How Much Truth To Tell Kids?

In Wednesday's discussion about the tradeoffs of having and not having children, Can Freedom and Kids Co-Exist?, posters talked about the importance of being honest (with ourselves, at least) about our moments of regretting having children.

However, one poster chided me by saying she (or he) hoped my children would never read what I had written about the moments when I wish I did not have kids. This struck me because my children already know that I'm not always thrilled about being a parent, just as they know I'm not always thrilled with them. Throughout my childhood, I knew about my mom's regrets as well. This knowledge was good for my understanding of motherhood. It was also paradoxically good for my self-esteem. I knew I was worth all the freedom and career options Mom gave up.

So I wanted to ask: Do you tell your children about the mixed blessings of becoming a parent? Do you share with them the challenges of juggling work and family? What are the tradeoffs of telling your children the truth?

And speaking of candor, a reminder that the On Balance Virtual Book Club discussion of John Dickerson's honest reckoning with his high powered working mother, On Her Trail, is currently underway. Please join the discussion if you've read the book and have something to say about it.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  January 12, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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First!

Posted by: nuts | January 12, 2007 7:19 AM

I think that there is a big difference between sharing - sometimes this is hard and sometimes I wonder what life would have been life if I had chosen a different path AND "I wish I didn't have kids" or I regret having kids. I think that the later can be very damaging in making the children feel at fault for your unhappiness. If you spend a great deal of time regreting and wishing that things could be different you are just going to be unhappy. Choices - make 'em, own 'em and dont' look back. You can't change yesterday the only thing you truly control is what you do today.

Posted by: moxiemom | January 12, 2007 7:59 AM

I guess I have started a trend!

Posted by: First Comment | January 12, 2007 8:00 AM

And an annoying trend it is...

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 8:14 AM

Let me first say that my kid is too young to be "honest" with to any degree right now, so this doesn't apply to me personally.

But to answer Leslie's question, the obvious trade-off to constant truth-telling is the child's loss of innocence. One that topic it seems like there is no consensus among parents as to how long the kids should stay "innocent". How long before you come clean about Santa and the Easter Bunny? Not because the kids figured it out or their friends told them, but how long before you, as a parent, would volunteer the information that you "lied" about Santa?

My suspicion (with no personal experience yet) is that by the time my kids are old enough to understand the harsh implications of the issues they can see on the TV news, some of those protective layers need to go away -- they need to start understanding the real world. Otherwise, why would you tell them not to talk to strangers?

Posted by: Random Guy | January 12, 2007 8:18 AM

You tell your kids what is appropriate based on their intelligence, maturity and comprehension AND your individual situation. No one can say what is right for your family or mine. Most of the blather about villages raising children is just wrong. Parents raise children because the village can't know the individual needs and situations of every child.

My daughter knows that I adore her and that I'd never trade having her for anything, but she also knows being a mom, especially a single mom, is no picnic and that on occasion, I am completely exhausted and exasperated with the process. She knows I'll recharge and feel better, but that stress takes it toll on everyone from time to time.

She knows we spend a lot of the time on the edge of financial disaster and she knows that we have to be frugal. If she didn't, all she would know is that I almost never buy her anything and rarely have money for us to go to the movies. If I didn't tell her, she'd think I was just mean.

She has to know because it is just us and if I didn't tell her exactly how I felt, she wouldn't know that it is just a passing fit of anxiety or stress. There's no one else to tell her. I can't afford to shelter her and she can't afford to be sheltered.

It would be different if there was another parent in the picture to say, "Don't worry. Mom's just having rough day. People don't always act their best when they are having bad days. She loves you and nothing will change that."

If that were the case, I'd be able to not let her see the days when I would give nearly anything for two hours where the phone didn't ring, the dog didn't need a walk, the house was clean, she would just be quiet and shut her smart-alecky, teen-aged mouth. As it is, she hears something along the lines of "I love you with all my heart, but if you don't be quiet and leave me alone for a little while so that I can relax and get my head straight, I'm going blow a gasket, get brains all over the walls and you'll have to clean it up--by yourself."

Usually she gets it and I get my two hours of peace.

All the advice in the world is useless if it is wrong for your family. If honesty works best for you, use it. If sheltering your kids from all the bad moods and moments works, do that.

Posted by: Single and denied | January 12, 2007 8:23 AM

I think it depends on what you say and how you say it. There's nothing wrong with letting your kids see that sometimes, you struggle. But I think it's important to make sure you're never giving your kids the impression that they're a hardship. After all, regardless of whatever sacrifices you have to make for your kids, that they exist at all is solely because of the parents' choice to have them. No kid asks to be born; they shouldn't be punished for it.

My daughter is 13 months old, and I've been keeping a journal for her since I was pregnant. I envision giving it to her when she's a teenager. In it, I've tried really hard to present all aspects of parenting her -- the times when I've wanted to sell her to the next band of gypsies I meet and the times when my heart nearly explodes from the joy of her presence. I hope that it ends up showing herjust enough truth thatshe gets a sense of the great trip raising her has been.

Posted by: NewSAHM | January 12, 2007 8:23 AM

RandomGuy commented about the truth of the world, as opposed to say our mood swings. Does anybody have pointers to how to explain the violence, poverty or sadness to a 4 yr old. I rarely watch the news when she is around, because I do not have the answers to the questions I know she'll ask.

Posted by: AnotherRockvilleMom | January 12, 2007 8:30 AM

single and denied, your approach sound perfect to me.

to echo the other posters, as children grow and mature, they can be told what is appropriate. as teens, I think they should be told of stresses and concerns of the family, as they will learn how to cope with life as they see how the parents deal with issues. Honesty is best, as the children may imagine something much worse than the truth if they are left in the dark.

That said, I don't think any child should ever hear that their own mother sometimes wishes they weren't born. That could damage a sensitive child for life.

Posted by: experienced mom | January 12, 2007 8:36 AM

"Does anybody have pointers to how to explain the violence, poverty or sadness to a 4 yr old. I rarely watch the news when she is around, because I do not have the answers to the questions I know she'll ask."

For the time being, I would stick with not watching the news while the 4-yr-old is around. Let them enjoy their innocence for a while. When they do see something, try to keep the explanation as simple as possible. They don't need a detailed explanation of the evils of the world. Telling them that sometimes bad or sad things happen is often enough for them.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | January 12, 2007 8:37 AM

About 3 months after the birth of our 2nd daughter, I was sleeping on the living room couch at 2:00 in the morning. I woke up and found my wife sitting at my feet. She handed me my beautiful little darling girl who was cooing ever so sweetly. Still laying down, I held her up in the air and pretended she was an airplane soaring through the air with her arm stuck out like wings and her legs held strait like the body of the plane. I made the flying noise ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZz as I swayed her gently back and forth.

then we hit a little turbulence. I gave her a little wiggle.

I heard my wife say, "No, don't do th.."

but it was too late.

She vomited freshly nursed breast milk all over my face.

I tossed the filty, disgusting little urchin back into the arms of her mother for the crash landing, who in turn, took her off into the bedroom for refueling. As I was coughing and spitting up partially digested baby nourishment, I could hear my wife giggling as she defended herself, "I tried to tell you."

You can bet that my daughter is very familiar with that incident! And whenn my daughter has kids of her own, her children will hear about it also.

Do I ever regret having kids during these periods of discomfort? Absolutely not!

It's memmories like these that I cherish like a parent's red badge of courage.

Posted by: Father of 4 | January 12, 2007 8:42 AM

You tell you're kids you wished you never had them? And you're arguing that it's good for them? That's twisted logic indeed.

There are many decisions that we look back upon and wish we had done differently. To do so obsessively, particularly about big decisions that can not be changed, is just masochistic. So you're essentially projecting your masochism on to your children. . .isn't that sadism? It's certainly neurotic. . .and sad.

Posted by: An Dliodoir | January 12, 2007 8:47 AM

Maybe there's another issue sneaking around here: the desire of present-day parents to construct a perfect world for their children and the idea that nothing even remotely negative must intrude on that world. Any major catastrophe, anywhere in the world, gives rise to the appearance of experts on news broadcasts telling parents how to talk to kids about the catastrophe. Do you think that the radio broadcasts, after Pearl Harbor and the television broadcasts during the Cuban missile crisis, just to give a couple of examples, offered parents advice on how to talk about the subject with their children? Perhaps parents didn't think they needed that kind of advice.
This often reminds me of Dr. Benjamin Spock. He never really wanted to write Baby and Child Care; he believed that such a book would create more of what he called "hyperconscientious mothers" who did not trust themselves to raise their children. Having been talked into writing the book, Spock took pains to reiterate the theme that he established in the beginning of the first chapter: Parents who love and are attentive to their children don't need lessons in parenting.

Posted by: Family Studies Guy | January 12, 2007 8:47 AM

I think it is very impoprtant not to let your kids now that you may sometimes be depressed about being trapped in the role of parent - even if you freely picked that role. My kids are all grown up now, but they still sometimes good-naturedly torment me about when I used to gently tease them about "Not being good for nothin' but lovin." Kids have a hard time, I think, understanding their own importance to parents. I think they can easily be made to feel guilty about existing - and that's a horrible trip to put on a little one. Leave these discussions until they are old enough to give you grandchildren.

Posted by: Been There | January 12, 2007 8:50 AM


From the time my kids started trick-or-treating I told them that Heath bars were exceptionally dangerous to children and that if they got any they needed to give them to me so that I could 'take care of them'.

It was an exceptionally sad thing this year when my 9-year-old daughter finally understood the truth of the situation.

Ahh, to return to those days of innocence.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 8:51 AM

For the most part, letting your kids see the reality of life is good, as long as it's age-appropriate. I am fairly straight with my daughter when she frustrates me, but I am clear that it is about her behavior, not her. That ended up working really well when we had our son last year. I knew she was struggling with how you love and resent something at the same time, and when she finally said that sometimes she didn't like her baby brother very much, my heart just flip-flopped to see the courage it took for her to admit that. And that led to a good talk about how sometimes people are annoying -- sometimes he annoys me, sometimes she annoys me, sometimes I annoy her, etc. -- and that you can be annoyed or angry or frustrated and still love someone more than anything. Just like I love her, no matter what.

But you also have to be careful, because children are very literal creatures. If I ever told my daughter I wished I never had her, I would be saying "I am so frustrated that I don't know what to do," but she would hear "I wish you didn't exist." So I work very hard to address the cause of the frustration directly ("I am SO frustrated that I've had to ask you three times to do X") vs. saying exaggerated things that I don't mean literally.

All that aside, there are some "truths" that shouldn't be said, ever. I really hesitate to say this, because I can't give enough context, but when I was a teenager and we were talking politics, my mother said that she would have had an abortion when she was pregnant with me if it had been legal at the time. And even though I was like 13 (and so was completely convinced I was all grown up), it just reinforced for me that I was the reason her life had been so much harder than it should have been. Now, don't get me wrong -- she had always been VERY clear that she was responsible for her own life, never used guilt or tried to shift blame onto me -- she was always a "no whining, pull yourself up by your bootstraps" person. This was simply a calm, reasoned discussion about politics, with zero desire to hurt or guilt me.

But as the child of a single mom without much money, I had already assumed a lot more responsibility for the family than most kids my age, and what I HEARD her say was that it was All My Fault. It left me with a tremendous need to do everything "right" to justify my existence to her -- to show her, every day, that she should be happy that she had me after all. Objectively, I realize it was stupid to feel that way -- I knew she loved me and that, at least by that point in time, she wouldn't have traded having me for anything. In fact, she's since told me that she's glad she had me young, because she didn't know if she would have had the courage to try to have a baby on purpose when she was more settled in life.

BUT: point is, kids are literal. Even at 13, when you can discuss politics and write well-reasoned essays for school and distinguish between objective facts and subjective feelings, some facts can still hurt very badly, even when that's the last thing you intend.

Posted by: Laura | January 12, 2007 9:01 AM

But I think parents coming clean with the truth about having kids can be a good thing. For my mom, she had kids before she finished college, and then while I was in high school (my sister in middle school), she went back and got her degree.

It wasn't easy -- on anyone in the family, but my mom told me, very clearly, that she did not ever want to see me do what she was doing now. She wanted me to go to college while it was "easier" (no kids, few responsibilities) rather than take the path she took.

Was she saying she was sorry she had us? No. But what she was saying is she didn't want us making the same mistake(s) she did. I don't think that's brutal to a kid (I took it in stride) because really, she wanted me to learn from her.

