"Is it in fact a fear of how we may be perceived, that stops us from saying what we really feel?"

"Is it in fact a fear of how we may be perceived, that stops us from saying what we really feel?" Photo: Getty Images

Everyone knows the great faux pas. We have all said things we wish we could take back, prayed for the ground to swallow us whole.

But is it in fact a fear of how we may be perceived, that stops us from saying what we really feel?

Over coffee with a group of friends recently, there was an understanding atmosphere when one of the mums, a close friend of mine, started discussing the struggle she was having with her children. We all nodded sympathetically and sighed with agreement, until she announced that if she had her time over again, she wouldn’t have had children.

At once each of us looked around, ensuring our children hadn’t heard her comment. Suddenly eyes were downcast, feet shuffled and whispers of shocked disapproval made their circuit of the table.

Admittedly she was having a very bad week, lack of sleep, a house full of sick children, an overworked husband and a demanding toddler, but as I watched the other women, I realised that I had not heard this from a mother before, and judging from the expressions around me, neither had they. I could tell my friend was hoping that the proverbial black hole would appear in the floor and she could disappear forever, so I quickly changed the subject and everyone immediately and with obvious relief followed suit.

As I walked home with my three year old chatting away in her pram, I couldn’t help thinking what my life would be like had my husband and I not had kids.

Not that I don’t adore my two children and cherish the time I spend with them, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to missing some of the things that come with a child free existence.

Late night dinners, weekly movies, lazy Sunday mornings, sleep........

I didn’t have my children until my late thirties and although during young adulthood a family wasn’t in the forefront of my mind, it was something I always hoped would happen, eventually. Now that is has I couldn’t be happier, but it made me wonder, how many parents regret having kids?

One such person is French psychoanalyst, author and mother of two, Corinne Maier.

In her book, No Kids - 40 reasons not to have children, Maier states,“Some days, I’m sorry to say I really regret it and I’m not afraid to say it. When they were born, I was young and in love - and, of course, ruled by hormones. If I had to do it all over again, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I would.”

What I did notice at the cafe, was that this is still a taboo thought, that few mothers would dare to admit.

While I was still pondering my friend’s dilemma, she arrived on my doorstep, tears running down her face, distraught at the thought that everyone thought she was a hideous person and not a deserving mother. A cup of tea, comforting hug, and mountains of reassuring words later, I asked her what exactly she meant by her comment.

Listening to her story, I was impressed by her honesty. At thirty-five she had three children under five, a half finished renovation of her home, a husband that worked exorbitant hours and travelled frequently and she was feeling undervalued, under appreciated and unfulfilled.

She was very quick to point out that while wallowing in self pity she realised how lucky she was to have a beautiful family.  She just hadn’t realised how arduous, all-consuming and relentless parenting could be.  Of course she loves her kids, but given the time over she wasn’t sure it was for her.

My initial reaction was, keep this to yourself, but as I observed the cup of tea shaking in her hand, guilt etched all over her face, I realised that maybe the problem is not what she said but the fact that she felt she couldn’t be honest about it.

As with anything that we do in life, there are aspects of the “job” of parenting that aren’t always enjoyable. No full time job is fun all the time. At some point most feel the pressure to begin a family. The fact that you may not like it isn’t something anyone mentions to you and while there is a plethora of support available to women who admit to struggling with a newborn, the options are far more limited for parents who are unable to deal with the often overwhelming demands of a young family.

Few will disagree that parenthood is a gift and twenty difficult days can be wiped by one cuddle and an “I love you mummy;” but it’s one gift without a return policy and comes with unlimited expiry. 

While it is wonderful to have children, what I learned from my friend is that - there should be no shame - in admitting there are times you wish you could get a refund.