Lots of parents say “I wish I never had kids!” or “If I could do my life over again, I’d never have children.”
I think that’s so destructive.
This month, in our Wednesday series, we’re looking at the habits we have that can steal our marriage from us, and what small habits we can put in place instead that can help us experience the big, joyful life God has for us. We started off by talking about health, and then last week we talked about video games (and I talked about time wasters in the podcast). Today I want to talk about our thought patterns, and I’ll do it using this reader question I received from a woman who is resentful of being a mother.
Note before the post starts: Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a real affliction that many women suffer after childbirth. Among other symptoms, many women who experience PPD report feelings of disconnect from their children or that their children don’t feel “real.” Studies estimate it may affect 15% of women who give birth, usually beginning within the first month after childbirth and lasting from a few months to upwards of a year. We are not discussing PPD in this post. If you have PPD or have suffered from PPD, this post is not for you and we instead recommend talking to your doctor to discuss treatment options. The reader in question does not have PPD, and it is important to make the distinction.
I have been married for nine years to an amazing man. We got married young, and each knew that the other felt differently about having kids- he wanted them, I was vehemently against it. We got married anyway. Three years ago, I was fed up with fighting and disappointing my parents who desperately wanted grandchildren (my sibling never married), so I gave in. The day I found out I was pregnant was one of the worst days of my life, following the day I gave birth. I hated my child, and I hated my husband for forcing motherhood on me. He had said earlier in our marriage that there was no point in being married unless we were going to have kids, and he felt dutifully responsible as Christians to have kids. Maybe I was wrong to be devastated to hear his opinion on his reasons for marriage, but I was. I did grow to love my baby very much after a few months, and we now have a second (again out of obligation on my side, as well as the desire to get this baby stuff over with as quickly as possible), but I can’t seem to fully recover from my anger towards my husband. Ever since I got pregnant the first time, I feel like the only reason my husband loves me is because of the kids, and so every time he says “I love you”, I feel resentful, and sometimes have to force myself to say it back. I’m trying to let it all go as it is negatively impacting my view on our marriage, intimacy, my view of the kids (I love them now, but I still wish I wasn’t a mom) and on myself, but I can’t seem to beat this thing. How can I just let it completely go?
Okay, I have a lot to say to this one, but before we get started, I don’t want this to be a discussion about whether or not they should have had kids, or whether it’s okay to get married knowing that you don’t want kids. We covered that a while ago in this post on not wanting to have kids with your husband.
But this is different, because this is no longer a theoretical question. This letter writer already has two living, breathing children who need her. Those kids’ needs trump everything else.
Nevertheless, let’s leave the kids until later and deal with the marriage issue first, because that may be easier.
Just because your husband wants kids does not mean that he doesn’t love you or that you aren’t enough for him.
She says that her husband said there’s no point in getting married if they aren’t going to have kids, and she feels that this means that he doesn’t love her.
No, it doesn’t. I would have said the same thing, and yet I loved Keith! You can be totally in love with someone and want to spend your life with them and simultaneously feel that you want to have kids, and that kids are the main reason for marriage. My need or desire to have children does not mean that I love Keith less (if anything, it makes me love him more, because now we’ve created children together and we have this amazing shared experience).
Love is not zero sum. If I love my kids, it doesn’t mean I love my husband less. Love doesn’t divide; it multiplies. Now, maybe there are people who get married only for the children, but this letter writer says that her husband is an amazing man. Why not celebrate that, instead of feeling like you can only really be loved if he doesn’t love anyone else or want anyone else too?
And speaking of your husband:
Your husband needs to feel that his kids are safe with you.
If he’s such an amazing man, then do you think you could do something for him? It is a horrible psychological burden to have to worry if your children are not safe with their other parent. And even if you would never physically hurt your kids, the fact that you are saying the two worst days of your life are when you found out you were pregnant and when your child was born means that your kids are not psychologically safe with you.
You are not loving your husband if you are putting this burden on him. If you love him, then you must get over this resentment you have towards your children.
Okay, now let’s turn to how to do this.
Your life didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. But no one’s does!
All of us have a picture of what we think our life will be like one day, and very few of us have lives that turn out exactly the way they’re supposed to. Not everyone, however, feels resentment about this.
Resentment about your life going in a different direction really only matters if you’re putting your sense of joy and happiness into your circumstances. Then, if those circumstances fail to materialize, your whole sense of self is gone.
But what if you put your sense of self and joy and happiness into God’s hands instead?
