What if you don’t love your children?

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What happens if you don’t love your children or if the love you feel does not adequately compensate for the constant drudgery of motherhood? What if having children is the biggest regret of your life?

Not only does 57 year-old British woman Isabella Dutton regret her decision to have children, she decided to tell the world about it in the pages of the Daily Mail in excruciating detail.

‘[L]ike parasites, both my children would continue to take from me and give nothing meaningful back in return’, she wrote.

A screengrab from the Daily Mail website.

A screengrab from the Daily Mail website.

And to add to her confession Dutton named her unwanted sprogs and also supplied pictures of them.

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She confessed how she felt, ‘[C]ompletely detached from this alien being who had encroached upon my settled married life and changed it, irrevocably, for the worse,’ and how she had more concern for her dog than her child.

As you might imagine, condemnation of Ms Dutton has been as fierce as it has been inevitable. At time of writing, over 1800 people had commented on the article. While some people commended her for her honestly and bravery, many resorted to calling her ‘selfish’, ‘a hag’, ‘an evil cold blooded woman’, and mentally unstable.

But from another point of view, Dutton’s honesty is an expression of how it has become a tiny little bit more socially acceptable for women to admit that they don’t like motherhood.

Yes, some women love motherhood, but plenty of others — me included — mourn their loss of personal freedom, the reduction of their identity, and the sheer boredom and tediousness of playing peek-a-boo and cleaning up bodily fluids all day every day.

But — and this is Toyota-family-mover-sized BUT — any public admission about motherhood ambivalence is typically followed closely by a boilerplate declaration of undying love and adoration for your child or children.

I suspect in most cases, this declaration comes easily and honestly. For example, I love my daughter more than I have words to express, which makes the sacrifices of motherhood bearable and worth it.

And Dutton isn’t the first mother to wish she hadn’t had children. Books like Nicki Defago’s Childfree and Loving It are full of such admissions. But the difference is that those women and the details of their regrets are anonymous, and presumably not known to their children.

By contrast, reading about Dutton’s ‘biggest mistake’ of her life is gut-wrenching and utterly shocking because her kids will most likely read it. She has tapped into what is perhaps one of the most primal and universal of human insecurities: the fear of not being wanted and not being loveable.

Sometimes there are very good reasons for social taboos. It’s foolish to value honesty as an absolute good, since honesty without compassion can often result in cruelty. And this is one case of something that should never be said out loud to your children.

What good can come of an article such as this? There’s no point in saying, ‘I wish I’d never had kids’ when you’ve already had kids. You can’t give them back. So rather than mulling over regrets and resentment, it would have been more productive and helpful to discuss what could have been done differently to improve the situation for mothers more generally.

Some of the answers to this question can be found in Dutton’s own article. Even though she never wanted children — she did it to please her husband — and never bonded with them, she insisted on raising the children without help. No family. No childcare. No nannies.

‘Why have them at all if you don't want to bring them up, or can't afford to?’ Dutton wrote. ‘And why pretend you wanted them if you have no intention of raising them? This hypocrisy is, in my view, far more pernicious and difficult to fathom than my own admission that my life would have been better without children.’

‘This wasn't a way of assuaging my guilt, because I felt none,’ she continued. ‘It was simply that, having brought them into the world, I would do my best for them.’

It’s hard to imagine how calling your children ‘parasites’ in a national tabloid could be construed as doing what’s best for them. Perhaps if Dutton wasn’t so determined to win the prize for the Self-Sacrificing Burnt Chop Mother of the Millennium she may not have felt the need to purge her resentment so publicly all these years later.

It’s a strange logic to say that you have a duty to raise your kids without help and then admit that it makes you so bitter. While not all women have the means to pay for childcare or to have close family to help them, in Dutton’s case it seems that her decision to tough it out on her own was a moral rather than an economic one.

Surely a mother’s greater duty to herself — and to her children — is to take responsibility for her own happiness. And if this means relying on childcare and spending less time with her kids then so be it.

Every woman is different which means their way of best integrating motherhood into their life is different too.

