When You Love Your Kids but Don’t Love Motherhood

tired mother with childIf you are a mother, you have probably experienced at least one day (if not many) when you wondered if you were cut out for the job of parenting. Mothering is hard work. Even on our best days parenting our kids, there are difficult moments. Many days, it is the occasional joyful moment that makes it all worthwhile. Other times, it may not feel like the good justifies the bad.

You can find some blogs these days that describe parenthood more authentically and accurately than in the past, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Moms are increasingly owning up to the fact being a mom is tough and sometimes thankless. But almost universally, these stories end with a phrase such as “It’s all worth it,” “I still wouldn’t trade being a mother for anything,” or even, “Being a mother is the best job in the world.”

But what if your experience of motherhood doesn’t include that last sentence? What if your true feeling is that, while you love your child/children, motherhood itself is not what you thought it would be and you just don’t enjoy it much?

For some mothers, these feelings arise out of depression, and once the depression lifts, joy enters into the parenting experience and all regrets about becoming a mom dissipate. But for others, even after recovery from depression, and despite loving their child and enjoying many moments with them, the bottom line is that motherhood is not a job they enjoy overall or would choose again.

If it were any other job, it would be acceptable to acknowledge that it’s hard and maybe you’re not totally suited to it, but when you’re talking about motherhood, admitting you don’t love it is a huge taboo.

A recent study published in the journal Demography found that, on average, happiness decreased more in the two years following becoming a parent than following a job loss, divorce, or even the death of a spouse. Clearly, not every mother is happy with her new life, and yet those feelings are typically buried, not talked about, and the women who feel that way often experience shame and guilt.

So few mothers admit to having these feelings, but that doesn’t make them go away. Parenting is difficult, and of course it makes sense that not everyone is equally suited to it temperamentally. But the stigma of admitting that one doesn’t really enjoy being a parent is enormous, and the necessity of hiding those feelings can be a huge burden—which in itself is a contributor to depression and anxiety.

Acknowledging our ambivalence—the fact not every moment, nor even every stage, of motherhood is fun—allows mothers to accept themselves for who they are and what they feel, and be freer to find ways to make motherhood more authentically enjoyable.

There are those who would point out that enabling women to acknowledge their negative feelings about motherhood might adversely impact our children. How can our children feel loved and wanted if they knew the way Mom really feels about her job? But I would argue the opposite: By stuffing those negative feelings, by shaming mothers for their normal responses, normal emotions are more likely to be acted out in negative ways.

Acknowledging our ambivalence—the fact not every moment, nor even every stage, of motherhood is fun—allows mothers to accept themselves for who they are and what they feel, and be freer to find ways to make motherhood more authentically enjoyable. Being honest within ourselves and accepting all our feelings gives us permission to do motherhood differently—and perhaps allow more acceptance in our children of their own inevitable negative feelings as well.

Don’t look to social media for validation of your motherhood experience. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. If you don’t feel heard, understood, and validated by your partner, friends, or family, therapy can be an outlet to explore and accept your complicated and ever-changing emotions regarding parenthood and life.

Reference:

Myrskyla, M., & Margolis, R. (2014). Happiness: Before and After the Kids. Demography, 1843-1866.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Meri Levy, LMFT, therapist in Lafayette, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Molly

    October 13th, 2015 at 10:19 AM

    As much as we sometimes complain about all of the things that we have to do as moms I really don’t think that there are too many of us who are going to just come out and say that we really so not like being a mom. That is treading on sacred ground and even I, who tries to be as honest as I can with other moms about the things I feel and go through, I don’t think that I would ever just come out and say that it was no fun. Some days are bad and some days are good but that doesn’t mean that you would ever want to change your reality.

  • shelby

    October 13th, 2015 at 3:25 PM

    I have a whole lot of friends for some reason who have had difficulty getting pregnant with their first child, maybe because we are all a little older, I’m not sure, but anyway that little thing alone makes me afraid to ever voice anything negative about being a mom.
    I love my kids dearly but we all know there are times when we just want to scream but you have to hold it all in.
    I know that many of them would give up anything to be in their shoes, but while I wouldn’t want to ever be in theirs, there are times when a little bit of alone time sounds pretty good.

  • Carissa

    October 14th, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    I don’t get it- what is there not to love about being a mom? I mean, sure, there are hard days but you know, that is life in general.

  • Rose

    October 18th, 2016 at 5:23 PM

    Because of my medical conditions and the medications required to treat them children were a dangerous risk.

    I vowed never to have one. I spent YEARS begging to have my tubes tied but was refused on the grounds of my age (I’m now 32 with a 2 year old).

    I was raped at 30 and abortion wasn’t an option for me – despite the fact the baby would possibly kill me (if it even lived at all at any point in its existance).

    Even if it survived birth it could possibly die my arms.

    That’s a horrific amount of guilt to wake up with every day. Especially all the thoughts that come to mind when the baby kicked.

