A recent article in the Life/Parent section of The Toronto Star took on a topic we’ve been seeing more of these days: motherhood regret. This article, “Mothers not alone in regret over having children” speaks to one of the most central pronatalist myths that all too often drives women to have children.
A Central Pronatalist Myth
A powerful ideology and set of beliefs that has influenced society for many generations, pronatalism exalts the role of parenthood. It tells us that motherhood will be the most fulfilling experience in a woman’s life – it even defines ‘true’ meaning and fulfillment in life.
So many women go into pregnancy and motherhood with this expectation. Yet it does not always deliver, and when it doesn’t, it can drive the experience of regret. As sociologist and author of Regretting Motherhood, Orna Donath says,
“While the majority of the women in the study loved their children, they felt pressure from society to think motherhood was also the best thing that had ever happened to them. When they didn’t feel that overwhelming joy, they regretted their children.”
And when they feel regret, pronatalist dogma tells them they can’t admit it – why? Because they are supposed to feel it is the best thing that has ever happened to them, and they don’t. This leads to living with feelings of shame.
Seeing Reality – Too Late
Idealistic expectations, the taboo of talking about one’s real feelings if they don’t match those expectations, and feelings of shame exemplify how pronatalist myths affect women’s lives in such negative ways.
What’s worse – being made to feel badly is based on myths, not truths. While parenthood can be a path to fulfillment in life, it is but one. And once you become a parent, as Simone Chubb says, “There’s a stigma that it’s supposed to be the time of your life”…“People want to create this facade of the perfect life and the perfect reality, but it’s all just a dream.”
Pronatalism drives the dream, and can shatter that dream, with motherhood regret that can last “their entire lives.”
In The Baby Matrix, I talk about how pronatalist myth drills into our social and cultural hardware that something must be wrong with those who make the childfree choice. But pronatalist myths affect parents too. This Toronto Star article reflects but one example.
Pronatalism impacts women who believe that motherhood will bring “overwhelming joy,” choose to become mothers, then later realize it as an unbelievable experience is not a given. They have to face that becoming a mother was a mistake. Not only does this feel awful, but so does living with the unfair and unjustified shame that comes with this truth.
Pronatalism Begets Regret
Pronatalist beliefs persuade people to enter parenthood based on fantasy, not reality. The good news is, more people are talking about the regret that has resulted from buying the fantasy. Talking the truth will lead to more puncturing of pronatalist myths. The more parenthood decisions can be made from truths, not beliefs that are either outmoded or were never true in the first place, the more we will see people making the best parenthood decision for themselves…and less regret.