“I Regret Being a Mom” and My Banana Bread Recipe.


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A Mother’s Confession.

“Look. I love my son. LOVE him. But if I had to do it over again… I wouldn’t.”

This was the confession a friend made to me over two tall glasses of iced Perrier in the frosty lounge of some random hotel in New York City. I was there for work and we’d decided to meet up on a whim–I hadn’t even known she still lived there. But she saw I was in town on my Instagram and we got together for coffee…er, iced sparkling water.

As far as confessions go, it was a doozy. But perhaps she trusted the strength of our friendship, one premised upon precisely these types of unfiltered and fearless admissions. Or maybe, it was because I’m Joanne, the unfailingly supportive friend who favors blind loyalty over a more objective review of one’s potential deficiencies.

Or, maybe it was because I don’t have kids of my own.

Or, to put it more finely, I chose not to have kids of my own.

Because when it comes to being on the receiving end of unfettered criticism, second only to the woman who regrets having kids is the woman who chooses not to have any to begin with.

“Enjoy a lonely life.”

“You are selfish.”

“You are less of a woman with no children.”

These are just a sampling of comments I received (mostly from men, btw) when I posted a video discussing my decision to not have children.

Indeed, just last week, ​Newsweek saw fit to publish an OpEd​ openly criticizing Taylor Swift for, among other things, her childlessness:

“At 34, Swift remains unmarried and childless, a fact that some might argue is irrelevant to her status as a role model. But, I suggest, it’s crucial to consider what kind of example this sets for young girls. A role model, by definition, is someone worthy of imitation. While Swift’s musical talent and business acumen are certainly admirable, even laudable, we must ask if her personal life choices are ones we want our sisters and daughters to emulate.”

As I’ve talked about before, my “choice” to not have children was hardly black and white. Even now, my feelings on the decision swing predictably between sharp regret and total relief. When I watch my friends Sid and Nabiha hang out with their three boys for another round of Mystery Escape Room (literally one of my favorite things in the world), I get jealous and wonder how much more fun my life would be if I had lifelong, built-in playmates. On the other hand, seated in Row 27 wedged between extremely unhappy infants on my last flight from Santa Rosa, I watched two sets of parents’ obvious anxiety turn into panic as the flight attendant rolled her eyes at them and their fussy babies wailed the chorus of their melody-free duet for the entire plane.

“I’m so glad I don’t have kids,” I thought to myself.

When Parents Admit To Regretting Their Decision To Have Kids.

As a non-parent, I’m often only exposed to the very best and the very worst parts of parenthood. Of course, even I know that parenthood isn’t an endless series of Mystery Escape Rooms, board games, and Mario Kart (…or is it…?). I’m also keenly aware that traveling with infants is one of the hardest things a parent can undertake. Unfortunately, I see almost nothing of the “everyday” aspects of parenting and thus, my understanding and subsequent evaluation of procreation (i.e., the relative pros and cons) is inevitably skewed.

Various surveys have attempted to measure the number of parents who will admit to regretting their decision to have kids. As of 2023, it’s estimated that anywhere from 5% to 14% of parents “regret their decision to have children and if they could turn back time, they would choose childlessness.” (See​I should not have had a child: Development and validation of Parental Regret Scale​,” J. Fam Psychol., Dec. 2023.)

Needless to say, the results of these surveys are undermined by the amount of shame–both internal and external–that attends the kind of admission my friend so boldly disclosed over our vials of sparkling water: “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.” (“​How Many Parents Ever Regret Having Kids​,” Psychology Today, Oct. 30, 2023.) Orna Donath, a sociologist and author of the book Regretting Motherhood: A Study, reported “I personally think that we will never be able to know how many parents regret [having children] since it is taboo.”

Why the regret? I spent a fair amount of time reviewing posts in the ​r/regretfulparents reddit thread​ (not for the faint of heart, y’all…), and my very unscientific conclusions are as follows:

  • Unsupportive partners and/or families
  • Mental and/or physical health issues
  • Financial strain
  • They just don’t like kids

If you think about it, though, regret is not an entirely illogical reaction to a “decision” you may have been pressured into (like smoking, drinking, unsafe sex). And there is no doubt that many people, especially women, feel pressured into procreating. Indeed, most of us have been socialized to believe that having kids is just one of the empty boxes in life that should and will be checked off eventually. [This doesn’t, at all, address the decision or pressure to parent a child resulting from a completely unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancy.]

While the young people of today may feel less pressure than Gen X and older, when you’ve been conditioned to believe that “having a family” is a given, the support structure, health, financial wherewithal, and plain old desire necessary to optimize the creation and development of said family may not be given adequate attention. When so little intention or thought goes into arguably the most important decision a human being can make, is it any wonder that regret ensues?

