Mandatory parenthood is a trap that can turn out to be hard to avoid for a person who doesn’t want children. In my opinion, if somebody doubts about whether they want children, it is safer to stay childfree, because regretting not having a child is better than regretting being a parent. If you wanted a child but don’t have one, that’s certainly sad, but you can still find other meaningful activities that can make your life happy and fulfilling. If you didn’t want a child but ended up being forced to play the role of a parent against your will, then that’s tragic, because every child deserves a happy childhood and loving parents.
Conservative people like to pretend that every single parent is happy to have children, that parenthood regrets are not real. Unfortunately, that is a wrong assumption—some parents regret having had children. In our society we have what could be called “a cult of motherhood.” It is taken for granted that children make their parents’ lives complete. It is taken for granted that everybody enjoys spending their time with children. The society thinks that there must be something horribly wrong with a mother (and to a slightly lesser extent—also a father) who expresses dissatisfaction with parenthood. Yet all of these assumptions are factually incorrect, because for some people staying childfree is the right thing to do.
Mandatory parenthood is a trap. Young people are indoctrinated that everybody must have children, that being a parent is the greatest joy in life. “All people want children,” states the society. “Everybody enjoys being a parent,” they say. “Without children, your life will be meaningless, empty, and unhappy,” they repeat over and over. If some young person dares to say that they don’t like taking care of children, they are vilified as coldhearted and evil. If some person says that they have the wrong personality for being a parent, they are encouraged to have children anyway, because “everybody has to have children.”
Mandatory parenthood is a trap. Religious authorities condemn the use of contraceptives. Sex education in schools is often insufficient or factually incorrect with an emphasis on abstinence-only policies. But fine, many young adults do learn about contraceptives from their Google searches. Unfortunately, getting access to contraceptives is often not that simple. Are you poor? Good luck paying for doctors’ appointments and pricey birth control. Are you living in a religious country? Good luck finding a doctor who will give you a prescription for contraceptives or perform the sterilization procedure you requested.
Mandatory parenthood is a trap. There exists scientific evidence that contraceptives are not 100% effective. Countless people get pregnant despite having used birth control. But, no, abortions are wrong, because, err, God said so. The moment a person even starts thinking about getting an abortion, they are vilified and threatened with punishments in the afterlife.
Mandatory parenthood is a trap. After having become parents and realizing that taking care for a child is incompatible with their personalities and goals in life, people are still discouraged from giving their infants up for adoption. “Just wait longer. You will get used to your new life, you will start to enjoy it soon,” they say. And then comes the point when the child is so old that an adoption would be emotionally traumatizing for them. It is too late, the reluctant parent is truly stuck with the burden they never wanted in the first place. They are trapped for the rest of their life.
The society forced you towards mandatory parenthood at every step. Now that you are a parent, the society will support you and help with your struggles? Yeah right, keep dreaming. Now that you are a parent, you are on your own, and the child is only your responsibility. After all, you did make a choice to become a parent. You want affordable kindergartens? Free healthcare and education for children? Paid parental leave? As if. That would be “socialism,” and for some odd reason “socialism” is bad.
Do you feel emotionally drained and perpetually tired due to having so much work, so little free time, and not enough money to make ends meet? Do you think that the few happy moments with your child aren’t worth the perpetual struggle to stay afloat? Stop complaining. Do you wish you were childfree? How dare you! Only absolutely evil and monstrous people regret having become parents.
This is the kind of society we live in. And that is horrible.
How it Feels to Regret Having Become a Parent
Here are some stories from parents who regret having had children:
Laura once believed that she wanted to be a mother. She had little direct experience with children—no siblings young enough to need tending to, no babysitting jobs—and when she and her husband decided to start a family, she wondered if she knew enough about what that meant. “I asked some friends if we could get the basics from them and they ran us through the general infant care stuff in maybe 45 minutes,” she says. “In retrospect, it was laughably insufficient. I really didn’t know what I was in for.”….
“The regret hit me when the grandmas went home and my husband went back to the office and I was on my own with him,” she says. “I realized that this was my life now—and it was unbearable.”
