Le regret maternel : briser les tabous et cultiver la bienveillance pour l’apaiser - Élhée

Maternal regret: breaking taboos and cultivating kindness to appease it

Few taboos are as heavy to bear as those of motherhood. So, when a woman admits to regretting becoming a mother, very often, the response is incomprehension. Fortunately, for her, for all the others and for future mothers, speech is gradually freed, at the same time as awareness is revealed. Instead of the usual positive motherhood, books, podcasts and testimonials now also highlight the pain of being a mother. Like a straitjacket, motherhood is sometimes experienced as a confinement, bringing in its wake maternal regret .


What is maternal regret? How is it translated?

Maternal regret often results in a feeling of weight, suffocation and/or obligation, which leads young mothers to regret their life before motherhood . Since their child was born, they have felt trapped in a role that was too heavy and too restrictive. If they had to do it again, they wouldn't do it.

  • In her book, “Miss of mothers: 10 women recount the regret of being a mother”, published by JCLattès , the journalist Stéphanie Thomas evokes the testimonies received and the renunciation experienced , that of freedom. The feeling of no longer existing, of being “only” a mother.
  • In the work of Orna Donath, doctor of sociology and teacher: “The regret of being a mother”, published by Odile Jacob , it is about a world of stress, oppression and frustration told by 23 mothers, none of whom, if she had the choice, would try the experience of motherhood again.

Regretting being a mother is not regretting your child

the image of maternal devotion sometimes leads to maternal regret

However, women who regret motherhood love and care for their children . Psychologists and clinicians agree that maternal regret does not necessarily reflect on the love that their mothers have for them.

They do not regret being the mother of their child, but rather having become mothers . They regret the upheavals, the body which is damaged and weakened, the couple which struggles to regain its balance, the deprivations, the loss of carefreeness and freedom, as well as the maternal devotion induced by society. These women do not recognize themselves in the mother role as it is imposed on them .

Maternal regret is an interior, personal and intimate suffering, sometimes linked to childhood and its wounds, conscious or unconscious, but also to society and its idealized vision of motherhood.

For Martine Teillac, psychoanalyst and author of the book “Vaincre la guilt” published by Toucan , the myth of a happy and fulfilled motherhood in the form of an outcome has become as powerful and cumbersome as that of Prince Charming .

Social pressure and mental load: two denounced factors of maternal regret

Maternal fulfillment, maternal happiness, the maternal instinct... are examples among many others of the resolutely positive view that society has on motherhood and its emotions. Thus, many mothers who experience maternal regret confide that they had never consciously thought about their wish to have a child before seeing him born.

The couple, the years that pass and the famous question: “So, when will the baby be due?” » . And finally, the trials, the pregnancy and the birth of a little baby who arrives almost “just like that”. Because giving birth to a child is part of the To Do List assigned to women by society, in culture, through films…

    And then, from birth and even during childbirth or at the end of the pregnancy, the questions and the weight of the mental load that falls on the shoulders of the new mother . “Give birth well”, succeed in breastfeeding, give birth to a calm baby (why does he cry so often?), recover quickly, get back in shape, accept visitors, smile in photos, organize appointments you medical... in short, managing daily life with a newborn.

    If, in maternity and during paternity leave, mothers can be supported, many of them say that they quickly find themselves alone with their baby. So, as Astrid Hurault de Ligny tells us, the first postpartum weeks give way to depression and incomprehension: “Why am I not happy like other mothers? ".

    Fulfilling motherhood: another myth partly responsible

    The testimonies around maternal regret underline another point; the difference between perception of motherhood and reality . Because maternal regret is taboo, but also because not wanting children remains marginal for a woman, it remains rare for a mother to admit that she would have preferred to make another choice.

    Like all other women, these mothers expected to experience the happiest day of their lives, to be fulfilled. Instead, they face difficulties, fear, fatigue, pain... and a lack of understanding which adds to their sadness. The pressure on their shoulders is immense . Ultimately, the birth of their baby is not a monochrome of pink, but rather a shade of dark gray which sends them back to their guilt.

    The testimonies collected in books and published on the internet also refer to a feeling of imprisonment and obligation to maternal happiness . Phrases like “you had to think about it before having a child” are too frequently opposed to these feelings.

    Motherhood is for life: maternal regret too?

    maternal regret - Elhee

    All mothers in the world know that you are not born a mother, you become one. Matrescence also explains very well this transitional state which is sometimes also painful. But, once you take the plunge, there is no going back. Also, should the suffering of maternal regret continue throughout life?

    If maternal regret is closely linked to postpartum depression , unlike the latter, it is not an illness, but rather a discomfort that cannot be treated, but rather we relieve it gradually, until it softens.

    Read and surround yourself to alleviate regret

    Even if not liking being pregnant or experiencing maternal regret remain delicate subjects to discuss, the word is opening up around the taboos of motherhood . As proof, the works cited in this article, but also the increasingly numerous published articles and podcast episodes on the subject.

    Because it all starts with awareness, if the maternity ward, the PMI or your doctor detects nothing, but you feel the discomfort growing within you, look for it . Look for a clue, an answer, a possibility, an explanation for your sadness after the birth of your baby.

    On social networks, the hashtags #monpostpartum and #regretmaternel are other avenues to explore which will allow you to find testimonies, and also, to discuss with other women, in the same situation as you.

    Speak so as not to transmit regret

    Whatever the situation, speaking is liberating. Also, surround yourself with understanding people, capable of offering you an attentive ear without judgment . These can be people close to you, but also experienced professionals or strangers, as is the case on forums for example.

    As you talk, you may discover that the renunciations of motherhood can offer other opportunities ; perhaps well hidden, but still present.

    By speaking, you help to lift the taboo and allow other women to recognize themselves in your words and through your feelings.

    But above all, by opening up, you let out the negative feelings, the frustration, some of the regret ... You lighten your burden and that of your child . Speaking is a balm to the heart that we sometimes recognize too late.

    Get organized and treat yourself to quality moments of life

    On a European scale (and more precisely in France, Great Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany), a study carried out by YouGov in 2022 shows that around 10 to 15% of couples surveyed regret having had a child. However, the figures also show that regret becomes less present over time.

    Is there a parallel between the deprivation of experiences expressed by women who feel maternal regret? Without a doubt.

    Motherhood, like life, is partly made up of renunciations. However, organizing everyday life can help you enjoy each space-time with as little frustration as possible. Check your calendar and that of your spouse or people accompanying you. Demarcate family time, one-on-one time with your child, with the person who shares your life and time just for you, or another adult will take over.

    Of course, this organization will move and evolve. But, the simple fact of time for yourself and the shared mental load can help to lighten the weight of maternal regret , and, gradually, learn to love this new life and this new version of yourself.

    Back to blog
    1 of 3