How to Escape Parenthood Regret
Resentment is a slow death, inch by inch
“The soul is healed by being with children.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Right before I got pregnant I worked as a waitress at Chili’s for about a month. I never realized before how many people were so unhappy. Single women would come to the bar and order multiple margaritas with tears streaming down their faces. Couples would come in for date night, glare at each other from across the table, and complain about every single food item.
It was the people with children that usually seemed the most unhappy. Parents would stare with learned helplessness as their kids screamed and ran around the restaurant. They'd wear their regret and pain like a bone disease. They'd ignore their children as they tugged on their sleeves and cried. They'd pacify them with tablets and video games as they burrowed themselves in their own phones.
I’d been trying to have a child for nearly a year at that point. How did I escape becoming a miserable and worn specter of myself? Their faces became haunted and liquid, like melted versions of their old selves. They dragged their feet behind them like they were practicing to be a corpse before they were already in the grave.
I didn’t want to become one of those mothers who chopped their hair off because they couldn’t be bothered anymore, who yelled at their kids in parking lots and wore a perpetual sneer. All of the vitality and curiosity drained from them, and for what? Some altar of self-sacrifice. Some god of responsibility that underneath their disguise was actually a demon of personal betrayal.
People would laugh and sneer when I announced my pregnancy. “Say goodbye to your personal life.” “Just wait until they’re teenagers.” “Good luck never sleeping again.” It was a sick and twisted sense of inevitable misery. A shared schadenfreude.
My daughter is almost a month old now.
I shouldn’t have been so afraid.
It’s not that difficult to put aside your annoyance and anger and take joy and care in your child’s existence.
The fussiness, and the lack of sleep, and the lack of hands, and the house falling behind, and the lack of time, and the dirty diapers - you can either see it as a gross thief of your will and autonomy, or as a temporary moment in time that you need to pour your love into the next version of yourself.
Resentment is a decision. A decision that is made over and over and over again, in small and easy ways, until the light disappears from your face. Until you look at your children and only see the life that they stole from you, when really you were the one who stole it in the first place.
I’ll have time in the future to go party, hang out with friends, play videogames, and sleep 8 hours. I can do that at any time in my life. But I only have this moment in time to take care of this tiny human being, to hold her close and see the comfort she takes in being next to her mother. In being able to take care of her. Feed her.
Soon I’ll never have that again.
Sometimes I look at her sleeping and tears start pouring down my cheeks. I always wondered why it ws so difficult to love me, why I was always told I was a “difficult” child, why I was always made to feel like a burden, a monster, evil, selfish. Even before the age of five I felt the weight of my cursed bones and my cursed eyes. No matter what I did I couldn’t escape being a Bad Kid.
Again and again I asked myself, why was I so difficult to love?
Even now at thirty two years old I wake up crying, with this invisible, pressing desire to be held. To be comforted. By who? I don’t know. By a mother that never existed. A version of myself that never existed.
There’s an empty, hollow space inside me where the love should’ve been. When I swallow I can taste the charcoal and bitter mercury at the edges of the vacuum inside me. And no matter how many hours I’ve been held, comforted, told that I’m loved by other people - the vacuum never disappears. It’s an all consuming need.
I used to think that the only way to cure myself would be to go back in time. Back to the origin point. The fawn would jump back into its mother’s womb. The stars would be pulled back into the center of the universe. The only way to make things right would be to ensure they were never made at all
But now sometimes at night I look down at my sleeping daughter in my arms, and I realize of course there was no going back. Not now. Not ever. Time will never rewind. The bomb will never knit itself into a single piece. The dead flower will never bloom with color again.
Now I see the truth. There’s only going forward.
It’s not difficult to love a child. It’s the easiest thing in the world.
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