Posted by: ilc | January 12, 2007 9:04 AM

Re: not letting children watch the news -- kids are smarter and stronger than we think let them see what they see. I was 4 or 5 when Regan got shot, I was sitting coloring in front of the TV and saw the replays on the news I turned around, looked at my parents adn said "that's not very nice" they said "no, no its not" and I went back to coloring.

Posted by: pkc | January 12, 2007 9:04 AM

Let children be children.

There is plenty of time later in life to share with them the troubles of your being an adult and parent. The pain you suffered, the things you sacrificed, the horrors of the world around us.

Kids need kid time. They'll learn about the rest sooner than you want anyway, so why rush it?

Posted by: Andrew | January 12, 2007 9:08 AM

My extended family comes from what we like to call the "Body in the Living room" school of childrearing. (Picture everyone in the family room, carefully stepping over and around the dead body while fiercely denying that it's there). In other words, in our house, the best policy towards dealing with children was strict denial if not outright dissembling on all fronts, all the time. This is still widely practiced in the extended family with perhaps the most egregious example being a sibling who has been separated/divorced from her spouse for well nigh 3 years now. But if you were to ask, "where's so and so?" at a family function, you would be told some version of how he's very busy at work, on a business trip, etc. etc. etc.

I think it's coming from that context that has probably caused me to tilt too far in the other direction, towards telling the kids too much, including them too fully in family issues and discussions.

The thing is, I remember never being given any information and finding the confusion frightening as a child -- not being able to tell if my parents were 'having a disagreement' or 'on the verge of divorce'. If we were cutting back by clipping coupons or one step away from welfare. So I tend to give my kids really specific explanations as to why we can't afford the sneakers at this time, why we'd prefer she made other friends, why scary world events happen, why I need a break from them at this time, etc. etc. etc.

I'm also concerned about some of the whitewashing practiced by overprotective parents -- because my sense if that it can backfire. (I'm thinking of a family that told their elementary school-aged children NOTHING about 9/11 -- and when the sniper incident happened in DC later on that year, their kids somehow thought that Osama Bin Laden had moved to DC and was now aiming at school children. I think the lack of information helped them invent even scarier scenarios.)

Posted by: Armchair Mom | January 12, 2007 9:09 AM

May I ask why you call yourself that?

Posted by: to single and denied | January 12, 2007 9:10 AM

My oldest son, who is almost 5, told me a few weeks ago that he wished we only had one baby, instead of his twin brother and sister. I asked why. He said it would be easier. I told him that we were keeping both babies because we love them and we love him. He said that was good since he didn't know which one he would send back. We had a quick chat about how there's a downside to even the best things and that it's okay to think about what it would be like if things were different. In the end though, he agreed that he'd keep both his brother and sister, "even for all the Hot Wheels in the world."

I think he understands it is okay to think about the fun we had before the twins were born but he also knows that we can't go back.

As for the stuff on the news, I usually don't watch it when he is around but if he hears about something, I answer his questions quickly, with honest-- but usually watered-down -- information. I found that the complete truth resulted in nightmares and fear.

Posted by: mom2led | January 12, 2007 9:12 AM

My mom recently told me I was an accident - a loved accident but an accident. I can tell you it basically just make me think that she wasn't ready for parenthood.

Posted by: other thing | January 12, 2007 9:13 AM

"Parents who love and are attentive to their children don't need lessons in parenting."

Do you have kids?? It's really that easy? Hmmm. I must not be loving her enough or paying enough attention to my daughter...Good thing I never bought Dr Spock's books!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:14 AM

It's a good rule to ask yourself, before you speak, "what am I trying to accomplish here?" Words are tools - as with any other tool, we should know why we are using them.

I would suggest that using children - especially younger children - to unburden yourself of personal conflicts or regrets is not appropriate. Find an adult friend (or perhaps even a professional) if you need to do that.

Helping them understand what it takes to be a parent is important. Helping them understand how to build a stable, loving marriage is also important. (As is, more broadly, helping them understand how to be a responsble adult.)

The trick is that you need to do this in a way that does not cause them to doubt that they are loved and accepted, or undermines their confidence in themselves. That's perhaps the primary reason we need to be very careful to avoid unburdening ourselves to them or re-hashing conflicts with our parents.

It's also very important that we are careful to keep things age appropriate. The older teen is more likely to understand the distinction between love and temporary dislike than the younger child. We have to remember, though, that even some adults struggle with this on an emotional level.

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 9:16 AM

Single and denied, I walked in your shoes also and as sole parent, there were trying times with a teenager.

Father of 4 - what a wonderful memory to cherish. I bet you do indeed "father" your children. Good for you - good for them.

When raising her, I never told my daughter I wished she was elsewhere, although there were moments when single parenthood had me ready to hang myself! She's 33 now, married, and just delivered her second child. My first granddaughter is nearly four and there have been times over the past four years when my daughter called me (she lives in a different state) has called, distaught, and at her wit's end. What bothered her most was she was not liking being a parent at the moment. She "didn't want to do this anymore."

On my end, I smiled and told her the truth: I didn't always like being a parent. Most people have times when they are overwhelmed and second guess their decision to have kids. If I heard "Mom" once more - especially "Mom" followed by an "I want," I was going to scream and run away. If I had to remind her about her homework or picking up her pig sty of a room, I was going to commit myself to an asylum.

I didn't tell her this as I was raising her because I was the center of her world, a home base where she felt accepted, loved, wanted. I shared with her as an adult so she wouldn't get down on herself because she was feeling this way. "This too shall pass..." Only, perhaps, to be refelt at a later date. :-) We're human. It''s okay. We survive our children - and they, us.

I've also told her - and continue on occasion to tell her - she is my greatest joy. How could I possibly regret being the parents and watching this wonderful woman evolve and grow from when I nurtured her in my belly. What a privilege.

Posted by: mainewoman | January 12, 2007 9:18 AM

Laura,

thank you for sharing. I'm just curious - has this experience growing up had any affect on your political outlook?

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 9:20 AM

My 3yo daughter saw a woman sleeping on a bench outside her school yesterday, and she asked my husband why the woman was sleeping there. My husband explained that the woman probably did not have a house. (there is a homeless shelter in the basement, so he assumed the woman was waiting for it to open). My daughter asked him if the woman could come home with us to have dinner. He replied that she probably ate and spend nights at the shelter.

I'm expecting more questions about this. Truth is, I don't really know how to respond. Why can't she come home with us? I'm sure the woman's situation is more complicated than only a lack of housing. I want my daughter to approach this situation with both compassion and wariness. She has plenty of the 1st, but in order to get the 2nd we need to have a discussion about strangers. A what age did other parents start to discuss this stuff with their children?

Posted by: drmommy | January 12, 2007 9:22 AM

To New SAHM

"My daughter is 13 months old, and I've been keeping a journal for her since I was pregnant. I envision giving it to her when she's a teenager."

Please reconsider giving this until she is a young adult 22 or so. The teenage years are so full of angst and confusion and wonderment and the child is rapidly maturing but not yet mature enough, despite what they say. I feel that an totally open diary of your thoughts would cause much emotional havoc. Recall that I have two daughters 24 & 21. Both have said to me recently (in a round about way) how little about life that they understood when they were teens-even though they told me that they knew everything back them. As an analogy, think about the times that you have heard mothers and fathers snooping in a teen's diary. How hurt the parents are at the complicated and conflicting writings of the teen. Maybe a better time would be when your child has children?

Posted by: Fred | January 12, 2007 9:26 AM

"Do you have kids?? It's really that easy? Hmmm. I must not be loving her enough or paying enough attention to my daughter...Good thing I never bought Dr Spock's books!"

You object to someone telling you you are a capable parent? Odd. I have a child and I agree whole heartedly that loving, attentive, nonabusive parents don't need lessons in parenting from "experts. "

Regarding telling your kids you regret having them, I would never tell my daughter that because it's not true. I sometimes miss my old life, because it was a good one, but no matter how exasperating my daughter is I love her and her father more than anything or anyone in the world. Even if I did have regrets, I wouldn't expect my daughter to take on responsibility for that.

My father had regrets and made them clear. It made me feel like I didn't deserve to exist. I don't think that's in any way good for a child.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:26 AM

I think there are some things parents just don't need to discuss with their kids. My parents have been divorced for about 10 years now and lately my mom has been "opening up" to me that she was never really happy w/ my dad, etc...
Well, why did they get married in the first place? Because I was a little accident. I don't think for a minute that she regrets having me- she's a great mom- but how can I NOT feel extremely guilty for placing her in a marriage she didn't want just because I was born???
We've since had a huge blow up over this- #1 I don't need to hear baout divorce details #2 How it made me feel.
We've made amends and are best friends (I think she just went too far with our new found adult relationship)
But it still hurt- and I'm a grown woman!

My little one is only 3, but will I tell her how hard life was for me while I was pregnant or in the first few years of her life? Nope. I'll tell her that as a family we pulled together and made it through some tough times, but I would NEVER say it's because she's around.

I always tell her that we're a team. I'm honest about my feelings (that makes me sad, mommy would like to take a few deep breaths in the bathroom right now) but I don't tell her details.

As for news, no child (or any person) needs to watch local news. My daughter's been stuck watching the Sunday news shows (meet the press, etc) since she was 4 days old (kerry won the primary the day she was born- exciting times). She doesn't need to be exposed to the sensatioanlism of local news. She knows who the key players in our govt are- and that's pretty cool for a 3 yr old.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:27 AM

One day I am going to have to tell my child that she was unplanned, and why her father lives far away and is not involved. She is small now and I can say, he lives far away, but when she gets older will need more detail. I will be as frank as possible, yet leave out the painful parts (like you father did not want you to be born). She is the center of my life, and that is what matters. At times I think of what life would be like if she was not born, but never regret it. At times when she gets to be too much and my fuse is short, I try explaining that mommy cannot be a good mommy right now because I am tired. Please, play with your toys, or lets watch this movie... As for money and other challenges, I will be honest about things but try not to burdon her with the details. my parents did a pretty good job of that while young, kids are sensitive and can figure something is going on, so you might as well spin it in the best way possible before they creat their own stories.

Posted by: single mom | January 12, 2007 9:29 AM

"A what age did other parents start to discuss this stuff with their children?"

When they first started going places unaccompanied by a family member or very close friend. Since my wife stayed home with our children, this was a bit later for them. As I recall, this was when we put them into a one-morning-a-week "Tuesday School" run by a local church.

As an aside, it was a great program for kids with stay-at-home moms. It gave them a chance to have a taste of the "school" experience before starting kindergarten, socialize a bit with other kids, and get a little pre-kindergarten prep. It also provided a nice "mom's morning out" for my wife.

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 9:30 AM

This is really naval-gazing at its best. Why on earth, once you have kids would you continue to mourn whatever it was you had before the kids? In addition, how many parents use their children as available shrinks who have to listen to their parents gnaw endlessly over old regrets.

Frank discussions with children about age appropriate topics are fine but telling your child you had and continue to have regrets over their birth is unkind to say the least... & seemingly very superficial..you regret having them because you can't go to Happy Hour with your girlfriends or drink coffee by yourself?


Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:35 AM

"One day I am going to have to tell my child that she was unplanned, and why her father lives far away and is not involved."

That may not be necessary. I was born about a year after my parents married, while my Dad was still in college and my mom was working as a substitute teacher. From what I've been told, they were living in an attic appartment that was so small my Dad couldn't stand up in the bathroom (the roof sloped down).

They have never even hinted that I was the result of an unplanned pregnancy. I'm not sure they would admit it were I to ask.

I'm comfortable certain that I was, though.

You're kids are going to grow up to be intelligent adults. Focus on loving them. They'll be able to figure out the rest.

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 9:35 AM

Who in their right mind would tell a child that they're not always wanted, appreciated and enjoyed? My son knows if his behavior doesn't make him a joy to be around at the moment...that's part of teaching him to be a functioning member of society. But I would never ever tell him that I regret having him, that taking care of him is a chore (or hard to juggle with work), or anything like that. And you know what, I never even "think" that!!!! God gave him to us...he's a "gift"...and he's appreciated every minute of every day.


Posted by: YIKES! | January 12, 2007 9:36 AM

"This is really naval-gazing at its best. Why on earth, once you have kids would you continue to mourn whatever it was you had before the kids? In addition, how many parents use their children as available shrinks who have to listen to their parents gnaw endlessly over old regrets.

Frank discussions with children about age appropriate topics are fine but telling your child you had and continue to have regrets over their birth is unkind to say the least... & seemingly very superficial..you regret having them because you can't go to Happy Hour with your girlfriends or drink coffee by yourself?"

I TOTALLY AGREE!!!!!!


