Megan* was 24 when she was pressured to have her first child. She was a member of the local parish of the Church of England, and her partner was the vicar’s eldest son. Young and in love, they decided to get married to complete their relationship, but Megan was soon pushed into having children by her now husband and his family. “I felt it was my duty and I had no choice,” says Megan. “I was not immediately made aware of my duty to have children. If it had been me, I wouldn’t have gotten married.”
Megan was always undecided about having children or not, but she knew that in her early twenties she wasn’t ready to be a mother. “I wish I could have spent more time enjoying the simplicity of our marriage as a couple, traveling and getting to know each other,” she explains. “I’m not even sure if he was or is the right partner for me. We’re progressing, but it feels forced – a hasty decision. We’re more like good friends now trapped in a listless marriage.”
A decade and two kids later, Megan says if she could have her time again, she’d “put her foot on the gas” and not have kids. At 34, she belongs to a growing group of people, particularly mothers, who live with their parents regret. While cancellation was never an option for Megan, it was available. However, the prospect of more women having to deal with parental regret has certainly increased in the US with the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it Deer vs Wade.
The ruling effectively overturned half a century of legal abortion rights, and several states have since introduced trigger laws making abortion illegal. There will almost certainly be women in these states who will be forced into unwanted pregnancies. In the UK, there are fears that anti-abortion advocates will take up the decision to try to reverse the UK’s 1967 abortion law, with the dispute already escalating into Parliament.
Stories of women being pressured to proceed with unwanted pregnancies were commonplace even before the internet Deer vs Wade verdict was set aside. Called a Facebook group “I regret having children”Which has 42,000 members, there are several stories of women suffering parental regret after an unwanted pregnancy.
An anonymous user, a 21-year-old woman, describes how when she became pregnant at 18, her mother and sister decided she would keep the baby even though she wanted an abortion. “I cried every day until I was seven months old. I was picked up and dropped off at school, followed so I couldn’t get the abortion. I was unhappy,” she explains. “I couldn’t go to the school I wanted because of my child and childcare. My life was on hold for two years, which meant I regretted having him even more.”
But the seeds of regret can also take root in those who choose to be parents. Sarah*, 42, says that while she has no regrets about having her son, raising him as a single parent through IVF has been a lot harder than she ever imagined. “I was just running out of options,” she says of her decision to do IVF. “My ovaries literally died and I had to make a decision based on how I would feel five years from now. I always wanted a child and I never imagined that I wouldn’t be a mother, so I had to try.”
However, she explains that “nothing” can prepare you for the realities of being a child. “Having a child is like having a 24/7 job that you can’t quit,” says Sarah. “It’s relentless, and when I think about it, I’ve taken my life for granted in many ways before. I can’t go anywhere without thinking or taking my little boy with me. It’s as if your life is no longer your own.”
Parental regrets are more common than you might think. A Study published by YouGov last year, which surveyed 1,249 parents aged 25 to over 55, found that one in 12 British parents regrets having children. And the age groups whose members say this most often currently regret or have previously regretted having children are the 25 to 34 year olds (21 percent) and the 35 to 44 year olds (18 percent).
Further studies have shown that it is not just a British but a worldwide phenomenon. A Gallup Poll 2013 from the US found that seven percent of parents would not have children when they had free time again, and a Study 2016 from Germany found that 20 percent of German parents would not become parents again – even if they love their children.
Most (74 percent) of the German parents who admitted parental regret cited “restrictions in personal development” as the reason. Just as many parents said lack of childcare was a factor, and 44 percent of mothers and 20 percent of fathers said their careers would have been better if they hadn’t had children.
The impact on her career is one of the reasons Megan regrets becoming a mother. “I feel deprived of the opportunity to make the most of my hard-earned degree,” she explains. “I had to give up my career dreams to serve as the main caregiver for our children, which is so often the case [for women]. If it had been my choice, my priority would have been to position myself securely in my career path.”
High-income children, lackluster partners, and feelings of being forced into parenthood are just a few of the reasons for regret cited in the Regretful Parents Reddit Group. The group, which has 43,000 members, hosts daily discussions between people who regret or reject their decision to have children. Stories from parents included in the group a woman who says “the only time she enjoys herself is when she’s sleeping away from her son”and a 26-year-old mother who says she will “I wish forever that Plan B [morning after pill] have worked”.
“I think if we’re being honest, most parents regret having kids.” Consulting directory Member Mandy Mitchell tells me. “Parenting can be tough, and we’re in a society that tells us we should have kids and our family isn’t complete if we don’t have them, but that’s not true.”
Psychologist Maja Tomse adds that parental regret is something that “comes up a lot” during her work with new parents. “Becoming and being a parent is one of the hardest things in life, and it’s natural to struggle to find joy in parenting,” explains Tomse. “We often think of grief, loss, and grief in connection with dying, but we can feel deprived for a variety of reasons. Any change in life inevitably comes with feelings of loss, and sometimes even the experience of becoming a parent can trigger those feelings.”
Feeling remorse or resentment towards your child is a normal feeling, she continues, but it’s not something that’s often talked about. “It’s very hard for most to confront and explore, especially because parents feel guilty for feeling this way in the first place, and they’re often reluctant to share those emotions and thoughts,” says Tomse. “Often they think it’s very unusual or even unnatural to feel that way. So I assume parental regret is pretty common, but it’s still taboo.”
For Megan and Sarah, part of their regret stems from the lack of support available to them. “I learned that it would be helpful to have a ‘village’, to have support and to have people around you who have your back,” explains Sarah. “However, the reality is often the opposite – the invitations dry up in most cases.”
Megan adds, “We’ve forgotten how to support each other and it takes a village to raise a child — but more often than not, a woman carries the family weight and makes sacrifices.”
Tomse explains that parental resentment mainly builds up when a parent no longer has enough time for themselves, but she adds that acknowledging the resentment or regret is crucial. “Your rational brain knows that the object of your resentment is not to blame — in this case, your child — but your feelings right now are too intense to change your feelings,” she explains. “By exploring feelings of resentment, we can begin to think more rationally about what’s happening and feel the emotions that have been pushed aside.”
She says the best way to overcome parental regret or resentment is to view your feelings as sadness and embrace each of the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, Tomse is aware that these stages are “not stations on a linear timeline of grief” and will change from person to person.
After all, grief and loss are the main causes of parental regret. For Megan, it’s the loss of what her career could have been, and for Sarah, it’s the loss of her identity. Other factors may also play a role, such as B. postnatal depression, the failure of a relationship or even the financial burden of having a child. For the women who have been pushed out of having an abortion, the “What if?” question will always represent their greatest loss, especially when Studies show that 99 percent of women Feeling relief, not regret, five years after an abortion.
“Children cannot be given back, and we owe it to them and to ourselves to do our best,” Mitchell says. “I think it’s easier to come to terms with the responsibilities of parenting if we focus on everyday life when we’re feeling overwhelmed. Try to understand what feels so difficult and why, and see if there are any practical steps you can take to help.”
For Megan, the first step in dealing with parental regret is to talk more about it. “Some of the best, hardest working mothers I know have secret regrets about having children. I think there’s this idea that if you wish you weren’t a parent, especially as a mother, you must be a terrible parent; But that is not true. I love my children, want the best for them and work incredibly hard to give them the best opportunities,” she says. “But when you become a parent before you’re ready, it’s hard to let go of the opportunities you think you’ve missed.”
If you are affected by any of the issues in this article or suffer from postnatal depression, you can call the PANDAS toll-free helpline on 0808 1961 776
*Names have been changed