A response to the unsettling and growing movement of women who publicly admit they wish they had chosen differently.
Dear mom who regrets having children,
I have read the spate of recent articles reporting on the growing movement of mothers publicly declaring their regret over having children that you are a part of, and let me first say that I don’t judge you. You who are feeling regret about having your kids are going through what is called a dark night of the soul. But I’d like to try to help you look at your situation differently, if I can, and offer hope and consolation.
In this age of social media, it can become tempting to think we really know what another person’s life is like. Remember, though, that we are only seeing what that person chooses to display. Just because other people are traveling and accomplishing and ever-smiling does not mean that their life is one you would want instead of your own. You might be wishing you were the childless women parasailing or celebrating opening night at a new Broadway show or winning a promotion, but it is entirely possible that she is looking at pictures of the woman with her arms around smiling kids, wishing she could swap lives.
It’s true that motherhood can be difficult, lonely, intimidating, exhausting. There are fun events you miss out on because of family needs. Your career, if you have one outside of the home, takes a hit in some way. Your house will be messy when you wish it were neat. There will be nights you cry and in a dark moment, you may be tempted to have regrets as you imagine “the road not taken,” to quote the famous Frost poem.
But as Dr. Hamilton Beazley writes in his book No Regrets: A Ten-Step Program For Living in the Present and Leaving the Past Behind, “What if he had chosen the road more traveled by? That choice, too, would have ‘made all the difference.’ But what was the difference between the two roads …? Neither he nor we will ever know. The road not taken is the source of all regrets. It seduces us with fantasies of ‘what might have been’ … poisoning the road we did take or were forced to take and the present in which we live.” In other words, the untraveled road we glamorize and pine over is a trap, plain and simple. When I was a new mom and would say to my own mother, “This is just so overwhelming; I don’t know if I’m cut out for this!” she would glibly reply, “Well, what else do you want to do with your time here on earth? What’s more important?”
Maybe like me you’d be tempted to answer that question with “I want to write another book!” Or maybe it’s becoming a judge, or going to grad school, or taking a long vacation, or starting a business. In moments like this, we might consider the words of Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty: “The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral — a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body … What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”
Nothing you do on this earth — no book you write, no trip you take, no career glory you win, no monument built in your honor, nothing will last forever. At some point it will turn to dust. But what will last forever is your child’s soul, fostered by you, and the souls your child fosters, making your legacy eternal.
I don’t know if you are a pray-er or have prayed much lately. It can be hard to pray when you’re in too deep and feeling down. Sometimes you can’t find the words. That’s when you need someone to remind you of who and whose you are. Maybe you had great parents and you can be reminded of how much you owe to them and how you can pay it forward. Maybe you are disappointed in some ways with how you were raised or how you were abandoned. This could be a time for you to try to pray. It may be a sorrow too deep to handle alone; it may need heavenly intervention and a healing hand from your creator, your heavenly parent, who always wants your love and never stops loving you and will never abandon you.
When the darkness creeps in on you, you may be helped by reminders that this world is not all there is. This is your time to build a kingdom, a tribe … with the imprint of all the great men and women in your bloodline who came before you as a guide. Here’s a counter-cultural thought that can be extremely freeing: You are in the world and can love it but remember, you are not meant to be of the world. You are a child of God. This is not our final home, after all. As St. Augustine said of God, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”
My hope is that all valiant women who have exercised our freedom and power as women to give life and nurture it find a gentle balance between loving ourselves and loving the extensions of ourselves. (After all, in loving them, you are loving yourself.) You deserve to be loved and appreciated and so do they. And good families are one of the best inventions for love and acceptance, and a refuge from the beautiful but often phony world of which we too often hunger to be a part. In your struggle, I hope you won’t deprive yourself of the surprises and joys that can emerge because of the choices you did make.
My grandmother, who had a large family, often talks about the great blessing those children were in her life. This is a woman who even at 100 has dreams and is interesting, full of energy. She was no shrinking flower of a woman; she was a force to be reckoned with. She forged a remarkable career in the 1960s, winning a job title no woman before her had earned in her company. She tells of how after trying unsuccessfully to have children for five years of marriage, she and my grandfather decided that they would be grateful for any children God wanted to send them. God sent them six. She talks about how tough it could be, how overwhelming.
But she also remarked, “Sometimes it’s your child who saves you.”