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