My response to “Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids” and “Why Parents Hate Parenting”

First of all, thank you for replying, responding to the “Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids” Marie Claire article. For easy reference, right here: http://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a22189/i-regret-having-kids/

And you might also want to check out the I Regret Having Children Facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/IRegretHavingChildren

I am also going to reference “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” here: http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/index5.html

When I stumbled upon the Marie Claire article, I immediately thought of the moment, not too many years ago, when one of my best friends, a mother of twins, told me about the article “Why Parents Hate Parenting.”

We were standing in her kitchen in Wyoming. I was not yet on my rollercoaster ride of infertility and pregnancy loss, but I was yearning for a child and family life. She and her husband quoted the article—“I love my children, I hate my life”—nodding their heads emphatically, saying that it was true for them and for so many of their parent friends. They weren’t saying they regretted parenthood, but they were saying that they were exhausted and depressed. “It’s a depressing kind of life,” my friend said. “You have no freedom and you are just worn down to the bone.”

I nodded, but I was so completely in opposite territory that I could not understand what she was saying. I knew she had always yearned to be a mother and I wanted her to imagine how bleak she would feel if she thought she would remain childless forever. It was my biggest fear and I worried I would have to confront it head on. Which, of course, I did, in a more dramatic and traumatic way than I could have even imagined.

Now that I’m a mother, I understand the exhaustion. The lack of freedom. The depression resulting from near-constant delayed gratification. The niggling fear that I might not ever get back to fulfilling my own goals to my satisfaction. But I was so recently on the brink of childlessness, facing a future without family life, entering the bleak (to me) future of growing older without children, that I can still feel the chill of it. And I know that the bleakness would have robbed me of far more than the exhaustion of caretaking does.

In “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” there is an exploration of different kinds of happiness. When parents were studied in an effort to assess their moment-to-moment happiness, they were found to be unhappy—less happy than their childless counterparts. But when they were studied in an effort to understand more existential matters, “like how connected they felt, and how motivated, and how much despair they were in (as opposed to how much stress they were under),” they were not found to be less happy at all. Psychologist Gilovich says: ” ‘Should you value moment-to-moment happiness more than retrospective evaluations of your life?’ He says he has no answer for this, but the example he offers suggests a bias. He recalls watching TV with his children at three in the morning when they were sick. ‘I wouldn’t have said it was too fun at the time,’ he says. ‘But now I look back on it and say, “Ah, remember the time we used to wake up and watch cartoons?” ‘ The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight.”

And that is the distinction for me, the one between my daily life and my existential life. My daily life can be a grind, but my overall life has more meaning and purpose for me now. The bond between my son and my husband and me is fulfilling on a higher level–the level that breeds deep gratification and nostalgia and delight.

Like so many commenters on my last post say, I, too, have moments when I just need a freaking-fracking break. I don’t want to stop being a mom. I want to spend a few days regaining my mental bandwidth, letting my mind wander and my body do whatever it wants to do, whenever…

Like right now. My DH and my 21-month-old son are visiting S’s paternal grandparents for five whole days. This is the longest S and I have ever been apart; we’ve been apart for only one night and day before now. I bawled after saying goodbye to him at the airport. I sat in my car and cried harder than I have in a long, long time.

But during the drive home from the airport, Led Zeppelin came on. I turned it up. I turned it up some more. I was not listening to “Hello, Everybody” or “The Sad Little Puppy” from our Music Together CD, music that brings delight to my toddler and delight to me really only through him (as proven by the fact that I pop that sucker out the first second I get into the car on my own). I was listening to chaotic adult music. And it felt so good. And it was so, so loud. I was scream-singing and car-dancing. I did this alllllll the way home. Then I got inside my house and downed a GF beer. I turned on a rom-com with lots of curse words and sex in it at four in the afternoon. I had potato chips and waffles and wine for dinner. I fell asleep in my clothes and slept in until 10 AM.

It was glorious.

When I woke up, I stared at the ceiling and simply let my mind wander. Ahhhhhhh….

Then I deep-cleaned the entire house. This sounds lame, but it gave me the sweetest of pleasure. Usually I go around the house, seeing the same damn things I want to clean or put away, and I don’t—not because I am lazy but because I physically can’t. Because I have a toddler on my hip, or I have only five minutes, or S poops, or S cries, or, or, or…something. And so I look at the same irritating whatever week after week after week, and it grinds on me, even though I tell myself to relax.

