Our Biggest Childless Fear: Regret

Regret: defined in the Urban Dictionary as “A feeling often accompanied by sadness, shame, and guilt; regret is when you wish you had done things differently in your past.”

Other dictionaries talk about regret as wishing things had turned out differently—whether or not you had any choice in the matter–but to me, regret is looking back on a choice you made and wishing you had made a different choice. You said yes when you should have said no. You bought spiky shoes when flats would have been a lot less painful. You decided to paint the house green, and now it looks like a leprechaun lives there.

The word “regret” comes up a lot at Childless by Marriage. Mostly we’re worried about future regret. Will we regret our choice if we never have children? Will we regret staying with this person? Will we regret leaving him? Of course, we have no way of knowing. We can list the pros and cons and know how we feel about it today, but who knows what’s going to happen in the future?

In her book How to Be Childless, which I mentioned last week, Rachel Chrastil cautions readers to be wary of the “fear of regret.” It may cause us to focus too much on what we lack instead of what we have. It may cause us to think that having children is the only way to be happy. It may cause us to miss the good things we have in our lives right now.

On page 113, she writes, “Fear of future regret suggests that we will not figure out how to cope with life’s disappointments, that our older selves will not be wiser than we are now, or that the wisdom of age entails a rejection of the person we are today rather than compassion for our present selves.” No matter what choices we make, she adds, there will be regrets. “Our decisions bear consequences, and some of them will carry sadness.”

“Instead of worrying about making the right choice, we ought to make the most of our choices,” she concludes.

I thought about this in the hot tub last night as the clouds gathered to hide the full moon. What do I regret in life? Do I regret marrying Fred and staying with him? Definitely not. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. I do regret not putting more effort into getting closer to his kids.

Do I regret marrying my first husband? No. It was probably a dumb thing to do. We had troubles from the start, but we also had a lot of fun. Do I regret divorcing him? No. The marriage was over. Do I regret dating the abusive guy I spent three years with between marriages? Yes. I knew he was bad news. I should have dumped him.

Do I regret that when the magazine option at my college was canceled, I wound up shunted into a career in newspapers? No. It wasn’t what I thought I wanted, but I was damned good at it, and it prepared me well for the writing I do now. It also gave me a way to earn a living when my first marriage ended. If I hadn’t gotten that degree, and if I’d had a child or two, I’d have wound up still divorced, working for minimum wage and living at my parents’ house.

Do I regret not having children? I feel bad about it, but I don’t regret my choices. I’m shocked as I write this. Do I really believe this? I’m pretty sure I do. My life is full of so many other things that I barely have time for my dog. So maybe this is the way it was supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong. I really would love to have children and grandchildren, but you can’t everything. Chrastil makes that point, too, although I should note she is childless by choice, a choice made firmly and at a very young age.

Will you regret your choice? I don’t know. We’re different people. If all you ever wanted to be was a mother or father, then by God you should be one, if at all possible. But if you’re also sure that you will never find another partner as good as the one you have, I don’t know what you should do. I want to say go for the kids, but I didn’t, and it turned out all right.

Did you hope I’d have an answer? I wish I did. What do you think about regret? Have you already made choices that you regret? Are you afraid you will regret the choices you’re making now? Can we live our lives in the present without worrying about future regrets? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

 

Stay in a relationship without kids or go?

Last week we talked about the big gamble. Should you leave a partner who is unable or unwilling to make babies with you in the hope that you can find someone else with whom you can have children? Most of the people who responded had decided to keep what they had. They treasured their relationship enough to work it out. That’s what I did, too.

But that leaves a lot of people still in the gray area.

Ideally, we work these things out before we’ve made the commitment to another person. We discuss it, and if we disagree, we either decide to accept it forever or we walk away. Right? Not always. There’s a third response, the one I made and the one lots of us make. We tell ourselves that he will change his mind, that she will get the urge to have babies, that the physical impediments to conception will miraculously disappear. For those of us raised on fairy tales and Disney movies, it makes sense. If you wish hard enough for something, your dreams always come true in the end. If only real life worked that way.

Back in my mother’s day, kids were part of the package. If you didn’t want to have children, you didn’t get married because marriage meant babies. But nothing is guaranteed anymore. We have to discuss it and be clear on what we want. If a person is unable or unwilling to have children, that’s probably not going to change. Can you live with that?

Of course many of you are already in the relationship. It’s too late to work it out beforehand. So now what? Ask yourself some questions and try to be honest.

1) Am I happy with my life as it is right now? If nothing changes, can I remain happy with this person?

2) Do I love this person enough to choose him or her over the children I might have had?

3) Will I be devastated if I never have children?

4) Am I will to willing to risk ending up childless and alone–or becoming a single parent?

Tough questions. The hard part is that your answers may change over time. So might your partner’s. But I think we have to assume that things are not going to change, that there will be no miracles, and act accordingly.

I wish none of us had to deal with this, but we do. What do you think about all this? Please share in the comments.