If You Regret Parenthood, Researchers Say You’re Not Alone

4 min read
RDNE Stock Project/Pexels

Source: RDNE Stock Project/Pexels

Regret means feeling sad or sorry about something that you did or did not do. The majority of folks (if not all) will feel regret about at least one decision they made to take or not take some action, even if it’s a relatively small one. For example, let’s say you stop for coffee on your way to a work meeting and, misjudging the time, wind up arriving late. You might regret stopping for that coffee. Alternatively, if your concern about arriving late led you to not grab a coffee, you may regret that decision if you showed up early and bleary-eyed.

But what about the big choices in life? One of the most significant choices a person can make is whether to have children. Because the overwhelming majority of people will become parents in their lifetime and social norms promote parenthood, we’re not going to explore regret over not having children. Instead, we’re going to focus on a new study examining regret over having children.

The team of researchers who conducted the study highlighted past research showing that regret over having children isn’t rare or unheard of, as 5-14% of parents have this feeling. They also noted that social disapproval around this topic, alongside the absence of ways to assess regret over parenthood, are both factors behind the relative scarcity of research in this valuable area. To address this issue, they created and tested an assessment known as the Parenthood Regret Scale. They translated it across three languages (i.e., Polish, French, and English) and found that it’s a reliable and valid measure.

In their research with this scale, they found a link between regret over parenthood and parenting burnout, depression, and contentment with one’s life. Specifically, more parental regret was connected to less happiness with life and more parenting burnout and depression. Of course, the research team was right to acknowledge that these relationships weren’t strong and they don’t provide evidence that parenting regret causes these other feelings (or vice versa). At the same time, they were equally correct to state that parenting regret is a worthwhile area to address, and they highlighted unanswered questions around what leads to and results from parenting regret.

For example, they pointed out that strains around parenting could lead a person to feel burnout (i.e., “when a parent’s resources (personal and social) are insufficient to counteract the burdens of parenthood”), which could lead to parenting regret. However, they also cited research indicating that the opposite could be true: that feeling regret over becoming a parent could create obstacles to getting accustomed to the changes and challenges parenthood brings.

Likewise, the researchers commented on how the relationships between parenting regret, depression, and contentment in life have nuances. For example, they stated that regret over parenthood may go together with depression and lack of contentment, but that it’s not always the case; it’s possible that a person who doesn’t feel happy with their life may feel content with their decision to have children, and a person might feel regret over having children while feeling content with their life as a whole.

It’s a deeply meaningful step to bring more scientific attention to this overlooked facet of the human experience. It’s okay to feel regret. The emotion of regret over a decision doesn’t mean someone is a bad person, and the same is true of regret surrounding parenthood. It’s important to remove stigma from this feeling and understand it better, and find ways of giving parents the compassion and support they deserve, for themselves and their children.

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