“This photo is one which pretty much sums up much of why I think I don’t regret becoming a parent. I walked in from work one day a year ago to see my partner cuddling our toddler while he was making dinner. I snapped a pic, walked over, and took her from him and sent him to go get some time and space alone. He had been ‘on’ for our children, home for hours, and he probably needed a break. Which he got while I took over the parenting responsibilities.
Parental regret. Why does it happen? How can we work through it? Can it be prevented? Yesterday we had a thread on parental regret in our private group. I’m so glad we can have this conversation. The more people I hear from on this, the more I wish we talked about it even more. I am confident it is WAY more common than we think or realize. There’s just so much shame surrounding such feelings and experiences. It is a taboo conversation.
So, let me get this out of the way: if you experience parental regret, you are not a bad person. The feelings are what they are. What you do with them is what matters. First, why does it happen? I believe it is largely unrealistic expectations, social pressures, lack of meaningful (and worthwhile) support, systemic oppressive societal structures, and an imbalance in the parenting workload (both with partner and community). We love to say it takes a village, but most never have hands-on involvement from the village.
I do not have parental regret, in that I don’t regret becoming a parent. Right now, I have a deep sadness I’m having a baby in the midst of so much stress and anxiety, our financial security (ha! as if it is ever really secure) began to fall apart shortly after getting pregnant, then began to improve, and COVID-19 means it even more rapidly crumbled. The circumstances are regrettable in the moment, the baby is not. Thankfully, I feel strongly we will be fine and our baby will be such a joy to have in our arms amidst such circumstances. I won’t regret this baby or having children or being a parent.
Second, how can we work through it? Like this; being honest about it, discussing with others, being curious about our feelings, going to therapy if possible (and going again and again, and switching providers if necessary), adjusting expectations, and changing our paradigms. There’s probably more, and the steps may look different for everyone. I think I could have easily had parental regret, like my mother (and my dad, but it was really different for him—he didn’t have to actively parent nearly as much).
In fact, I believe I would have been very likely to have severe parental regret. This brings us here: can we prevent it? I believe the answer is absolutely. But it isn’t an easy answer. In my case I got lucky, things just aligned. Luck isn’t enough, though, and it will take intentional systemic and social changes to reduce how common parental regret is. Here are the reasons I believe I don’t have parental regret:
My partner is just as involved in parenting as I am, and sometimes more so. I have never felt alone in parenting our children. My partner and I share parenting responsibilities based on our strengths, skills, passions, interests, energy, etc. Not based on gender roles. My partner actively shares the invisible burden and workload of parenting our children in an ongoing and ever-evolving way. My partner respects me. My feelings are not dismissed, suppressed, or pushed aside. Instead they are honored, processed, and explored, in an appropriate way, to not harm others or perpetuate unhealthy cycles in myself and our family. Same for my partner. Same for our children.
My partner and I have worked together to identify our own partnership, parenting, and life expectations. We have thrown out what we’ve come to see as unnecessary and unhealthy for us and our family, cultural pressures, and have embraced what we need and what works for us. Realistic expectations which respect us as parents and our children as individuals are freeing. We are responsible for setting our own values and have ditched much of what society has told us is important, finding peace in what works for us.
I have always had the support to pursue my interests, passions, and aspirations as an individual after having children. My partner invests in me and I invest in him. Our relationship and connection is a priority to both of us. I get regular and frequent breaks from parenting responsibilities, and I make sure my partner gets them too, so we can both still have time to be fully ourselves. While I have made sacrifices for our children, I have never felt like I was the only one making sacrifices for our children, and my boundaries and limits still matter.
When I have struggled in some way with being a parent (difficult HG pregnancies, birth trauma, giving up goals and dreams for my family, etc.), I have had support around me, in both my partner and community, to grieve and process those hurts and challenges. I’m okay with not having much by way of material possessions, am content with having our needs met just enough, and don’t feel inadequate or like I’m missing out—because I’ve been supported in finding fulfillment in other ways. (I’d rather write and support others in their journeys of connection than travel or have nice vehicles, etc.)
Therapy. With therapy and other personal work on myself, I’ve been able to address my triggers and work through my difficult, complicated emotions and grow. I’m learning about normal human development so I have realistic expectations of what parenting really is like. My parenting has evolved the more I learn, grow, and understand. If I was still parenting how I was parented and how I started out, I am certain I would have parental regret.
Living a trauma-informed life and practicing trauma-informed parenting. Not just informed about others, but informed about myself and my own trauma, and how it impacts my parenting. Like every other family member, I matter in our family for who I am, not what I do for the family and others. This list is something many do not have. Our society has normalized burn-out for parents, particularly mothers, and a lack of support for parents (again, particularly mothers) as individuals. Without these, basic human dignity, self-actualization, and individual fulfillment is easily lost, or worse, destroyed. How could parental regret not grow out of that?
One commenter yesterday on the main page offered some incredible insight with this: ‘I see how my actions are often a mixture of what I wish I had experienced and what I wish I had not experienced.’ What do you think would help those who experience parental regret? What can we do to prevent it on both individual and societal levels?”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber of We’re All Human Here. The story originally appeared here. Follow We’re All Human Here on Instagram here. The article originally appeared here. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.
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