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What If I Regret Having Kids?

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If you are planning to have kids, it’s natural to have concerns. You may wonder if you will make a good parent, whether you will be able to afford to support a family, and how you will balance work and parenting. You may also be asking yourself the question: “What if I regret having kids?”

This is a common concern, but one that is rarely talked about.1 Let’s take a look at why people may ask this question, what typically causes these concerns, how to decide whether having kids is right for you, and what to do if you end up feeling regrets after becoming a parent.

How Common Is It to Regret Having Kids?

The idea that a parent might regret having kids is a concept that is cloaked in shame. Parents aren’t supposed to feel that way, right? Well, while most parents don’t usually feel that way—or don’t feel that way for enduring periods of time—it’s not a totally uncommon phenomenon.

The data are limited on exactly how many parents feel regret about having kids, likely because it’s not a subject many feel comfortable talking about. According to a 2021 study published in PLOS ONE—which looked at data from the U.S. and Europe—between 8-17% of parents regret having children. The study researchers noted that parents in Poland reported higher levels of regret than parents in the U.S.2

The data from this study regarding American parents come from a 2013 Gallup poll. In that poll, parents over the age of 45 were asked: If they could do it another time, how many kids would they have? About 7% said that they would have had zero kids, indicating that they may have regrets about having children.1

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Why Do Parents Regret Having Kids?

The reasons why parents regret having kids vary widely from one parent to another, and are complicated. As the PLOS ONE study points out, one major factor is wrapped up in the pressure that many parents—particularly women—feel to have children.2

Women are expected to want to become mothers, and many simply don’t feel that they have a choice in the matter, even if they suspect that having kids isn’t right for them. Having kids when you don’t really want to in the first place can lead to intense feelings of regret and a loss of identity.3

Other factors that may be at play when it comes to a parent regretting having a child include:3

  • A personal history of adverse childhood experiences
  • A history of mental health challenges
  • A history of physical health issues
  • Financial or marital problems
  • Having a child with special needs

A study published in the Journal of Family Issues examined Reddit posts to try to understand why parents sometimes regret having children. Interestingly, the majority of parents didn’t seem to regret having children exactly, but said that they regretted some of the circumstances surrounding starting their families. These included the timing of having kids, the number of kids they had, the sacrifices they had to make, their partners, and aspects of society that made having kids difficult.

Somewhat less commonly, parents on Reddit expressed regret tied to having challenging children, self-identifying as a “bad” parent, having an aversion to being a parent, and wishing for a childfree life. These parents communicated that if they could go back and do it all over, they would not have had kids.

How to Decide If You Should Have Kids

The decision to have kids can be fraught. There is often deep pressure from others—especially family—to have kids. You may experience internal pressure as well. Sometimes you may have a different point-of-view from your partner, which can put extreme stress on a relationship. Another factor may be the societal expectation that part of growing up and becoming an adult is starting a family.

But there is no one right answer to whether or not to have kids. It’s a myth that having kids is what makes you a “real” adult, or that having kids will complete your life and make you happy. Living a child-free life is the best choice for many people.

As you make the decision about whether or not to have kids, you have to weigh factors like your life situation, your age, your finances, as well as your marriage, partnership, or lack thereof. Again, there is “correct” answer; it’s a complex and profoundly personal decision.

Some people don’t want to have children because of past traumas or psychological conditions.2 If you think that this might be the case for you, but deep down, you feel that you’d like kids someday, you should consider seeing a therapist to work out some of these concerns. Either way, counseling or therapy can be a great option for figuring out whether having kids is right for you.

What to Do If You Regret Having Kids

Some parents deal with strong feelings of regret when it comes to having kids—feelings that they can’t shake and that seem to last. Other parents might experience more transient thoughts or feelings of regret. The truth is that almost all parents have thought at one time or another that their life would have been easier if they’d never had kids.

Burnout vs. Regret

Parenting can be extremely challenging at times, and many parents are apt to experience parenting burnout. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), parenting burnout doesn’t just involve extreme exhaustion and depletion, but can involve deliberate distancing from your children, and even feeling like you dislike your children, and don’t want to be near them.5

As a result of these feelings, burned out parents may feel like “bad” parents and may experience guilt and shame over how they are feeling about their kids. These feelings can resemble some of the emotions that parents who regret having kids experience.

If you think you may be experiencing parental burnout, rather than complete regret about having kids, there are some things you can do to feel better, including:5

  • Share your feelings with a trusted loved one or therapist
  • Work on ways to manage your stress
  • Consider if there are ways you can delegate some of your responsibilities, such as getting your partner to pitch in more, or hiring childcare/housekeeping help
  • Take small breaks when you can—even a five minute walk around the block can help destress
  • Reevaluate what it means to be a good parent; recognize that perfection in parenting is impossible and that “good enough” is where it’s at

Could It Be Postpartum Depression?

If you find yourself regretting parenthood soon after becoming a parent, you may be experiencing a postpartum mood disorder such as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression strikes about 1 in 9 new parents, and is characterized by feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, irritability, racing thoughts, sleeplessness, and sadness.

Feeling detached or disconnected from your baby, feeling like you don’t love your baby, or feeling like you are a bad mom are also common symptoms of PPD, and may make you feel like you regret ever having children. The good news is that PPD is treatable, usually through a combination of therapy and medication. It’s possible to feel like yourself again, and feel more bonded to your baby.6

Tips for Managing Parental Regret

Some parents do experience enduring feelings of regret, and these feelings can be hard to cope with, especially because regretting having children is a taboo subject to begin with. Here are some tips for managing these feelings:

  • It’s very important to not keep your feelings inside or try to hide them. This usually only intensifies the regret and makes it more difficult to cope.7
  • Sometimes our expectations of what parenting was supposed to be and what parenting actually is don’t line up—and that’s okay. Making peace with the reality of what parenting looks like for you can help you feel less regret.7
  • Finding other parents to talk to who also feel regret can help you feel less alone.
  • Talking to a therapist or counselor about your feelings can help you understand them better, make peace with them, and figure out how you can cope.

 

A Word from me

Experiencing regret about having kids can be a lonely, difficult experience. It’s important to realize that you aren’t alone, and that not every parent finds having children a fulfilling or rewarding experience. You are not a bad person if you experience regret. It can be helpful to talk about your feelings to a close friend or family member, and if the feelings are overwhelming or affecting your mental health, making an appointment with a therapist or counselor is highly recommended.

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