We need to reject the belief that there is only one right way to mother, and muster the courage to ask for help when we need it, because nothing is more damaging and more irresponsible than telling your kids that you wished they had never been born.

Kasey Edwards is the author of Thirty-Something and The Clock is Ticking: What happens when you can no longer ignore the baby question. www.kaseyedwards.com

 

289 comments

  • Good on her for being honest. How many times have you endured people talking about how rewarding their horrible kids/family are, but you know they 'have' to say that and they don't really mean it; and mostly because they have nothing else in their lives. Bit like religion really, the best at it blindly believe it. And gather with those that do as further support.

    Commenter
    graeme
    Location
    newtown
    Date and time
    April 08, 2013, 8:52AM
    • Having children HAS been the best experience for both my husband and myself. Opening our hearts with unconditional love, and lo and behold the most amazing, rewarding, exhilarating experiences have poured into our lives. And not only the rich experiences with our children but now we have also met, bonded and established friendships with families that have further enriched our lives. Giving up my precious contemplative time to do my own stuff, nah, parenthood is much, much more exhilarating. Sure, we need our own time for reflection, etc. etc., but there'll be plenty of time for that, they are only so young for such a short period of time. We cherish it. But if you think it's not for you, that's cool too.

      Commenter
      BM
      Date and time
      April 08, 2013, 10:30AM
    • Respect your view.....but, um......mmmmmm

      Commenter
      graeme
      Location
      newtown
      Date and time
      April 08, 2013, 10:51AM
    • I do admire her honesty, but was it really necessary to provide the names (and photos!) of the children? That seems to be bordering on the cruel.

      On the other hand, who am I to tell her that she needs to hide behind anonymity to say what she wants to say? Fraught area... feels like there's no happy solution for anyone.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      April 08, 2013, 10:51AM
    • No need to guess whose mummy isn't getting a presie for Mothers Day.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      April 08, 2013, 11:12AM
    • Wow Graeme! Comparing having kids to religion? You clearly don't have kids do you? And you know they don't mean it. You can't say that! For the vast majority of parents, they do mean it, and it is the best thing they have ever done. It is natural to want to do it and to feel rewarded by watching your children thrive. Comparing this most natural of things to religion responsible for global violence and the greatest scam of all time is a little harsh. Anyone who loves their kids is glad they had them. Thos that say they love their kids but wish they never had them, don't understand what love is.

      Commenter
      Waz
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 08, 2013, 11:26AM
    • Can't you just be honest without telling it to a tabloid?

      Commenter
      LC
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 08, 2013, 11:37AM
    • Why did you have to drag down religion as a furtherance of your argument by some way of petty analogy? Any excuse to bag out the concept.

      Yes, the woman is honest but there is no denying either that she is selfish. "I" regret, "my" children take and give "me" nothing back in return - what did she expect? She would have done the exact same thing as a child, it's called a cycle of life. I doubt she mowed the lawn or cleaned the dishes at the age of four. Commend her honesty, not her intelligence or foresight. I would say worse about her but for fear SMH would quarantine my attitude.

      Commenter
      Hater
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 08, 2013, 11:44AM
    • Each to thier own, but personally I love my little 5 month old to death!

      Commenter
      Doug
      Location
      Sydnye CBD
      Date and time
      April 08, 2013, 11:59AM
    • @ Graeme & Waz,

      Graeme does have a point, simply having children because a marriage isn’t working or because everyone else is doing it, isn’t good enough foundations to build a family.

      Comparing it with religion is very general and of no relevance. Of course people will socialise with people they have something in common with, the same as families into sport, hobbies etc.

      Also, to speak the truth according to ones own view is not entirely admirable if it causes harm to people, especially if it makes children feel unloved, this would undoubtedly lead to issues in a child’s self esteem and self worth and not benefit them at all.

      To say religion is responsible for global violence and the greatest scam of all time is also very general, harsh and sensationalist.

      Perhaps some of these miserable parents could gain the love they so desperately need from the source of love it self – Jesus Christ.

      Commenter
      Anthony
      Location
      City
      Date and time
      April 08, 2013, 12:02PM

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