By Jonathon Van Maren
Next year, it will have been a full half-century since our consumerist, throw-away culture decided that it could adopt a “Return to Sender” attitude towards children, as well, with Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s decision to decriminalize abortion in 1969. Since then, we have been reaping the whirlwind. More than four million children aborted in Canada. Nearly sixty million aborted in the United States. A Canadian judge ruling that a mother strangling her newborn baby boy was simply a really late-term abortion. “Wrongful birth” lawsuits that have parents suing doctors for not alerting them to imperfections in their child that would have allowed them to have the child killed in the womb. Men suing women who refuse to abort their children. Parents suing surrogate moms for refusing to abort “imperfect” children. In the era of “reproductive freedom,” selfishness has triumphed and children have suffered.
And now Maclean’s has published an essay on a discussion that is, according to the author, “reframing parenthood”—mothers who regret having kids:
French psychotherapist Corinne Maier stoked an international firestorm and condemnation in 2008 with her manifesto No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children; her two children left her “exhausted and bankrupt,” and she couldn’t wait for them to leave home, she wrote. In 2013, Isabella Dutton, a 57-year-old British mother of two grown children created furor with a Daily Mail essay headlined: “The mother who says having these two children is the biggest regret of her life.” By 2018, however, Dutton and Maier are no longer freakish outliers; parental regret, or “the last parenting taboo” as it’s dubbed in the media has been covered by everyone from the BBC (“100 Women 2016: Parents who regret having children”) to Marie Claire (“Inside the growing movement of women who wished they never had kids”) to Today’s Parent (“Regretting motherhood: What have I done with my life?” by Lola Augustine Brown, a 41-year-old mother of three aged from two to 10 who lives in rural Nova Scotia).
This essay comes on the heels of an editorial featured by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that stated, “It shouldn’t be taboo to criticize parents for having too many kids,” as if the author knew how many kids was “too many,” besides the obvious fact that she didn’t consider herself one of Mother Earth’s surplus residents. It is becoming an increasingly prominent sentiment among the elitist set: Having children isn’t a particularly great idea, and if you must, please limit the number of children you choose to have (or purchase carbon offsets, or whatever.) The begrudging mothers who spoke to Maclean’s, however, assured the author that it was not the children they regretted, it was motherhood—so it’s nice that they cleared that up.
Now of course, some of the essay was simply a reaction to the pressure of parenting in the social media age, when everything in life is supposed to be on display, the proliferation of parenting or “mommy” blogs, and the inevitable fact that parenting requires sacrifices. Nobody can “do it all,” and all parents face that realization at some point or another. But there’s a bit of a leap from those discussions to actually regretting parenthood altogether—as in, if you could do it all again, you’d choose not to have kids.
Reading the essay, I had only a couple of thoughts. What must the children of these parents think? Do children understand the weird distinction between regretting “motherhood” and regretting “children”? What if, years later, they find an essay in which their mother (or their father) described why having children was a mistake—or something she never wanted to begin with? Wouldn’t those sons and daughters logically—if not inevitably—conclude that their parents had weighed their existence against the sacrifices parenthood demanded—and concluded that it hadn’t been quite worth it?
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps telling reporters that you would have preferred to remain childless or publishing public columns on how you’d have been better off without kids will simply make the children proud of their mother or father’s openness. Perhaps they’ll simply be happy that their parents are expressing themselves. All I can say is that I’m sure happy I was blessed with the parents that I have, and I hope to emulate their example with my own daughter.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.