As more time passed, Laura felt convinced that she had made a life-altering mistake. “I hated, hated, hated the situation I found myself in,” she says. “I think the word for what I felt is ‘trapped.’ After I had a kid, I realized I hated being the mother to an infant, but by then it was too late. I couldn’t walk away and still live with myself, but I also couldn’t stand it. I felt like my life was basically a middle-class prison.”
“I wonder if my accomplishments would be more spectacular,” says Ananya, a 38-year-old freelance writer and editor who divides her time between the United States and Singapore. “Would I have written my second or third book? Would I be able to travel to chase that elusive story? I feel motherhood has slowed me down so much.” She envies friends not for their spontaneous vacations and naps, but for the time and space they have to think. “I hold a lot of data in my head,” Ananya says of constantly keeping on top of all the details that go with small children: doctor’s appointments, weight, height, most recent allergies, toys they want, foods they will eat. “I long for a life without this mental clutter,” she explains.
Carrie, an American living in Mexico, married when she was 22 and got pregnant while on the pill. “I was devastated,” she says. Talking about that time, and how it felt, is still hard today. “I wanted university, travel, and more of my own life before a child entered it.” Carrie was pressured by her mother-in-law, among other family, to keep the baby, despite her desire for an abortion and then, later, adoption. “I was surrounded by people who adamantly opposed my choices, so in some way I felt I had no choice at all.” Carrie and her husband split up soon after she gave birth, leaving her to raise their daughter alone. Suddenly she was the sole provider for a child she never actually wanted in the first place.
Carrie describes her early motherhood as selfish and resentful, full of an acute sense of sacrifice. “I like to say I tried my best, but the truth is I didn’t,” she admits. “My daughter was left to raise herself in many ways. I’ve always said that she succeeded not because of me but in spite of me.”
Now 46 and the mother of a 22-year-old herself, Carrie reflects on her path with searing clarity. “I don’t regret her, I regret the fact that I never should have been a mother at all,” she says. Time and therapy have helped, but she’s still fixated on what could have been. “I see her growing, exploring, taking off on a whim. I can’t help but think she’s living my life.” [Source.]
One father posts: “I have an almost five-year-old girl. She is amazing. I spent her first four years regretting having her. Seeing all my single friends, or married friends without children, made me jealous. It’s like I died and lost my previous life. I entered a new life with much less joy, sex, sleep, FUN…”
“The reality of motherhood,” she writes, “is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfilment.”… My message to mothers out there is: you are allowed to think such a thing as regretting motherhood and loving your child.”
“I had a very romantic notion of being a mother: that I’d love going to the playground, that I would be always loving and understanding.” Rose pauses, then groans. “I hate playgrounds. I find it extremely boring to stand there and watch the child on a swing and the helicopter mothers making sure their kids don’t fall off.”
A customer-relations manager who is passionate about her job, Rose realised too late some essential truths about herself. “I am an extremely independent person and parenting is lonely. I find it very tiring. I am extremely impatient. I want to live at my own pace. Coming home from work late at night, the children still awake and hyper, or wanting to cuddle. The volume of noise, the children fighting – I had never thought about it. Nobody tells you.” Her theory is that older generations of mothers have repressed all their negative parenting experiences “just to survive”. [Source.]
I have a childless friend who writes bestselling chick-lit novels and runs a media empire. I follow her compulsively on Instagram; while my jealousy grows with every unfiltered photo, I can’t stop scrolling. She’s still as skinny as she was when we were at university, and hot damn she looks good in leather pants. I’m just happy if the sweats I bought at the grocery store are clean enough to get me through another day. While she’s sipping sparkling wine as she jets from London to New York, I’m downing tepid coffee as I drive my kids to ballet and swimming lessons. Early-morning yoga class and getting an immaculate half-moon manicure? For me, being able to go to the washroom all by myself is a treat.
There are times, like when I look at her life and then at my own, that I find myself regretting motherhood. And that makes me feel like a very shitty person indeed.
