A lot of the time that I read Jezebel, the preeminent feminist blog of our time, I find myself nodding along in agreement with its stances of equality, feminism, and personal choice, as well as its clever takes on pop culture (even if it’s a tad too snarky at times for my own taste). Jezebel generally offers commentary that I both recognize and learn from.
And then sometimes, I read something and feel so extraordinarily distant from the prevalent sentiment being shared that it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around this alternate world. In honor of Mother’s Day, the website posted an article on the moms who express remorse over having children on the social network Whisper, a clearinghouse of anonymous confessions that range from the hilarious to the horrible. Some of these “momfessions” are understandable, if tinged with a little sadness: “I’m a mom, but I obsess over my old life. I just miss it so much”; “My daughter ruined my body;” and “I truly love my kids, but I’m starting to regret having them so young.” Others bordered on humorous: “I read my daughter’s tweets, she doesn’t know. She seems like a real asshole.” But some were just plain appalling, like this one: “I hate my son. I didn’t want a boy. I wanted a girl.”
But what really struck me was the comments section, at last count nearing 1,500, and which did vary but mostly stuck to one theme: “Honestly, most parents I know IRL, say this stuff to me all the time. That they love their kids, but if they could take it back….When we tell them we don’t want kids, they say, ‘Good… DON’T DO IT!’” and, “I didn’t want kids when I got married 32 years ago. Now, I’m really happy to say I didn’t give in to the societal pressures that still existed then. So many of my friends whispered ‘You were right’ after their kids were born.’” And this: “I rarely hear anyone say anything positive about parenting.”
Though I would have figured the original admissions were from frustrated parents who needed a moment of virtual catharsis, the comments section proves me wrong: Many people shared their parent friends’ entreaties to save their social lives and not have children, and their friends’ deep regret at being parents. (I always read the comments, even on my own stuff: a big writers’ no-no. I find they offer me a better grasp on what the specific community I am interested in–be it the Jewish community or one of women or parents specifically—is thinking than the article itself.) Others shared their thoughts on how having children is a programmed desire only instilled in you by diaper commercials, and how, if you really care about the environment, you won’t have kids who will only increase the carbon footprint. At some point, the vitriol toward children and the people who choose to have them was too much to take and I stopped reading.
I’ve always been rather hopelessly naïve, which at times is either my most endearing or most unappealing quality. But it’s not like I’m living in la-la land where I think everybody places the same high value on children that I do, and I know it’s completely possible to be child-free and still have rich, fulfilling lives. I understand the people who don’t want to be parents: While you factor into the equation, you no longer immediately come first. You will lose sleep and sanity and the right to use the lavatory undisturbed and eat an entire snack without encountering outstretched hands and demands for more.
Parenting children is very tough. I have observed in friends’ families that parenting children with special needs is even tougher. So when a good friend tells me he prefers not to have children, I totally understand, even though I’m really thinking in my head: “You’re missing out.” I recognize that he probably looks at my messy, busy, over-scheduled life and thinks the same thing about me.
But for some reason–and perhaps my unremitting naiveté is showing here–I had never really given any thought to the people who already have children and now wish they didn’t. I suppose I figured they were a truly small group, equivalent in membership to people who dislike Harry Potter books or those who voted for Ralph Nader. But now this article is making me think: Just how prevalent an actuality is remorse over becoming parents? How much does this exist in the Jewish community, and especially the religious world, where likely many people who might feel emboldened in the secular world to admit their desire to remain child-free instead just breed resentfully because it’s the thing to do?
I’m not sure what my point here is (though admitting my inability to postulate a coherent thesis is yet another big writer’s no-no). Maybe just surprise at there is a whole class of parents who feel tangible regret over having children, to the point where they warn other people not to have them, lest they “ruin” their lives. I feel sadness, too, for the children who are getting shortchanged and who must know, intrinsically or more obviously, that they are rued or regretted.
I’m not looking for a return to the 1950s, where every mother is a June Cleaver-like robot whose world revolves around her children. But while regret at having children too young or intensely missing your pre-mom social life are real emotions and should be validated, I believe they should also be fleeting. At a certain point, if you genuinely feel prolonged regret each and every day over having given birth to people who had no choice in the matter, I feel sorry for you. But I feel even sorrier for your children.