Today I was asked whether I was a regretful mother. I can understand why people would think that. I do spend a lot of time banging on about how shit motherhood can be but that’s the difference. I don’t regret becoming a mother – I don’t regret having kids – but I do resent the job of motherhood at times and yes, I regret that this is the situation I find myself in. I regret that I’ve made a choice that society doesn’t support me in.
Here’s the thing: from the moment we exit the womb, women are indoctrinated into believing that motherhood is their truest destiny. The dolls, the toy kitchens, the toy pushchairs, the stories, the films, the books…it all serves to reinforce in girls the idea that Project Procreation is the goal, the main aim.
All of this would be fine if, when we finally found our uteri burgeoning with the potential of human life, women were supported. Instead we are public enemy number one. Pregnancy discrimination is rife. If you’re on maternity leave you are a prime target for redundancy and if you do happen to make it back into the workforce, career progression is restricted, limited flexible working options will make child-friendly scheduling almost impossible and there are few salaries that cover extortionate childcare costs.
Even if that wasn’t the reality, we’re still battling against the fact that it simply isn’t ok to be a fully-fledged member of the female sex and declare that you don’t want children. Women who don’t want children are regarded as suspicious at best and total psychopaths at worst. The discussion surrounding this decision often includes words such as ‘selfish’, ‘feminist’ (often uttered with a distinct sense of distaste) and ‘heartless’. Perhaps if we made it more acceptable to forego baby-making, more women wouldn’t feel the need to fulfil society’s expectation and eventually perhaps regret it.
The last two-generations have managed to transform society’s version of womanhood. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a long way to go but we’re no longer expected to leave school, get married and have babies. We’re leaving the whole marriage/baby thing a lot longer and in the meantime, we’re building careers, earning our own money, living alone…I mean, who’d have thunk it? The problem is, society’s version of motherhood remains that same and the two are simply not compatible.
Of course, it’s a process and we know it’s evolving but perhaps not quickly enough. Dads are more engaged than ever, they’re expected to actually parent rather than step up for a few hours on a Saturday morning and they want to. This is, obviously, a good thing but mums still shoulder most of the ‘life admin’. All those birthday presents that need buying, the easter eggs that need hunting, the pick ups and drop offs that need scheduling, the dentist appointments, the birthday cards, the thank you cards, the stair pile…they may seem like tiny things but when your fitting that shit in between working full time, trying to live your own life, exist in a happy marriage and be the doting mother…it’s pretty damn exhausting and damaging.
The simple fact is that when you break it down motherhood has a terrible job description. Really terrible. We can’t judge those that decide to leave that whole thing well alone nor can we judge those that go for it and once in it feel that, on reflection, it wasn’t the best choice for them. Coming to that realisation doesn’t mean they are bad, abusive or neglectful parents. None of the regretful mothers I’ve read about say they don’t love their children; in fact they all profess real love for their children. They just resent and/or regret the consequences that had on their life choices, their sense of self, their mental wellbeing, their career. They simply say, “If I’d known then what I know now about motherhood, I wouldn’t have made that choice.”
No matter how wonderful or not you find motherhood, there are always days when we can empathise with that sentiment but it’s the last taboo, isn’t it? We’re pretty much there when it comes to admitting that sometimes motherhood is hard and sometimes we don’t enjoy it but admitting that we wish we’d never chosen motherhood at all is still beyond the realms of acceptability but perhaps the problem isn’t regretful mothers; perhaps the problem is the way society treats mothers?