But some messes are dangerous to a toddler. Sometimes I have to clean or straighten or put away right that second because it isn’t safe to leave x, y, z lying around.

For the past few days, I have left plastic bags just lying around, and it has given me such pleasure. Or I have put things on the table—recipes, ingredients, equipment—with no fear that S will find his way up onto a chair to steal them, throw them on the floor, or ingest something he shouldn’t.

I know that when I return to a room, everything will be where I left it. It’s…incredible. Endorphins flow.

As a parent, the moment-to-moment is filled with hazards to protect your child from, tasks that must be done right then, multiple conflicting demands—should I clean up this syrup or play trains with him? Should I give DH my ear or get the soup started? Should I change the poopy diaper now or sneak in this phone call to the pediatrician? How can I do yoga and stretch in a way that is entertaining for S? If I figure that out, then I won’t be so cranky carrying him around today, and that’s important, right? Should I allow myself a break by turning on that screen or cuddle with him and a book? And on and on and on.

So it makes sense to me that the moment-to-moment would feel sucky to most women. And I do mean women

From the Marie Claire article: “For many countries, raising a family still constitutes a vast landscape of unpaid work that falls almost wholly on women’s shoulders. It’s a societal infrastructure that innately depends on women cheerfully embracing the experience, even if every impulse tells them otherwise….Here in the U.S., a lot has shifted professionally in the last few decades—women are now expected to lean in both at work and at home, never missing a board meeting or ballet recital. A 2015 study found that American mothers now spend 13.7 hours a week with their children, compared to 10.5 hours in 1965–even though a significantly larger percentage of mothers also now work outside of the home. The combination, for many, is exhausting….’Today’s mom is a domestic throwback to the ’50s, combined with the ’80s-era working mom,’ says Avital Norman Nathman, editor of The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality. At every stage, she says, there are expectations for the right way to mother. ‘Because of this, it’s really hard for women to speak out about their horrible experiences, from a miserable pregnancy to a bad birth, because you’re supposed to be this loving, glowing Mother Earth person,’ she explains. ‘It doesn’t leave much room to process actual feelings.'”

And this is the important point for me. We must leave room for women to process their actual feelings, whether we feel the same or not. Because perhaps through processing, real healing can occur—which can only benefit both the parent and the child.

It’s also important to remember the larger political, cultural context of parenting. From “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” re: the parenting landscape in Scandinavia:”If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)—well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve….’We’ve put all this energy into being perfect parents,’ says Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, ‘instead of political change that would make family life better.””

Okay, I’ll leave it at that, for now. I’ve got to run home and squeeze in another rom-com, after a day spent at the gym, and dallying at vegan restaurants and Victorian cafes and vintage kitchen shops. A lovely day. But a video of my son’s beautiful face just popped up on my phone, smiling so brightly as he plays piano at his grandparents’ house, and I have to say that although I don’t miss him, exactly, I grin at the thought of kissing his soft cheek again and feeling his little monkey arms around my neck.

 

 

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20 Comments

  1. This is different though. I’d say just about EVERY mom EVER wants/needs a break from her kids sometimes. (And the kids likewise, no doubt) It’s healthy. Significantly different though from wishing they’d never been born. Which I still hold is selfish and heartless toward the child.

    Enjoy your break! It will make your time with S even sweeter when he comes home. :)

    Reply
    • I agree it’s very different—especially after reading that Facebook page and raw comments some make about having to force themselves to hug their children and so on. But I still think everyone needs room to process their actual feelings because suppression leads to stuckness, and processing can lead a person away from regret and into a healthier stage.

      Reply
      • Yes, absolutely. As long as they process it with a therapist or something instead of letting those feelings out everywhere where it may hurt their child. For me, it all comes back to the emotional wellbeing of the child.

        Reply
        • THIS^^ I agree!
          I am all about processing one’s feelings, even if the feeling is taboo (wishing your children had never been born). But my (now former) friend declared she felt this way *on facebook* and I straight up told her it was f*cked up for her to share this on the internet lest her children may become aware of her feelings and are damaged by this knowledge. She actually said that her eight-year-old daughter is aware of how she feels about motherhood (daughter lives with father, but of course this woman just had another child because her boyfriend wanted one of his own–she said this *on facebook*) . I was/am disgusted. And she is a university professor of communications and technology FFS. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

          Reply
          • I’m appalled. What is she thinking?? This culture of oversharing is out of control and with her background you’d think she would understand that. I can’t believe she just had another kid! Wow.

