In 2019, American author Sam Roberts tweeted that he and his wife regretted having their son. Parents across the world slammed Sam for being selfish, unkind, and asking why someone would inflict that kind of pain on a child who could one day read the tweet.
In the now-deleted tweet he wrote: “My wife and I originally wanted three kids, had one and decided after a few years that one was plenty.
“Though I love my son, I now: a) know myself well enough, and b) know the challenges of parenting well enough, to say that having a kid is probably my biggest life regret.
What the Twitter army never considered was that there is a silent group of parents nodding along in the shadows, not willing to admit they feel the same way.
It’s hard to put precise figures on such a taboo topic, but in a 2016 German survey by YouGov, one in five fathers and mothers said they regretted becoming parents. You don’t have to look too hard to find such people. Take, for example, the group on Facebook called “I Regret Having Children”, where people post anonymous stories. It has over 28,000 followers.
Counsellor Elly Taylor says, “regret can range from looking at each other and thinking ‘what the hell have we done?’ to people whose relationships have broken down because they didn’t have enough support during parenthood.”
In a recent post, one wrote: “My wife needed to be a mother. I think she saw all her friends, classmates, and cousins having kids, so she needed to be in this mummy club …
“I went along with things to please her. I was fine with one, but she campaigned hard for two. I gave in to make her happy. So here we are with two toddlers. We’re both moody, can’t stand each other half of the time, and have a borderline dead bedroom life. So much for making her happy.
“The kids are a pain. It has got to the point where I don’t enjoy being at home any more. I dread the weekends. I much prefer the work week where I only have to be a parent for a few hours rather than all day. It’s non-stop noise, screaming, crying, whining, fighting.”
Another wrote: “This is not the life I wanted … My toddler son is a tornado of destruction and will break/tear/rip anything he can get his hands on, no matter how much I do to wear him out. And the baby predictably is needy because she is a baby. I feel tricked into wanting them by biological urges and the romanticised version of kids that isn’t close to reality.”
And another: “I love my kids, but I also regret them deeply, every one of them. I never wanted any of them; circumstances explain pretty much why I went through with them all. Imagine the guilt and mental weight of having a bunch of kids you love but never intended or wanted.”
James* is a 47-year-old advertising professional who never wanted kids. His girlfriend did, though, and James says he felt pressured by her, his family and society in general to follow suit.
He tells Sunday Life: “When I turned 40, people kept asking me when I was going to settle down and have kids.
People couldn’t believe I was 40 and I’d never had kids or been married, so I thought maybe there was something wrong with me.
“I never liked kids, but everyone kept saying ‘you will feel different when it’s your child’, or ‘having kids will be the best thing that ever happens to you’. So, we had a little girl and then we separated and now I have her 50/50 with my ex.
“I feel like my old life stopped when she was born, and I miss it. I used to see bands, go to the theatre, read books, travel and visit bars. I used to have conversations about art, politics and music; now it’s all about schools, lawns and swimming classes. I’m lucky if I get a couple of hours a week to myself.”
“People say how blessed they are to have kids and how they love them. But once you have kids and complain, everybody agrees with you. Why do they wait to tell you how bad it is after the fact?”
James says he feels as though he was tricked into having children. “People say how blessed they are to have kids and how they love them. But once you have kids and complain about school lunches, listening to the Wiggles and the lack of sleep, everybody agrees with you. Why do they wait to tell you how bad it is after the fact? I can honestly say it’s harder than I ever imagined and if I had my time again, I would never have done it.”
Tracey*, a 32-year-old single mum to a 14-year-old, says she joined the I Regret Having Children Facebook page because she was surprised there were other people who felt the same.
She realised she wasn’t alone after reading a book, Regretting Motherhood, by the Israeli writer Orna Donath, recommended in an online forum. “That was the first time I found out people felt the same as me.”
When she fell pregnant, Tracey says she thought seriously about adoption.
“I figured that in the long run, that would be worse for my son,” she says. “If I could go back and change everything, I’d never have a child. My son has no idea how I feel – I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
Tracey struggles with the perception of being constantly judged. “As a parent you can never do anything right. If you have a child, you’re selfish. If you don’t have a child, you’re selfish. Everything you do is judged, there really are no positives,” she says.
“As a woman, if you give the baby up, you’re a monster; if you have an abortion, you’re a monster; if you have a child and you don’t like it, you’re a monster. The worst part is, I can’t tell anyone how I feel. It’s a long time to keep a secret to yourself – you feel very isolated.”
Although Tracey has regrets about becoming a parent, she still feels a bond with her child. “I don’t want my son to ever feel I hate him. I don’t hate him at all, I actually like him as a person. I just don’t enjoy raising him.”
“As a woman, if you give the baby up, you’re a monster; if you have an abortion, you’re a monster; if you have a child and you don’t like it, you’re a monster.”
Perinatal relationship counsellor Elly Taylor, the author of Becoming Us, explains that most parents have mixed feelings about having a baby, citing “the loss of lifestyle, the loss of spontaneity and the loss of having control of your life” as significant factors.
“Regret can range from looking at each other and thinking ‘what the hell have we done?’ to people whose relationships have broken down because they didn’t have enough support during parenthood.”
Research shows that almost all couples – 92 per cent – experience increased conflict in their first year of parenthood, with the most divisive issue being the division of workload. And two-thirds report that their relationships suffered during the first three years of having a child.
Taylor says she often counsels parents who feel guilty about wanting to leave and being unable to cope with day-to-day challenges.
“They regret having kids and wish that they never did, and it’s very hard for them to admit that. A lot of parents don’t anticipate how significant the changes to their lives will be. It’s something they are not sufficiently prepared for.
“Some people expect being a parent to make their life happier, or make them more in love with their partner, and we know from research that is not the case. From counselling I know that when a parent can understand the reasons for their feelings and have those reasons validated, it’s almost as if those feelings clear up.”
Taylor says regrets can be rooted in something as simple as not having enough support. “Or maybe their relationship is suffering. It’s common that having children puts tremendous stress on a relationship and a couple may also need marriage counselling.”
One of the most common complaints is that they had no idea how hard parenting was going to be, with one Facebook poster writing: “Go to parenting classes. I find it crazy that anyone can reproduce without being required to even take a first aid course. Let’s get real about bearing children. The responsibility starts far before conception.”
*Names have been changed.
(Source: The Sunday Morning Herald)