The Age

With child or without, regrets are guaranteed

July 25 2002
The Age (Melbourne)
Letter to the Editor by Lucy Hamilton

It feels blasphemous to think this, let alone write it for publication, but here goes: Some days I wish I'd never had children. It seems particularly cruel, too, when written in response to a woman sharing with us her pain and her anger at missing the chance to bear a child (Virginia Haussegger, "The sins of our feminist mothers", on this page on Tuesday).

Nonetheless, some days motherhood feels more like grief and anger than fulfilment. Putrid nappies and irrational arguments make the warp and weft of my day. Sleeplessness, whining and fever drain life of its colour. Tantrums form the only pattern.

I love my three boys overwhelmingly. There are moments of great joy, wonder and satisfaction. There are also moments when the unencumbered life looks like bliss.

The frustration is intense. I can barely think clearly to write a column for this newspaper. I have had to abandon my PhD as an impossibility. The only play I've seen in years stars Bob the Builder. That all remains the case even with a thoroughly involved husband, supportive family and terrific creche.

So when Virginia Haussegger expresses her anger with our feminist mothers for misleading younger women about where life's satisfactions lie, I feel the injustice done to them. From a position of little choice and less support, domestic life must have seemed at the base of all women's woes.

The sentimental prospect of motherhood soon dies in the daily grind of a larger family. The order, rationality and economic independence of a man's life must have hung before those women's tired eyes like a tropical holiday.

In a way, our generation forms a mass social experiment. The women who have been unable to care for their children while they worked full-time will have regrets. The women who abandoned careers to nurture their children will have regrets. Even those lucky ones like me who can attempt to balance the two have frustration and regrets.

And that's before we even begin to consider the children raised in this experiment, and how they will feel about our choices and necessities.

The most painful outcome, without question, must be for those women whose commitment to their career has denied them the long-expected opportunity to have children.

One of the few benefits to come out of all this pain will be if we can join together to re-infuse parenting with its value. We need to design models for mothering that enable most women to do it with the least pain and anger - for our own sakes, and our children's.

As to whether children redeem life's pointlessness - if I can just get a leg up on this pile of laundry, nappies and paracetamol bottles to contemplate that metaphysical horizon, I'll get back to you.

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer.

Copyright 2002 The Age Company Ltd.