Should Moms Admit This?

What if you felt no joy in motherhood?Isabella Dutton, mother of two, publicly admitted that she would have been happier if she’d remained childless.

Published in the Daily Mail, I saw her story being discussed on Facebook, where the prevailing sentiment was that being honest with herself about that is fine, but she should have kept it to herself.

A few implied she was mentally ill, two admired her honesty, but most said that she should have kept her mouth shut.  Many categorized her as selfish and unloving.

I disagree.

If her children were young, I’d feel differently, but they are in their thirties.  They know how their mother feels.  She loves them, did her best, but did not enjoy motherhood.

Every day I hear women discuss the frustration and drudgery of motherhood.  As long as they throw in, “But I love being a mom,” it’s acceptable, even humorous, that they voice their complaints.

Dutton did not love being a mom.  She said that she took parenting very seriously and did her best, but never had strong maternal feelings.

Are moms not allowed to say that?

Personally, I have insanely strong maternal feelings.  I had enough to spare, and would have willingly shared the abundance with Mrs. Dutton.  But that is not the way it works.

Mrs. Dutton had children because she loved her husband and knew he wanted children, not because she wanted to be a mom.  She hoped she would change her mind, but did not.  She felt she personally would have been happier without children, but she loved her family.  She did not abandon them to pursue her ideal of a childless life.

After her children had grown, she looked forward to regaining a life apart from mothering.  Instead, she became the full time caregiver for her daughter, bed ridden with multiple sclerosis.  She expects to spend the rest of her life caring for her daughter.

She doesn’t sound unloving to me.  She sounds stoic and sad, numb with years of grief.

Even with my excess of maternal instincts, I can relate to her sense of loss.

Mrs. Dutton’s story is lamentable, not because she was a bad mother or an unloving mother, but because she was a joyless mother.  Her mourning never turned to dancing.  She has spent her life believing that she would have been happier if her life had been more carefree.  She missed countless moments of joy because she could not wipe the tears from her own eyes.

What is to be gained by condemning her, or silencing those like her with shame?

Motherhood doesn’t come naturally to every woman, and there is more than one right way to be a mom.  (For the record, there is more than one wrong way, too.)

None of us should let expectations – our own or anyone else’s – determine our path.  Take your responsibilities seriously, yes, but find joy, too.  Mrs. Dutton admits that she might have enjoyed motherhood more if she had not been so “conscientious,” i.e. determined to do it all the one right way.

Parenthood can be exhausting and challenging, but it shouldn’t be “oppressive,” as Mrs. Dutton describes it.  If you feel oppressed by life, please seek help.  I’m not an expert, but that sounds like depression to me.

If you cannot wipe away the tears of your sadness, find someone who can.  Your circumstances might never be ideal, but there is still joy to be found in them.

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43 thoughts on “Should Moms Admit This?

  1. IMO, admitting the truth about how she felt and feels is probably the healthiest thing she can do for her children – and may save other women and men from making the same mistake.

    When you don’t enjoy doing something – whether it’s watching a football game or ballet or raising kids – that discomfort shows in your face, your body language, your tone. When you insist, “Oh no, I *love* watching pro wrestling,” you create a cognitive dissonance between your words and your body language that can be very confusing to those who love you. It’s probably a huge relief to her kids that she is no longer pretending she LOVED raising kids, even though she did the best she could with it.

    Not everybody loves kids – and even those who do love kids, often love them at age X, not so much at age Y. (I suspect some mothers of very large families may be in love/addicted to that newborn smell and nursing, not so much to grubby nine-year olds.) I loved and do love my son very much, and enjoyed MOST of his childhood and young adulthood, but there were times I’da traded him for a dog, and shot the dog.

    • I agree. As adults, I think they are capable of understanding that she loved them, but she didn’t enjoy motherhood. I’d think they probably knew it all along, and it would be a relief to everyone to acknowledge it.

  2. I adored my kids but had a hard time on a day to day basis. I was so surprised by my reaction because I always wanted to be a mother. I felt some guilt, some sadness. Society puts so much pressure on mothers, and I think the husbands often do too, along with other family members. I suspect Dutton’s feelings are extreme though because I am quite careful about telling my girls what a hard time I sometimes had. And, I wouldn’t trade them or the experience for anything in the word!

    • There is a high expectation that mothering should both come naturally to all women and be source of delight. If it doesn’t, where do you turn for help without judgment?

      • Barbara,
        I can relate to your comment. I love my daughter and being a mom, but there are days of exhaustion and boredom and moments of what have I gotten myself into. My daughter will probably know how I felt when she gets older and reads my blog. I think it is ok for kids to know having a child is hard, but totally worth it. I wouldn’t trade the experience or my daughter for anything in the world. It’s just some days I would like to eat lunch without sharing, or read a book, or not have my name called. It doesn’t mean I love her any less.

