Parents Regretting Parenthood; More Common Than You Think
Columnist Ann Landers once did an informal survey of her readers back in the 1970's. The single question she asked of them was: "If you had it to do over again, would you still have children?" A surprising 70% said "no."
Although the survey was hardly scientific – she didn't claim that it was – it was still a strong indication that more couples regret being parents than some of us like to believe. Which is probably why so many pro-family religious groups still make a point to discredit not only informal surveys like Landers', but all articles, essays and books that could put some very "dangerous" ideas into the minds of their members. Namely, that parenthood isn't the rosy picture of bliss they purposely make it out to be. After all, if the real truth about parenthood – the fact that it can involve long nights with no sleep, endless diaper changes, and a total loss of freedom for married couples – became widely known, there would be an even greater shrinkage in the birth rates of the faithful than they are seeing right now.
In her excellent book I'm Okay, You're A Brat, author and psychologist Susan Jeffers counters the myths of parenthood propagated by the pro-family advocates with large doses of brutal honesty. In some of her interviews with mothers and fathers alike, these parents revealed some less-than-blissful thoughts about parenting; chiefly, that if they had known the long hours that it involved, particularly during the infant, toddler and terrible-two's stages, they would not have ventured onto the parenting path. Some of the notable, and very telling, quotes about parenting in Jeffers' book include the following: "I can't believe I traded in my old life for this. I voluntarily traded heaven for misery." While this may sound shocking coming from a mother, she is not alone. Other quotes from parents experiencing difficulty with the transition from childlessness to parenthood follow very similar lines.
Another fact that religious groups are not too eager to admit is the fact that deep regret about parenthood has led to cases of child neglect, abuse, and even homicide by parents who claim to have "just snapped" with the stresses of baby or child care. However, the never-answered question remains, did that parent actually "snap," or was it just possible that the negligent, abusive or murderous mom or dad never wanted a child in the first place, and was pressured by family or religious community not to abort or have the child adopted. We all know of the tragedy in the Yates family that occurred in 2001; a mother, overwhelmed with the responsibility of five young children, took all of their lives by drowning them. The case of Susan Smith, who left her two young boys to drown in a submerged car also got national headlines, as did countless other child abuse and homicide cases. Both women came from strong religious backgrounds. Is that just another coincidence?
The number of pregnant women killed by their own husbands over the last twenty years, including Laci Peterson who was eight months pregnant at the time of her death, Lori Hacking, who was in the beginning stages of pregnancy, and Carol Stewart, who was murdered by her husband Charles in the late 1980's, presents a grim picture that more men might prefer to be child-free rather than dads. In the case of these murderous husbands, however, one has to wonder whether the event of pregnancy motivated the action to kill their wives, or would they have eventually done so anyway, whether they were pregnant or not. That is another question that is unlikely ever to be answered.
It shouldn't take a genius to see that despite the efforts of pro-family groups, there is still a growing number of individuals and couples who regret parenthood but are doing their best to live with their decision, and those who have made the choice to forego parenthood altogether. It is the latter group, known as the voluntarily childless or child free, that repeatedly comes under fire from the conservative media, various faith-based organizations, and even their own family members and friends as being "selfish," "materialistic," "lazy," "bitter," and any other unflattering and unkind adjectives they can come up with.
But one has to wonder why those who have made the child-free choice deserve such criticism from those who have made the decision to parent. One would think that parents who are truly happy with their own choice wouldn't bother to concern themselves with the decision of some couples not to have children. Of course, it is possible that the saying "misery loves company" is a bigger motive for the often-vicious remarks directed at the child-free than some parents would care to admit, perhaps because they are feeling more than just a touch of envy themselves.
Too many children have had to grow up with parents who were less than enthusiastic about parenthood, and they bear the emotional scars of such an upbringing into their adult lives and relationships. If you are facing unwanted and unwelcome pressure to become a parent from family or friends, the best thing you or they can do is tell these well-meaning – debatable, in some cases – individuals to keep their opinions to themselves. Children should be raised by loving parents who welcome them and the responsibility they bring, not by those who consider parenting an unpleasant duty they'd prefer to avoid and may one day deeply regret. If you know the job of parenthood is not for you, you are making the wise and responsible choice for both you and future children. For having this wisdom, you are to be applauded.