But before someone ties me to a stake and sets me aflame, I need to make that necessary qualifying statement we must all use when complaining about our lot: I love my children. The deep, burning love I feel for them eclipses everything I have ever felt for anyone, and the love they give back makes me incredibly happy…
I am not a monster. In fact, I think I’m a kick-ass mom. But what I’m struggling with is that it feels like their amazing life comes at the expense of my own. It’s a 45-minute drive to town for all the lessons they take, and managing the minutiae of their lives is all-consuming. By the time I get them into bed, I’m exhausted, but then there’s laundry to do and lunches to pack. I’ll maybe watch half an hour of TV before stumbling into bed, only to be woken at 4 a.m. by the baby—and the slog starts all over again.
Far too often there is nothing left for me. Nothing. And that feeling of utter depletion is so frustrating, so overwhelming, I find myself sobbing late at night in the bathtub or when I’m out walking the dogs—pretty much the only times I have for myself in this life I wanted so badly and now find myself trapped in…
How happy do we have a right to be? There are times when I feel as though motherhood has sucked all the life from me, destroying every shred of potential, leaving me a dried husk of what I could have been. I have no time for anything, and on the rare occasion I do get a few hours to myself, I don’t feel particularly creative. I can’t help but wonder: If I hadn’t had children, or if I had stopped at one, would I have become a bestselling author by now? Would I have created something important and beautiful?
Whenever I’ve complained about being too tired or busy to write a novel, there’s someone ready to remind me that J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book when she was a single mom waiting tables. That never fails to make me feel like an even bigger loser. I’m so exhausted, I can’t even come up with a brilliant comeback, let alone a complex narrative with compelling characters! [Source.]
I’m a mother of two. They are both still young. Two boys. Rambunctious, loud, happy. But I wish I had never had them.
Commence the “you’re a horrible, selfish person” narrative. In fact, the rhetoric of guilt is exactly what kept me in denial for so long. The idea that I should want to be a mother has been shoved down my throat since I was a child. And the conflict of loving my children, and wishing I didn’t have any, tears at my very existence every day.
Having recently published research exposing the rhetorical differences in male and female sterilization counseling, which investigated the tactics and ideology surrounding issues of female reproductive justice, one of my findings was that women are often told they will regret not having children. They are told they will feel empty and unfulfilled. Women without children are called selfish, barren, spinsters … the list goes on. If a woman is unmarried and doesn’t have children, we wonder, what’s wrong with her? Isn’t she lonely? Isn’t her biological clock ticking? She’d make a good Hallmark movie.
And in the doctor’s office, a woman who asks about sterilization is steered away from it. She’s offered a myriad of other choices that will not end her reproductive abilities. And there, too, she is told she may regret her decision to not have children.
But no one mentions you might regret having them.
No doctor ever says you might regret having children. You may regret it because they are physically, emotionally and financially taxing. They make it difficult to save money. They make it difficult to travel. They make it difficult to vacation. They make it difficult to have intimacy with your partner. They make it difficult to go grocery shopping. [Source.]
I’ve never been someone who’s good with kids… and I’m still not. My child is six now and I still find it hard to relate to him and his friends. A whole lot of the time, I just don’t like being a mother, and I generally don’t fit well into this role. I feel like an outcast among all the school mums who are so actively involved. Anonymous, Cologne.
It is difficult to say I regret having children because I love them. But, on balance, if I could turn back the clock and tell myself what it is like, I’m not sure I’d bother having any. It’s only “wonderful” a very small proportion of the time. Without them I’d have money, freedom and far less worry. Mary, Edinburgh.
Having been brought up in a broken home, I had always dreamed of a large family. I have been blessed with a wonderful husband and three (I’m stuck for the right adjective) children. But never before has the expression “be careful what you wish for” been so poignant. As I write this my daughter is hanging around my neck. I can’t even go to the bathroom without hearing screaming and fighting and the word “mamma” screeching through my “loving” home. Christmas is coming and instead of feeling excitement, I feel like getting on a plane with my husband and going anywhere at all with a one-way ticket. Just to get to know him again. We’re too exhausted to even laugh these days. And as I’m writing this I’m feeling guilty because I should be grateful. I should be adding some grateful phrase like “it’s hard but worth it”. But I can’t. Because I don’t know if it is. Andrea, Italy. [Source.]