    The baby was a silent reflux baby and I had Post Natal Depression.

    I needed sexual abuse counselling not just because of the rape but coming to terms with looking at my half cast son and trying not to see HIM.

    I hated being trapped in the house during nap time – I felt like a caged animal!

    I used to be a Goth and suddenly spikes and everything are gone – I completely lost any sense of myself and took up ciggies again for entertainment because I couldn’t do anything else. Just smoke after smoke while he slept.

    I was wearing tracksuits because I didn’t know what else to wear without my goth gear.

    I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed because of the toxicity of my meds to bub (try and bottlefeed your baby without judgemental stares)

    Eventually you start to feel like you’ve disappeared and there’s nothing left but a hollow shell enslaved to a screaming baby. Everyone is obsessed with the baby and no one cares about you. You fade into the background. Where is YOU in all this? MUM is not who you are but a role you’ve been forced into and no one knows what this MUM role is about: breast or bottle etc. So it’s hard to be joyful 24/7 when you question yourself about every parenting choice you make and know that at least once a day there’s another parent judging you.

    P.S I’m speaking in hindsight. I have various charities that have been my invaluable support network, I started seeing a psychologist as well as a sexual abuse counselor and I started to attend baby and toddler groups to make friends and learn more.

    My toddler’s physically and verbally delayed, has molars coming through and has hit the terrible twos so we’re still not all sunshine and roses, but we bonded and we’re making it gradually.

    Don’t ever think being a parent is not hard work because it can be a daily struggle for some of us.

  • adrienne

    October 15th, 2015 at 8:14 AM

    One thing that makes this even worse is the advent of social media. We see all of this so called perfection online and it gets depressing because we never feel like we will be able to live up to.

  • Lynn

    October 15th, 2015 at 11:37 PM

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. Some of us love our kids but would much rather not be parents…even on the good days. I do not feel joy about having kids. Maybe someday I will, but not yet, and the ‘but it’s all worth it’ refrain is not true for me. Living with a sense of regret about the choice to grow our family is challenging, and not to view the children themselves as obstacles even more so. This doesn’t mean we can’t sacrifice and be good parents, it’s just a long road ahead for those of us who share this feeling.

  • Meri Levy, LMFT

    October 16th, 2015 at 11:00 AM

    Thanks for sharing each of your unique and different responses to the article. Everyone’s experience is unique and reflects not only our own personality temperament, but the kind of kids we get and the support system we have. It’s so important not to judge ourselves (or others) too harshly for feeling differently. And Lynn, I totally get the sense of it being a “long road.” I hope you’re taking good care of yourself and getting whatever support you need to cope with a challenging situation.

  • colby

    October 16th, 2015 at 11:09 AM

    As a dad I have a very hard time relating to this at all.

    We had such a difficult time getting pregnant that it has been a blessing just to bring that little boy home. I know that it can be hard with schedules getting adjusted and things like that but how could you just not love being a parent?

  • Hayes

    October 17th, 2015 at 10:29 AM

    could postpartum depression be a factor here?

  • Kelly

    October 19th, 2015 at 10:59 AM

    I think a lot of people never truly ask themselves if parenthood is something they actually WANT to do or if it’s something they feel they’re “supposed” to do. For some people, it’s easy to find joy in the process even if it’s something they feel they’re “supposed” to do, but for others, the joy of parenthood never comes. Our society is very invested in the notion that having children makes a family complete and people (especially women) are made to feel as though they’re selfish, flawed, and inadequate if they voice a decision to not have children. I know one person who was given so much grief about her decision that she decided they must be right and she was making a mistake. She has a 3-year-old now, and although she loves her son, she kind of wishes she had listened to herself and not the people who told her to change her mind. And I agree with the comment above about social media and the idealized version of “good parenting.” New mothers who don’t automatically just “bond” with their baby are made to feel like monsters when that’s actually fairly normal, given the trauma of the birthing process, stress, and individual temperaments. However, no one talks about those experiences, so the shame of “not being a good enough mom” continues, and frustration with the whole process seems like a logical and natural response.
    Parenting can be difficult even in the most well-off and well-supported families. Imagine the stress of parenting without a good financial plan and without an adequate support system. The daily stress of parenting plus problem-solving to meet needs would inevitably becoming overwhelming at times and it makes total sense (to me at least) that someone in that situation might not love motherhood.
    Our country already has so many children with so many needs whose needs aren’t being fulfilled because we simply lack the resources. I doubt we’ll ever experience a shortage of children who need good, loving homes in the United States. It doesn’t even make sense that anyone would take issue with a person who chooses to not have children of their own.

  • Lena

    October 19th, 2015 at 11:21 AM

    I think that if we start to look deep enough we would find that there are a whole lot of people who experience some form of sadness after having a child. It isn’t that you do not love that child because I think that most of us do, but it is a grieving of a life that we have now left behind and things will be so different and how can you even remember who you are anymore with all of this responsibility that you have now taken on. I think that for many of us nit just becomes a little overwhelming and then comes the sadness that it can be hard to break free of.

