There’s a tough conversation on parenting going on right now after Reddit user u/SniperGlizzy posed a pointed question to the subreddit called r/AskReddit. It’s a place to go to post thought-provoking questions and you can tag your post as “Serious” to make sure moderators delete any sarcastic replies. The now-viral thread has been upvoted over ten thousand times in 10 days.
What was the question? “What is it like to have children you don’t want?”
It was bound to elicit some heartbreaking and very brave answers, and some are hard to read. But whether it’s about curiosity, healing, or just understanding why parenthood is not for everyone, it’s also an important read.
We often glorify parenthood, and it’s clear that not all people feel good about their situation.
Here are 15 replies (edited for length and clarity) that we found striking:
1. “I have a lot of guilt about it”
“I have three (a girl and twin boys). I really thought I wanted kids because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do…. be a wife and have kids.
I love them, and I want the best for them. But I don’t have the same connection to them that other moms seem to have. I don’t miss them when I have to go on a long trip, I just feel relief. Having them home because of the pandemic has been really hard for me. I have a lot of guilt about it.
I don’t withhold affection or anything, but I’m not a naturally affectionate person. My husband is. I feel pretty lonely and left out when they’re playing together, I feel like I don’t belong. It’s a weird dichotomy.
I don’t really know. Even though I’m surrounded by family, it feels pretty damn lonely. I don’t feel like I belong in my own life. I fantasize about taking off alone and living somewhere by myself. But I don’t want to mess them up like that, they’re innocent and don’t deserve it. So I do my best, and hope I’ll be alive in 10 years to be alone again.”
2. “I have never bonded with my kid”
“It set the tone for the rest of my life, one of those hindsight is 20/20 things. I honestly believe if I’d never had a kid, particularly as young and alone as I was in a very socially backwards area, I’d have made a lot more of myself. I know that could be taken as self-rationalization for lack of trying and failures. But I also know how I felt, how I have never bonded with my kid, and how both our lives could have been a lot better had I either waited to have her, or let another couple adopt her like I wanted but was forced out of the choice.”
3. “It’s just draining”
“I love my kids, and I’m told I’m a pretty good dad, and sometimes I enjoy it… but most of the time it’s just draining. I explain it as being like an introvert at a party full of strangers — it’s not that caring for kids is painful or whatnot, just like talking to strangers isn’t painful. It’s just draining. It sucks the energy out of you, whether you’re good at it or not. At a party, my goal is that the people I talk with feel heard and cared about and have fun, and that no one knows I’m secretly watching the clock waiting to leave — and with kids my goal is that they’re happy and engaged and feel loved and wanted and cared for, and don’t think I’m counting the seconds to bedtime. But accomplishing that drains me. I understand that there are people out there who enjoy spending time with kids, just like there are people who enjoy talking to strangers — and suffice it to say I’m just not one of them.”
4. “Not at all what you expect”
“…When you have a kid you kinda get this idea in your head on how things are gonna be. How you’re going to teach them things, share special moments as they learn and have this cool amazing bond. Then your kid comes into this world and is not at all what you expect. My kid is special needs and has major developmental delays. He’s 2 and basically just lives in his own world. Doesn’t communicate, doesn’t respond to his name and has basically missed every single milestone out there. So you feel regret, despair, and a whole bunch of other negative stuff. Especially guilt. It wasn’t his fault he came into the world this way. He didn’t ask to be here. So there’s a lot of complex emotions going on. However bad it makes me feel though – I just kind of wish he didn’t exist…I just can’t connect with him and it has me feeling like I’m just his caretaker rather than his dad.”
5. “I really don’t feel the ‘bond'”
“Being a single mum with a kid stuck with me; it just feels like an obligation to me. I do love my kid, for sure. But I don’t really feel the ‘bond’ or the wishy-washy mum–son connection that other parents describe. Sometimes I envy those parents. Maybe because the pregnancy was unplanned, or maybe because of how terrible it was coming home to an empty apartment with all of my partner’s things gone, then suddenly having to take care of this little man who had his face.
I do try my best to provide everything for him, getting a better job, buy all the things he needs and wants. But yeah, an obligation, a responsibility.”
6. “I was not prepared”
“I love my son, I would die for him, I’d kill for him if I had to.
Yet, if I could go back in time and not have children then I would. I was not prepared for a child, even though I worked, we planned this pregnancy. I was not prepared for how much I’d lose myself and my whole identity. I was not prepared for the sleep deprivation, the constant screaming, the colic.
I think overall I had a very bad experience. I was very very sick after having a baby.
I will NEVER let my son know this, I will NEVER let my son feel he is unloved or unwanted. It was not his choice to be born.”
7. “I hate myself because I feel this way”
“I have custody of my brother’s kids. I didn’t want them. I already have one of my own. My brother’s kids are not as well-behaved as my children. It is very frustrating. I love them. I will protect them and take care of them. I find myself very upset by the fact that I just can’t seem to love them as much as my children. It’s depressing. I hate myself because I feel this way. I wish it was just my children a lot of the times. My brother’s kids put a strain on my marital relationship, because they act out so much.
…I just wish it would go back to a family of three. 7 is just too much for most things…I hate that I can’t just be happy with this. At least for their sake. Can’t talk to family about it. I’m this hero who took the kids so they wouldn’t end up in foster care or group homes. But I’m really not a hero. I stepped up because no one else would, but I don’t think I’m cut out for it.
10. “I am just keeping her alive”
“My child is severely special needs. She’s autistic, but on the severe end with “global developmental delay” which is just a nice way of saying “mentally disabled.” She is six but is now just learning to potty train. She is non-verbal but thankfully understands simple directions. She screams for hours off and on at a time every day and when she isn’t screaming she is making noises. She doesn’t interact like a normal child and treats other people more like inanimate objects rather than people – no affection, no emotion, no interaction aside from pulling me to the fridge to get her food or handing me her toy so I can fix something on it.
