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Sunday, 26 February 2017
Parents who regret having children
'I was reading this article on the train and my son kept looking over my shoulder - is it true Mum? Do some parents regret having children?' - Mother of a 12 year old in London
I was talking to some mothers I know about this article Breaking the Taboo: Parents Who Regret Having Children which was published in the Guardian weekend section a couple of weeks ago. I've been meaning to blog about it earlier but life has got in the way. And, I've been wondering how to blog about an issue which I'm sure worries many of my readers to this blog. What if they decide to have children and regret it?
The issue that the article raises is at the heart of many of the conversations I have with women (and some men) who are considering whether they want to have children or not. The parents represented in this article do represent what to many of my clients is their biggest fear - that they might decide to have a children and regret it. And yet, what was telling in the article was that many of the the parents said that they still loved their children - the regret was often about aspects of motherhood or loss of their identity.
Corinne Maier sends me a long, precise email. She agrees that it’s taken for granted that children make their parents’ lives complete. It’s her job as a writer, she says, to fight the “It’s obvious…” ideas such as, “It’s obvious that my child is the most important thing. I have never said that I do not like motherhood at all; it is just that I sometimes regret having children. That’s enough to trigger a worldwide controversy. A thing a woman cannot say, apparently.” She sees a mismatch between the increased freedom that women enjoy and what she sees as the increased pressure on them to be “good” mothers.
One of the other interesting things about the article is that a common theme experience between most of the women which was tension between the ideal of motherhood as being the ultimate fulfilment and the reality that having children often is not the thing that makes your life 'complete'. This chimes with much of what I do with clients - which is to find out what their values are, what they feel is their purpose, what they are meant to bring into the world. Because while having children can certainly give you a focus, it isn't the same thing as giving you a purpose or total fulfilment.
I think the more we realise that parenthood is filled with ambivalence the more we can have honest conversations about motherhood. Parenthood can feel like an unstoppable train that you can't get off us and that might take us to a strange and unwelcome destination. It might not be the train journey for us - we might want to embrace another journey.
So how did my friend answer her 12 year old's question that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? She said 'You know, yes, there are some things I regret and miss from my life before children but as you get older, I can see that I'll be getting some of that old life back and you'll now be a part of that too.'