  3. Not all women have the maternal instinct, yet they feel pressured to have children. Or they think once they have a baby the maternal instinct will kick-in. That’s not always the case, and we don’t have to look further than the newspapers to see how that can sometimes end tragically.

    • That’s one of the reasons I was taken aback by the responses to this story. Mrs. Dutton was not neglectful or abusive. She’s being judged for feeling unmotherly, not for acting it. I think there are more women like her than we realize; they need support, not shaming.

  4. First of all, after reading the article, I think that Isabella has a host of issues. In addition to her issues, she approached parenting as a no-win situation, devoid of any joy or fun. Honestly, she doesn’t sound like a very nice person, which is sad. But not everyone in the world is nice!

    People are probably condemning her because she said some downright mean and callous things in that article that I don’t think a person should say about another person. Some of her words were just cruel. She has the right to speak her mind, but does that mean that she should?

    I think just because we CAN say anything we want doesn’t mean that we SHOULD. My blog is all about being honest about the difficulties and joys of life and parenting – but that doesn’t mean I tell the whole world everything about everything. Some things are just not meant to be said. The whole article made me very sad for her children, her husband, and Isabella herself.

    • As someone who loves being a mom, I find it sad that there are mothers who don’t love it. I would rather, though, that they seek and find help than suffer silently.

  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Interesting post. I think having children because someone else wants you to, or expects you to, is not a very good reason. It is too bad Mrs Dutton could not have found the strength to be honest about her feelings from the start. (Said by someone who choose not to have children.)

  6. while it is so sad that she did not enjoy being a mother, you are right in that no one should judge and there is no one way to mother – or parent, for that matter. Parenting is hard and can push you to limits you never knew you had. That’s why we need to turn to our significant others and wonderful women surrounding us for help and support. Per Hillary Clinton, “it takes a village.”

  7. I would agree with your assessment that this mother never recovered from depression in all those years. What a shame that she would spend her whole life fighting what might have been treated as a medical condition.

  8. I remember years before I had kids that the mother I babysit her three kids for told me about a talkshow she show in which some insanely high number of people admitted that they wished they’d never had kids. My employer was in shock for days about it! I spent more time thinking about the fact that they must love their children, and they wouldn’t give their children up, but had they the chance to start over, maybe they would have had a different life without children. An easier one. I don’t feel this way particularly, and I don’t think everyone does, but I know people do and should be able to talk about it.

  9. Quite honestly, this is a tough one. I’m not sure what she gains by admitting this publicly, vs just acknowledging it to herself. Not everyone is cut out to be a mother and we’re much better off being honest with ourselves. Joyless sounds very sad to me, but it seems to me that there must have been a way for her to find moments to herself…I wish things had been different for her.

  10. This is really a tough one. While I would never want to judge another’s circumstances, I have a hard time reconciling that she made a public statement. I think it is admirable and healthy to recognize your feelings, and to admit them, but I’m not so sure it is necessary to do it publicly- especially for the children’s sake, even if they are older. At 37, I know that I would be quite hurt if my mother turned to me and said, “I love you but I did not enjoy being your Mother.” That said, she seems to have a certain strength about her – I am sure some would (and do) just walk away if they found themselves feeling so “joyless” and “oppressed”.

    • I don’t think there is any benefit to her, or her children, that she published this article. I do think that it’s good to have this discussion out in the open, for the sake of others who might be silently wondering, “What is wrong with me that I am the ONLY one who feels this way?”

      To me, it is not unlike those who began to speak up about post-partum depression years ago. I am sure then that people told them that no good would come from their honesty.

  11. This is such a tough subject. Being one of those children whose mom didn’t enjoy being a mom and felt she missed so much of who she was meant to be by being confined to motherhood, I know the deep-soul hurt of hearing those honest words. As a counselor, I’d say yes, it’s important to have a venue whereby you can bare your heart and dispel the secrecy of those thoughts. As a mom and daughter, I think each disclosure should be weighed very carefully, paying special attention to the psyche of those involved. Nothing easy about this one…
    Thanks for coming by my place today!

    • Thank you for sharing your insight. It must have been difficult to grow up knowing that your mom felt constrained by motherhood, especially as children tend to feel inordinately responsible for their parents’ emotions.

  12. Her story makes me sad on so many different levels. Mostly, though, that, like you said, she’s led such a joyless life, and it seems it won’t get a whole lot better. Kudos to her for being honest. So many aren’t, and take it out on others (and themselves) in a variety of hurtful, hateful ways.

