Nothing can truly prepare you for parenthood. You could read every parenting book on the planet and still feel completely overwhelmed the moment you first hold your baby in your arms. In the first few weeks, you barely have time to think, let alone sleep or eat. Once you start to fall into a routine, however, reality sets in. Once you become a parent, there is no going back.
For many, there is no greater joy than bringing life into the world. Some people are born to be parents and they happily change their lives for the good of their children. For others, however, parenthood comes as a surprise or they find the reality is much different than the expectation. Many parents regret having children, and, for some, the feeling is not fleeting.
Whether you’re experiencing parental regret with a newborn baby, a teething toddler, or a moody teenager, your feelings are valid. Here’s what you need to know about parental regret along with some useful tips to help you cope with it.
What is Parental Regret?
Once you have children, your life changes. You no longer have the freedom to make choices solely based on your own needs or preferences. For many people, becoming a parent is the height of happiness and the key to a fulfilling life. For others, however, welcoming a new life into the world is accompanied by a sense of loss for the life they once or could have lived.
Parenthood can be exhausting. By the time you get the kids through their homework, fed, bathed, and into bed, you’re too tired to even think about everything that needs to be done around the house. You find yourself living in a haze of endless responsibility with little time to yourself. Forget taking an impromptu weekend trip or even going out to dinner without reserving a sitter two weeks ahead.
Many parents gladly give up some of their personal freedoms for a life of responsibility – the experience of parenthood is its own reward. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, however, 8% of parents in the United States report that they would choose not to have children if they could do their lives over. The reality is that number could be higher if admitting to the challenge and emotional struggle of parenthood weren’t so taboo. Parental regret is very real but many feel like they experience it alone.
Exploring Potential Causes of Parental Regret
The underlying causes of parental regret are different in most cases. Some parents regret the timing, wishing they’d had more opportunity to pursue their education or further their career before having children. For others, regret can be tied to the number of children they’ve had, the partner they’ve had them with, or difficulties with the children themselves such as illness or disability.
We are all shaped by our experiences in life, so take the time to consider all the various factors which may be contributing to your current feelings around being a parent. Here are some to consider:
- Your upbringing and relationship with your own parents
- Your past and current mental or physical health
- Your access to emotional support
- Your relationship with your child’s other parent
- Your child’s age, temperament, and behavior
- Your current career and financial situation
The key to coping with parental regret is to acknowledge it rather than denying it and hoping it will resolve on its own. It may help to start a journal where you can keep track of your thoughts and work through your emotions. At the very least, it will be a stepping stone toward having a conversation with your partner or seeking help to learn how to cope.
Tips for Coping with Parental Regret
Regret is a perfectly normal emotion and one we all feel from time to time. You can’t control your feelings, but you can choose how you react to them. Denying your parental regret could make matters worse and may prevent you from experiencing the joy and satisfaction that can come from being a parent. It’s rare that you’ll find a parent that enjoys the job 100% of the time, but you shouldn’t have to live your life wishing you’d made a different decision. The past is behind you, but you have the power to shape your future.
Here are some helpful tips for coping with parental regret:
1. Find a safe space to share. Regret is a difficult emotion to process, so you may not be ready to share your feelings with someone close to you just yet. Find a safe space to share your feelings anonymously such as an online support group or private Facebook group.
2. Consider virtual therapy. Talking through your feelings is important but if you’ve experienced disruption to your daily life, you may want to consider treatment. Virtual therapy sessions are affordable and easy to access while online psychiatry sites can ensure you get the help you need from home.
3. Talk to your partner. When you’re ready to share, talk to your partner or a trusted family member or friend. It may be a difficult conversation but sharing with someone who cares about you will help you feel less isolated and you’ll be able to start working through your emotions.
4. Give yourself some time. Being a parent means putting your child’s needs first, often for years at a time. If you have a partner or friends and family you can rely on, accept offers of help and give yourself permission to do something for yourself from time to time. There’s nothing selfish about self-care and you may just find that a little personal time leaves you feeling brighter and more resilient.
5. Reach out to a professional. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, reach out to a professional immediately. Use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMSHA) National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), to get help right away.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Every parent questions their ability and aptitude from time to time, even if they look to you like Supermom or Superdad. It’s normal to feel stressed, overwhelmed, or even regretful about parenthood from time to time. What’s important is that you receive the help you need to overcome these challenges and to give your child the best life possible.