Posted by: I Agree... | January 12, 2007 9:37 AM

"I think there are some things parents just don't need to discuss with their kids."

No kidding. My MIL told my then-5-yo SIL way way way too much about her nuclear divorce as it was happening. "Well, it's the truth!" was what she'd say when anyone asked her if it was really a good idea to tell a little kid that her father had missed a support payment, or was dragging things through court, or whatever.

I'm fairly sure that my parents didn't have a fantastic marriage while I was growing up. However, standard kid egocentrism kept me from thinking about it all that much while I was growing up, and tact keeps me from asking about it now. It's just none of my business.

Posted by: Lizzie | January 12, 2007 9:40 AM

I am not sure any sound minded parent would tell their child that they regret their existance, but at times you may be honest that having them put your life on a different track. said in anger it is just plain mean, but when you are at your breaking point and say - hey, I cannot handle this right now, please give me a little bit - is fine. You do not always have to like your children, or want them to be doing what they are doing at that exact moment in time. As long as you love them, and they know that you are doing your best.

Posted by: single mom | January 12, 2007 9:40 AM

"One day I am going to have to tell my child that she was unplanned, and why her father lives far away and is not involved. She is small now and I can say, he lives far away, but when she gets older will need more detail. I will be as frank as possible, yet leave out the painful parts (like you father did not want you to be born)."

Single Mom- I have a close friend with a daughter. The father bolted at first word of the pregnancy. What she tells her daughter is : Your father didn't think he could do a good job as a daddy. He cared about you enough to know that and knew that i and your grandmom would love you enough to make you the special girl that you are.

She obviously hates this man, but it will make them feel awful if there's any hint of "not wanting to be a dad"- it's a slight variation and not entirely true (he's just a selfish lout)- but htey don't need to k now that.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:40 AM

I think it is maybe better for kids to be in tune that money isn't a free flowing tree. In middle school some kids were picking on one girl and a friend of mine just said blunty "I wish they would stop picking on her, she is just poor." They weren't taunting her about being poor but about not having a cool shirt, book, gadget etc. I have never forgotten the clarity she had to identify that kind of need for compassion.

Posted by: other thing | January 12, 2007 9:41 AM

Just because you are a lousy parent and dissatisfied with your life doesn't give you the right to make your children feel worthless.

Go get some therapy. I'm sure your kids need some as well.

Posted by: A good parent | January 12, 2007 9:42 AM

I agree! There's a HUGE difference between telling a child that you need a bit of space at that moment...and telling them that having them cramped your lifestyle.

Posted by: To Single Mom | January 12, 2007 9:42 AM

"how can I NOT feel extremely guilty for placing her in a marriage she didn't want just because I was born???"

By realizing that you didn't do it!

You weren't there when she decided to have intercourse with your father. There may have been all sorts of reasons behind that, but ultimately, she did it - not you.

You weren't the one who decided, when she became pregnant, to marry him. Again, there may have been all sorts of reasons and pressures behind it - but you didn't do it.

Nor did you cause the divorce.

It sounds as if you're doing a very good job with your daughter. That's wonderful - you should use your life experiences to help you be a better mother for her.

But don't take responsiblity for things that you didn't do, and choices you did not make. Most of us have enough of a challenge taking responsibility for the choices we do make!

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 9:43 AM

I remember being 7 or 8 when my mother told me that parents getting divorced liked to tell the children that the divorce is not their fault and has nothing to do with them, but that in reality divorce is frequently because of the stress of having children.

This distressed me greatly and every time they fought, and (as things got worse), talked about divorce, I completely blamed myself. I was a sensitive kid, so not every child would feel this way, but I found it extremely upsetting.

Posted by: Neighbor | January 12, 2007 9:44 AM

As difficult and challenging as parenthood is, and even with the many times I may ask myself if I was truly cut out to be a mother, I cannot imagine a parent even toying with the idea of telling their child that they have regrets about becoming a parent.

Put yourself in your son's or daughter's position -- to hear something like that coming from a mother or father would be devastating. It's one thing for an older child to come to a realization about the inherent compromises involved in parenthood, but if a parent is even thinking about a telling a child about all the regrets they've encountered from becoming a parent, you may as well just say, "I don't think you were worth it," because whether that's what you mean, that's what they're going to hear.

Leslie, I have a hard time believing for one moment that your self-esteem was bolstered by you own mother's parenting regrets. That makes no sense to me. While my mother never told me in so many words she regretted becoming a mother, it was clear to me as a child that she would have been much happier without me and my siblings. To this day, I cannot get over the fact that she chose to let us see that-- she may just as well have said, "I don't really love you or want you."

If we choose to have children, then we owe it to them to deal with our own personal regrets, sadness or second-thoughts in our own way and not use them in venting our adult frustrations. They'll understand what it means to be a parent in their own time, and that's when you can have a discussion -- as adults -- about the compromises and sacrifices we make as moms and dads.

http://punditmom1.blogspot.com

Posted by: PunditMom | January 12, 2007 9:45 AM

"My father had regrets and made them clear. It made me feel like I didn't deserve to exist. I don't think that's in any way good for a child."

Maybe the real answer here is, there is no right answer, e.g., your children will always wish you'd taken the opposite approach no matter which approach you take. Laura and the anon poster wish their parents hadn't shared the thoughts they shared, and I am not suggesting they should feel any differently. I, on the other hand, believe a little sharing in our household would have gone a long way to contributing to emotionally healthy kids.

I was raised in the "body in the living room" kind of family. We all knew mom wished she'd only had two kids, but had four. You'll have to trust me on this because it's a blog not an epic novel. Mom never addressed this issue directly, and the younger two kids, of which I am one, were convinced well into our thirties that it was all about us - we weren't lovable enough, we weren't wonderful enough, somehow we made a mistake along the way that caused her to wish we weren't around. I'm sure now that her conflict and misery had zilch to do with us and everything to do with her and how trapped she felt in her Donna Reed world. If she could have admitted her own internal conflict and perhaps discussed some of that with us in our late teens or early twenties, she'd have saved us a lot of insecurity and misery. Her silence caused us to reach our own self-focused conclusions.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:48 AM

If you don't want your kids...I'll take them! And love them! And enjoy them!

Then you can go and be free to do whatever the heck it is that you'd really like to be doing.


Posted by: TO Leslie | January 12, 2007 9:49 AM

If you chose to have sex; you potentially chose to be a parent - no matter what precautions are taken.

Therefore, the associated responsibilities with being a parent are automatically to be accepted at the time of this decision.

Regrets to being a parent should be questioned prior to sex.

Why would you want to tell your child you regret being a parent? I think really the point is you want your child to APPRECIATE you and all the sacrifices that you've made. And trust me - especially when they are an adult - they will understand and APPRECIATE. Making them feel guilted into feeling this way doesn't make sense nor will it work. That is just reality.

Posted by: cyntia | January 12, 2007 9:49 AM

If you don't want your kids...I'll take them! And love them! And enjoy them!

Then you can go and be free to do whatever the heck it is that you'd really like to be doing.


Posted by: TO Leslie | January 12, 2007 9:49 AM

If you don't want your kids...I'll take them! And love them! And enjoy them!

Then you can go and be free to do whatever the heck it is that you'd really like to be doing.


Posted by: TO Leslie | January 12, 2007 9:50 AM

to other thing: my mother told me I was an accident when I was 30 and pregnant with my first. She couldn't believe she had never told me before and I was glad she hadn't. Not saying I would have been emotionally scarred, but I do know people (my brother in law and uncle are 2 examples) that have been teased their whole lives about being "accidents." I think the BIL resents it a bit, hasn't turned him into an ax murderer or anything, but he still has time!

Posted by: cmac | January 12, 2007 9:51 AM

Re: "This is really naval-gazing at its best."

Answer: "Naval-gazing"

Question: "What was the President doing, that he thought it was appropriate to appoint an Admiral to run a land war?"

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:52 AM

NOTHING! If you have kids and regret it, go see a therapist and work it out in your own mind. A therapist is an appropriate person to do that with. Using your kids as a therapist isn't appropriate at all! CHILDREN have a RIGHT at birth...that right is to be loved, respected, and appreciated. That's not OPTIONAL...it's your OBLIGATION as a parent. And the sooner you realize that, the better!

Posted by: Now much to tell the kids? | January 12, 2007 9:53 AM

Here's my two cents...it is OK to say I am tired/ aggravated/ stressed out/ longing for the freedom of my teenage years, etc., ONCE in a while. These are assessments of what is going on with your mood, and I think it is good for kids to learn to describe their own feelings in the same manner.

But children are not shrinks! Perpetual whining to your kids about your missed opportunities, or your sense that there is no freedom after kids strikes me as damaging- and a little weird. It makes your kids feel guilty.

Posted by: Silver Spring | January 12, 2007 9:55 AM

Maybe the Admiral went to West Point? (not being facetious)

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 9:57 AM

Leslie, your comments don't make sense to me. You say, "Throughout my childhood, I knew about my mom's regrets as well. . . . I knew I was worth all the freedom and career options Mom gave up."

If your mom had "regrets" about having kids, then she's saying you were NOT worth the freedom and career options she gave up. A "regret" means that, if you could go back, you would have done it differently (i.e. not have kids). This is basic English, and I'm not going to argue about definitions with people. People should just know what words mean.

Perhaps your mom thought about the things she gave up and wished she hadn't had to give them up in order to have you. That's perfectly reasonable. But, to have regrets, means that she wished she had chosen those things and NOT you.

So, to follow this logically, I would NEVER tell my children about my regret of having children (if I had such a regret). I cannot imagine the blow to their feelings of self-worth if I told them that I should NOT have chosen to have them. However, I would be willing to talk (perhaps wistfully) about the things I had to give up in order to have them and how I wished I hadn't had to give them up. At the end, though, I would reassure them that they were more than worth all the things I gave up.

Nonetheless, Leslie, there's a big difference between "regret" and what I'm talking about here.

Posted by: Ryan | January 12, 2007 9:58 AM

And I find equally annoying people whose only comment is I agree, you are right about that or some such writing

Posted by: First Comment | January 12, 2007 10:02 AM

Demos, maybe, but likely not in the way people would expect -- I'm more about limited role of government.

9:27, slightly flip side for me. I figured my dad left because of me (yeah, how stupid is that?). My mom always, always told me it wasn't my fault, but it just seemed so obvious -- what 20-yr-old would want the responsibility of a small child?

I ended up having a blowout with my dad about this years after the fact, completely out of the blue, when my daughter turned the same age I was when he left (I looked at her and thought, how could anyone possibly leave her?). Well, my mom saw how upset I was, and she told me it really, REALLY wasn't me, because there was another woman involved. In 30+ yrs, she had never told me that, because she didn't want me to lose respect for my father. But she decided to tell me the truth so I would stop blaming myself.

And that healed a lot of old wounds that I hadn't even really known were there -- yeah, not that it's a good thing to learn about my dad, but good Lord, that marriage was SO not meant to be (if you knew both of them, it's really more a miracle that it lasted 5 yrs). And for the first time, I realized how torn up my dad must have been to lose me.

I think Older Dad has the right idea: it's not just a question of what you say, but why you're saying it. If mom's telling you private stuff to make herself feel better, sorry, you still need to be a parent and suck it up if telling could hurt your kids. But in my case, my mom wanted to help me, and it really did.

Posted by: Laura | January 12, 2007 10:06 AM

I remember as a teenager asking my mom if she'd ever thought about divorcing my father. (They'd been together for about 20 years at the time and are still together today.) I expected her to say something like "of course not" but instead what I got was "Sure. But you girls were little and I was at home with you and we didn't have any money and I didn't know how I would survive on my own." I was completely floored. But it has turned out to be a good thing, because it tempered any kind of fairy-tale idea about marriage.

I think that I would never tell my kids I regretted having them. (I don't.) I've wondered what life would be like if I hadn't had them, but I have never regretted it. I do know someone who regrets having children and speaks about it. I think it would be devastating for a child to hear that a parent didn't want them. I'll point to the struggle children whose have a parent abandon them endure, though I can't speak to it personally.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 12, 2007 10:06 AM

...do you also tell your husband that you regret getting married because he cramped your style? ...tell your boss that you'd rather be doing other things...work is suffocating you? ...tell your best friend that sitting on the phone listening to her ramble on about her problems is keeping you from things you'd rather be doing? Sometimes honesty isn't a good thing! And there's a special art called "the art of what's better left unsaid." We practice it all the time in our lives. Don't our children deserve the same?