Why I Chose Not To Have Kids.

I often wonder why I, myself, didn’t fall into the pattern adhered to by so many women of my generation. Part of it was undoubtedly the fact that I’d regrettably married a man who was, in my estimation, not a suitable father. At the time I married him, though, I didn’t think it mattered because I was so certain I didn’t want children. Indeed, I considered getting a hysterectomy shortly after our wedding. Part of it, too, was the fact that my own mother often wistfully repeated a confession very similar to my friend’s:

“If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t get married. I’d stay single, buy my own house, have my own car, live my own life.”

Omma said this to me more than once. And while it wasn’t an outright confession of regret, it was certainly enough to have me wondering my whole life,

“Does my mother regret having me?”

And, more painfully,

“Does my mother even love me?”

While it was not exactly pleasant hearing this from my own mother, I am, in a way, really grateful for how cautious it made me about having children (sadly, I failed to exercise that same level of caution when it came to selecting a life-partner…). Perhaps creating a family was just another milestone along a straight, unveering path to others, but for me, it was a fork in the road, one my mother strode past without much thought. I didn’t want to make the same mistake.

If I decided to have kids, I wanted to make for damn-sure that I never regretted it and, more importantly, that I never allowed my child to bear the burden of my regret. Because of all the things in life that have affected me, my confidence, my relationship with others–the fear of being unwanted by my mother remains the hardest thing to overcome.

Before you all start donning your rage-goggles, these little “revelations” from my mother were made, albeit carelessly, when she was angry with my dad, frustrated with her in-laws, or just plain burnt out from working a pressure-packed full-time job while parenting two kids in a country that wasn’t yet her own. I know that many of you reading this right now can think of that one moment when you probably felt the same way–wished you could turn back the clock and return to being a woman who only had to care for herself, her own body, her own heart. I should also note that I had a wonderful childhood–my parents worked their tails off to provide a stable home and I was blessed with two grandmothers who never let me doubt their fierce love for me and my brother.

I now know my mother absolutely loves me, is totally proud of me, and, in the end, would of course have me and my brother all over again. But I guess the interesting question would be,

What if she still felt that her life would have been better had she remained childless?

I genuinely believe that if my mother had access to some outlet for her frustration, rage, and despair, perhaps little to none of it would have rebounded on me. Maybe if she felt that it was totally ok to talk to her peers–other parents–or even her own mother about how much, at times, she hated being a mom, it wouldn’t have seeped out in passive aggressive swipes at my father, with me and my brother in her path.

What would have happened if she’d had a “Joanne” in her life? Some childless friend she could meet up with for drinks and vent, honestly, about how she still wishes she could turn back the clock and fish the unused birth control pills out of the trash bin?

Maybe if she didn’t feel so much pressure to be a perfect parent, feel lovey-dovey towards her annoying bratty kids all the time, spend so much energy suppressing the mountain of anxiety and imposter syndrome associated with literally raising another human being, she could have borne the strain of motherhood with enough grace to spare her children the otherwise understandable resentment that comes with a responsibility she didn’t necessarily “choose.”

Not all partners are created equal. Not all kids are created equal. And not all mothers [and fathers] are created equal. And this needs to be ok. When we demonize those parents that fail to live up to some societal standard of “good parenting,” while hero-worshipping the Rebecca Pearsons of the world, there’s a wide swath of parents who will inevitably fall through the cracks, unsupported, unseen, and left entirely alone.

And it will be their children who pay the price.

Thoughts on this week’s newsletter?


This Week’s Recipe Inspo.

The BEST Banana Bread EVAR!

close-up-top-down-view-of-cutting-vegan-banana-bread

Bonus Recipe for July 4th!

The BEST Black Bean Burgers You’ll Ever Eat!

sliced up black bean burger

What I’m…

Watching.

Speaking of Rebecca Pearson, we just finished This is Us–yes, the ENTIRE FREAKING SHOW! We watched all 6 seasons, methodically chewing off 2-3 episodes per night (when we were in town or not entertaining). Anthony and I both agree that it is one of the greatest shows on TV, with superb acting, excellent writing, and some of the best storytelling, period. I also LOVED the music!! If you haven’t seen This Is Us, I am totally BEGGING you to watch it and then email me, so that I can talk about it with you!!! WATCH NOW!

Reading.

Anthony and I now have this “game” where I read out loud submissions to The Ethicist column of the NYT and then debate the “right answer” to some pretty thorny ethical dilemmas, like “Can I lie about how I lost weight?” or “Can I leave my husband before his dementia grows too hard to control?” or “Should I kick my son out of the house if he refuses to take his mental health meds?” It’s actually really fun and definitely helps to make a long commute less tiresome. We’ve been doing this for about a year now and it’s not only revealed more about what Anthony thinks, it’s also revealed a few things about myself! READ NOW!