…I never ever thought we’d have a special needs kid. There’s no family history, and like I said I took amazing care of myself while pregnant. She was planned, my husband and I waited until we were financially stable to have her, we did everything right. We wanted more children but now have decided not to have any more because it would be too much stress. I mourn what could have been…”
11. “I didn’t want to be around her”
“I had got pregnant for my neglect in not taking my birth control properly. I did NOT want a child, but I could not bring myself to abort either. Family pressure, I’ll just say that. When she was born, I felt like I had postpartum depression (not diagnosed medically). I didn’t want to be around her, feed her, change her, be with her. But….I did it anyway. My motherly instincts kicked in and I did all I could to keep her comfy and happy. There were many times of regret and hopelessness that this little girl had flipped my world upside down and I was very unhappy with the way my life was going because of her. Suddnely, she started talking. She soon started walking. She started eating on her own. She started dancing, singing, and playing. She went to kindergarten. She started having a sense of style. She played video games with me. She excelled in school. She understands meme culture without me having to explain it. She’s beautiful and smart and I wouldn’t change her for the world. Sure, there are still selfish moments where I would like to escape and be on my own and do my own thing. But more and more, I find myself thinking, ‘This might be more fun if my kid was with me.'”
12. “Adoption at this age would ruin their lives”
“I had my first child at 16, only a month prior to his birth I married my 15-year-old boyfriend. I loved him more than life itself. I also grew up in abuse, poverty, and in the system for some background. I’m now 27 with two children from him, and divorced.
I remarried and my current Husband wanted children of his own. In all, I have four kids now.
I see my oldest two as more as siblings more so than my own children. It’s an odd relationship but I do my best as their mother. My younger two I did not want to have, however I felt my husband was such a good father to my oldest two I needed to make the marriage work for them.
My children are wonderful little creatures. They are so smart and sensitive. My oldest especially is like me, cry’s over everything. I still today feel as if, if I had made the right choice of adoption they would be better off than with me. They would have more, more things, more love, more understanding.
But every day is a new day. I won’t give up, I will keep trying. It’s too late to go back…adoption at this age would ruin their lives. I can’t do that to them.”
13. “The responsibility of him is tearing me apart”
“I never wanted to have kids. It seemed like way too much responsibility for someone like me. I work, I pay bills, I am responsible, but I can only handle so much responsibility. I felt like kids would push me over that line where happiness would disappear, and to be honest, I was right. It did in fact disappear.
My son was born a little over a year ago. He wasn’t planned. My Wife and I welcomed him into our lives with open arms. We loved and cared for him (and still do) and we are trying our best to provide him with a great life. But for me, doing everything I can to provide him with a great life is, in essence, sucking my soul out of me.
As time went on, and as it goes on, I become more and more depressed, anxious, and phobic about things in life that I used to seemingly love. I’ve went from this super cheery and outgoing individual to a husk of what I was. But my son doesn’t know how I feel. When he’s in the room, everything is well. It isn’t fair to him that I take out my personal demons on him.
I love him so much I can’t explain it in words. He’s a hilarious little kid, he’s adorable and incredibly smart, but the responsibility of him is tearing me apart. I hope as he grows older and starts to become more independent, I’ll start to feel better, but for now it’s like the weight of the world on me.”
14. “My life would be much better if I hadn’t had them”
“I have two sons who (despite loving them very much and wanting the best for them) my life would be much better if I hadn’t had them. My whole life growing up I expressed doubts that I wanted kids, because kids freak me out. Everyone always said that it would be different when it’s your own kids. I’m sure for some people it is, but for me it’s not.
I think I have some kind of phobia of kids. I’m on the autism spectrum (as is my oldest son), and I hate that I helped bring two people into this world that I can’t be there for. I wanted to be a good father, and all things considered I’m still not terrible, but I don’t enjoy time with my kids the way I should.
My wife and I separated when our boys were still young due to other issues in our relationship, she has since remarried to a great guy who is wonderful with our boys. She moved about 5 hours away but I still visit them on big holidays and their birthdays. I pay my child support without fuss. I’m happy knowing my boys are happy, but it’s a weight taken off my shoulders that I’m not having to care for them, because I just can’t.”
15. “I hate almost every second of it”
“I *thought* I wanted a child…
Now we have a kid and I hate almost every second of it. He’s cute. Makes cute faces, but is fussy as all hell. I do NOT enjoy entertaining a baby. I do not enjoy nursing a baby. I do not enjoy showing off my baby to others (not that this occurs commonly in covid times).
I had/have anxiety and depression, which got worse during and after pregnancy. And every time the baby screams or cries or does anything outside of my control (i.e. everything) I have a small panic attack. I have tried 8 different mental health doctors, pills, groups, etc. Nothing is helping.
I wake up every day wishing he didn’t exist, and then feeling like a horrible person. I count down the minutes and seconds until nap time and bedtime. Faking happiness and cheer for a baby is exhausting and makes me sick to my core. I hate and resent my partner and have zero connection with him or the kid.
What the fu*k does one do with a life like this?”
Many of the parents and guardians who responded got plenty of support from others telling them they were not alone. And the sheer number of similar responses proved that as well.
It’s sad to hear about the frustration, hopelessness, regret, and even misery these people are going through. And many of them realize that their kids pick up on these emotions and feel even guiltier as a result.
There’s not necessarily a happy ending here other than to say there is support out there for parents and caretakers going through this and many posters found it cathartic to let out their feelings anonymously.
If you’re struggling, here are some resources:
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