Posted by: Now... | January 12, 2007 10:06 AM

"However, one poster chided me by saying she (or he) hoped my children would never read what I had written about the moments when I wish I did not have kids."

"Do you share with them the challenges of juggling work and family?"

These are two very different issues.

I never with that I did not have kids. Never. I get frustrated, angry, baffled, etc. - but I never wish that my wife and I had decided not to have kids.

Forget the work (thought I do work) - family can present challenges. Of course, they know that - dealing with parents can be a real challenge at times for any kid

;-)

Seriously - it's fine to tell kids that they are testing your patience, pocketbook, whatever.

It is not fine to say "sometimes I wish I'd never had children." What're the kids gonna be thinking? "Just how often?" "Is it my fault?"

What POSSIBLE good can come from that statement?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 10:07 AM

To the honest people on the blog: Ignore the ones saying they never had regrets. I'm pretty sure they're lying. And if they're not, we can assume that they are robots.

To the trolls: Admitting that you've felt regret does not mean you don't love your children.

To cyntia: Realizing that there might be regret before you do something does not mean that you never feel the regret again. Every life-changing decision had some potential regret; you take the chance. It must be great for you to be so perfect.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 10:11 AM

"To the trolls: Admitting that you've felt regret does not mean you don't love your children."

IGNORE THIS POST...it's just a troll!!!!! Jeez...how do you know who the "trolls" are? You don't have a screen name, either!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 10:13 AM

As one sage parent said one day, I will always love my childred, but somedays I just don't like them.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 10:14 AM

OT - the Admiral is running the war because of the 2 new Naval ships that are now parked in the Gulf to "intimidate" Iran.

This topic - tough question, and I think definetely one that is different from family to family and kid to kid. My husband & I talk about this all the time in a few different contexts. We both agree it is not necessary to be 100% honest with children under 18 100% of the time. It reminds me of when mean people claim they're "just being honest" when they say "you look ugly today....what? I'm just being honest." I completely agree with Laura that kids are very literal. My husband's and my senses of humor tend to the ironic/sarcastic, and we've had to make sure we don't confuse our kids with our "jokes" when they just don't get it. How do parents deal with "truth" when they are talking to their young adult/teen kids about drinking/drugs and sex? I would imagine that most people probably leave out "true" details like most people only have about a 20-25% chance of getting pregnant after having sex, because teens might not get that even if that's true, the consequences of being in that 20-25% are insanely high. Being "honest" with your kids is a tough topic, and I'd expect it is different for different families, kids and topics.

Posted by: SMF | January 12, 2007 10:14 AM

Laura - I feel like I have metooism this morning but my mom was pretty straight forward about my parent's marriage NOT being perfect during the high stress years. She admits part of their problems were her fault, which was actually refreshing to hear. We had this discussion after I was married and complaining about my husband. My mom took the opportunity to tell me that things were very rocky with my dad for a number of years - but we as kids never knew it - so it is really a testament to their parenting.

Still is really threw me for a loop - I thought they had a perfect marriage growing up - but of course I know now that no marriage is perfect.

Posted by: cmac | January 12, 2007 10:15 AM

How honest do we all plan on being when are kids are teenagers and ask if if we drank/did drugs/have sex/etc when we were their age?

I was pretty conservative, my parents were wild though and were alway suspious of me doing the same things they did... just curious

Posted by: single mom | January 12, 2007 10:17 AM

This thread reminds me of something my mom's friend had taped to her refrigerator when she went through her divorce with two young sons. It said "Two lovely people and one grouch live here". They took turns being the grouch, joked about who was the grouch that day, and generally used humor to acknowledge not every day was perfect.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | January 12, 2007 10:18 AM

Fatherof4, I can top your baby-vomit story: how about the time I cracked my head open in a moment of youthful hijinks, and as I was woozily sitting on the floor wondering what the heck had happened, my mother walked into the room, summed up the situation and exclaimed "For heaven's sake, don't bleed on the rug!" We, too, trot that one out at pretty much every occasion, and it happened 20 years ago.

Posted by: CH | January 12, 2007 10:21 AM

"To the trolls: Admitting that you've felt regret does not mean you don't love your children."

IGNORE THIS POST...it's just a troll!!!!! Jeez...how do you know who the "trolls" are? You don't have a screen name, either!"

I am not troll, I am man.

Posted by: rotho | January 12, 2007 10:23 AM

But some of you are missing the point about "regret". The word "regret" means you wish you had done things DIFFERENTLY. So, yes, saying that to your children is tantamount to saying you wished you hadn't had them. It's fine to wish that you could have kept doing all the pre-kids things while also having kids. It's not OK to have regrets about HAVING kids and tell your kids this.

Posted by: Ryan | January 12, 2007 10:25 AM

Hi Fred,

Thanks for the suggestion. I definitely want to wait to give my daughter the journal until she's ready to read it. In my head, I've always envisioned it being an 18th birthday present -- a chronicle of her life, to date.

I'd only consider giving it to her earlier if I think she'd benefit from a greater understanding of what's in my head. When I was a kid, I always wanted to know what in god's name my mother could possibly be thinking, which is part of the reason I started keeping this journal for my daughter. Of course, I ferverently hope that I won't make the same mistakes with my girl that my mom made with me, so maybe she'll never need to see her journal.

Posted by: NewSAHM | January 12, 2007 10:26 AM

My answer is NO. I'm not going to tell my kids about any regrets I had regarding them.

They will be adults soon enough. They'll find out for themselves. In the meantime they should keep their own illusions.

Posted by: RoseG | January 12, 2007 10:29 AM

"To the honest people on the blog: Ignore the ones saying they never had regrets. I'm pretty sure they're lying. And if they're not, we can assume that they are robots."

We aren't lying - neither are we robots.

There are a couple of things that are important here.

The first is distinguishing between long-term commitments and short-term emotions. I love my wife deeply, but she can make me angrier than any other human on the planet (to be fair, she says the same thing about me). Even when I'm so angry that I literally cannot speak, I still know that she is the most important person in my life - and that I'd be devastated if I were to lose her. After all, how could she make me so angry if she didn't matter to me? The failure to make this distinction undermines many, many relationships.

Kids are the same way. My son can frustrate the life out of me. I still love him, and want the best for him.

The second is to learn not to second-guess yourself. We make significant decisions in our lives - and many of them mean that we have to face very real challenges and difficulties. Marriage is one. Parenthood is another. Deciding to pursue an education, or choosing a career can be another. A university class may give my son real problems. That's not a reason for him to regret going to school - he knew (or should have known) that it would be difficult at times. He also knows what the degree will do for him when he finishes.

Remember why you decided to have children. Then, you can be honest to yourself about the challenges, without wishing that they had never been born.

My wife and I have never regretted the birth of our children. How can we say that? It's not because we're accomplished liars. It's because we have a deep, long-term love and commitment to them.

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 10:31 AM

I lost the freedom to do what I wanted the day I bought a house. I didn't have much disposable income anymore. Whenever I was away on a weekend my yard would be a mess because I didn't clean it. I couldn't take a contract job in Los Angeles because I'd have to go through the process of selling the house for what, in hindsight, really was a 6 month contract and nothing more. So having kids limits me as well, but I was already limited. I'd sooner complain to my house.

Posted by: Bethesda | January 12, 2007 10:33 AM

Navel is that part of your body.
Naval pertains to ships.

BTW, that kind of orange is Navel.

Posted by: Grammar Sheriff | January 12, 2007 10:35 AM

from dictionary.com:

re·gret
1. to feel sorrow or remorse for (an act, fault, disappointment, etc.): He no sooner spoke than he regretted it.
2. to think of with a sense of loss: to regret one's vanished youth.
3. a sense of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction, etc.
4. a feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, disappointment, etc.
5. regrets, a polite, usually formal refusal of an invitation: I sent her my regrets.
6. a note expressing regret at one's inability to accept an invitation: I have had four acceptances and one regret.

Ryan, I guess I disagree with your basic assumption that "regret" has to mean "I'd do things differently if given the chance." I think it can be used that way, but I think a lot of people here are using it as in no. 2 above -- i.e., "I'd never trade my kids for anything in the world, but sometimes I still feel a sense of loss for some of the things I gave up to have them."

I think the point is, do your kids understand what you mean? So in talking to them, I think it's better to avoid terms like "regret," because you may mean it one way and they may hear another. But when we're talking on this board, I don't think it's fair to assume that the people saying they have regrets about having kids really mean that they wouldn't have them if they could do it over again.

Posted by: Laura | January 12, 2007 10:35 AM

Hey, to the person offering to take Leslie's kids, and love them and appreciate them: I'm pretty sure Leslie's going to keep hers. However, there are lots and lots of kids in foster care who weren't lucky enough to have educated, employed, married, blogging moms, and they could use your saintliness. So why don't you get yourself on down to child services and sign up for a few. Let us know how it goes!

Posted by: WDC | January 12, 2007 10:35 AM

Thought of something else that ties in: Love is not a feeling, it's a policy. Can't remember where I heard it, but it is a good one when you talk about family.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 12, 2007 10:37 AM

"To the trolls: Admitting that you've felt regret does not mean you don't love your children."

Of course this does not mean you don't love your children, but why do you feel the need to tell them that you have regrets in the first place..... would'nt it be more appropriate to tell your best friend for instance if you can't live without verbalizing it out loud to someone. Telling you children smacks of self-centerness.

Posted by: just an opinion | January 12, 2007 10:39 AM

Accepting responsibility for a decision is not a sign of perfectionism. I had my kids as a result of my love and commitment to my husband. Did it strain my household? Yes. Did it strain and eventually play a part in breaking my marriage. Yes. (My ex told me "I never said I wanted kids - which was an outright lie"). Do I regret having my kids? No I don't. But trust me they have pushed and stressed me to a maximum. But I knew what it was all about when I had children; that is why I even hesitated to have them. That is why I didn't have more than two because I knew what I could handle and what would be fair to my kids.

That is why attitude plays a huge role in the quality of your lifestyle after you have children. I hope to be able to offer advise since I'm on the tail end of child raising for those starting or in the middle of it. Simplifying your life helps a whole lot. Make sure the children understand you are the parent and they are the child (and the associated rules of authority with that) is important (aka, discipline). Is any of it easy? Absolutely not. Just hang in there though and cling to the positives and seek help for the negatives. I wish the best to all raising children - it is a tough job!

Posted by: cyntia | January 12, 2007 10:40 AM

My parents divorced when I was 12. My parents were honest with us once we started asking questions, and we knew from the beginning that both parents loved us above all. When my friends asked what was happening, I quoted my mom saying "My dad is a great dad but not a great husband." It was nice to have a reason that had nothing to do with me.

It was also good to know that they weren't perfect. When I went through my drug phase a couple years later, my parents were honest about how much they did at my age. But they told me that they kept perfect grades and both went on to get Ph.D.s, so the expectation was the same. Sort of like, there is a time and place for everything, so hurry up and get it out of your system before it's time to be an adult.

When I was a counselor, I learned that kids want to be treated like adults. They like responsibility. Trusting them with honesty means you think they are responsible. Maybe it's because I was more like a peer (closer in age), but the girls really opened up to me.

Final thought: If you expect honesty from your kids, you should be honest with them.

But with kids younger than the age of 10, I have no idea.

Posted by: Meesh | January 12, 2007 10:41 AM

Father of 4, this is probably the only time I actually agreed with your post!
Telling kids being a parent is a "mixed blessing" is so incredibly selfish I was speechless when I read that. Yes, it sometimes sucks that all my friends get their solid 8 hrs of sleep and can travel and buy new clothes and do basically whatever they want while we JUST CAN'T. But I don't need to be telling my boys that I sometimes wish I wasn't a mom. They don't need that guilt trip. They'll figure it out on their own when THEY have kids!

Posted by: awb | January 12, 2007 10:41 AM

naval-gazing should have been navel-gazing ... bad typo.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 10:42 AM

Well, Laura, let's see. Of the 6 definitions, five of them are along the lines of what I mean and one is along the line of what you're suggesting (although I could quibble about that definition's implications). So, gee, I can't imagine why I would find a problem with the use of the term "regret".

Even without the term "regret", however, I think it's awful to suggest to kids that they are the cause of some sense of loss. When they're adults (or at least in college), you can probably talk to them about these things and they'll understand and not feel hurt by it.

However, my wife's mother has said that she did not want kids. She loves her kids and is glad to have them, but she had never really had the desire to have kids (i.e. it was her husband who had that desire). I think that my wife would rather her mother had never said that (even as an adult, it's kind of annoying to her).