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.
Even now, 33 years on, I can still picture the scene: Stuart was asleep in his crib. He was due to be fed but hadn’t yet woken.
I heard him stir but as I looked at his round face on the brink of wakefulness, I felt no bond. No warm rush of maternal affection.
I felt completely detached from this alien being who had encroached upon my settled married life and changed it, irrevocably, for the worse….
Quite simply, I had always hated the idea of motherhood. In that instant, any lingering hope that becoming a mum would cure me of my antipathy was dispelled…
Still, I wished no harm on Stuart and invested every ounce of my energy in caring for him. Even so, I know my life would have been much happier and more fulfilled without children.
Two years and four months after Stuart was born, I had my daughter Jo. It may seem perverse that I had a second child in view of my aversion to them, but I believe it is utterly selfish to have an only one.
I felt precisely the same indifference towards her as I had to Stuart, but I knew I would care for Jo to the best of my ability, and love her as I’d grown to love him.
Yet I dreaded her dependence; resented the time she would consume, and that like parasites, both my children would continue to take from me and give nothing meaningful back in return.
Whenever I’ve told friends I wished I’d never had them, they’ve gasped with shock. ‘You can’t mean that?’ But, of course, I do.
To some, my life before I had the children may have seemed humdrum and my job as a typist was, it’s true, not much of a career. So what was the great sacrifice, you might think?
What I valued most in my life was time on my own; to reflect, read and enjoy my own company and peace of mind. And suddenly that peace and solitude wasn’t there any more. There were two small interlopers intruding on it. And I’ve never got that peace back…
I know there are millions who will consider me heinously cold-blooded and unnatural, but I believe there will also be those who secretly feel the same.
It’s just that I have been honest – some may contend brutally so – and admitted to my true feelings. In doing so I have broken a supposedly inviolable law of nature. What kind of mother, after all, wishes she hadn’t had children? [Source.]
As you might imagine, responses to articles about people who regret having become parents are horrible.
Here are the first few comments from the last article I linked:
What an utterly miserable, cold-hearted and selfish woman! Unbelievable, and I too feel so sorry for her children who no doubt could have read this article, just think how devastated they would be, especially to see this in print for the public to read as well!! Truly awful, and terribly sad.
It is fair enough to feel that way however if your children are still alive do you not think it would be the DECENT thing to keep this to yourself? Or do you think that your kids will be happy to read you wish they never existed? This is horrible. Some things are better left unsaid and definitely unpublished in a national newspaper for the world to see.
I get it: You are extremely selfish. She should have found a man that did not want kids and lived accordingly… What a vapid woman. There are so many women in this world dealing with infertility. They are so heart broken and pray for a child.
Probably the most disgusting article I’ve ever read. You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself for the impact you have had, and are now probably having, on your children.
Her view of children being parasites indicates this woman is a very selfish me, me, me oh and did I forget ME type of person. If t doesnt involve something to please her then she hates it.. Children are great and yes they are a lot of work at times but worth every second of my time and energy.
Parenthood regrets are a sensitive topic, and people should be careful about how they talk about it. There are also situations where it would be better to have these conversations anonymously. For example, telling your five years old child, “I wish you didn’t exist,” would be a terrible idea, because that could cause an emotional trauma. Telling your 20 years old child, “I do love you, but parenting was hard, and I feel that I would have been happier without children,” is reasonable. Adults should be mature enough to comprehend that people can have complex and contradictory feelings about something. They should also understand that it is unreasonable to demand absolute and unconditional devotion from your parent, because parents also have their own lives and needs. They are people, not machines designed for the sole purpose of baby rearing.
