How to move forward when motherhood overwhelms you


Dear Adele,

I am a 25-year-old single mother of two children. The oldest has behaviour problems that are being investigated, and the youngest is a poor sleeper who keeps me up, night after night. I am also struggling doing a job that I do not like and am living paycheck to paycheck. I realize now I was not in a position to become a mother when I chose to, and although I love my children, I do regret having them when I did. I fear my attitude will rub off on the children and affect their development. Can you help?



Dear Regretful, How to move forward when motherhood overwhelms you

My life experience as an adoption practitioner put me in touch with hundreds of families who desperately wanted to be parents and who, by and large, were ready, willing, and able to do the job. From time to time, I did meet birthparents who regretted having children when they were too young and an occasional adoptive parent who, when confronted with the realities of parenting, came to regret the decision. It is difficult in our culture to ever complain that motherhood and fatherhood is a really hard job because the parent is subject to the criticism and judgments of others and might be thought to be a bad parent. I do think the difficulties faced by mothers, in particular, are likely underreported and often unspoken.

A Maclean’s article by Anne Kingston entitled I regret having children sites some interesting research. A 1975 survey by Ann Landers of 10,000 responders found that 70% said they would not have children again if they had the chance to do it over. A 2002-2003 study by the US Department of Health and Human Services found 3% disagreed with the statement, “The rewards of being a parent are worth it despite the cost and the work it takes.” A 2016 German study of 1200 parents found that 8% would not choose to have kids again. A 2013 Gallup poll of 5100 American adults found that 7% of persons with children would not do it again.  Polish studies of 2500 parents found that between 10.7% and 13.6% of Polish parents regretted having children. A 2010 American sociological Association study found that parents are more likely to be depressed than child-free persons and child-free adults tend to be happier than any other group.

According to Lise Stranden in an article entitled How many people actually regret having children, regretfulness is linked to such factors as financial difficulties, single parenthood, educational level, social status, special needs children, youth, unstable life situations, parental traumatic childhoods and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Dr. Emily Guarnotta in What to Do If You Regret Having Kids: 8 Tips for Moving Forward suggests that regret is not uncommon and may occur at a particular point in time and then disappear. One should not think of oneself as a bad mom or dad because such parents are not alone.

Reasons suggested for people’s dissatisfaction with parenthood at a particular time in their life, according to Guarnotta, include the timing of one’s family, the number of children one has, the sacrifices entailed, the partner one has chosen, the impact on the spousal relationship, the absence of personal time, the cost, deficient skills in dealing with a child, and the state of the world. More research is definitely needed on why people come to regret having children at a particular time in their life and how, or if, it affects children’s development.

Dr. Guarnotta states that you can still be a good parent with these feelings and that it is your behavior with your children that his most important. She offers some helpful suggestions which are summarized for you below:

  • Acknowledge your feelings and understand that they are real.
  • Try not to be judgmental about yourself. You are not a bad mother because you have these feelings.
  • Analyze the causes of the feelings and be a problem solver.
  • Make a list of the positives associated with your children such as hugs watching them learn and having fun together. Look at it often.
  • Understand that negative feelings are transitory and will not last forever.
  • Take time for self-care. Eat well, exercise and schedule some time for yourself to relax.
  • Take up a hobby with your children which will be fun for all concerned, such as art, biking, or dancing.
  • Find support from friends and family, colleagues, and in-person or online support groups.

May I suggest you consider a therapist who can help you with these negative emotions and with the life problems you have needing resolution. Your situation is indeed a difficult one and a top drawer therapist might be able to help you quite a bit. You can likely get a competent therapist through your Family Health Care provider, through an Employment Assistance Program, through a Family Service Centre in the city of Ottawa, through the Canadian Mental Health Association, or from a private Psychologist or Social Worker.

I will conclude with a few thought-provoking quotations on motherhood:

Being a mama can be tough, but remember in the eyes of your child, no one does it better than you.— Unknown

We need to realize it’s the role of motherhood the women regret not the children.— Andrea O’Reilly

I believe the choice to become a mother is the choice to become one of the greatest spiritual teachers there is.— Oprah

Best wishes to you, Regretful, and to your youngsters.

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

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