            Reply
          • That’s so sad!! I’m glad you called her out. Nothing makes me mad faster than people posting their “entitled” comments all over social media. I only got Facebook about 4 years ago and was horrified to read post after post that made me have a lot less respect for my “friends”.

            Reply
        • Absolutely! There is no reason a child needs to know her mama doesn’t want to hug her. Time and a place …in the privacy of therapy, or group therapy, would be best.

          Reply
      • And you are so right. Being stuck isn’t going to benefit the mother or the child whatsoever.

        Reply
  2. I love your thoughts on this so much! It’s like you are in my head, truly, as I found myself mindlessly whistling “Hello, Everybody” just this morning. LOVE! Enjoy your you time.

    Reply
  3. Yes! You lit on the same quote that struck me when I initially read the article. I’m not sure how much we expect women to shoulder with a smile, though I agree there are healthy and unhealthy ways of processing. Airing dirty laundry on FB is not among the former.

    Reply
  4. Anon

     /  October 4, 2016

    My husband spent his entire life knowing his mom never wanted him. And without a doubt it was damaging. He would say it’s made him very self reliant- and it has, but I would say it’s also made it very hard for him very isolated. It was truly horrifying to meet her the day before our wedding and after maybe 10 minutes have her declare me “too good” for her son. In horror I told my now husband who shrugged and said that sounded normal to him.

    Reply
  5. How lovely to get some truly, awesomely YOU time. I love that you left plastic bags around BECAUSE YOU COULD. I read all the articles, and I think it’s important for people to be able to voice their feelings, even when they are “ugly.” However, I feel genuinely awful for the children who will one day google their parents and find out that they absolutely regretted having them and that their life is such a disappointment because they had children. Yikes. Catch-22, because these are feelings that need validity without judgment, but the expense of the child is icky to me. Maybe more so because I would give my eyeteeth for the chance to have ONE. (But, that’s my issue–not the issue in the articles). I thought the Marie Claire article got better as it went on. I feel like our society totally has a Cult of Motherhood, and it is so looked down-upon to even remotely admit that it can be dreary at times. I’ve seen it on Facebook, where a friend pithily stated that it was the point in late summer where the house is full of crap and she can’t wait for her kids to go back to school, and someone else berated her because “one day they’ll be gone and off living their adult lives and you’ll miss that…” Um, sure, but isn’t she allowed to complain in the moment? Who wouldn’t? I don’t understand when people constantly tell me how miserable my life will be when we do have a baby and how “lucky” we are, because it seems so down on kids. But, I see the overscheduling and the exhaustion of keeping everything up and I think on how we got Indian food tonight because I didn’t feel like making dinner and I got in my PJs at 8 and am going to bed with my book shortly, and NO ONE WILL NEED ME TO DO ANYTHING. So, I sort of get it. Anyway, super interesting post and thanks so much for linking to all the conversations…and I apologize for my very very very long comment! (I’m sort of commenting for both posts on this one… ha). I hope you thoroughly enjoy your alone time, what’s left of it!

    Reply
    • “isn’t she allowed to complain in the moment”—right! I mean, come on, why do we feel the need to police mothers (NOT FATHERS) in our culture when they say the least little negative thing about the crappy parts of their lives? It makes no sense. Imagine if a dad said the same thing? I imagine a response of chuckles and chucks on the shoulder. Arrgh. I’m glad you chimed in because I was really wondering what it was like to read articles such as these when you are still waiting (and waiting!) to make your family. Youare , as always, quite gracious about it. xoxo

      Reply
  6. Let me recommend the book “All Joy and No Fun”! I was nodding my head all the way through it.

    Reply
  7. “So glad to see yoooo!” Ah, it’s amazing stuff and S is singing his heart out, but sometimes I want to wing that CD like a frisbee out the window! I’m glad you can relate! I’m gonna go make a pie now while listening to NPR! Another thing I limit when S is around!

    Reply
  8. Oh, pie and NPR! What a great combo. Enjoy! :)

    Reply
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