An acquaintance posted this very provocative article on Facebook today, Mothers Who Regret Having Kids, and as much as I didn’t want to click on it, I just did, because I was genuinely curious what they meant by that. What follows is an edited version of my comment on that post.
I had my kids when I was 30 and 32 and now they are almost in college. I worked full-time until they were 7 and 9 years old. So it’s been a while since I dealt with the stresses that come with the newborn/toddler phase, and I certainly wasn’t “trapped” at home in the monotony of childcare at that time. That said, having my two sons near the start of what I had planned to be a long career posed its own hurdles.
My husband and I had two pretty intense jobs, and we were both very involved parents, if you compared him to the average Early-00s Working Dad. We arranged the calendar so that we weren’t both traveling on the same day, we were both generally home at nights and on weekends. However, if I told you he did 50% of the “at home” stuff that is well known as a Mother’s Second Shift, that would be a lie. It’s not like he didn’t want to or wasn’t able to contribute, it was more about my self-imposed need to “feel” like a mother and not just a person with two small humans living in her house.
Ultimately, many women do try and do it all, whether they have a partner or not. Which leads to unrealistic expectations, and always unfulfilled promises, mostly to ourselves. We work extra hard at work, then work extra hard at home, oh and then beat ourselves up if we don’t look like a super model. That part sucks. Crying at work from the pressure sucks. Feeling guilty for not being the Class Mom sucks. Feeling like a failure because you don’t make MD or Partner because you rush home every night to relieve the nanny sucks. Having to put someone’s needs in front of your own sometimes sucks (or it’s sometimes the best thing ever, because it’s kind of tedious always doing things for yourself).
Yeah, it’s hard. Now what?
There is a universal truth that parenting is hard work, because it is. A working parent (regardless if it is out of choice or necessity) makes it even harder. If the downs are so low, and the pressure so great, why do we do it? Certainly the women interviewed for the “I regret having kids” article don’t think it was worth it. But I tend to think in all but the most extreme cases, regret like that is transitory. Fleeting. If you ask a stressed-out, sleep-deprived mother on her worst day if she believes “Motherhood” (capital M) is the apex of human existence, she’ll obviously tell you to go to hell. A loss of self, even if in the full arc of your life is only a blink, will feel endless at the time you are going through it. It’s especially difficult if your child was unplanned, or your partner decides their life would be easier without the responsibilities of parenthood. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe that is the average parenting experience.
So, again, why have kids? I could put it all down to Darwin and our genetic need to procreate, but that can’t explain it all. Lots of families abound that have no shared DNA whatsoever. The truth is I have no idea. For us, not having kids could have made a lot of things easier over the last eighteen years, that’s for sure. But they’d also have been a whole lot emptier. My sons are far from perfect but they are still a couple of the best people I know and it’s an absolute joy to spend time with them. Knowing I raised sons who know right from wrong, who are funny and engaging and straight-up good men is the reward. We did that. We taught them and showed them by example. I also know that when my husband and I got married, we considered ourselves a team, looking out for each other and having each other’s backs. So it was very poignant for me when years later, a beloved television character, Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation responded like this to her friends, April and Andy Dwyer:
Andy’s desperate to be a dad. Even though April is into stretch marks and puking, she’s not sure she wants kids. April goes to Leslie for advice, which is great, obviously. “Nobody’s life is perfect,” Leslie says. “You have kids because you and Andy are a team and you want to bring in some new team members. I don’t know if you should have kids, but I do like your team.”
That is one of the best reasons I can think of, and in retrospect, much the reason why my husband and I “expanded our team.” And it’s ironic that in spite of all the ways in which things were challenging along the way, my only (half-)regret is that we didn’t have more kids. The two we have are pretty awesome.
I hope if you have kids you don’t regret it, but I wouldn’t be too afraid of losing yourself. Even if you do, it’s not forever. Whatever you think you are giving up, or even actually give up, pales in comparison to the love and happiness a child adds to your life. Even when they drive you crazy and you cry buckets of tears when someone hurts them or they disappoint you, it’s worth it. Strangely, it really is. And at some point you’ll see them go off on their own and think “why did I complain when they needed me 24/7?”
But you’ll still always have someone who’s on your team.