What is it like to regret having children?
This is just my story. I can’t speak for other people.
I planned my one pregnancy and thought I desperately wanted to have a baby—desperate enough that I married the first man who was interested in having a child with me. I knew, in the back of my mind, that I was making a bad decision, but I thought I was strong enough to do this with someone I shouldn’t have been making heavy life decisions with. The pregnancy was a difficult one, during which time I couldn’t work due to pain caused by the pregnancy.
I was still really excited about finally having a baby. The biological urge was that strong—strong enough to make me ignore glaring red flags that my now ex-husband was throwing at me constantly as well as ignoring that I had spent the previous 27-plus years insisting that I didn’t want children. I was the cool older cousin whom my much younger cousins adored. I was the awesome aunt to my nephews, who still tell me they wish I’d been their parent. I thought that would carry over into being a parent. I was wrong.
While I was forced to quit my job due to pregnancy pains, my husband was not faring much better. He had a job when we married that he quit about five months in (or was fired. I’ll never know the true story of how he lost that job) and didn’t really get anything steady again until a year after our daughter was born. This was only after I told him he was costing me money while not bringing any in, so he could either find gainful employment or he could find another place to live. He then joined the Navy.
My immediate fear was that I wasn’t going to be able to support my daughter financially. I started working again when she was 4 months old and was in a good position financially, even though my husband was out of work for most of the next eight months. Unfortunately, I was back in a bad situation financially from the time she was 2 ½ until she was about 7 years old, and then again when she was about 12 until she was 14 or so. She’s 17 years old now.
But it went deeper than that. I’m sure there are plenty of people in this world who have children they suddenly can’t afford, but they never feel like having their children was a mistake. I felt like, and still feel like, I made a mistake. I’m regretting motherhood. And to be clear, I love my daughter and have referred to her as my magnum opus. If anything were to happen to her, I would be inconsolable—forever. I would want to die with her if she died.
My mistake was not because I don’t love her, or because I don’t want her, or because there is something wrong with her. None of that is true. It is not, even in my mind, even just sometimes, her fault that I feel I shouldn’t be a parent. I have never blamed her, either in my mind or out loud, for my failings. And because of that—and because she is pretty damn awesome—what I’m left feeling more than anything is guilt.
I feel guilty all the time that I’m not the parent she deserves. Even if I’ve done everything right and she’s a great person and I’ve been a good parent to her (I believe all of those things to be true), I still feel loads of guilt because I regret being a parent, not because I failed as a parent (I don’t believe I have) but because I don’t want to be a parent. I can’t even really explain why I feel that way—I just do.
I do want to say, though, that I am very close to my daughter. We have a very healthy relationship. She is well-behaved and respectful, smart, confident, well-adjusted and happy. She talks to me about everything, things many of her friends cannot talk to their parents about. She thinks I’m a great parent and her friends have said similar things, and not because I’m the cool “friend” parent like the mom of the head mean girl in Mean Girls. I’m not her friend. I’m her mom.
There are rules in our home, and my daughter almost always follows them. She has responsibilities, and she deals with them. She doesn’t have a relationship with her biological father or his family (their choice) and asked my husband to adopt her four years ago. She is close to him, too, in the same way she is to me. I have actively done everything I can to keep her from feeling unwanted or unloved, even ignoring my strong introverted tendencies because she needed me to let her be “touchy feely” even though I’m not that person. It was, and still is, a struggle for me to be her parent, and there is still that guilt. But there is also responsibility, and there is love.
This post originally appeared on Quora.