We live in a consumer-driven world. American political debates center around which party can give citizens the most of what they want for the least cost, whether financial, societal, or otherwise, and our cultural disputes stem from disagreement over how people can achieve the most personal satisfaction and fulfillment without upsetting one another in the process.
In this context, parents, but mostly mothers, who regret having had their children are staking out space on the battleground of parenthood and sexuality. (I first wrote about this trend in the fall.) Ending the “stigma” against regretful mothers is being enveloped into the progressive family-policy agenda — a natural corollary to the campaign for government-funded abortion, which renounces the inherent value of children.
Reporter Stefanie Marsh in recent feature piece in the Guardian — “‘It’s the breaking of a taboo’: the parents who regret having children” — explored this concept further, interviewing a number of women who had planned to become mothers but began to regret their decision after their children had been born. In most cases, the women explained that the myriad difficulties of being a parent made them regret their choice.
One mother in the piece said that “the exact moment the tiny baby was placed in her arms,” she felt as if she had made a mistake. Another said, “I felt like I was in a plot in a crime book, where the woman is being suffocated by motherhood.” According to Marsh, women who regret becoming mothers feel that they can’t speak about that regret without being shamed by others.
Yet at the same time, all of these women were adamant that their regret of motherhood was separate from their actual children; they all expressed love for their children, whom they seemingly wished had never existed at all. These contradictory claims point to the real problem underlying the crusade to abolish the stigma against regretful mothers.
The central issue isn’t whether these women deserve to be “shamed” for lamenting the paths their lives took as the result of their children, or even whether their regrets are understandable. The problem with articles such as this one — and with the movement that they fuel — is that they imply either that children have little value outside of the emotional satisfaction they bring to their parents or that the value of children is necessarily diminished by the hardship that comes along with caring for them.
This is particularly evident in the implication that these mothers can both love their children and wish that those children didn’t exist. At the very least, that suggests a fundamental misinterpretation of the nature of love, which ought to be understood as more than emotional affection for another person. Authentic love, self-sacrificial and focused on the good of the other above one’s own needs, would never wish away the very life of the beloved.
The push to normalize regretful parents, even to the point of wishing away existing children, reveals the way in which our society has chosen to overlook the intrinsic value of every human life.
To read the various pieces on this topic is to grasp that the drivers against the “taboo” believe that having a child is valuable only as long as it is rewarding, or as long as one is always successful at being a parent. “I had a very romantic notion of being a mother,” one regretful mother reports in the Guardian piece, “that I’d love going to the playground, that I would be always loving and understanding.” And one young woman says she doesn’t plan to have children because she’d “be a really horrible mum” and is “narcissistic.”
Such a shallow understanding of parenthood has it all backward. Being a mother is valuable not because it’s easy, and children aren’t inevitably going to evoke their parents’ best qualities. Indeed, quite the opposite is often true. The difficulties of raising children force adults to sacrifice their own desires and comforts, an endeavor that brings them out of themselves in the pursuit of the good of their child. For both our communities and larger culture, the best balance can be found in affirming the inherent dignity of children while also supporting men and women who faces challenges as a result of being parents.
This balance was well illustrated by a recent Twitter hashtag, #MyUnintendedJoy, which parents have used to tell stories about their unplanned pregnancies and the children who resulted. In these oft-ignored cases, men and women who never expected to become parents explain how their children have brought them joy despite the obvious challenges parenthood presented. That is what love looks like.
The push to normalize regretful parents, even to the point of wishing away existing children, reveals the way in which our society has chosen to overlook the intrinsic value of every human life. This mentality is carried to its logical extension by the pro-abortion-rights movement, which views life as dispensable and children as commodities, and which shows a breakdown in social norms that we must challenge and reverse. Our society cannot flourish if we reject future generations because they might challenge our conception of ourselves or complicate our pursuit of satisfaction.