Mothers Who Regret Having Kids: Hard Confessions

Despite the risks and misunderstandings, mothers who regret having kids are coming out of the closet. Israeli sociologist Orna Donath: “Women are often reluctant to reveal such thoughts, but even when they do, we rarely take them at their word. It’s as if we simply cannot fathom that these sentiments could be true. Instead, we hear their regret and replace it with ambivalence….So many times, I have witnessed how this interpretation erases the fact that these mothers are saying something else. They are not saying, It’s hard, but the smile of my child makes it worthwhile. But rather, It’s hard, and for me there is nothing in the world that makes it worthwhile” (Bust).

Regretting motherhood for some is directly related to the social pressure to have kids in the first place. “Women, especially those over the age of 30,” states Donath, “are caught within a mind-game of threats and warnings: Your time is running out for making a family. You may think that you’re not interested in being a mother, but you are wrong; the desire will strike you eventually, but then it will be too late. You are going to regret this.”

In whatever ways a woman then reaches the turning point of becoming a mother, the pressures don’t stop: Now love the experience, or else.

Some relief can be found these days, though, on popular Facebook and Reddit forums. Sarah Treleaven, Marie Claire, asserts that one particular author helped usher in a trend of confessing mothering misgivings. “…Corinne Maier, a French psychoanalyst, writer, and mother of two in Brussels, wrote candidly about her own regret in the 2009 No Kids: 40 Reasons Not to Have Children. (Among them: being forced to adopt the ‘idiot language’ of children and inevitably being disappointed by your offspring.)”

About six years later, in 2015, Donath released her groundbreaking study, Regretting Motherhood, “based on interviews with 23 Israeli women, all anonymous, aged 26 to 73, five of them grandmothers” (Anne Kingston, Maclean’s).

This sampling of mothers who regret having kids gave a wide variety of reasons to Donath. “For some, it is not about the economic or familial conditions under which they raise their children, but rather a feeling that, ‘despite’ being women, they were not meant for motherhood. For others, like Maya, a mother of two children who was also pregnant during our interview, it was reliving the trauma of her own childhood growing up in a racist society” (Bust).

Notably, regretting motherhood is not necessarily the same as regretting the existence of one’s children, adds Donath:

…(M)any of the mothers who participated in my study said that there is a reasonable chance that their daughters and sons know and feel that they live in a home where motherhood is not fully embraced by the ones who brought them into this world, even if their needs—shelter, nutrition, clothing, care, and attentiveness to their well-being—are satisfied. These children might make the emotional conclusion that they are the ones who ruined their mothers’ lives, carrying a guilt that will always remind them that their existence was and is unwanted. But this is exactly one of the reasons why publicly talking about regretting motherhood is important. When mothers clarify that it is motherhood they regret and not the children themselves, then there is also an opportunity for children to relieve themselves of some of that burden.

Eleanor J. Bader, Rewire, on Donath’s “forthright” conclusion: “Motherhood should be one choice among many, no more or less valid than other life options.”

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