Selfishness is an interesting accusation. Firstly, a selfish person wouldn’t spend decades of their life feeling miserable while taking care of a child they don’t enjoy having. Orphanages do exist. Secondly, we live on a planet with limited resources and billions of people. And this planet is edging towards a climate disaster. People who talk about how their child is the greatest source of joy in their lives didn’t choose to create a child for selfless reasons, you know. They chose to create a new human being in order to make their own life happier and more fulfilling. Wanting to pursue personal happiness is normal. But accusing other people for pursuing personal happiness when you are also pursuing the same goal (albeit with different methods) is hypocritical.
And, of course, for some people having a child is worth it. But that’s only because they enjoy being parents, they perceive their time spent with children as pleasant. It’s a fact that people have different personalities and therefore they also enjoy different pastimes. For a person who doesn’t enjoy the process of parenting, having a child is not worth the effort it takes to raise one.
Ultimately, some people imagine that their own fertility problems give them a right to abuse people like me who don’t want children. This is wrong. Your own personal struggles don’t give you a right to act like an asshole. For example, while saving money for my sterilization surgery, I didn’t go to websites frequented by infertile people who want children only to shout abusive insults at them about how I envy them for being able to remain childfree without having to spend so much money on an expensive surgery that is hard to obtain. Of course I wish I were naturally infertile. But this doesn’t give me a right to abuse people who are infertile.
I hope that by this point I have convinced you that parenthood regrets and real and terribly sad. The society should try to decrease the number of such tragedies. Our goal as a society should be to make sure that all children are wanted and loved. After all, each child deserves a happy childhood and loving parents who can provide their emotional needs. Here are some solutions I would like to suggest:
1. The society should have honest discussions about parenting. A person who considers having a child ought to have realistic ideas about what to expect. Young people shouldn’t be told that parenting is all roses and infinite joy. Having a child should be a well considered decision. People should not choose parenthood only because that’s what many other people do or because intentionally childfree people get shamed and harassed for being “coldhearted.”
If you are a happy parent who believes that it was all worth it, it is fine to talk about how playing with your child is fun. But you shouldn’t skip mentioning the less pleasant aspects of parenting, like getting up in the middle of the night, because a child is screaming, having little free time for hobbies, having less income and more expenses, etc.
People should also acknowledge that parenting isn’t for everybody and that some people are happier remaining childfree. More importantly, the society should acknowledge that parenthood regrets are real—there exist parents who hate the experience and wish they were childfree.
While I was trying to get myself sterilized, numerous people told me that I might later regret this decision; some even insisted that I definitely will regret this decision. The society kept repeating me that a happy life without a child is impossible. People spoke to me as if parenthood regrets didn’t exist, as if absolutely everybody wanted children. This kind of public discourse is harmful.
2. Schools should have evidence based sex education that includes information about contraception. Everybody needs to know how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and STIs.
3. Contraceptives should be available for everybody and accessible also to the poorest people. Every single person, regardless of how poor they are, should have access to any method of contraception, according to their personal preferences. The society should not tolerate Catholic hospitals, which refuse to provide contraceptives. The society should not tolerate the fact that contraceptives can be too expensive for poor people. And, yes, the state should pay for this.
4. Sterilization should be accessible and affordable for people who want it. State laws should mandate who is eligible for this procedure (for example: “all people who are at least X years old can obtain sterilization/vasectomy with their written consent”), and doctors should be forbidden from inventing additional hurdles. If state laws don’t say that the patient must have at least two children, then doctors should be forbidden from demanding this. If state laws don’t specify that the husband must also sign the consent form, then doctors shouldn’t even ask women whether their partners agree with this decision. Personally, I think that 18 years old people probably shouldn’t be allowed to sterilize themselves. At this age most teens still have no idea what they want to do with their lives. But people shouldn’t be expected to wait until they are over 35 either. Personally, I’d set the age limit at about 23 or so.
