A recent article in the New York Post highlights a Facebook group entitled "I Regret Having Children." The online group is a place for moms to share their regret without shame. The comments range from the typical grumblings that I think most parents utter when they’re tired to very strong lament and ideation of leaving one’s children behind in pursuit of the life she lost:
It’s not me. I miss my old life so much I just feel like walking out and leaving my husband and son.
I’m desperately sad. I love my children very much but I preferred life before and I want it back.
I’m just a frazzled mess all the time with no confidence. I wake up and cry knowing it’s just another day of dealing with crying arguing whiny children.
Since having them I’ve become increasingly bitter, depressed and angry.
All parents at one time or another have looked longingly back at the days before they had kids and marveled at the freedom and productivity they once possessed. When tending to a fussy baby in the middle of the night, it’s normal to realize that your pre-parent life was a lot easier. But what leads to regret year after year? What causes some moms to never stop wishing their children away? And how can we help?
Based on my years in women’s ministry, the many hours my husband and I have spent counseling couples, and—let me be honest—hard looks into my own selfish heart, I can see four primary reasons today’s parents live with regret:
1. Seeking fulfillment in the wrong place
Regret is not unique to parenthood. People regret taking jobs, getting married, and even going into ministry. When we seek ultimate fulfillment in temporary roles and things, we are disappointed. While these things may indeed provide good gifts, they will never fully satisfy our hearts.
It is in God alone that we find deep, lasting fulfillment. Scripture tells us that, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11) and “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:35). The New City Catechism reminds us that God is our creator and he made us to “know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.”
In our consumer-driven culture we are persuaded daily that joy will come when we get married, get the new car, move into the bigger house, have a baby, and carry the latest designer baby bag. Our flesh wants cheap satisfaction in the things of this world—but if we seek ultimate fulfillment in any role other than being created by God for his glory, we will be disappointed and have regret.
2. The idol of autonomy
At this moment in human history, it could be argued that the right to self-determination is the highest value of western civilization. Our quest for autonomy is insatiable. We have laws and cultural norms that deem any boundaries or hindrance on one’s human freedom to be outdated and oppressive. This cultural mood of “I can be who I want to be and no one can tell me otherwise” leaks into all of our relationships, including parenting. These messages so permeate our surroundings that when anything hinders our freedom we cry foul. And so it is with children.
3. Imbalanced societal views of career and roles inside the home
As a woman and mom of four daughters, I see messages daily that say a women’s worth is equal to her ability to be as male as possible. Alastair Roberts rightly says, “our culture perceives the ‘potential’ of women largely in terms of their liberation from their nature, rather than in their flourishing within the inherent directionality and order of that nature.” Women are considered oppressed if they bear children and mother them. Our society seeks to liberate us, giving us the choice to do away with our babies, so that we may thrive in a successful career outside the home. Women’s liberation is actually the “manning” of women, as Roberts says. And so, the natural role of mother is devalued and women feel this when they stay home to parent. We feel less successful, less important, less useful, less than all the other roles society tells us to pursue.
4. Lack of community
A final contributing factor to women (and men) regretting having children is that we live in isolation. It is common knowledge that communal living is largely missing from western society and it is to our detriment. A Psychology Today article confirms, “One of the most destructive problems is the breakdown of community, and it is this breakdown that has often led to the breakdown of persons. Though we may put many around us, we are alone. Relationships have become superficial, there is no longer concern for the other, and we are pressed by societal and financial pressures to focus on our own survival.”
Moms who regret having children walk through their disappointment alone. We no longer chat with each other over the fence or on the front porch. We isolate ourselves in our homes and apartments and suffer alone—often medicating our pain with drugs and alcohol. Moms don’t have friends with whom they can share their authentic discouragement. We use social media to put our best foot forward and don’t lean on our neighbors when we need help. Alone, our regret festers.
How can we respond?
1. Renew our minds
As we experience regret and disappointment we must first renew our own minds. Dissatisfaction is not unique to moms—it is shared by all of us who live in a fallen world. We must fight for joy, rehearsing to ourselves the truth about the source of our joy and the purpose of our lives. Right thinking does not come naturally. Rather we must “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). When marriage, jobs, material possessions, people, and even parenting do not deliver the on the promises we thought they would, it’s crucial that we recall that God “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9). He will help us. He will fill us. He will meet us in our regret.
2. Create community
Reaching out to others and creating community right where we are will not only minister to our own souls, but to others as well. The Apostle Paul knew this and therefore instructs us to “seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Building bridges, bearing one another’s burdens, sharing meals, and finding the commonalities between us works wonders in the human heart. The Psychology Today article referenced above says, “So if we are to truly be alive, to truly move beyond surviving to thriving, if we are to truly be human beings rather than alienated beings or drugged zombies, then we are going to need to return to the sense of community, to lay aside the barriers, and to be able to realize our common humanity.”
If you are a Christian mom, I strongly encourage you to be on the lookout for other moms who seem to be alone. Pay attention to the other women at the park, or in the gymnastics waiting room, or in the elementary school pickup line. I think it’s safe to say that we often appear to have it all together, while inwardly we’d all love to share our joys and sorrows with a friend. I’ve lived back in the States now for 18 months and I can truly say that all of my new friendships began with a shy smile and a warm hello. As humans we long for connection.
Lastly, consider starting a women’s Bible study in your home. This may seem too high a calling or perhaps out of left field. But after leading women’s Bible studies almost every single week for the last 17 years, I can tell you that there’s no better venue for meeting both the felt needs and the spiritual needs of women in your community. The necessary ingredients are easier to come by than you may think: a space to gather, a place for the kids to play while the moms talk, some coffee and a snack, a DVD player and TV to show a Bible lesson provided by a gifted Bible teacher, and an empathetic and welcoming hostess.
As of this moment in American society, it is still acceptable for a Christian woman to invite a non-Christian woman to Bible study. Having recently lived in an atheist country, I know firsthand that’s not the case around the world. However, right now in the States, one girlfriend can still invite another to come read the Bible with her and some other ladies and it’s likely to go very well. What I have seen time and time again is a believing woman invite a non-believing woman to Bible study and the new attendee is met with warmth and encouragement and new friends who “get” her station in life. This welcoming atmosphere is unlike any other she has experienced and she soon wakes up to her spiritual depravity. One thing leads to another and this new friend meets Jesus, refocuses her longings and energies, and finds true joy where she once had deep pain. I’ve seen it happen so many times.
May we take advantage of this moment in our culture and “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Colossians 4:5). Women who regret having children need not persist in their isolation and despair. We have the antidote and we have the calling and the privilege to share it.