Loving.

Lulu eats largely a homemade diet (she is the lucky owner of a James Beard award-winning human:-), but we’ve recently started incorporating some kibble to help with keeping her teeth clean. Also, while I vary her meals up a bit, it’s not always easy to balance her macros while also making sure she’s getting a nutritionally sound meal. This brand of kibble (which I found via Google) has been great–I mix it with her homemade food and it’s been a SOLID addition to her diet! SHOP NOW!


The Korean Vegan Kollective

Join now to discover a world of culinary inspiration at your fingertips.

Use code TKVSUMMER20 at checkout for $20 off the annual membership price.


Parting Thoughts.

What do you think of when you hear the word “love”?

My mind flickers through a myriad of emotions, images and footage from my childhood, but the one it keeps returning to is the screen door of our Skokie house.

My parents bought their first home–a squat single-story ranch house on Karlov Avenue–for $60,000. The front door of our home was a double-layered affair–one solid wooden piece with a small cutout window at the top, followed by a mesh screen door. It had a modest living room that my parents outfitted with a couple of sofas, a square coffee table, and television. The loveseat was bracketed by windows facing our street. That loveseat became the venue for countless hours of FORTS and endless childhood shenanigans that took place under the cover of couch cushions, as the large oak tree standing guard in our front yard framed the view afforded out into the world.

Throughout the day, the screen door to the foyer of our living room would “flap flap flap” as Hahlmuhnee traveled back and forth between the kitchen and the backyard to collect peppers, tomatoes, corn, squash, sesame leaves. In the mid-morning, another “flap flap flap” as Daddy strode through the door, his night shift over, then paused to remove his shoes, before heading straight into the kitchen to enjoy the meal my grandmother had prepared for him. And later on in the day, just before dinner, another “flap flap flap” signaling my mother’s return from the hospital, the sharp scent of iodine and rubbing alcohol still clinging to her uniform.

The wariness my father brought home with him, the kind that propelled him into our cramped kitchen without stopping to say hello to us, the smells that lingered in the foyer even after Omma changed out of her uniform–they didn’t belong in our home. I knew this in the same way that I knew the shape of my hand, the smell of Hahlmuhnee’s breath before she brushed her teeth, the sound of my little brother’s breathing at night. I knew this, and I knew that the screen door of our home protected us from something far worse than the chemical-y odor of my mother’s green scrubs, and the reason my dad took his glasses off and wiped them with the sleeve of his shirt even though he’d only just done so a few minutes earlier.

While there was something exciting, thrilling even, about running outside and down the uneven pavement that led to the side of our home and joined Karlov Avenue, the echoing “flap flap flap” that drifted into the background anchored me, made the world small enough, for awhile, to fit inside the four corners of a heart that hadn’t yet discovered how to build a home inside itself, how to bear the weight of not knowing the cause of things, the indifference that conceives cruelty. I didn’t know the name of the thing that caused my father to house himself in such silence. I didn’t know the name of the thing that made my mother so angry and tired. All I knew was that those things lived outside, beyond the “flap flap flap.”

Most of the time, that sound ushered people in. People who belonged inside our home. People whose shoes remained in the foyer overnight. But one day, when I was still little enough to play FORTs with my brother, when I’d grown frustrated with how often Omma was staying overnight at work for another night shift, when I wanted the screen door to keep my little mother inside our home for a few more hours, I unrolled two long sheets of expensive wrapping paper Omma had just brought home and placed it on the loveseat facing Karlov Avenue. I sat down right on top of it, the paper crinkling noisily beneath my weight as I handed an unsheathed cardboard tube to my little brother, who I invited to join me. “Row row row your boat” we sang at the top of our lungs, as we used the tubes as oars in our imaginary adventure on the seas.

Omma stormed into our living room. She snatched the oars out of our hands. Her delicate mouth stretched into a thin line across her face. She didn’t say anything, though. Instead, she swiveled around and marched back into the deep recesses of the corridor leading to my parents’ room, a looming silence drifting up into the ceiling as my brother and I peered at her receding back. A few hours later, she came out, dressed in scrubs. She was holding a suitcase. She said goodbye, but it wasn’t like all the other goodbyes she’d said before heading into a night shift. There was something terrifying about this particular goodbye, one that was accompanied by a suitcase.

That night, Omma did come back, the “flap flap flap” copying the “thump thump thump” in my chest when Omma’s narrow face broke the darkness beyond the screen door. And after that night, for 20 years, I checked my mother’s closet for her suitcases anytime she got a little too mad at me, my brother, my father.

