The answer is “yes,” as discussed with great honesty in this article. Most of the time, no matter how ambivalent we may be about becoming parents, once the little one arrives, we adjust and then find it difficult to imagine what our lives would be like without children.
But that isn’t always the case.
It probably isn’t uncommon to experience transitory regrets about having children. Particularly during crises when parenting becomes painful and burdensome, we might find ourselves wishing we had taken another path. But what about more sustained feelings of regret?
Successful parenting relies on attachment. As mammals, we are wired to attach to each other – and our offspring. Like most other activities upon which survival of the race depends, cultivating attachment is supposed to feel good. If all is working well, caring for our child successfully allows us to feel competent, which allows us to feel pleasure in doing it. A virtuous cycle then ensues wherein we feel motivated to connect, and connecting keeps us motivated.
Conversely, if parenting is a struggle, we may find ourselves in a vicious cycle. Caring for our child is difficult and unrewarding. Our lack of competence may bring with it great feelings of shame. This usually make us want to avoid our children, which in turn is likely to make it more difficult to connect. Only be reversing this cycle can we get back on track so that we can once again enjoy interacting with our children. If we can’t find our way to a connected place for an extended period, we may regret becoming a parent.
Changeling fairy tales speak to this psychological territory. In changeling tales, mothers may leave their child to fetch water, and return to find a shriveled, ill-tempered baby in place of their rosy, sweet little one. In the mother’s absence, the fairies have come and stolen away the real baby, leaving something behind that isn’t quite human.
Scholars have suggested that changeling tales may have offered explanations for deformities, failure to thrive syndrome or other diseases, or have served as justifications for child abuse or abandonment of children who were not healthy. Looked at psychologically, however, these tales portray how our hearts can harden toward our children during those times when we are not well-attached.
It is normal to feel sometimes more attached, and sometimes less. When a lack of attachment becomes a chronic, sustained state, then we are not enjoying our parenting role. It likely isn’t fun, joyful, or rewarding. We may feel a sense of duty toward our children without any pleasure, which will cause parenting to be experienced as a burden. Neuropsychologists call this state “blocked care.”
There are many circumstances that could give rise to chronic blocked care that results in regret. It is especially likely to occur in the case of a new baby where a parent cannot establish a feeling of competence and connection. This may happen because of extreme stress such as poverty or a health crisis following childbirth. Sometimes fathers in particular find it difficult to attach to their new child if a pattern develops where mom is the primary parent and dad is never allowed to find his own way.
The good news is that there is no deadline for becoming attached. If we can’t find a comfortable, connected place right away, that doesn’t at all mean that we never will. Some parents struggle mightily with the infant phase, but happily find their groove later.
Changeling fairy tales can be instructive in helping us learn how to overcome blocked care. In fairy tales, the way to rescue the baby and send the changeling child back to the fairy realm from whence he came often involves a playful trick. Accessing our playfulness and humor can be a great way to reverse the vicious circle of blocked care, and help us connect with our child.