A dear friend of mine pointed me to a recent Maclean’s article titled I Regret Having Children. This well researched article brings up too many issues to cover in one post. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety. Meanwhile, here are a few thoughts of my own.
First of all, Bravo! to Maclean’s for broaching the subject of parental regret, “the last parenting taboo.” As with most taboos, it takes courage to speak openly and honestly. Many of the authors and women quoted in the article have been attacked for their openness, and this is wrong. So wrong. It’s time that we all spoke openly and honestly not only about our personal experiences of parenting, but also about the pressures put on us by society.
Catholic women know well the pressures of an idealized motherhood. Our model is impossible to live up to – the Blessed Virgin Mary, meek and mild. She who is both Virgin and Madonna. Statues and paintings depict Mary as perfectly dressed and serenely composed – her hands clasped and eyes raised heavenward, or holding her precious child with nary a hair out of place. The perfect Pinterest Mother!
Guilt is programmed into our mother board. It’s a non-erasable virus, growing with time, worming its way into every nook and cranny of our memory. Guilt is fed by the insecurity that we aren’t doing this mothering thing “right”… and everyone else is.
Today’s young women face the added pressure of social media. They click on FaceBook, Twitter or Instagram to find family, friends, and celebrities showing off picture-perfect pregnancies. Perfect births. Perfect babies. Perfect postpartum bodies. Perfect relationships and perfect lives. This is not what you want to see while you are fighting nausea, fatigue, bloated bellies, stretch marks, screaming babies, sleepless nights and hormonal mood swings. Where are the “real” Mommas?
Regrets come easily in the midst of struggles. What woman hasn’t wanted “out” in the midst of heavy labour pains? What sleep-deprived parents haven’t dreamed of their B.C. (Before Children) life, with leisurely sleep-ins on weekends and fun evenings out with friends? What parents of teen-agers don’t yearn for the time when missed curfews will no longer keep them awake at night with visions of worst-case scenarios dancing around in their heads?
Of course, experiencing normal struggles and challenges isn’t the same as saying that you wish you never had children in the first place.
Hubby and I look back, often with disbelief, at our child-raising years. How did we do it? Seriously. How?
A major factor for us was the support of friends who were also raising families. We talked often, and got together regularly. We gave each other a safe space to rant, to cry, and to give voice to silent fears. We didn’t pretend we had it all together, because we didn’t. None of us did. Sometimes we sought answers from each other. Other times we just needed an ear and heart to listen to us.
We also knew how to laugh…and laugh hard! Today’s failure, embarrassment or mini crisis will be tomorrow’s story to tell.
I understand deeply the struggles and challenges of parenting. Many of the parents in the Maclean’s article attest to the fact that regretting having children does not mean they don’t love the children they have. This is right and good. Still, it saddens me to think of parents losing hope to the point of regret.
And yet, regret should not have to be denied. It must be allowed a voice. It must be listened to, without judgment.
A dialogue on the experience of parenting in the 21st century and how we, as family, friends and a society, can better support young families is an important dialogue to have.