Because it was on that night that I learned that sometimes, it wasn’t what the screen door couldn’t keep out that would hurt me. It was what the “flap flap flap” failed to keep in that would leave me unmoored.

Wishing you all the best,
-Joanne

Comments & Questions

my mother, my brother, and me

July 1, 2024

Join The Discussion

  1. Hammer says:

    Great newsletter as always. We have seen the gamut of parenting styles across families. Such an interesting topic as there some parents that clearly love having kids, others tolerate it while some others clearly don’t enjoy the experience. For the last bucket, I do wish that they had better support and maybe even decision making before taking the plunge. We feel horrible for those kids and the trauma that is being created by their parents outwardly showing their disregard for their children.

    However, I do think societal norms are becoming more empathetic now about intentionally childless families. The biggest factors are financial and the lack of a support system. Western societies with nuclear family structures for the most part do not lend themselves to a community based approach to child raising. That places an incredibly huge burden on parents who are trying to juggle their marriages, careers, social lives and commitments to aging parents in addition to child rearing. To your point, our governments and society need to do a better job of creating the right infrastructure to support these families and the children they chose to bring into this world so that they don’t fall through the cracks.

    PS – had no idea about how much you like Escape Rooms. Filed away.

  2. katie says:

    What a wonderful…and wildly thoughtful post. As someone currently going through a very, very long divorce, I look back over it all and while I, too, would have made a different decision on who I chose for my partner (isn’t hindsight lovely?), my son is just about the greatest gift ever. I wasn’t that girl who dreamed of getting married or having kids. Then I hit the ripe old age of 34 and it hit me that I had no time left to make that life altering decision. Luckily, it all worked out and I had a super healthy boy. Now, he’s come with his own host of issues. Ones that I was never prepared for. But we’ve traversed as best we know how. I don’t regret that decision at all. And as someone who has single friends, a single adult sister with no kids, I do not question their decisions either. We, as women, are not here to settle anymore. Or to follow some antiquated idea that we were meant to be wives and mothers. Every person must tackle this life how they see fit. And isn’t that the beauty in all of it?

  3. Christine says:

    Oh this topic really hit home. Just recently I thought how hard it is to have a good routine with my 2 year old where I don’t get bored and my child is happy/engaged enough. I feel sooo tired everyday and when all the tiredness reaches its peak, I have moments where I start doubting my abilities of being a (good) mum. But I wouldn’t say it’s a feeling of regret. It’s more like one would just love to distance oneself from the situation and go back to that time where this absolute duty/responsibility towards a little human being was non existent…the brain just wants to stop thinking “double”. Because I could never imagine my life without my son ever. During the day I take my time to appreciate his existence.
    But that is my personal take and I also agree that there should be less shaming and more support for parents who struggle. And those who choose to not have children have their legitimate reasons for that decision.
    Thank you Joanne, really enjoy reading your posts. Love the way you write :)❤️ much love from Germany

  4. Andrea says:

    I too chose not to have children. Actually my mother often reminds me that from age 5 i said many times that i would neither get married nor have children. I did get married, twice. And while i don‘t regret it, i often wonder how my life would have evolved had i never married. I feel that our world is laid out for couples and definitely single women.
    I have also heare some pretty bizarre reasons for having children such as „so, i won‘t be alone when i am old“ or „ so, i will have somebody to take care of me when i am old“. Those reasons give me the creeps and i feel sorry for the child(ren). I have actually never hearc a compelling reason for having children… mostly, it‘s been some weird combination of „that‘s just what you do“…“what else would you do?“ „it‘s just part of life“….
    All of these reasons i have always found less than compelling. I am also under no false impression that my genetic material should be passed on. It has become very clear that there is lots of generstional trauma, substance abuse and mental illness in my family…not something that i feel needs to be passed on to future generations.
    I am happy to live in a time where i can choose to procreate and am not forced into some union to continue the family line or name…

    • Janel says:

      You really said every damn thing I was about to say. Even the reasons “why” you should have a child. I, too, am childless and married. Sometimes I feel like he may have wanted a kid(s) but not enough to have sat me down and planned it. I enjoy my life without them and have enough time with nieces and nephews I can spoil 💕 – thank you for sharing words I relate to!

  5. Sarah says:

    I’m adopted, so I know I was very much wanted by my parents – which brings its own kind of pressure!

    I’ve never really felt the urge to have children myself. I think this means I’ve never really felt the urge to find a partner and settle down either. I’ve often thought I might meet a person who could change my mind, but I haven’t put the effort in! And I think that speaks for itself. I have children in my life for short periods of time and that’s enough.

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