Whether childfree or regretting motherhood, we all deserve the freedom of ambivalence.

I read an article earlier this week about women who regret having children. I’ve also just read an article by a woman who is childfree. The thing that struck me as the common theme in the two pieces was ambivalence. You can be a mother and be unsure of the rightness of your choice, just as you can choose to be child-free and sometimes be uncertain. There are no absolutes on either side – apart from the child itself presented as either a burdensome presence or an ever present absence.

The world doesn’t deal in nuance in complexities though, particularly not online, and particularly not when it comes to a person’s reproductive choices.  There is little room for the mother who loves her children with all her being, but would give anything to regain the freedoms of her childfree self. Neither is there room for the woman who has chosen a childfree life to sometimes experience pangs of regret or longing. Are we are all one of these women, at some point?

(As an explanatory aside here, I’m talking explicitly in this post about reproductive choices in their most basic form – quite literally whether a person chooses parenthood or not, as this is the content of the two articles I’m referencing. The only matter on which there is no room for ambivalence is a person’s right to make their own reproductive choices.)

In her piece, I Am Childfree But I Am Mostly Human Brittany Brolley writes,

What I can claim is that I’ve always been a bit jealous of both women with children and women without.

Yes : I am envious of women who take motherhood in their stride without the accompanying angst and guilt that seems to charactise modern day motherhood (does she exist?). Likewise I am envious of the freedom of the childfree. This is because what binds us is our womanhood –  we are connected through our life experiences as women, without the need of a child at our core. We do not exist only in relation to our reproductive capabilities, or the presence of a child.

Brolley writes about the guilt she feels at not always being able to fully embrace her childfree status. Maternal guilt is oft written about. Is guilt an inevitable consequence of womanhood? Guilty for not wanting for kids, for having them, for wanting time away from them, guilty for not being happy about not wanting them?? It is both ludicrous and harmful. If a situation and its exact opposite can both induce feelings of guilt, then clearly the expectations which are thrown at us are entirely arbitrary and unattainable.

In her piece, ‘Anyone shocked by women who regret motherhood isn’t listening,’ Amy Gray writes,

When a woman tells you she regrets becoming a mother, she’s not telling you she dislikes her children. She’s telling you she dislikes the job.

Women who speak openly about their ambivalence towards motherhood are often demonised as monsters who loathe their children and presumed to be suffering with some kind of mental illness. Given the strains of modern day parenting , it shouldn’t be surprising ( as Gray points out) that few mothers can talk about their experiences in only rose tinted terms.

Mothers are suffering because of the way motherhood works in today’s society, even though they have been pedalled the myth that it should be their ultimate goal. Women who are childfree are made to feel less than, because they have not fulfilled their duty. Not only this but, as Brolley writes, they have to be just the right amount of happy with their choice: too much and they are heartless child hating harridans, not enough and ‘ why don’t you just have a baby already?’

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We know this already. Reproductive choice should be granted the same freedom of ambivalence as other choices. Sometimes I wish I had only one child, sometimes I long for a third. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with joy and contentment when I look at my children, sometimes I feel suffocated and constrained.

To paraphrase Brolley, I am a mother, but I am mostly human.



4 thoughts on “Whether childfree or regretting motherhood, we all deserve the freedom of ambivalence.

  1. Thanks for highlighting Brittany’s great piece and making some excellent points.

    There is such a dramatic, socially-reinforced dichotomy between mothers and non-mothers that the fear of making the ‘wrong’ choice and rejecting the ‘correct’, socially-sanctioned choice almost drove me to a breakdown.

    I never experienced a longing for children but I experienced an intense fear of missing out, so I had ivf when I found out I was infertile. Sounds ridiculous. Should have been simple. But why wasn’t I content to just choose a childfree life?

    I have friends in their mid-thirties who are hugely ambivalent about having kids and don’t have the elusive maternal instinct at all (I never had it myself), but say to me “We’ll just do it anyway” for fear of ending up on the wrong team. And the wrong team is definitely the shadowy tribe of the post-45, childless woman, according to the prevailing culture.

    Shouldn’t it all be easier? Society so often shames women (often literally and directly, in comment threads) and wilfully misunderstands them, having no time for complex emotions or just plain old doubts and musings. “You could have adopted”; “You can still have one at 50”; “Tough shit – the world is overpopulated”, etc. No area attracts such scorn and vitriol as that of reproductive choices.

    So when we do muse on our choices, and express fears and doubts, time-honoured assumptions are jumped to – it doesn’t mean I crave what I haven’t got if I talk about being fearful of a lonely old age; it doesn’t mean I want a baby in my arms if I sometimes look at the more chaotic lives of my mother friends with an element of strange wistfulness. But women should not have to opt for ‘just in case’ motherhood through a fear of missing out, because society makes the alternative so unappealing.

    I suppose the fear is that the regrets are that bit more irreversible if you don’t have kids and then wish you had – very few regretful mothers actually want to give their kids back, but there’s not much you can do if you get to 65 and find you want them (short of having the much-derided, old-lady donor ivf). Can our culture change to erase those deep-set fears? I bloody hope so.


    1. Thank you for bringing Brittany’s piece to my attention. I think its obvious that theres more that unites us than divides us, but is suits society to have us arguing with each other. How many of us make any choices without experiencing some regret? How many of us dont look at other peoples lives with a degree of envy? I understand what you say about the irreversible nature of the childfree decision – I dont mean to downplay that, I hope I havent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really enjoyed this, especially because the intolerance of social media — indeed, of media generally — to ambivalence is extremely problematic. Most things in life are shades of grey (no reference to rubbish fiction intended or implied); those who insist on black and white are usually those unable to tolerate ambiguity.

    Love that quote about it being the job not the children.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s