5. Abortions must be legal and accessible for everybody. The society should acknowledge that contraceptives are not 100% effective. For example, with typical usage, the chance of pregnancy during the first year of use with male condoms is 18%. With a combination pill it is 9%, with a progestin-only pill it is 13%. Even with tubal litigation the risk is 0.5%. A lot of people get pregnant despite being responsible and using birth control. More importantly, even if somebody takes risks and uses no contraceptives whatsoever, a child as a punishment for irresponsible behavior is a terrible idea. No child should suffer and have a miserable childhood and traumatizing upbringing only because some adults forgot to put on a condom.
Firstly, abortions clinics should exist across the whole country so that people can travel to them regardless of where they live. Secondly, even the poorest people should be able to financially afford an abortion. Thirdly, misoprostol and mifepristone should be accessible for everybody who wants to terminate their pregnancy at home in the first few weeks.
6. The society should stop shaming women who give their newborn babies for adoption. Yes, postpartum depression is a real thing, and new parents who struggle during the first weeks after childbirth should be aware that their difficulties can disappear after a while. But when a new parent realizes that parenting isn’t for them, the society should not pressure them to keep the child anyway. An adopted infant isn’t going to experience an emotional trauma. An unwanted child who grows up with a parent who wishes they were childfree is going to suffer much more. And even if the child doesn’t suffer and fails to notice that they are unwanted, the parent will suffer.
7. The society should help parents and alleviate at least some of the burdens. This includes state funded kindergartens that are completely free for the parents, state funded healthcare for pregnant women and children, state funded quality education (including universities). We also need publicly funded, universal, paid parental leave for at least the first 12 months of the child’s life. On top of that, the state should make sure that all children who grow up in impoverished families have adequate nutrition, clothing, and shelter. The society cannot just keep on ignoring parents’ struggles.
Firstly, we as a society have a problem with how we treat parenthood. It should be a choice. Childfree people shouldn’t get bullied. Less than perfectly devoted parents who feel emotionally drained, tired, and ambivalent about parenting shouldn’t be shamed.
The society should also deal with all the double standards. The first problem is a patriarchal society with abundant sexism and misogyny. Men not wanting children is perceived as normal or at least socially acceptable. Women who feel the same way are stigmatized and mistreated. That’s wrong.
Then there are also various cultural expectations that disproportionally place the burden of parenting upon mothers. Fathers are permitted multifaceted identities. They are even patted on the back for being involved parents in they feed the child on a few occasions or change a diaper every now and then. A father who regrets having children can also go to work and get away with spending little time together with his child. Mothers, on the other hand, are simply expected to be attentive, highly-involved caretakers, and there is no praise when they are. On top of that, their parenting is up for critique from everybody—even complete strangers will judge them.
Then there’s also a social expectation that after a divorce mother will be the primary caretaker. This is terrible for all those situations where both parents want custody, and it is automatically given to the mother regardless of which parent would be a better caretaker. But in situations where none of the parents want to raise the child, it is easier for men to get away with leaving their children, because they will get much less social condemnation. A mother who voluntarily leaves her children after a divorce is a monster. A father who does the same doesn’t get the same condemnation. We need gender equality instead.
Speaking of double standards, here’s another one:
Me: “I want to get a dog.”
The society: “Have you carefully considered the decision? Will you be able to care for this dog until their death? Are you completely sure you won’t get bored or tired of the responsibility? You do realize that you will have to pick up dog poop and go for walks during bad weather, do you?”
Me: “I have the wrong personality for being a parent. I feel that children are boring to spend time with until they are old enough for intelligent conversations. I perceive noise as extremely irritating. I cannot stand being disturbed while I am busy with something. I need plenty of private space and lots of time I can spend on my own. On top of all that, I value freedom, I don’t want a responsibility that will tie me down for decades. It is better for everybody if I remain childfree. All children deserve love and emotional support, and I couldn’t provide those.”
The society: “You are still childless. How can you be so sure that you would make a bad parent? You haven’t tried it yet. You should have at least one child to see how it is to be a parent. Once you have a child of your own, you will change your mind about not liking children, because all AFAB people love being parents.”
It is ridiculous that we live in a society, which expects people to carefully consider their decision to get a pet while simultaneously telling people that babies should just happen.