Posted by: Ryan | January 12, 2007 10:44 AM

Regrets or not, please let your grown children know, before they decide to become parents themselves, how difficult parenting is. Don't sugarcoat it. Let them know the joys, the sorrows, the sacrifices, the difficulties. All of it.

Posted by: No Name | January 12, 2007 10:45 AM

"But when we're talking on this board, I don't think it's fair to assume that the people saying they have regrets about having kids really mean that they wouldn't have them if they could do it over again. "

Let's not kid ourselves. That's the most commonly used meaning of the term, and the one that most people first assume.

How would you understand it if a friend said she "regretted" the house she bought, her choice of career, the car she bought, her interest-only mortgage, her husband, choice of career, where she lived, her commute, etc.?

How do you expect a child to understand a parent who says they "regret" having kids?

Yes, the word can be used by a skillful, articulate speaker or writer in a variety of ways.

But no child is going to hear "#2" - they're going to hear "sorrow or remorse" and perhaps more than a bit of "a sense of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction."

And let's be honest. If your husband were to tell you that he regrets you marriage, wouldn't you too?

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 10:48 AM

One thing that I feel it is very important for parents to be honest about with their children is money. I once asked my mother (I was in my early teenage years) how much money she and my father made and she told me it was none of my business. She wasn't mean about it - I think it just came from an old-fashioned notion that children didn't need to know such things. Looking back on it, I think it could have been a valuable opportunity to clue me in (in a general way) to the family finances and how money corresponds to lifestyle, etc. I think if kids (obviously not young children) know how much you make and how much of that goes towards mortgage, bills, food, etc. it makes them smarter about asking for things and sets them up for when they will have to budget for themselves.

Posted by: Charlottesville | January 12, 2007 10:48 AM

In the past folks had one of two possible scenarios that factored in here. Either life and survival were so tough that kids would have no choice but to assess such on their own--think Dickensian scenarios. In another, generally more affluent or bourgeois situation, parents might be successful at being stoic if they weren't also hiding resentment which is apt to seep out in some form or another if it exists. If you're truly able to balance it all and experience contentment, little struggles concealed from kids may be a wonderful blessing and gift.

My own mother said on occassion, "I wish you had never been born." That was a little too much information for me.

In my situation today, being a single mom with no child support for over a decade, my children naturally see me struggle financially and frankly, emotionally and in other ways which reveal my weaknesses by default. Yet immersed in a culture of glut and seemingly endless desire, they naturally crave the assorted wares on display, or want their mom to be as present as some of the better situated parents they know. I have to be frank with them about our station, my limits and their own need to sacrifice. I find this better than maintaining any illusions. These occasions are also, of course, an opportunity to discuss values and to deconstruct culture and consumerism for them, so that it is not just personal, but transpersonal if you will.

On issues of simply being exhausted from having to be mother, father, sole breadwinner, sole homemaker and more, I do disclose the impact it has on me because our situation demands that my kids (9 and 11) step up to the plate more than the average indulged American kid would have to. I mitigate that with continual and overt love and affection, and words that indicate the same. But they have to get some dose of the cold facts of balancing myriad things or I would implode from the pressure of trying to hold more together than any one person possibly can.

Posted by: Dignity for Single Parents | January 12, 2007 10:49 AM

Letting your children know that you gave up things for them is not a sin. When your son asks why we can't have Jet Ski's like your single friend and you say well I would like to as well, but then we couldn't afford to pay for your hockey. He learns a few things - one that there is a limit to the amount of money you have and that you made sacrifices for him. This shouldn't be used to make your children feel guilty but to help them realize there are tradeoffs and that when they have children they also will have to give things up.

Posted by: Divorced mom of 1 | January 12, 2007 10:50 AM

My husband's ex-wife thoughtfully shared with her daughter's 13-year old birthday party attendees (all girls of that age) that she had lost her virginity at age 12 and given a b* j* for the first time at age 13. Apparently it was a story rich in detail. We reported it to Child Services at the time and when something else happened a few years later, were able to have step-my daughter removed on the strength of both her mother's inappropriate b-day revelation and the altercation that arose a few years later.

I say let your kids find their own way and don't share too much about your past, especially if it's checkered. You're not put on this earth to be your kid's friend.

Posted by: Thought | January 12, 2007 10:51 AM

Okay, they is a big difference between wishing you literally never had kids every day and missing aspects of your old life that you had to give up because you had kids.

There is a difference between using your child as a therapist by emptying all your emotions, including regrets, onto a small child and admitting the hardships that come with parenthood.

As with all the blogs, there are two extremes and a middle ground, where most of us stand. I think we all know that. Geez, what a bunch of alarmists.

Posted by: Meesh | January 12, 2007 10:52 AM

No Name: Really? Everything about the difficulties of having kids? That's what my mom did. She told us how hard it was on the marriage, how I (the second child) was an accident (and how many forms of birth control she was on that failed, resulting in my conception), how she regrets having abandoned her career, how the years of SAH made her feel dull and out of touch, etc etc. She told me this as I left childhood, probably with the idea of making me keep my pants on through high school and college.

Now I'm 31, and she's totally baffled about the lack of grandchildren. I'm terrified to have kids, mostly for all the reasons she cited, and can't make up my mind. I'm heading into do-or-die territory age-wise and I fear the regret I might feel if I never have kids... It's all enough to make one hyperventilate, and I wonder if a little sugarcoating would have been exactly what I needed.

Posted by: WDC | January 12, 2007 10:53 AM

Meesh - I see no benefit to telling my kids about all of my bad decisions so that they can feel like adults. It is enough to tell them everyone makes mistakes and that they will too - and we all have to learn from them. Specifics - no way.

BTW: Depending on the level of drug usage - you and your parents are lucky to have escaped your "drug phase" the wiser. I think we all know people that can't handle casual drug usage. I am not going to gamble with my kids tolerance and ability to handle addiction by poruing out stories of my past drug usage. My message will be - don't do it. Hopefully they will listen.

Luckily my husband can honestly say he never used drugs - not even a cigarette. He drank but never to excess. My stories are better "kept in the vault."

Posted by: cmac | January 12, 2007 10:54 AM

God, what a bunch of whiners on this blog. Seriously.

Posted by: Unreal | January 12, 2007 10:55 AM

Tell your children about your regrets when they start having sex. Tell them all the hardwork of parenting, that it is not like it is with Madonna and Angelina, that it is not always someone to love, but instead a huge burden that makes you fat and tired and poor. Then tell them you can get AIDS and herpes and chlamydia. That should make them think twice about doing the single mom/teenage dad thing. When they meet the right person and start making money, they will then make the right decision. Scared straight.

Posted by: Karen | January 12, 2007 10:56 AM

"Regrets or not, please let your grown children know, before they decide to become parents themselves, how difficult parenting is."

There's so much out there already about how hard it is to raise children that even if parents don't tell their kids in loving detail about every single agony, those kids will certainly hear about it from any number of other sources. Books, magazines, TV shows, films - almost all media linger on how hard it is to raise kids.

I agree with WDC. Kids are far more likely to hear about how tough it is to raise kids than they are about how rewarding it can be. Speaking for myself, it wasn't until I was 22 or so that I suddenly realized that having kids could be fun. I am certainly unusually slow in that respect, but still.

Posted by: Lizzie | January 12, 2007 10:58 AM

Kid's need to understand about money, and that their families can't do and buy everything they'd like. They also need to understand when the family budget is tight.

I'd urge you to be very cautious about telling them how much you make, though - expecially younger kids. Their financial realm is typically quite limited. $50,000 a year in the D.C. area can mean that a family is quite tight - but to a child who wants a $50 toy, it sounds like a fortune. You can talk all you want about what the rent costs each month, what the electric bill is, etc. - but the dollar amounts are simply too large to be meaningful to a younger child.

Depending on their level of maturity, letting a teen know more details about the family budget can be helpful. Getting them involved in how you're planning to help them with their education (assuming you are) can be useful to. It's very helpful to give them some funds that they have to manage - lunch money, school clothing budget, etc. But for it to be a real learning experience, you have to let them screw it up, and deal with it (eating a banana every day for lunch for two weeks, going to school in shorts in January, etc.).

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 10:58 AM

I honestly have never regretted having my children, because I truly believe that they are my best work--flaws and all--and I have fun with them. They really are the most interesting people I know--smart, funny, affectionate, and kind. But I do believe it's very important to be honest with children so that they trust you and so that they do not grow up believing in a fairy tale reality which is not possible to achieve. Just as they should know that parents can argue and still love each other, they should know that no choices one makes are 100 percent perfect. If we do not deal honestly with our children, we are setting them up for vast disappointments when they grow up.
One thing my children--now teenagers--could tell you is that I, a working mother, have always harbored jealousy and resentment toward mothers who do not work. Even though having a career has been my choice, I grit my teeth and suffer inward rage at the perfect moms out there who have unlimited hours to help with school projects and make endless batches of homemade cookies. And my kids know this--and tease me about it. I graduated from college in 1979 and thought I could have it all, and now I see you can't have everything. My life is often rushed and confusing--yet I have to admit I would not change anything--and I like to think that when my kids ask me questions, they can expect honest answers.

Posted by: Pamela | January 12, 2007 11:01 AM

Well, I'm flabbergasted. This is an extraordinary subject.

The short and sweet answer to all of the above (for me) is NO.

After a little thought, I would like to add that, in my view, kids are hyper-sensitive about what you say. They have very little context to place your statements and they are highly likely to remember those statements for years. My advice would be to think very carefully ahead of bearing your soul to them.

I would save the frank talk for life's real challenges - death, religion, love - and leave the self doubt issues alone until much later, perhaps when they become parents themselves.

Posted by: Dave | January 12, 2007 11:02 AM

"Now I'm 31, and she's totally baffled about the lack of grandchildren. I'm terrified to have kids, mostly for all the reasons she cited, and can't make up my mind. I'm heading into do-or-die territory age-wise and I fear the regret I might feel if I never have kids... It's all enough to make one hyperventilate, and I wonder if a little sugarcoating would have been exactly what I needed."

Don't hyperventilate. Not everyone has to be a parent - it's o.k. if you decide not to. But billions of people have done it, all over the world, since before history began. Their kids have, by and large, turned out just fine. It's hard at times, but this is something you can do if you want to.

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 11:05 AM

Single & Denied --absolutely brilliant post...you said it all.

A great book about childhood is Alice Miller's Drama of the Gifted Child. What the book reinforced for me is that young, dependent children focus an incredible amount of energy on understanding their parents and caregivers. It's a survival issue. We provide food and shelter and love, and at a deep level children understand their survival depends upon understanding their caregivers' motivations. This is sometimes good, and can sometimes really warp kids, especially if they grow up in alcoholic or unstable circumstances.

But the bottom line is that our kids know far more about us than we usually realize. We are under their microscope every second of the day. It is very hard to insulate kids over the age of four. When there is a bad marriage, an unhappy parent, an ill child, a bad work situation, or other problems, I think our kids know it sometimes long before we do.

And we do more damage by telling them a partial truth or no truth at all: I remember a friend in the middle of a marriage crisis whose husband slept each night at another woman's home, but crept back into the family home each morning, supposedly before the kids awoke. I know it was a terrible situation, and hard to figure out what was right. But I am certain the children knew about this subterfuge, and went along with the charade to please their parents. From my view, it would have been better to explain, in loving, simplified and respectful terms, that mom and dad were going through a difficult time and trying to work things out, which fortunately they did.

I think kids can handle the truth, in appropriate doses, when delivered with kindness, respect, and an age-appropriate degree of simplicity.

Posted by: Leslie | January 12, 2007 11:06 AM

It goes beyond some of the overly-romanticized concepts of 'childhood innocence'...children cognatively cannot process some of these things because the abstract thinking required to truly understand them. My mother is a kindergarten teacher and was telling me of a picture of people in a building with a plane flying into it a student had drawn a few weeks after 9/11. My mom asked her about it and apparently the girl had thought that EVERY TIME she saw the media replaying footage she thought it was happening all over again. So the little girl was reliving the stress of 9/11 every day for weeks after the actual event. My point is that you can be 'honest' but have no idea what the consequences are going to be. That said, if a child is asking you about something (i.e. death), I think that is a good indication that they need something other than a snow job.

Posted by: Columbia, MD | January 12, 2007 11:07 AM

" Even though having a career has been my choice, I grit my teeth and suffer inward rage at the perfect moms out there who have unlimited hours to help with school projects and make endless batches of homemade cookies. And my kids know this--and tease me about it. I graduated from college in 1979 and thought I could have it all, and now I see you can't have everything."

