.
I feel like I say no all the time, and I’m still swamped! It’s difficult to set boundaries but it’s better for everyone.
My trick has been to find a hobby no one else likes. The garden is on the sunny side of the house and involves using muscles and getting dirty. The only one who really wants to help is the toddler.
But all this takes some introspection. Because to admit regret is to admit complexity. Those of us who sit with our regrets are the type to consider things in depth.
French psychotherapist Corinne Maier is quoted sounding very French indeed, saying, “her two children left her “exhausted and bankrupt,” and she couldn’t wait for them to leave home.”
She was so upset about it she wrote a “manifesto.”
Kids are exhausting and expensive. We know this. If you decide that makes their existence a net loss for you, that’s a pretty harsh evaluation.
To say that you have regrets is different from saying you’d prefer something else. Saying I could have done better is not the same as saying I wish I hadn’t tried.
The impression I get is that some women want to be able to say, “In my perfect world, my kids wouldn’t exist,” and not get flack for it.
Which is why it’s all couched in this meta-analysis of the supposed blowback for normal maternal regret. If someone calls you a bad mother for admitting depth, she is the one with the problem.
And I just don’t see it on the ground.
If you are preoccupied with how much better your life could have been without your kids to the point you can’t wait to be rid of them, you may be the source of your own discontent.
Clicking around Maclean’s I found a counterpoint about the “collapse of parenting.” Cathy Gully quotes Vancouver psychologist Gordon Neufeld, “When parents realize that they are their children’s best bet, it challenges them to their own maturity.”
This really hits a nerve for me. I have felt myself chafe against the demands of parenthood many times. I have begun to learn what is a need calling out and what is my ego lashing out.
If you’re in charge of someone else’s life, you have to get your shit together.
“They become, in effect, the grown-ups their children need.“
Or, at least, step up to the challenge.
If you are more worried about all the stuff you could be doing than any of the rest of the multifaceted experience we call motherhood, I can’t say that you are a bad mother.
But it definitely makes you shallow.
And “regretting parenthood, not the children” is less like being against the war but not the soldiers, and more like having your cake and eating it, too.
“I love you, but I wish you weren’t here” is nonsensical and mean. And using Patriarchy as an excuse for your inability to build meaningful relationships is as offensive as it is sneaky.
Maternal regret is normal. And it does get talked about. But it’s not the same as wishing your kids away.
Women have enough trouble discussing our issues without malingerers muddying the waters. Unironically using the supposed sanctity of motherhood as a cover to avoid criticism for being a jerk is a big middle finger to struggling mothers everywhere.
Part of being a true friend is calling your friend on her bullshit. And honey, this is some bullshit. Patriarchy is not why no one wants to hear about why you don’t like your kids.