Published Date: 02/11/21
Tackling the Taboo of Parental Regret
Being a parent is simultaneously one of the most honorable and most difficult things you can do in life. When you become a parent, your life ceases to belong solely to you. It becomes your primary responsibility to care for your child – to raise that child and to provide for his or her every need.
It’s no secret that parenthood is challenging. Parental support groups are a dime a dozen, all filled with advice on how to balance work and family life, how to make time for yourself, and how to raise your children to become functional adults. What you don’t often see posted on message boards is expressions of regret related to having children. The idea that not all men and women enjoy the experience of parenthood is somehow taboo.
Women who express regret about becoming a parent are often painted as selfish or even abusive when their only fault is being human. Regret is a natural human emotion and there is nothing wrong with having misgivings about becoming a parent.
Here’s what you need to know about parental regret and how to cope with it.
What is parental regret?
From the moment your child is born, your life will never be the same. Every decision you make from that point forth must be made with your child’s needs in mind. In short, your life is no longer your own.
For many people, the joys of parenthood outweigh the challenges. Many parents find fulfillment in raising a child and even the challenging moments of parenthood are not enough to overshadow that joy. For others, however, becoming a parent comes with a sense of loss - loss of the life they once lived and the live they might have lived had they not had children. Some parents also have misgivings about their parenting skills which can diminish what might otherwise be an enjoyable experience.
Parenthood is difficult enough without these doubts and misgivings, but the subject of parental regret remains somewhat taboo, particularly in cultures that glorify parenthood. If you’re struggling with feelings of regret, take heart in knowing you’re not alone.
It's more common than you know
Parenting magazines, support groups, and online message boards proliferate the message that parenthood is a noble calling. You won’t see an article published by a major media outlet about a celebrity mom who regrets having children or a celebrity dad who wishes his child hadn’t been born.
You may come across pieces that dip a toe into the waters of the dark truth that many parents struggle with feeling of regret, but the subject is still taboo which makes it all the more difficult for the people who experience it to get the help they need to work through their emotions.
According to a 2018 Gallup poll, about 8% of parents in the United States report that they would choose not to have children if they could do things over again. Private Facebook groups, anonymous message boards, and reddit sub-groups exist where parents can share their thoughts and opinions in a safe space, but there is still an air of secrecy surrounding the subject of parental regret.
Why do some parents regret having children?
Raising a child is a task fraught with challenges. Many parents find themselves growing up alongside their children, forced to take on new levels of responsibility before they feel ready. For others, the biggest challenge of parenthood is learning to set personal needs aside for the good of the child.
Every situation is unique, but research shows common factors that contribute to the development of parental regret. Here are a few:
- Timing – Some parents report they were not ready for children in terms of their education, relationship, career, or financial status.
- Sacrifice – Parents self-reported regrets related to lost time, money, or opportunities in career or education as well as lost freedom, sleep, or intimacy with their partner.
- Partner – Some parents regret the partner with whom they had children.
- Fear – It is not uncommon for parents to express regret related to fears of raising a child in a dangerous world.
- Difficulty – Parents of children with chronic diseases, disabilities, or other complications may be more likely to express regret.
- Self – In some cases, parental regret is related to issues personal to the parent such as feelings of disliking parenthood or misgivings about their parental skill.
- Obligation – Parents who have children by accident or due to pressure from parents sometimes express regret for having children out of obligation.
Whether you’re experiencing parental regret for your first child or your third, a newborn baby or a moody teenager, it’s important to know you are not alone. Your feelings are valid, and they need to be addressed if you ever hope to move forward. For your child’s emotional wellbeing and for your own, take the necessary steps to acknowledge and address your parental regret.
Tips for coping with parental regret
Regret is a natural human emotion and one we all experience throughout life. Experiencing regret over becoming a parent or regretting the circumstances of your parenthood is valid – it does not make you a bad parent. For your child’s wellbeing and for your own mental health, however, it’s important to address these feelings and find a way to work through them.
Here are some tips for coping with parental regret:
- Give voice to your feelings. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member if you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your partner just yet.
- Talk to your partner. When you are ready to share your feelings with your partner, sit down to have an open and honest conversation where both of you can express yourselves.
- Get professional help. If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or your child, get help right away using the SAMHSA National Helpline, 1-800-HELP (4357).
- Seek treatment from a licensed professional. Talk to your doctor or therapist to discuss treatment options. There are also virtual therapy and online psychiatry sites where you can get the help you need from home.
- Be kind to yourself. The worst thing you can do is deny or bury your feelings. Instead of pushing your feelings down, give yourself permission to take some personal time to work through them. There is nothing selfish about self-care.
No parent is perfect, so if you’re holding yourself to some unattainable ideal it’s time to stop. No parent loves the job 100% of the time, but if feelings of doubt and regret are keeping you from putting forth your best effort as a parent, you may want to seek help. It can be difficult to deal with emotions like parental regret but it’s essential for your own health and your child’s that you find a way to cope.
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