You have very wise kids. Those stay-at-home moms don't have perfect lives either. Some of them may even "grit their teeth and suffer inward rage" on occassion.

We're all just people, trying to shlep through life as best we can. Nobody has everything (pity, that).

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 11:08 AM

'From the time my kids started trick-or-treating I told them that Heath bars were exceptionally dangerous to children and that if they got any they needed to give them to me so that I could 'take care of them'.'

Why are Heath bars dangerous? Really - no kids so I don't know why.

I think that it is impossible to hide everything from kids - I don't have them, so maybe I am wrong. If there is something that is happening, maybe the simple version is ok. I can't imagine that any kid over the age of 4 or 5 knew that something rally bad and scary was happening on Sept. 11, 2001.

I mean - I know my mom told me some things when I was ten or so about what was going on in the extended family because I could always pick up on things and would just ask until someone answered me - mom would make it simple and I wouldn't ask any questions - easier for everyone.

I don't know - I think there is a point where a child's innocence is a sweet thing to preserve but considering how things are in the world, I am not sure it is realistic to protect them for very long.

As far as saying things like 'I wish I had never had you' - at any age - that is taking honesty too far and it is scarring to kids. That, or anything like it, is not being a good parent.

Posted by: WAMC | January 12, 2007 11:08 AM

"I would save the frank talk for life's real challenges - death, religion, love - and leave the self doubt issues alone until much later, perhaps when they become parents themselves."

You won't talk about death until they're parents?!?!? How do you explain where Scruffy or Grandma went? I picture a 22 year old imagining a huge farm with thousands of pets and relatives running free.

And love??!? Do you just say that your Mommy and I ran into each other one day and decided to get married?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 11:09 AM

re: when to tell your kids about what you did when you were young ...

one day in high school i looked at my dad and realized (a) he was in college in the late 60s/early 70s (b) he was in a fraternity. i was old enough to know a few things about fraternities and a few things about the recreational habits of college kids at that time. so i asked if he'd ever smoked pot.

he said yes, but that he didn't like the people involved so he quit after a little while.

i realized this story might have been watered down but i respected the admission because had he denied it i wouldn't have believed him anyway and would not have come to him later with any questions/etc on the topic.

the funny part is my mom had never known that and was shocked.

my point is, when your kids are old enough to guess what you might have done anyway, you might as well tell them. add on a "lessons-learned" and they'll probably be more honest with you later about what they're up to.

Posted by: grown kid | January 12, 2007 11:11 AM

I'd _better_ not regret this. We're going to a lot of expense and complication to have kids!

Seriously, I expect that sometimes I will regret it. Sometimes I regret the choice I made that traded living in the city I love (not too strong a word) to be with the woman I love (also not too strong a word). However, I also know that if I'd stayed I'd regret staying sometimes, too. That's what you do when you have two great options and can only pick one.

I don't see any point to telling kids that you sometimes regret having kids. Kids are literal, and they're also vulnerable to the decisions that the adults in their lives make. Telling them about regrets is going to make them feel that their position is precarious. That is in no way the same thing as telling 'em that Mommy needs some quiet time right now.

IMO, the age to tell your children that sometimes you regretted having kids is probably about the age the kids are capable of figuring it out for themselves--when they're adults. Before then, it's not necessary.

Posted by: Historian | January 12, 2007 11:13 AM

Re: intimidating Iran. I wonder if the embassy in Athens thinks Iran is intimidated? I wonder if Admiral New Guy can express his opinions without fear of being removed?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 11:15 AM

"Why are Heath bars dangerous? Really - no kids so I don't know why."

Because mom wanted to eat them.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 11:17 AM

"Why are Heath bars dangerous? Really - no kids so I don't know why."

Because mom wanted to eat them.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 11:18 AM

Grown kid, your mom knew. She was there. She was shocked that he would admit it to you!

One time when my brother and I were around 12 years old, our straight-laced parents insisted we had to watch this hilarious movie. They made all these claims about how it was the funniest movie ever. So we popped it in the VCR. What followed was puzzlement, on all our parts. It wasn't funny at all. It was strange, and dated, and not even my parents giggled. Several years later, my brother and I came to the mutual realization that our parents must have been totally baked when they saw it the first time. I don't know if it's to their credit or not, but we had never had the slightest suspicion of any 70s-style activities before that.

Posted by: Tee Hee | January 12, 2007 11:18 AM

"'From the time my kids started trick-or-treating I told them that Heath bars were exceptionally dangerous to children and that if they got any they needed to give them to me so that I could 'take care of them'.'

Why are Heath bars dangerous? Really - no kids so I don't know why. "

I think this was a joke. The parent wanted to eat the Heath bars.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | January 12, 2007 11:19 AM

S/he was kidding about the Heath bars.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 11:20 AM

cmac, I completely agree that some people never escape the drug phase and that each situation is different.

I think it worked for my parents because they knew what we could handle, because we kids were honest with our drug use (or just really bad at hiding it), and because they set the example of recognizing priorities in life. We also loved and respected our parents and didn't want to hurt them above all (forget about what we were doinf to our bodies!).

Posted by: Meesh | January 12, 2007 11:21 AM

"While my mother never told me in so many words she regretted becoming a mother, it was clear to me as a child that she would have been much happier without me and my siblings. To this day, I cannot get over the fact that she chose to let us see that-- "

She wasn't a good enough actress for you.

Posted by: To: Pundit Mom | January 12, 2007 11:23 AM

ok - so the Heath bar thing was a joke. Thanks for clearing that up. The poor kid will always be wondering why she sees so many people eating such dangerous things. ha - just kidding.

I thought maybe because of the peanuts.

Posted by: WAMC | January 12, 2007 11:24 AM

"I picture a 22 year old imagining a huge farm with thousands of pets and relatives running free."

Of course - what did you THINK Leisure World was?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 11:24 AM

"May I ask why you call yourself that?

Posted by: to single and denied | January 12, 2007 09:10 AM "

It actually has to do with a totally (well, mostly) unrelated topic, namely the constitutiona amendment in Virginia denying unmarried couples protections that married couples get.

For consistency's sake, I like to use the same name across a message board. it's less confusing when conversing with people.

Posted by: Single and denied | January 12, 2007 11:27 AM

I don't usually reply to people who have no name but "whoever you are", I think you misunderstood my statement.

I WOULD discuss frankly the important aspects of life with the kids.

I would NOT bring up issues of self doubt until the kids were able to put them in some sort of appropriate context, in my view, not until they are much older.

I hope this is clearer for you and I hope you find a name that you like, and the courage to use it, someday.

Posted by: dave | January 12, 2007 11:27 AM

actually she wasn't there, they didn't meet until they were like 30.

but maybe she knew.

all i know is before that convo she acted like pot smokers were the same as crack addicts, and after that convo she didn't.

then in college we had a lot of conversations about a lot of things she wasn't really exposed to growing up, and now i think she's for legalization.

but back to the topic ... it's great to be friends with my parents now, i advocate for sharing once they're old enough to know what you're talking about.

Posted by: grown kid | January 12, 2007 11:34 AM

I did totally misread your statement, Dave. Please accept my apology.

As for the name thing, I didn't think a silly joke warranted a name.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 11:39 AM

What we don't tell them are the reasons they loose a father at the time of divorce. why their chances of doing well in school just dropped by 35% over children with a father, why their chances of becoming a juvenile delinquent just went up by 50%, why girls are three times as likely to become pregnant, why their chances of becoming addicted to drugs or suffer from mental illness just went up 65%. Those are the things we don't tell our children.

Posted by: mcewen | January 12, 2007 11:42 AM

"I'm heading into do-or-die territory age-wise and I fear the regret I might feel if I never have kids... It's all enough to make one hyperventilate, and I wonder if a little sugarcoating would have been exactly what I needed."

OTOH, what if you got the sugar-coating and then had a baby and hated being a mom? Then it would be too late. Maybe better *not* to have the sugar-coating...

Posted by: Irene | January 12, 2007 11:43 AM

"OTOH, what if you got the sugar-coating and then had a baby and hated being a mom? Then it would be too late. Maybe better *not* to have the sugar-coating..."

Honesty is good - we need to be prepared for life.

But it sounds as if this woman really got worked over by her mom. If you really want kids, the prospect of being a parent is nothing to hyperventilate over. Take your time, think it through, make sure you're ready - then trust yourself.

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 11:50 AM

The other day I was cuddling my baby and his older brother. I said to the baby (jokingly), "You're so cute, me and [older brother] are just going to eat you up! Yum Yum!" And then I thought, "maybe I shouldn't have said that." The older child (2 1/2) took the baby's arm in his mouth and bit him as hard as he could. Oops! Kids are really literal.

When I read a story with my older kid, he's puzzled by why the same character appears on different pages of the book. He thinks each appearance of the character represents a separate person. So if we read "play with Maisie" he thinks the story is about twelve Maisies.

Posted by: m | January 12, 2007 11:55 AM

"IMO, the age to tell your children that sometimes you regretted having kids is probably about the age the kids are capable of figuring it out for themselves--when they're adults. Before then, it's not necessary."

And likely harmful.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 11:59 AM

If you aren't into motherhood you might as well be up front about it. Your kid will figure it out anyway. My mom told me regularly that she preferred her career to being a mother. I never doubted her honesty about it.

Now she wonders why no one cares about her.

Posted by: soccermom | January 12, 2007 12:00 PM

"What we don't tell them are the reasons they loose a father at the time of divorce. why their chances of doing well in school just dropped by 35% over children with a father, why their chances of becoming a juvenile delinquent just went up by 50%, why girls are three times as likely to become pregnant, why their chances of becoming addicted to drugs or suffer from mental illness just went up 65%. Those are the things we don't tell our children."

Better no father than a bad father. Also, for the purposes of the people on this blog (probably all middle class), do these rates really apply? Also, biological fathers may not be in the picture but what about step fathers and strong male figures that could perhaps do a better job than the father.

In DC, all the father has to do is show up to court and he gets parental custody (assumption that it is in the best interest of the child) despite their involvement, don't think that is the best approach either. Both parents should prove that they will benefit the chold by being in their life.

Posted by: single mom | January 12, 2007 12:03 PM

Harking back to yesterday's discussion of parents vs. non-parents, you gotta take a look at this example of nastiness to a childless woman:

http://www.nypost.com/seven/01122007/postopinion/editorials/boxers_low_blow_editorials_.htm?page=0

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 12:08 PM

I have 3 children (and work part time) and I can not ever remember, not even for one second, wishing that I'd never had them. How could I ever wish that the people I love most and unconditionally never existed. Sure, there have been rough days, but that's certainly not their fault (well maybe sometimes it is!), and there's nothing wrong with discussing rough days with them, but if you think you can tell a child you sometimes wished they never existed and that not damage the way they view themselves, you are completely out to lunch.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 12:10 PM

"Better no father than a bad father."

Sure - if the father really is that bad. But we keep saying this? How many of the broken families we see really do involve a father (or mother, for that matter) who is abusive or neglectful or otherwise harmful enough that the kids are really better off with them out of the house?

If we're honest about ourselves, isn't it much more often simply a matter of parents who couldn't make the marriage work? Or weren't willing to put in the effort to make it work?

In far too many cases the "bad father" argument has simply become a bad excuse.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 12:12 PM

Leslie,

I completely agree with your 11:06 post.


Many, not all, kids see and understand alot more than we admit or acknowledge. On the big topics, the adult perspective of a parent might assist in offering explanations or additional information so the kid knows it's really not about the kid. Just my 2 cents. Each parent knows his or her kid best.

Posted by: NC lawyer | January 12, 2007 12:13 PM

Soccermom,

what does your mom say about it now? Does she have any regrets? Has she told you what she would do differently?

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 12:15 PM

meesh - I understand the nuances of the situation - and I think most people determine what they will do based on personal experience. Yours was a positive one and I hope my kids love and respect me enough to listen to me. I won't be sharing specifics when it comes to drugs and other explicit behavior though.

I just want to enjoy the elementary years! These are fun years and they are going by way too fast!

Posted by: cmac | January 12, 2007 12:15 PM

On the flip side of this topic, I get to hear on a regular basis how my teenager would rather not have any parents.

Posted by: Father of 4 | January 12, 2007 12:19 PM

"Better no father than a bad father."

Actually, absent physical, sexual, or emotional abuse - and I mean real, continued, pervasive emotional abuse, not "For Christ's sake, are you TRYING to be clumsy?" - all reliable studies indicate that a bad father is much much better than no father at all. Same goes for bad mothers being much much better than no mother at all.