  13. I guess she gives a lot of people something to ponder. More people should think long and hard about all you will give up to be a parent. I love my children. They are my life, but some days they suck the life right out of me? Do I regret having them? Not for an instant. But, I would have done a little better planing before I had them. Got more “me time” in, been a little more selfish, indulged a bit more.

    Thanks for stopping by Theresa’s Mixed Nuts 🙂

  14. I think many of us were raised with the expectation/assumption that we would become parents. Motherhood was placed on a pedestal or at least it seemed to be in my growing up years. I know that parenting was much more challenging than I’d imagined it would be…especially the daily demands of an infant/young child. I, too, felt guilty and I didn’t lack for the maternal instinct. Thanks for bringing this story to my attention. It’s an excellent reminder for us to offer our support to those raising the generation.

    • Motherhood and guilt seem to go hand in hand for most of us, not for the same reasons, or during the same stages, but we all fall short at some point, and we know it. We need to give ourselves and others so much grace.

  15. While honesty is admirable, if I were one of her children, I’d be extremely hurt to hear this – no matter what my age. After all, even as an adult, you are still someone’s child. And I always subscribe to the fact that honesty is good, yes, but not at the expense of others. Sometimes it’s best to leave things unsaid ro protect the ones we love.

    • You might be right about that. On the other hand, it may explain part of their experience to them. They may have grown up wondering about why their mom seemed distant or not very affectionate. As an adult, I have had many conversations with my mom about my childhood. Some of them have been hard, but most have resulted in a deeper understanding about what happened and why. She admitted her imperfections, talked about being young, and about not knowing what she was doing (all things I can relate to as a parent myself). This has helped me see my mother as a whole person and to have more empathy for the decisions she made…even the bad ones! As a child you often think you are to blame for things, but as an adult looking back, armed with the perspective your parent had at the time, you can see it all for what it was and forgive more easily. At least, that has been my experience.

  16. I have always suspected that my own mother feels this way on some level. I think that in her generation becoming a parent was expected but she didn’t enjoy it, and that’s okay I guess. I think that some women think that having a child will fill a void they feel in their life, but in reality they should fill the void first and then have children. Visiting from Mommifried!

  17. Really interesting post! I didn’t see the article but I know others who have expressed a similar tale.
    It’s a thankless task and I believe we all beat up ourselves and each other too much. She sounds like a good mother regardless, I don’t know how I would cope being a fulltime caregiver to a disabled adult child. I too hope she can fid some joy.

  18. I saw this article posted on Facebook and was surprised by the reaction of people too. I was reminded of my grandmother and my father actually. I don’t think either of them really enjoyed parenthood or were cut out for it. I don’t think it made them bad people or mentally ill. I just think it wasn’t their forté. In a perfect world they probably would have opted not to have children. That wasn’t really an option for my grandmother. It was just expected. I don’t think my dad was really self-aware enough to understand this about himself. Interestingly, my sister has decided not to have kids. She just doesn’t want to. I think it’s good that she can choose that for herself. I am sure she still feels pressure to procreate, but at least it is more acceptable to decide not to now.

    I have wanted kids for a long time, but having my daughter was kind of a shock. I mean, I didn’t fully understand what I was giving up until I was giving it up. I have days where I feel remorse for the end of my old, much more carefree life, but that doesn’t change the love I feel for my daughter. I don’t regret having her. I am not the same as the women in the article, but I can relate to bits and pieces of her experience. I may feel unmotherly in a moment, where she seemed to have felt it most of the time. I think that is why I can empathize with her experience. This article made me more sad for her than for her children. I think it must be hard to be that unhappy with your circumstances, but I think, like most of us, she made the best of her situation. It sounds like her children were well cared for. I also suspect it is more common than uncommon, but people just don’t talk about it. Mothers are expected to be a certain way and this doesn’t fit into the schema.

  19. I can not judge this mother. It took a lot of courage for her to admit it. There are no winners with this kind of revelation. I think of how her kids must feel hearing this. I also think of how she feels now that her truth is out. Motherhood is not always easy. I can admit that. (Equis Place sent me here.)

  20. This is such a well-written post on the challenges mothers face for being honest about their misgivings about motherhood. In fact, I talked about this post in depth with my best friend at lunch today. I like what you say “None of us should let expectations – our own or anyone else’s – determine our path. Take your responsibilities seriously, yes, but find joy, too.” It saddens me that this woman was unhappy with her life as a mother, but it is a good thing that she did right by her children. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you; I think the most helpful thing we can do is openly discuss issues. Hopefully, if we do that, the women who are struggling will be comfortable seeking help. It is so sad to me to think of being a mom, and not experiencing any joy from it.

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