  • Elizabeth

    May 29th, 2017 at 7:25 PM

    It’s hard to complain when you have beautiful children and a loving family and I will live up to my responsibility as well as savor the truly “happy moments” with my lovable kids but in the bigger picture there are times when being a parent is not the “work” I want to be doing. It is truly the hardest job in many ways and I think some women just are more fulfilled by the everyday. I do the everyday stuff out of responsibility but that job does not make me happy. I just think some are more cut out for it than others. I am a good and loving mom but there are times I wish I was alone too and that’s awful to admit but true. What I tell myself when I question this whole parenthood thing I remember that I when I was “free” I was envious of the moms and wanted kids – I didn’t know how it would truly be but I know I would have been unsatisfied if I did not have kids. I believe parenting – even though send-sacfiricing in the short term – is the most special passage and opportunity life gives us. To have this experience is a blessing – sacrifices and all. I also remember that soon enough I will be “alone” and will crave the attention.

  • celeste

    October 20th, 2015 at 4:30 PM

    I have been a mom for a long time now and one thing that I have ever heard anyone say is that being a mom or a parent period is easy

  • Carolyn Thomason

    November 2nd, 2015 at 6:56 AM

    Truthfully, I am a mom of 2 young ones. I love my children more than I love myself and would do absolutely anything for them…but minus that… I hate being a mom. I hated being pregnant, I hate chasing after them all day, and I am not the kind of person who can get on the floor and play with them very much. I have anxiety which makes being a parent all that much harder, and back issues that make it hard to carry them or play with them. I also have mild OCD which makes it REALLY hard to be around them and not freak out about something they are doing. So yeah, I hate it. That won’t change the fact that we plan on having more eventually and it doesn’t lessen the love I have for my children… It’s a weird position to be in…

  • gail

    November 2nd, 2015 at 6:12 PM

    I recently said to my 85 year old mother I don’t think I was cut out to be a mom. She said to me well if your daughter was alright then I think you wouldn’t say that. I’m the mom of a 37 year old daughter who has bipolar 2 disorder. Life has been very difficult and it has made me feel as though I wish I were not a mom and well that I made a mistake. I think it is definitely a very key thing that it’s the luck of the draw who you are and what type of child you have and anyone who loves being a parent and has a good relationship should count their blessings. I do love my daughter very much I have been there for her through thick and thin but I’m at the point where sometimes I wish I were not a mother.

  • Zuppy

    November 19th, 2015 at 7:01 PM

    Agree with this article. Have mentioned those exact sentiments on many occasions.

    I use humor to get me through life and I am very honest about my feelings about children and child rearing. Through the lens of comedy, it seems to soften the blow and people seem to respond with more earnesty.

    Check out comedian Louis C.K. And his bits on kids. Anyone who is feeling like the above article will get a kick out of it. He’s got such a realistic take on raising kids. He really gets it!

  • Cynthia

    January 5th, 2016 at 7:29 AM

    When you tupe in the morning before coffee, you sometines make embarrassing tupos, like not typing “Cynthia” properly. Anyway:
    Two things:
    1) First of all, I chose not to have children, in part because I have no illusions about much work they are and I’m not sure I am cut out for it. I am not, however, unfamiliar with children: I am an auntie and have worked as a nanny, after-school care provider, preschool teacher, and K-4th teacher.
    2) I find it interesting that we’re talking about this quite taken out of context. For one thing, “motherhood” and “parenthood” are not synonymous: cue the articles talking about how even the most egalitarian of spouses end up falling right back along gender lines once they have children. We are still structured, as a society, with a tremendous amount of social pressure on women to have children. And the role of “mother” is socially constructed very differently from the role of “father” or even “parent.” How does that get dealt with?

  • Anonymous

    February 13th, 2017 at 6:57 AM

    Thank you for this article. Women need to be able to acknowledge their feelings so they can address them in a healthy way. Admitting you don’t love motherhood does not automatically mean you regret your decision to have a children or that you miss your life before children. Right now I’m in the thick of it and I will say that I don’t love motherhood! When my kids are grown I might look back and feel differently. For me I think it’s okay to say i don’t love being a mother, but I am one, and so I’m going to do the best I can for these people I do love immensely. I can decide to be unselfish and caring and dedicated inspite if my lack of enthusiasm for the lifelong “job”. I do believe motherhood is a sacred role. That in it I’m a partner with God in caring for his children. And so I believe he can help me find ways to learn and love and grow through this experience- and I am thankful for it! Not liking motherhood (right now) doesn’t mean I will always feel that way, nor does it mean I wish I made a different decision, nor does it mean I miss life before kids, etc. It seems it’s just one of my many challenges in life that will teach me the greatest lessons. I choose not to dwell on it and feed this feeling with negativity or hopelessness. I choose to improve and find joy in my life circumstances – you only get one life .

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