Posted by: Lizzie | January 12, 2007 12:19 PM

It could be especially tough when you don't want your kids to repeat their parents' mistakes and some of those mistakes include how these kids happened.

How do you advise your daughter to not get pregnant on prom night, years after you conceived her on prom night and you wish you'd had her after graduation instead? How do you advise your son to not rape, years after his father conceived him by raping you and you wish you'd conceived him while making love with your husband instead?

"If you chose to have sex; you potentially chose to be a parent - no matter what precautions are taken.

"Therefore, the associated responsibilities with being a parent are automatically to be accepted at the time of this decision."

So married couples should turn celibate as soon as they have as many kids as they want?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 12:20 PM

"On the big topics, the adult perspective of a parent might assist in offering explanations or additional information so the kid knows it's really not about the kid."

Come on! How many adults are really, truly helped by the "it's not you, it's me" speech? You're out of your mind if you think a 10-year old can process "I wish I wasn't a mom, but it's not you - it's me" without taking serious emotional harm!

If you doubt this, try this simple test. Tonight, set your "significant other" down and say "you know, I'm feeling like I really regret being with you - but it's about me, not you" - not that you're leaving them, or want to break it off or change anything, but just that you regret being with them. See how it goes. Wait an hour, then tell them it was all a test.

Children are even more vulnerable than adults. The idea that we can dump this kind of thing on kids and then explain it away is simply dumb.

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 12:26 PM

btw, many posters seem to be focused on discussing regrets about life as it used to be, etc. I have another perspective, which is that the occasional and more serious conversations we've had with our son (in response to his comments or questions) have focused on the results of his dad's and my life choices. For example, we made choices to change careers in our thirties and took on sizable education debt later than many of our peers. We also had our kids a little later - although that has more to do with having met each other a little older in the first place, than with real choice. As a result of these collective choices, we have young children at the same time that we have the pressure of being new employees at the bottom of our respective ladders. Our son has a better shot at making intelligent decisions about his own education, career and family because he is informed about the pros and cons, and the consequences, of the timing of our choices.

Do we regret having our kids? No way. Might our home-life have less stress if we'd timed our pregnancies or our career changes differently? Perhaps. I tend to think that kids have an opportunity to really learn from the choices of their parents if their parents are honest about the unintended consequences of various life decisions.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 12:29 PM

"What we don't tell them are the reasons they loose a father at the time of divorce. why their chances of doing well in school just dropped by 35% over children with a father, why their chances of becoming a juvenile delinquent just went up by 50%, why girls are three times as likely to become pregnant, why their chances of becoming addicted to drugs or suffer from mental illness just went up 65%. Those are the things we don't tell our children. "

Completely wrong. These figures are from population based studies. You cannot ever apply the results from a population based study to an individual.

Also most of these studies do not control for the factors that led to the divorce which is probably what really caused the problem. For example, a drug using parent leads to the other parent divorcing him/her. When the kid becomes a teenager he/she starts using drugs. This is probably based on behavioral/genetic traits from parent not the divorce.

Posted by: dai | January 12, 2007 12:35 PM

"I have another perspective, which is that the occasional and more serious conversations we've had with our son (in response to his comments or questions) have focused on the results of his dad's and my life choices. "

That's a different type of discussion - and can be very positive.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 12:35 PM

Here is Senator Boxer's entire comment, she is only saying that neither she nor Ms. Rice will have children or grandchildren put in harms way anf therefore will not pay a personal price, only the American Military and their families will pay the price of a troop Surge, aumentation whatever.

"Now, the issue is who pays the price, who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, within immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families, and I just want to bring us back to that fact."

Posted by: TO: http://www.nypost.com/seven/01122007/postopinion/editorials/boxers_low_blow_editorials_.htm?page | January 12, 2007 12:36 PM

I grew up hearing from my mother about how difficult mothering was, what kind of sacrifices she made, how little she was appreciated. Both my sister and I wondered whether she regretted having us. This was not helpful to know growing up. We never doubted she loved us, but when it came time to consider having children of my own, I approached it thinking it would be an arduous task with few rewards. I even considered not having children. How wrong I was. I have a toddler now. Admittedly it's not always paradise, and it's certainly not easy (it's harder than I imagined!) but it's profoundly rewarding and makes me happy in a way I never experienced before.

Bottom line: I wish my mother had kept her opinions on motherhood to herself. It's confusing to kids, who don't have the perspective of many decades to understand the complexities of being a parent. Kids think black and white and hearing that mom has mixed feelings about being a mother is profoundly troubling.

Posted by: chicagomom | January 12, 2007 12:40 PM

I grew up hearing from my mother about how difficult mothering was, what kind of sacrifices she made, how little she was appreciated. Both my sister and I wondered whether she regretted having us. This was not helpful to know growing up. We never doubted she loved us, but when it came time to consider having children of my own, I approached it thinking it would be an arduous task with few rewards. I even considered not having children. How wrong I was. I have a toddler now. Admittedly it's not always paradise, and it's certainly not easy (it's harder than I imagined!) but it's profoundly rewarding and makes me happy in a way I never experienced before.

Bottom line: I wish my mother had kept her opinions on motherhood to herself. It's confusing to kids, who don't have the perspective of many decades to understand the complexities of being a parent. Kids think black and white and hearing that mom has mixed feelings about being a mother is profoundly troubling.

Posted by: chicagomom | January 12, 2007 12:41 PM

"Harking back to yesterday's discussion of parents vs. non-parents, you gotta take a look at this example of nastiness to a childless woman:

http://www.nypost.com/seven/01122007/postopinion/editorials/boxers_low_blow_editorials_.htm?page=0"


??!! Whoever wrote that editorial has his/her head up his/her a$$. You could only interpret Sen. Boxer's comment to Dr. Rice as an insult if the writer had left off the first part of Sen. Boxer's question. And how in the world did they get all the way from "you won't be paying the price" to "you're not worthy to serve the country because you're childless"?

sheesh!

I just HAD to leave lurkville to answer that one.

Posted by: Lurkville | January 12, 2007 12:41 PM

In response to Columbia, MDs post about the child reliving 9/11 for weeks, I think the same can be said about the poor boy who hung himself, allegedly as a direct result of repeated exposure to the Saddam Hussein hanging videos.

What content should or shouldn't be shown on the public airwaves is one issue, but another (and I think one that relates to today's topic) is what information and media we choose to give our children access to and at what age. If we can't tell them that, "...sometimes mommy wishes that she had had a dance career instead of getting married and raising children..." then perhaps the nightly news should never be playing at home, nor the radio on during children's waking hours, and no TV whatsoever to avoid the constant stream of consumer glut that preys on their young minds, (and ours.)

Personally, I never have let my children watch any actual television, only DVDs after age four, in very limited doses, and after which I fast-forwarded through any commercials.

And as for news, hell, if I find it tough to integrate everything from a war-torn Mideast to birdflu, and every social issue under American skies, I sure as hell don't want to leave my kids sleepless and anxiety prone over the same. Yes, exposure happens anyway, but fortunately I've chosen a school where most other parents share those values and the influences are more limited than in other circumstances. I understand that not all people share that luxury, nor even agree with the values I articulated. But I think we would do well to examine as a culture, and in pockets like this blog, just what impact every facet of media--from ads to TV editing pace, to news and infotainment to movie content to video game values--has on our young children's minds and hearts and what it might mean for our society in the long term.

Posted by: Dignity for Single Parents | January 12, 2007 12:43 PM

"Completely wrong. These figures are from population based studies. You cannot ever apply the results from a population based study to an individual."

This is technically correct. But remember - we use population based studies to determine that seatbelt usage increases the odds that we'll survive a crash, smoking cigarettes increases our chances of lung cancer, high cholesterol increases our odds of heart disease, obesity increases our chances of diabetes, etc.

And many, many people say "yeah, but I know this guy who smoked three packs a day and lived to be 90."

It is important to study population sub-groups, and to try and understand the causal factors behind the correlations we find.

But in most cases, we're just kidding ourselves when we think that our particular situation is special.

Many of the most important public health advances of the last 100 years have been spurred and guided by population-based studies. They are a valid and powerful research tool.

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 12:45 PM

First off I feel that "mixed blessings" in an oxymoron. Sure, children can be VERY difficult at times, but they are still a BLESSING from God. Mixed Blessing? No sacrifice, regardless of size diminishes the blessing of having and raising a child. As far as what to tell your children, the truth (provided they were old enough to understand) has always worked, no matter the subject. BTW I am a father of two boys (14 and 18) and have been married for 24 years.

Thanks.

Posted by: Phillip Bess | January 12, 2007 12:46 PM

"You're out of your mind if you think a 10-year old can process "I wish I wasn't a mom, but it's not you - it's me" without taking serious emotional harm!"

Actually, Demos, I am mentally competent and would encourage you to be able to disagree with other adults in a somewhat more civil manner.

As an example, and since the comment to which you responded was not as limited as your response, we were going through some financial stress several months ago because we were carrying two mortgages and had some, to us, significant medical bills. We knew that our son was aware of the financial stress. We did not realize, until he was almost in tears one night and we were trying to elicit the reason, that he thought it was the cost of his participation in a soccer club that was causing the financial stress. Once we knew what he'd been thinking, we were able to provide more information so he understood he was NOT to blame. If you don't think kids are internalizing what's going on in the family and thinking it's all their fault, I don't question your mental stability, but I encourage you to reconsider your assumptions. It's all about what's best for the kids, right? Not about what's most comfortable or easiest for the adults. Denial and silence are easy. Thoughtful explanation at an age-appropriate level about your own actions is far more difficult.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 12:47 PM

My apologies now if this is slightly off topic, but it does relate on a more personal scale of honesty to children, vs outside events in the world.

My mom robbed me of all my confidence in myself. Growing up, I would dream of doing something like becoming a pro at soccer, and she would tell me "You'll never go pro, you're too short" or you're too this or that. And while I did have a realistic chance of being able to had I the nerve to walk that path, I told myself that I couldn't and chose to go to work instead of work my butt off to go to a major school to play. She also gave me WAY too much information about her problems with dad, Starting when I was in high school and already struggling with how to deal with liking boys and the other typical issues (I might have been able to deal with it better now that I am on my own and not living with her/them).

She didn't get to go to college when she was my age because she had a kid, and dad was never supportive enough of her(Supposedly) and all of these other problems. There was so much blame directed towards my dad from her about why she couldn't do this or that when we were little, that it made me feel guilty for having been a problem or a hindrance towards her personal dreams. Sure maybe dad didn't help her enough, but what if my brother and I just never existed? Then she could have done everything she wanted and not have to worry about taking it out on the unwanted kids who held her back from living a fulfilled life.

Even now when I tell her I want to do this or that (Paint well, or do interior design) it is met with criticism and negativity. She wears her disappointment on her sleeve and does not hide it from anyone. How am I supposed to feel? My brother handles it much better than I do, but he has always been very aloof emotionally (more internal). I'm much more sensitive to how people act and treat each other, even if I don't know them, and my mom just doesn't know when she needs to be a mother, not just a 'friend' to confide in about how awful dad treated her.

Personally, when I have children I want to make sure they know everyday that they are loved and wanted, even if not planned for that exact moment to have happened. I want children, and when it happens, is when it should happen. I don't need to pencil it into my calendar, I just don't want to wait until I am too old to share in their lives as fully as possible.

Posted by: Amber (Lurker) =) | January 12, 2007 12:51 PM

Anyone who knows more than, well NOTHING about Senator Boxer knows she's scrappy enough to have asked that question of a childless man OR woman, or another man OR woman who doesn't have immediate family members in military age (which, by the way is now 18-42). Has nothing to do with Rice's gender.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 12:51 PM

to anon at 12:51, sorry, I'm a registered Democrat and I think Boxer was over the line on this one. If an old, white, married Republican with a SAH spouse had suggested to an accomplished, educated, single, childless Democratic woman that she wasn't an appropriate person to be in a policy role because she had failed to reproduce, we'd all -- everyone but pATRICK, that is -- be commenting on the insensitivity of this comment. The comment is not about Rice's gender. It suggests that her childless status leaves her unqualified to establish US policy. I think she's wrong on the policy she supports, as well, but not because she's childless.

and, btw, I heard this on NPR this morning with a bit more complex discussion than the NY Post provides.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 1:04 PM

As a child who was completely unplanned, an accident, and I know a serious strain on my parents livelihood, I'm very glad I know about all this.

People tend to go to extremes- making a person aware as they grow up that raising children isn't all roses and fabulousness is the right thing to do. To paint an unrealistic picture is to do a disservice to anyone and not help them be prepared for making their own informed choices.

