“I felt like, and still feel like, I made a mistake. I don’t want to be a parent.”
It’s one of the last big taboos, considered too mean and selfish to even mention, and for most people, unimaginable: the regret of having children. But just because no one talks about it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Most people with kids feel becoming a parent changed their lives for the better, and while every parent has moments when all they want is their Saturday nights out with friends back, generally they remember everything’s alright when they look into their children’s eyes.
Some parents, however, struggle more.
In an effort to find other like-minded people, some unhappy parents have bravely shared their stories and thoughts online. In a Quora forum titled, ‘What is it like to regret having children?’ they talk openly about regretting their decision to have children, the feeling that being a parent is not what they hoped it would be, and that they’ve sacrificed their own happiness for another human being.
“I felt like, and still feel like, I made a mistake… I don’t want to be a parent,” says Victoria Elder, who has a 14 year-old daughter.
Describing her decision to become a parent as a “biological urge” she felt at the time, Elder soon began to regret having her daughter after she was born, although she says she loves her.
A father who wanted to stay anonymous shared the same feeling, explaining how he was, “plunged into a seemingly endless spiral of resentment and depression. I knew at a profound level that I did not want this… It completely destroyed spontaneity and flexibility; everything needed planning, and our son, like all very small children, needed to be watched pretty much 24/7.”
When he started seeing a therapist in an effort to overcome his depression, he was relieved to find hating parenthood is a much more common issue than he’d first thought, though rarely discussed socially.
“One is supposed to view having a child as some sort of multifaceted bejeweled gift from The Cosmos,” the unhappy dad says.
But what if you never feel that way? In his case, “There are times when I just stand there and want to bang my head against the door frame. I just loathe being a parent so much.”
Then there are mothers and fathers who gave in to their partner’s wish of becoming a parent, even though they didn’t have the same paternal instincts.
“I never wanted to be a father, but caved in because I felt like it would be unfair to my wife not to have one… I don’t enjoy being a father and if I could do it over again I would not,” says dad, David Levine.
What all of the parents who so bravely shared their experiences online have in common is that they love their children. They all highlight the fact they don’t hate their kids, but they do lament the loss of their personal freedom since becoming parents.
“I do love him. I just wish that someone else would be actually enjoying the process of raising him,” one father admits.
The problem with stigmatizing unhappy parents as selfish and ungrateful is that they are often left alone with their feelings, too scared to talk to anyone about them, exacerbating their sense of isolation.
Parenting is hard, if not the hardest job in the world, and yet, we are repeatedly told that getting married and having children should be at the top of our priority list, whether we want it or not.
Instead of judging and condemning people who feel like they have made a mistake by becoming parents, we should show them empathy and offer support. A lot of the parents stated that their regret was rooted in the sacrifices they had to make for their children, including the lack of time for themselves and the fact they had to give up their careers. If there were a better support system for parents, maybe there would be fewer unhappy parents.
Even those who simply don’t feel cut out to be parents deserve our respect and understanding. Most of them are trying just as hard to give their children the love and attention they need, but unlike content parents, they are doing it at the cost of their own happiness.
Comment: What’s your reaction to these honest revelations about parenthood?