The Guardian published an article on Saturday entitled “‘It’s the breaking of a taboo’: the parents who regret having children”.
The women featured in the article appear to cherish their children but hate the seismic upheaval, daily drudgery and subjugation of self that motherhood can bring. They certainly don’t wish their kids hadn’t been born, which is what the clickbaity headline implies.
Semantics apart, it’s refreshing for the childfree to see an article like this. The standard discourse on “raising a child is bloody hard” tends to be rounded off with “but the cosmic moments of unconditional love and life-changing joy make it worth it”.
In this article, German author Sarah Fischer is quoted thus:
“The reality of motherhood 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.”
(For once nobody interjects with “I am a proud mummy with beautiful battle scars and it’s all worth it…”)
Author and therapist Andrew G Marshall talks about the “sheer terror” of parenting, and how “the internet has created this child-worship, where anything beyond obsessive motherhood is bad motherhood”.
He mentions the contemporary “cult of motherhood“. I hardly need say that women without children are as sensitive to this as mothers are. I was also struck by what Marshall says next:
“Originally it was God that was going to save us from ourselves, then it was love, and now it’s children. It’s the product of the divorce era. Up until then, we could believe that falling in love means happily ever after. Now we’ve tested the love-is-for-ever myth and found a replacement: that a child is going to love us for ever, make us feel happy, secure and successful.”
As well as causing great disillusionment in parents, this definitely feeds the despondency felt by those that can’t have kids.
It’s usually inadvisable to peruse the often rabid comments under these articles – the defensive back-and-forth between parents and non-parents can be wearying and inconclusive. I found some of the comments under this one helpful to read, however, so here is a selection:
“This article (…) has given me much to think on and has helped me come to terms with the fact that I might not be able to have any of my own. Thank you”.
“I’m in the cohort of women aged 40-50 who are childless, and actually there is a big relief in coming to the end of the hope. It’s the hope that absolutely drags you down. Once there is no chance of conceiving, so many of my peers are dusting their hands, saying they mourned and grieved long enough, time to get on with enjoying life. Taking up sports, and new hobbies, meeting like-minded people. It feels quite rejuvenating. It’s far from being the suicidal issue that you suggest” (in response to a comment too stupid to publish here) .
“I’m 46, never wanted children, and have no regrets at all about being too old now to breed. I have been suicidal in my life, but none of it had anything to do with childlessness”.
“The real culprit here, of course, is the Cult of Motherhood, which makes involuntarily childless women feel worthless and without purpose, makes childfree-by-choice women feel they must constantly justify their choice and makes a lot of mothers feel like complete failures because they can’t get their kids to stop crying and the house is a tip. What is it about motherhood / non-motherhood that makes us all so preachy and judgemental of other people’s experiences and choices? Stop it, please”.
“My wife and I had intended to have kids but time went by. We are primary teachers but very happy not to have our own despite loving being with kids at work. Being just us two has enabled brilliant travel and a life in many countries. We are really happy. Occasionally I think it must be nice to have kids who are young adults and share their life experiences. However I never regret not having kids. I always say….. occasionally I wish I had kids, but I never wish I had had them…if that makes sense”.
“Society does tend to lead people to believe that children are a must-have accessory without which your life cannot be complete”.
“I don’t ever want children. What I do want is a relaxed, relatively stress-free, low impact existence. I’ve done well in my career but actively avoid promotion, I have never applied for a job that I can’t walk or cycle to and I don’t own a car, I live in a small house that allows for small mortgage payments, my favourite thing in the world is gardening, my husband and I enjoy camping holidays having found that nice holidays abroad don’t do a lot for us. I enjoy a centred and peaceful existence, with lots of exposure to nature, and it never feels empty”.
“(…) I never wanted children. I’m happy for those that do, but I knew all that stress and responsibility just wasn’t for me. I’m 63 now and have never regretted it, my partner is the same age and she also knew when she was 16 (unfortunately women get far more pressure than men in this regard …). We have a lovely, happy, care-free life and wouldn’t change a thing”.