Parental regret: It’s OK to regret becoming a parent

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It is often said there’s no greater joy than being a mom. Bringing new life into the world is an amazing thing and nothing compares to the experience of raising a child. As is often the case in life, however, the most satisfying experiences can also be some of the most hard-won. Having a child is no small undertaking. If you’re struggling with conflicted feelings, wondering what life would be like if you hadn’t had children, you’re not alone. Parental regret is very real, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.

It’s important to acknowledge and address the feeling of regretting parenthood. Here’s what you need to know about parental regret and how to cope with it.

What is parental regret?

In cultures around the world, parenthood is sacrosanct – many even think of it as the main purpose of life. For others, however, becoming a parent is more an expectation than an ambition. It’s difficult to understand what it’s like to be a parent until you become one and there’s no shame in finding the job a little more challenging than you expected.

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 8% of parents in the United States reported that if they could do things over in life, they would choose not to have children. Discussing a topic like parental regret often feels taboo, but there are groups on social media where parents anonymously share their experiences in a safe space. It can be difficult to acknowledge or understand what you’re feeling but seeking support from your partner or an outside professional can help.

Common causes for parental regret

There’s no denying the difficulty of being a parent and everyone has their own reasons for parental regret. For many parents, however, it’s more about regretting the circumstances associated with having children than regretting the children themselves.

Here are a few examples:

  • Timing – Interruptions in career, education, or financial status.
  • Sacrifice – Lost time, money, or opportunities; reduced sleep or intimacy with your partner; having less time to travel or engage in hobbies.
  • Fear – The feeling that the outside world isn’t safe for children.
  • Specifics – Having children with the wrong partner or having too many/not enough children.

In other cases, regret is linked to factors that make parenthood more difficult than anticipated. This may include having children with an illness or disability or experiencing a decline in your own mental health related to the struggles of parenthood. Feelings of parental regret can be triggered or worsened by conditions like postpartum depression. Some people find they simply don’t like being a parent and others never chose parenthood in the first place – it happened by accident.

Tips for coping with parental regret

Trying to deny your feelings of regret may keep you from learning to cope with them and may prevent you from experiencing the joys parenthood has to offer. There’s no rule that says you have to enjoy every minute of being a mom or a dad, but you shouldn’t have to live your life feeling unhappy or dissatisfied. There are ways to cope with parental regret.  

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Find a safe space to share your feelings, even if you only feel comfortable doing it anonymously.
  • Talk to a professional immediately if you have any thoughts of harming your baby. Use SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to get help right away.
  • Consider treatment options like virtual therapy or online psychiatry to get the help you need.
  • Start a journal to put your feelings into words so you can come to better understand them.
  • Talk to your partner or, if you’re not quite ready, with a trusted friend or family member.

Alternate perspectives

It’s perfectly natural to wonder about paths not taken and how your life may have been different had you not had kids. It helps to remember that alternate scenarios for your life also hold pluses and minuses and it’s impossible to know whether those different paths would be more or less fulfilling than what your expereience is now.

You may also find it helpful to remember that parenting, like your relationship with your partner, has its ups and downs. What may seem like a mistake today, may feel like your life’s greatest gift next year or in ten years.

There’s no recipe for a perfect parent – every parent is human. Regretting or feeling unprepared for parenthood is common but it doesn’t have to be permanent. Share your feelings with someone you trust and know that you are not alone. With time and the proper support, you can learn to be the best parent you can be in your own unique way. 

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