This morning, my 2-year-old grabbed my face between his soft, dimpled hands and pulled me toward him for a sloppy toddler kiss. It’s something he does at least once a day, and my heart explodes each time, because it makes me feel exactly how I always imagined motherhood would feel: joyous, special and full of love. In those moments with my son, I feel completely fulfilled, but as any parent can tell you, raising kids isn’t always like that.
I became a mom for the first time in 2011. Like other expectant moms, I read all the birthing and parenting books at my disposal, and I joined every new-mom Facebook group and message board I could find. The message I got over and over again from all those books and online postings was that motherhood is life’s greatest gift — that it’d have hard parts, but they’d be worth it when compared to the all-encompassing love and gratitude I’d feel for my child.
After nearly five years as a mom, I can tell you that gratitude gets harder to find at 3 in the morning, when your nipples are cracked and the baby is still screaming to use you as a human pacifier. It’s harder to find that love when you have postpartum depression or to feel #Blessed when you’re pumping breast milk in a bathroom stall at work after your too-short maternity leave. There are parts of parenthood that are so difficult they sometimes make me question whether I even made the right choice in having kids. And as hard as that is to admit, it’s a feeling I know many other parents share.
A survey of German parents by YouGov found that, out of 2,045 moms and dads polled, around 1 in 5 said they regret having kids. Lest you think these people are monsters, you should know that 95 percent of them said they love their kids without question. Still, 52 percent of them feel their lives are limited by their children, and 44 percent of mothers said they probably would’ve done better in their careers if they hadn’t chosen to have babies.
“Regret” is a strong word, but the truth is, a lot of parents feel blindsided by how difficult it is to raise kids, and there’s still so much shame in talking about that. As a society we do a good job of telling people all the wonderful things about being parents. We post glowing breastfeeding selfies and sweet videos of our babies hitting their milestones with a smile. We fill our Pinterest boards with beautiful nursery decor and talk about how we’ve never known a love like what we feel for our kids.
We all struggle with the monotony, sacrifice and hardship that goes into being a parent, but we don’t say it, because it’s taboo. We don’t want to seem ungrateful for our kids or get judged for being unhappy. Parenthood has an ingrained culture of silence when it comes to discontent, and it’s hard for anyone new to the game to get a good sense of what parenthood is really like when all they’re ever exposed to is other parents’ highlight reels.
As a parent, you never, ever stop loving your kids, but you also miss out on important events and big promotions. You spend thousands of dollars a year on child care and have almost zero maternity (or paternity) leave at most workplaces. You’re exhausted, you can’t take care of yourself the way you used to, sometimes you’re anxious or clinically depressed, you gain weight, and the concept of free time or a day off is about as realistic as the Easter Bunny.
There are moments when parenthood is downright awful. And as with any big decision, there will be times when every parent questions themselves and thinks, “Holy shit, what have I done? Why did I get myself into this? This is so not how I thought it would be.” We should be able to talk about those feelings just as often as we talk about first words and which brand of diapers we’re using.
It’s not so much that parents regret their children. Rather, we’re overwhelmed by the feeling that we had no idea how much our lives would change, how much we’d be forced to give up and how hard we’d have to work once we had kids. Parenthood is wonderful, joyous and magical, but it’s also the hardest thing most of us will ever do. And maybe fewer people would feel blindsided by the reality of having kids if it were more acceptable to admit that everything is not always perfect.
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