Where is your treasure? Or if that question doesn’t resonate, how about this one:
What kind of person do you want to be?
Maturity is taking responsibility for your choices (realizing that your parents, your spouse, your sibling did not “cause” you to have kids; that’s a choice you made); and accepting responsibility for the things in your purview. Indeed, that’s part of a healthy soul, and that’s really the definition of boundaries. We often think of the concept of boundaries as telling us what to say no to, but that’s not all there is to it. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, in their groundbreaking book, specifically showed how saying no to things that aren’t our responsibility allows us to say yes to things that do fall into our realm. A healthy, whole person is one who says “yes” to things they are responsible for.
You are a mom. Those kids are your responsibility. If you want to be a healthy person, then you need to incorporate being a mom into your sense of self.
Find parenting a slog? These may help:
And that brings me to this:
To say “I wish I weren’t a mom” is to say “I wish my kids didn’t exist.”
You can’t say that you love your kids and simultaneously say that you wish you weren’t a mom.
When I was pregnant with my son Christopher, I joined the Down Syndrome Society in Toronto. We didn’t realize that he would die so early; and we were researching early intervention programs to help him. Our doctors also told us it would be good to reach out and get some support early.
About two months after he died, I attended a fundraiser that we had already bought tickets for. There, a mom of a teenage boy with Downs told me “I often wish that my son had passed earlier, like yours did. Don’t get me wrong; I love him. But I often wish he weren’t here.”
That was like a knife to my chest.
I would have given ANYTHING to hold my son for even just five more minutes, and here was this woman telling me that she loved her son, but she wished he wasn’t there. I’m sorry, and maybe I’m too close to this situation, but you have no right to say that you love someone if you simultaneously wish that they didn’t exist. You are lying to yourself.
I know there’s a trend today of parents saying that they regret being parents, and people are applauding them for their honesty, but all I want to say to that is,
“SHUT UP AND GROW UP.”
I know that’s harsh. But you know what? Your child did not choose to be here. You created your child. And your child now needs you. And if you go through life regretting being a mom, even if you never say that out loud, your child will pick up on it subconsciously.
And here’s another thing–we have a tendency to speak these things out in angry moments. If you keep feeding this to your brain–“I wish I weren’t a mom”–then one day, when your children are teenagers, if you’re in an argument with them, it’s quite likely that may come out.
Once you’re a mom, you don’t have the right to regret it. You just don’t. You’re the adult. Your child depends on you not just for food and clothing and shelter, but for that psychological feeling that they are safe, loved, and wanted.
If you want to stop feeling resentment–you have to DECIDE to feel gratitude.
You realize that your feelings have been wrong, and you decide to feed good ones instead. Whatever you focus on expands. Are you focusing on how much you hate being a mom, or are your focusing on gratitude for the people that God gave you to love and to love you back?
And I think some repentance is pretty due here, too. You know what the worst day of my life was? When my son died. For someone to say the worst day of their life is when they found out they were pregnant, when the father was their amazing husband, is just terrible. I know I’m supposed to be comforting to people who write in to me, but I think sometimes we value feelings too much, and we fail to teach people how to be actual good people.
Some things need to be unacceptable.
There isn’t a magical way to get rid of that resentment. There is only work. And that work involves new habits of changing your thoughts. That’s what my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage is based on, and I explain how this verse is the key to living a great life:
2 Corinthians 10:5
When a thought comes into your head about not wanting to be a mom, you replace it with something you’re grateful for–and you say thanks to God about that thing.
Even be proactive about it.
- Every morning, as you wake up, thank God for three things about your life (and try to make them different everyday!).
- Every night, as you’re going to bed, thank God for three things that happened to you today.
There’s a reason God said, “in everything give thanks.” As we give thanks, we change the thought processes in our brain.
So are you feeding the resentment, or feeding the gratitude? If you want to feed the gratitude, then stop thinking about how your husband doesn’t love you–think about how much he does.
Stop thinking that it’s everyone else’s fault that you became a mom, and start thanking God for all the different parts of your kids that bring you joy.
Stop thinking about how you wanted your life to be, and thank the good Lord that you have an amazing husband, two healthy children, and a great life.
What do you think? How do you stop resentment in your life? Is it okay to resent being a mom? Let’s talk in the comments!
UPDATE: After a long discussion in the comments, I now regret saying “Shut up and grow up” in this post. It was wrong, and I am sorry. Jesus would never have said that. I stand by the thrust of my argument, but I wish I hadn’t have been so harsh.