More women are speaking out about their intention to remain child-free. This private decision is often met with the assured declaration that they will regret it. Women, we are assured by patriarchal society are only fulfilled in the roles of mother and wife. Modern women who are increasingly postponing or altogether opting out of both institutions have the threat of regret consistently wielded against them. Research however points to the opposite.
No evidence child-free adults experience regret
Childless and child-free are not interchangeable terms for the purpose of this study. Childfree refers to people who do not have children by choice not something like a medical condition standing in the way of their parenthood dreams. Research shows that childfree adults are overall pretty happy with their decision.
Parents more likely to regret
The study also found that older childfree adults didn’t experience any more regret than older parents. In fact, older parents were more likely to express a desire to want to change something in their lives i.e., more likely to have regrets about their choices. A study involving British parents found that 1 in 12, 8%, currently regret having children. In the US, 7% of parents older than 45 years old would not have children if they had it to do all over again. In Germany, 19% of mothers and 20% of fathers regret having children.
Focus on women
A lot of the coverage and research centres on women, focusing on maternal regret. This is because much of the work that pertains to raising children still falls on women. Young mothers talk about all the unspoken changes and stresses that come with motherhood. Challenges that previous generations of mothers were not particularly vocal about, just glossing over the cost of motherhood. Motherhood is romanticized, and fetishized and women are socialized to believe that it’s something that comes naturally.
One young mother recently shared the anxiety that has come with motherhood. An anxiety that is with her all day every day. Motherhood transforms you from a person to a mother. It consumes you. There are entire Facebook groups and subreddits dedicated to discussing regret. As shocking as the 7-19% regret figures may be, the truth is the figures are likely higher. Consider how taboo, how shameful it is to confess regret, couple this with the societal pressure women are often under regarding their role as mothers, and how they are socialized into judging themselves based on it and you see how likely it is the figures are much higher.
Love your kids, regret motherhood
One of the reasons parents don’t talk about their regrets is because it may be viewed as a declaration that they don’t love their children. That’s not usually the case. You may love your children and yet if given the choice to go back, you wouldn’t make the same choices. It has no bearing on the love you have for your children, it’s just a statement about the cost of motherhood for women. It’s important for people to face this as reality even as it destroys the romantic notions we’ve encased motherhood in. If we face this reality, we can begin to address the factors that contribute to this regret. So next time you hear someone threaten a childfree woman with regret, remind them mothers are more likely to regret and that’s so much more heartbreaking.
If you’re interested in diving deeper into the subject, check out women’s stories in the book Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath.
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