Adrienne: Women are expressing their womanhood in new and powerful ways these days. And in some cases, what’s being expressed goes against traditional narratives and traditional social norms… which causes a stir and can make it even more difficult to open up. This applies to the group our Wellness Columnist, Scott McPherson is discussing today. Hi Scott!
Scott: Hi Adrienne!
Adrienne: Who is this group of women that you’re talking about?
Scott: Well, there’s a lot of folks that are getting tired of keeping painful secrets just to please other people. And one of the biggest secrets that some women have to keep, is the fact that they have regrets about becoming mothers.
Adrienne: That must be an extremely difficult admission to make, not only to yourself, but to others?
Scott: It is. None of the women I’ve spoken with felt comfortable admitting that to another woman. And the people who’ve discussed it with me didn’t bring it up right away. They all wanted to make sure they felt super-safe before mentioning it.
Adrienne: The women you spoke with about this– do they regret having the child, or is it the motherhood itself that isn’t working for them?
Scott: I have yet to meet the parent that regrets the child. They all know their kids are great. None of this means they don’t love them unconditionally. And some really wanted kids. But then, when they ended up alone, or effectively alone, with a partner that isn’t sharing the workload. They’re mostly just tired, because it’s not a job they would have taken on solo. We all say, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ But thanks to our single-detached lives, moms –and it is mostly moms– can end up home alone all day, as the sole support for their kids. The cool thing for a lot of different cultures is that there is always an auntie that is happy to take an unhappy child off of a struggling parent. But in modern city life, we just ask too much of mothers. And that’s often on the partners. In a lot of cases the dads just need to do more, and mothers will feel less burdened. Often the mothers are working full time and taking on most of the parenting duties But that experience is common enough that people are pretty forgiving about that kind of parental resentment.
Adrienne: But what about the ones who realize, they never really wanted kids?
Scott: That is totally different. Men are forgiven more for those regrets, but women often get seen as selfish or irresponsible. And the popularity of that particular judgment tends to make people feel pretty bold when they attack. Then those attacks prevent other women from coming forward if they feel the same way and it just perpetuates.
Adrienne: What is going through the minds of these particular mothers?
Scott: If someone’s just a neglectful mom that’s obviously an issue. But all of the ones I’ve met are all great moms who think their kids are amazing. That’s part of why they feel so guilty. And they understand that they’re like a lightning rod for the pain of the roughly 20% of women that want kids, but can’t have them. But a lot of people get angry with them for more philosophical reasons. They’ll argue that it’s not ‘natural,’ or that there is something wrong with the woman. But in the end, those are all just judgments of a woman for being who she is.
Adrienne: If they hadn’t felt a mothering impulse, why did these moms choose to have children in the first place?
Scott: Because we expected them to. And they’re influenced by the same society we are. It’s in our advertising, schools, books, media, culture. It’s invisibly weaved into the fabric of our society. Men see that too, so we add pressure as husbands. Mothers and grandmas do it too. And a lot of times motherhood is seen as completing a woman. Sure, there are famous and powerful women that didn’t have children. Your Gloria Steinems, Helen Mirren, Oprah, Condoleeza Rice, Dolly Parton, even Elizabeth Gilbert. But they’re generally celebrated for what they’ve done; not as great examples of great childless lives. And meanwhile, women are told their biological clock is ticking, and there’s all this pressure. So, because they believe what people tell them –that motherhood is natural for all women- they’ll gamble on the idea that they’ll feel that impulse… eventually. But by the time they find out they won’t feel it, it’s too late.
Adrienne: So they just never feel that urge?
Scott: The closest comparison I could draw would be when someone in a heterosexual marriage realizes they’re gay. It’s not like they were lying at the alter when they got married. They really do love their spouse. They just found out they were gay after the marriage. Likewise, women who regret having kids aren’t rejecting the kids. They’re just stripping away our expectations and they’re accepting who they are.
Adrienne: What’s that like for the kids?
Scott: Fortunately, most kids never know they’re in the situation because the parent loves them so much. And even if they do find out; the kids can end up feeling a lot like adopted kids. They will probably question their value at some point. But we all do that. Like the rest of us, if they get enough love and support, they’ll be fine. And once the kid is older, if everything is explained well, they can usually grasp how someone could get such a big decision wrong. They see 50% of people marrying the wrong person, so they know adults screw stuff up. But for sure these issues need to be discussed really carefully.
Adrienne: Where does this leave the women?
Scott: Too often it leaves them alone when it shouldn’t. They aren’t alone. There are fairly secretive groups with tens of thousands of members who feel the same way. But even with those groups, they can still have massive amounts of guilt. That’s usually why they come to me. And I just get them to see how easy it is for anyone to make a wrong decision –so they can forgive themselves.
Adrienne: If they can forgive themselves, do these moms usually stay as a part of their family, or pursue a childless life?
Scott: It depends on the age of the kids, the relationship they have with them, and their relationship with the spouse. It can go either way and they can end up happy. But most of them stay. And it’s weird, but their lack of instinct actually forces them to be unusually conscious parents. So the kids end up fine. But the pretending and judgment can really hurt the parent.
Adrienne: Is any of this going to change in the future? Can we learn to be more accepting of women who feel this way?
Scott: Yeah. The issue isn’t really theirs, is it? We’re the ones with narrow ideas about womanhood. If we change our idea of what it is to be a successful woman, then future generations of women won’t ever face that pressure. It’s really on those of us alive today to make this adjustment. Just like we’re starting to think about how we talk to different groups of people, we need to start consciously modifying how we talk about motherhood. It is a fantastic experience. But we shouldn’t force women into it.
Adrienne: If we change, that helps women in the future. But what about the ones who are in that situation today?
Scott: They can take solace in the fact that they’re hardly alone. But the most important thing for them to do is to really appreciate that their feelings are not the problem. The problem is us. If they learn to truly see that, then they feel less wrong about the way they are. And that’s all most of them need.
Adrienne: Very interesting stuff Scott. Thanks.
Scott: Thank you.
Adrienne: Scott McPherson is our Wellness Columnist. He teaches mindfulness at relaxandsucceed.com, here in Edmonton.
Every couple of weeks I have the pleasure of joining Adrienne Pan, the co-host of Radio Active on CBC Radio One. You can listen via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at CBC.ca. Today we’ll be on at 5:20pm.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. For those without audio versions, I will attach a transcript of the column to the bottom of this post after its airing.
Many women are prevented from being who they really are by the pressures of our society. In some cases, this can even lead a woman to have regrets about her decision to be a mother.
Consider checking us out. If you’ve never heard the CBC Radio Active show before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. They have a great team.
Take care everyone.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.