Last year, the Sydney Morning Herald came up with this interesting question: “What if a mother suspects she has made a horrible mistake having children?” As a result, the popular news-current affairs TV show The Project screened a similar piece about “motherhood regret” a few days later.
Keep reading to find out 8 Steps to Avoid Motherhood Regret
- This blog was originally published in July 2017, and updated in June 2018
Dr Orna Donath, research sociologist and author of Regretting Motherhood, says motherhood regret is far more common that we realize. “Often [regret] boils down to two main reasons; the experience of responsibility that never ends – even as grandmothers – and the knowing feeling that motherhood doesn’t suit them,” she says.
When I mentioned this to Scottie Haas during the Treasuring Mothers interview, he was horrified. (You can listen to his response in the audio above.)
His initial comeback was, “I cannot imagine that!” He tells the story of how he and his wife Marianne talked about having kids during pre-marital counseling. These days, Scott is a great dad and loves his wife and children to bits. Parenthood was not a surprise to him.
Motherhood, Fatherhood and Envy
But Scott is a dad. And while he clearly loves his children, he doesn’t have the same emotional response, or challenge, to being a dad as Marianne does to being a mother.
The thing is, most women, whether they admit it or not, had some type of inner desire to be mothers, from when they were little. From pretending to breastfeed a baby doll, to setting up tea parties, to dressing-up Barbies, girls are “trying on” motherhood from their toddler years. While my daughters had as much opportunity to play with toy trucks, or dig in the sand as my sons, they were more likely to wrap a truck up in a blanket to put it to sleep!
Toys aside, you have received a level of conditioning about motherhood from your early years. Thanks to advertisers, you are constantly exposed to rosy motherhood images. Day and night, pictures of mothers comfort your senses as they happily prepare after-school snacks; oversee attractive family barbecues; and spread golden margarine on lovely, soft bread. No wonder motherhood regret hits when the uncomfortable reality sets in.
In contrast, men don’t experience this type of message about fatherhood. And when parenthood happens, fathers don’t uproot their lives to the same degree as mothers. In addition, our Western world has changed when it comes to women’s roles. The inspiring work of many women over decades, has resulted in a new normal, where women are usually employed. These women receive a sense of satisfaction and recognition at work that our foremothers envy.
The Roll-out of Unexpected Emotions
So, for the most part, women sub-consciously anticipate the romantic motherhood ideal. What happens, then, to those who choose to have children, and assume it will be possible to move back to their career, without penalty? Or teen mothers who are still growing up, and yet have a baby?
This is where motherhood regret begins. Instead of the lovely fairy-tale, we are in unfamiliar territory. Other ugly emotions can rise their heads – Despair (Will I ever have a career again?); Jealousy (I can’t go and party with my friends!); Disappointment (I expected a life of cuddles and kisses); and the big one – Regret (This is a huge mistake. I’m not cut out for this!)
Let me qualify that mothers experiencing these emotions still love their children. Suffering motherhood regret does NOT make you a bad mother. The problem is, they had a great pre-baby life, and now they are stuck. Post-baby, life is not all it’s cracked up to be – and you can’t get your old life back!
The Motherhood Regret Crisis No-one Talks About
All new mothers suffer an identity crisis. Instead of the fairy-tale, they discover a never-ending cycle of broken nights, laundry, managing childcare and balancing remnants of their working life, for the foreseeable future. Motherhood regret can set in like a cancer, crawling into every nook and cranny. Sometimes the loss of hope is life-shattering.
Motherhood regret can set in like a cancer,
crawling into every nook and cranny.
The terrible thing is, it’s not just a few women experiencing this sense of loss. But because of those fairy-tale expectations, it’s not a discussion we can even have. Scott’s disbelief at the existence of the problem, is part of the problem! How can you talk about an issue that doesn’t exist?
8 Steps to Avoid Motherhood Regret
Recognize we are affected by nature AND nurture
Are those early childhood fantasies of motherhood hard-wired into our brains? There is lots of debate about this.
The NATURE argument: “Do most women instinctively desire to be mothers?” One study suggests that, “Most women viewed their desires [to be mothers] as positive and innate.”
