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When Mothers Regret Motherhood

What Happens When You Regret Motherhood

The Project recently aired a segment about mothers who regret motherhood. Which has naturally a divisive topic. But I think it’s an important topic to allow people to talk about. 

I wanted to be a mum for as long as I can remember. I played with dolls, I role played house, I wanted to fast forward to adulthood so I could be a mother. When I was a teenager I named my future babies and started knitting baby clothes. Early in my relationship with my partner he asked me what my plan was. What did I want to be or do with my life.

I hesitated, and then told him the truth. I wanted to be a mum. Anything between then and now is just preparation.

And thankfully he didn’t dive straight out the nearest window. (Which would have been fair, we’d only been dating a fortnight.) But instead he understood. He agreed. He saw his purpose in life was to have children.

The Birth Of Our Son

Two years later I gave birth to our son. And I struggled to cope with the idea of being a mum. Maybe it was the shaky start – with a traumatic birth and our son stopped breathing when he was a couple of weeks old – though I think it was probably just the nature of motherhood in a culture that places the vast majority of responsibility of raising babies on the shoulders of mothers.

Funnily enough one of the ways I would get through the day was to pretend he wasn’t my baby. I’d worked in a childcare up until the end of my pregnancy with him, so taking care of other people’s babies was something I was much more comfortable doing than my own. If I imagined I was his nanny, not his mother, the feeling that I was drowning was a little easier handle.

Motherhood Wasn’t What I Expected

Motherhood seemed to come with so many things I hadn’t imagined when I’d been playing house as a child. Guilt, fear, isolation, and overwhelming responsibility. Even though he clearly has a father I think it took us both a while to work out how to share that responsibility. My partner went back to work about a week after our son was born. I was alone for so many hours of the day – and night. So I felt a lot of the time like parenthood was my responsibility alone.

And through all this I was so afraid my son would know. He would somehow know when I looked at him sometimes all I could feel was panic. I thought my newborn baby could hear my thoughts. That his piercing eyes could read my mind. I sometimes thought he would have been better off being born to someone who deserved him. Who loved being his mother.

I can’t imagine how I would have coped if those feelings never went away.

Motherhood Is About Mothers

I started seeing a psychologist – that helped a lot. But it still it took me a very long time to understand that how I feel about motherhood and how I feel about my child are two very different things. My feelings about motherhood were about me. They were about my identity and my feelings. And I think one thing about our culture that makes it so hard to process these feelings is that mother and child are seen as a single unit.

So much so that a mother can’t talk about herself without being accused of saying those things about her child. That’s evident when people talk about birth trauma as well. But how I felt about early motherhood was absolutely not how I felt about my son. We are two separate people. 

It’s worth noting in the segment on The Project apparently a lot of the respondents started with “I love my children, but…” So when they talk about how they feel about motherhood, they’re not talking about their children.

No Regrets – Just Empathy

I don’t regret motherhood. But I can understand how someone could. As I said I was someone who always knew that I wanted children. It was already part of who I was even before becoming a mother – and I still found motherhood to be a rocky adjustment. I have a couple of friends who never want to have children and they’ve been told that they’re wrong to feel that way. They don’t even have children and they’re criticised for not loving motherhood! Not all women want to be mothers – and that’s okay!

Also sometimes motherhood just isn’t what we expect it’ll be. Or mothers are struggling with their mental health. Or they’re unsupported. There’s a myriad of reasons that mothers might regret motherhood and just telling them to get over it isn’t going to help.

So it’s important it is to allow parents space to talk honestly about their feelings. Without telling them they’re wrong to feel that way. Because not only does talking about it lighten the load on the person experiencing it, it’s telling other parents who might be experiencing the same thing that they’re not alone. And then maybe we could also start working towards more support and hopefully better outcomes for mothers who regret motherhood. 

What do you think? Do you ever regret motherhood?

regret motherhood

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner. She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum. She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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2 comments

  1. Lauren Elise Threadgate

    Big hugs Rach 💜 I think this happens to a lot of us and I’m glad it’s being talked about more x

  2. Ellen McNally

    Regret, no. But often have felt disillusioned and ripped off on the amount of liability and accountability placed on women as the mother, that is rarely placed on men. As well as how men are treated for being more hands on, the extremity of being put on a podium or being considered less of a man. And yes, often so lonely as you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t whilst expected to put everyone in the house ahead of your needs, commitments and wants always.

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