The NURTURE argument: “Do women see motherhood happen, and therefore learn to be mothers?” See this article about how some women decide not to have children. It suggests there is no real evidence to support the idea that biology creates a longing for a child.
In the end, the truth is probably a combination of nature AND nurture. However it’s worth noting that humankind would be in serious trouble if most women didn’t desire to be good mothers.
Nip the advertising impact in the bud
You can’t stop advertising which shows the fairy-tale mother. But, from a very early age, you can talk to your daughters (and sons), to de-brief advertising. It’s good to create a healthy cynicism about ALL advertising.
Call a spade a spade
Motherhood is a shock, there’s no doubt about it. Thrown in the deep end for the first time, no mother can 100% come to grips with the responsibilities and emotions of parenthood, until it happens.
Just like pre-swimming lessons, ante-natal classes help prepare you for what is to come. But nothing can prepare you for the change in your own identity. In reality, all you can hope for is a lifeboat to help you stay afloat when you’re in over your head.
You can read some of my story about coming to grips with my identity change to “mother” HERE.
Have realistic expectations
When you had your first baby it probably took you a while to come to grips with the idea that you were now the older generation. Having a child is the ultimate proof you are an adult. No longer did you have only yourself to think about. Plus, suddenly there was a tiny individual who could die – no kidding – unless you and your partner cared for her. Being a parent is a huge responsibility. And not everyone feels up for it.
Understand your employment status changes
Do you know anyone who returned to the workforce after a baby, and picked up her career exactly where she left off? It happens sometimes, but it’s quite rare. Many completely change careers when returning to work. For the most part, women are the ones who sacrifice their salaries, their careers, and their superannuation, for the sake of the children.
Know your value
Our Western civilization places a dollar value on our worth, which is crazy. Our culture says the more money we get, the better person we are. This is a lie.
It’s quite different to the mid-20th Century world our mothers and grandmothers grew up in. Back then, mothers stayed home and cared for their children. It was so important, their husbands supported them to do it. While we look back and protest this lack of freedom, there was at least one positive: motherhood was so valuable, and it was important for a man to support his wife and family.
These days, women have more freedom to work outside the home. But the reality is, you are important, even when there is no money associated with your work. More than that, YOU, and your task of motherhood, are assets with so much value, they are PRICELESS! The value of motherhood has not changed since the 1950s and 60s. It’s our attitude that’s changed.
It’s easy to believe our work defines us. Yes, work IS important. And Yes, what you do IS significant. But your work is not You Who You Are is far greater than your efforts. The trap is thinking your identity is all about what you do.
The million dollar question: Where should your identity lie?
It’s far better to have your identity focused on something that does not depend on your effort, and a relationship that does not change. But what can that be? Many aspects of your life change as time goes by, including where you live, and the friends you have. Even your primary relationships change, because one day you will no longer have parents here on earth. Someday, you will be part of the senior generation! Everything changes.
However, there is one constant in this Universe. That constant is God, who relates to us as Jesus Christ. This is one relationship that never changes. In the Bible it says, “He is the same yesterday, today and forever.” It also says, “you are all children of God, through faith”. God is the only thing that remains a constant in your life, from here, to eternity.
How to avoid motherhood regret?
People call it motherhood regret. But perhaps it’s more accurately described as identity regret. How do you avoid this terrible feeling? This sense of , “I’m not cut out for this, I want my old life back!”
How do you avoid this terrible feeling?
This sense of , “I’m not cut out for this, I want my old life back!”
Why not get out your journal (or begin one) and write down your thoughts about this. Think through your feelings of regret. Write down all the things you lost, because you are a mother. Face those hidden thoughts you pushed away for so long. Write about your relationship with God. Do you know him? Do you want to know him? He’s far more trustworthy than any job, man, or relationship. You belong. You are God’s child. He loves you and you are important to him. In addition you are extraordinarily valued – even more than precious rubies.
Whatever you do, however life unfolds, whatever money you earn, whoever your friends are, God is the one who keeps you from sinking in the rough and stormy waters of life, through motherhood and beyond. There IS a lifeboat to keep you afloat when you are thrown in the depths of an identity crisis.
You can depend on Jesus in the deep end of life.
Have you ever felt a sense of regret at becoming a mother? What did you do about it?