This doesn't mean you tell them every day at dinner from age 5 that they need to remember the pressure they put on mom and dad and how they weren't planned for. It means you grow with them and keep them aware of reality.

Posted by: Liz D | January 12, 2007 1:09 PM

If we can warn our teenagers about the dangers of pregnancy, we can also tell them about the joys and sorrows of having a family. I think you should tell your kids the truth, whatever you think that is. I would only tell them if they ask and answer when they can handle it - there's no love in introducing them to the sorrows of your world, however much it makes you feel better.

Posted by: Tomcat | January 12, 2007 1:12 PM

Gosh, that is awful. Rather than damaging them by saying you resent them and regret having them which could damage them, tell them a lie! Tell them they came from another planet or dimension or something. Better yet, give them up to people who would not resent them or regret them. I am sure there are plenty of people who would love to have children and would not feel so cold.

Posted by: Chris | January 12, 2007 1:18 PM

I for one think that "honesty" about emotional issues is extremely overrated. To what end would you share that information with your kids? What are you trying to PRODUCTIVELY accomplish by telling them that?

My baby was completely unplanned and did not come at what-was-then the best of times. (Of course, I am completely over the moon to be having a baby and would not give her back for all the tea in China!!!!) Will she ever know the circumstances of her conception? Not a chance. There would be absolutely no reason to share it. If I ever needed to be "honest" or "talk" about the whole history, well, that is what best friends and church confessionals are for. The words I say and the actions I perform will impact my child more than I will ever be able to appreciate ... there is no way I would risk hurting her over something so unnecessarily petty.

Posted by: StudentMom2Be | January 12, 2007 1:26 PM

I'm sorry - I agree with the other's I think that Senator Boxer is chiding Rice for backing a policy that is going to put thousands of Americans (none of which she is related to) in harm. Its the same thing that the Democrat from NY (not Clinton) has been saying for years -- that if we're going to have a military action, we need to have a DRAFT - because only then would everyone have an equal chance of having their children be in harm's way - and only then would you be sure they were voting with that in mind.

I can support the war all I want (I don't!) - but if I do - well I don't have kids, so it'll be your children dying for my wishes. A harsh reality perhaps, but reality none the less.

Does than mean Condi isn't qualified to speak on this policy - No, it means that before she does speak on this policy she needs to carefully consider that she is putting other people's sons and daughters in harms way.

Maybe she's already done that - maybe she hasn't, but its a valid point to raise.

Posted by: Michigan | January 12, 2007 1:33 PM

"She obviously hates this man, but it will make them feel awful if there's any hint of "not wanting to be a dad"- it's a slight variation and not entirely true (he's just a selfish lout)- but htey don't need to k now that."

To anon @ 9:40am: I completely agree. My mom never spoke a negative word about my walkaway dad when I was growing up. (And believe me, I formed my OWN bad opinions about him by the time I hit puberty!!) When I recently asked her why she had kept mum, she told me that she believed children identify with their parents, and if she had told me that he was a complete S.o.B (my words, not hers) then I would feel like I was maybe a rotten apple by association. So I believe your friend is doing her child a wonderful service, having been there before myself! :)

Posted by: StudentMom2Be | January 12, 2007 1:33 PM

I try to tell my sons every day how lucky I am to be their mom. I tell them I love them so much and that the world is a better place because they are in it. Now that they are 9 and 12, they actually tell me something nice back sometimes. I sometimes tell them the story of how my husband and I decided to have them, and they seem to enjoy it. I don't ever regret having them. I do tell them I am tired occasionally and need a break. And, then they understand and are supportive.

Posted by: Silver Spring | January 12, 2007 1:42 PM

Today's blog made me laugh a bit at the memory of my father who once told me he hadn't wanted any children (he and my mother had FIVE of us).

It was when I was already an adult and it wasn't said in a context that was hurtful.

I actually thought it was humorous.

A little more sad is that my mother once told me her dream was to have three children (and I'm the fourth). It came up in conversatin when I asked her how she had pictured her life as a younger woman.

I think five was too much for her frankly, although she did a great job, along with my father, of providing a stable, comfortable home life.

In fact, I wish she would have expressed her loneliness and frustration more explicitly sometimes, or any feelings for that matter, because I've spent much of my adult life figuring out that her benign neglect wasn't anything personal. I think she was overwhelmed and although she took care of us, she also made sure to remain a little bit aloof.

Posted by: Kate | January 12, 2007 1:44 PM

Never telling children about circumstances that directly affect how their life plays out only works up to a point. It might seem harmless to tell a small child that sure, their absent father loves them, but what do you tell the teenager who *knows* better? Kids aren't stupid. They know that if their father really loved them, he wouldn't go years without calling or be $11k behind in child support, leaving her and her mother to struggle. At that point, the lies are just as or more damaging as the truth.

It might not be necessary give all the gory details of why Dad isn't in the picture, but you probably should start considering the truth in manageable doses. continuing to lie about it makes you the bad guy. "If Dad loves me, why won't you let me see him?" At that point, you've already screwed yourself. If he loved her, he'd want to see her, therefore something is an impediment. You can't say he doesn't want to at that point. That leaves mom.

The same logic applies to a lot of situations. There are ways to explain in age-appropriate terms nearly every situation. The small child's "why do people blow up buildings and kill people?" Because some people are bad. You can save the geo-political angst for an older age.

"Why do people do drugs if it is bad for them?" Because they feel bad and think that this will make them feel better. They don't know that it won't.

It isn't always easy, but it is a lot better than raising a child by lying to them or hiding the real world from them. You just adjust the response to the age, maturity and comprehension level of your child.

Better children learn little by little how to handle adversity and tragedy from their parents than be kicked in the face by it as adults.

Posted by: Single and denied | January 12, 2007 1:46 PM

I'm wondering how people feel about telling adopted kids about their birth and adoption. Never tell them? Lie to them, them tell them as teens? Tell them right away?

Posted by: Meesh | January 12, 2007 1:53 PM

"They know that if their father really loved them, he wouldn't go years without calling or be $11k behind in child support, leaving her and her mother to struggle."

Reality is a lot more complex. A lot of people are incredibly flawed. It's very possible for a man to love his children but to be unable to overcome the character flaws that have led him to treat them that way. My husband sees parents who have more or less abdicated from raising their kids; even when he's at his most frustrated with them, it never occurs to him that they don't love their kids. I myself don't have too much patience for that kind of behavior, but I wouldn't use it as a barometer of whether or not a dad or a mom loves their kids.

Most people, even deadbeat dads, love their children as much and as best as they're able. Those capabilities vary from person to person.

Posted by: Lizzie | January 12, 2007 1:57 PM

Personally, I don't think that is appropriate to ever tell your kids when they are children. Perhaps when both you and your child are adults (chronologically as well as mentally and emotionally), the examining of those moments of regret, insecurity, etc. of your decision to become a parent will be permissable as well as possibly helpful by showing your child (who now might have kids of their own) that experiencing such moments does not make them a bad parent. However, telling your child "Sometimes I wish I'd never had you," or "I wish I had not become a parent" is not right. Some children can take and accept such a statement and not suffer lasting damage, some children cannot and this incident will affect them permanently, but either way I believe than at least for a moment or two that child will undergo an instant of doubt in your love. They may immediately write off the impulse as foolish because they know you love them, but it occurs just the same because that is the natural reaction. Those moments may also linger in a child's memory longer than you realize. I am in my early twenties, and I recall such instances in vivid detail that occured over ten years ago. Do I doubt my mother's love? No, and I probably never would. Did her words hurt me, even for a moment? Absolutely, because the natural reaction is "Mommy doesn't love me, I've done something wrong" when in reality even if you regret having kids every day of your life it is not the child's fault, but your own for making what was apparently a wrong decision. Just my opinion, take it or leave it.

Posted by: 215 | January 12, 2007 1:58 PM

"Actually, Demos, I am mentally competent and would encourage you to be able to disagree with other adults in a somewhat more civil manner. "

I apologize if you feel insulted - though I will suggest that "you're out of your mind" is not typically understood to be a psychiatric diagnosis.

However, to the point. It's great that your comment was broader and less limited than the original topic of discussion. But you did not exclude the primary issue under discussion - telling children about your "regrets" - which was what I very specifically addressed my response to.

I think that's fair. There are all sorts of family stesses and issues that can constructively be discussed with kids. The fact that you can discuss those does not, however, does not mean that it's o.k. to tell kids that you have regrets about them.

Bottom line - if you want to say "there are OTHER things that you can . . . ," then I have no disagreement with you.

If you want to make general statements that would sweep in Leslie's "regrets," then sorry, I still think that you're "out of your mind."

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 2:03 PM

"Most people, even deadbeat dads, love their children as much and as best as they're able. Those capabilities vary from person to person."

Yes, but is it enough for the child, and what ever happened to actions speaking louder than words? You do what is important to you.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 2:04 PM

"Most people, even deadbeat dads, love their children as much and as best as they're able. Those capabilities vary from person to person."

Yes, but is it enough for the child, and what ever happened to actions speaking louder than words? You do what is important to you.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 2:04 PM

Good question about adoption, Meesh. Here's another one: my neighbor's two children are adopted. Each child was given up by a family that included married mom and dad, plus other kids. So these two children have siblings (3 in one case, 4 in the other) out there.

How would you handle that? They do know they're adopted, and the older one (10) has started asking questions about her birth parents.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 12, 2007 2:08 PM

"but is it enough for the child,"

Sometimes it's not. My husband's relationship with his father is a frequent source of pain for him, but not because he doubts that his father loves him. On the contrary, that pain exists because he is so aware that his father, in spite of his love for his children, is unable to overcome inertia, habit, and a whole bunch of other stuff in order to demonstrate his love for his kids.

I never said that this kind of love would be enough. I was only taking issue with "Dad doesn't send the support check, so he doesn't love you."

Posted by: Lizzie | January 12, 2007 2:11 PM

Its the same thing that the Democrat from NY (not Clinton) has been saying for years -- that if we're going to have a military action, we need to have a DRAFT

Yea, that other Democrat from NY was so convinced of his own argument that he voted AGAINST his own draft bill when it was voted on the year before last.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 2:11 PM

"whatever happened to actions speaking louder than words? You do what is important to you."

Doesn't that same standard apply to parents who may voice regret(s) about being a parent but who are there, taking the brunt of their child's adolescent angery, count?

After all, is there anyone here who didn't hear this from a parent at least once, "I hope you have a child JUST LIKE YOU!" and wonder what in the hell their parent was so upset about?


Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 2:12 PM

"They know that if their father really loved them, he wouldn't go years without calling or be $11k behind in child support, leaving her and her mother to struggle. At that point, the lies are just as or more damaging as the truth."

No one has suggested lying to children. But our society has elevated openess and self-expression to the point that we have lost the arts of tact and discretion.

It is inappropriate to lie to children or deny things that they can see. But not everything needs to be said - children don't see everything. And many times its appropriate to simply say "I don't know" rather than speculate. "Why doesn't daddy want to live with us any more?" "I don't know; I wish he did."

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 2:13 PM

Not only is it sad to have kids and regret them, it is even sadder to relay this to them. For shame.

Posted by: Silver Spring | January 12, 2007 2:18 PM

And many times its appropriate to simply say "I don't know" rather than speculate. "Why doesn't daddy want to live with us any more?" "I don't know; I wish he did."

Or perhaps just leave it as, "I don't know."

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 2:19 PM

"Doesn't that same standard apply to parents who may voice regret(s) about being a parent but who are there, taking the brunt of their child's adolescent angery, count?"

Just remember that there are some words that, once spoken, can never be taken back. "I want a divorce" is one - you may make up, but your spouse will never forget what you said. Kids are the same way - things we say now will be remembered for the rest of their lives.

"I hope you have a child JUST LIKE YOU!" is, of course, almost completely harmless - most kids have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 2:20 PM

"Why doesn't daddy want to live with us any more?" "I don't know; I wish he did."

Or, "I don't know."

Not everyone wishes that the wayward co-author (either gender) is in the picture.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 2:22 PM

Just heard a great song that I think really speaks to this issue - "I've never been to me". (tongue firmly in cheek) Thought some levity might help.

Posted by: moxiemom | January 12, 2007 2:24 PM

I have a question. What do parents think about PSAs about drugs, sex, smoking, etc? Does anyone find this insulting that they essentially need to be "reminded" do discuss this stuff with their kids?

Are we as a society SO completely self-asborbed, that we need commercials and advertisements to get us thinking about issues like that?

Thoughts?

Posted by: curious | January 12, 2007 2:24 PM

"I hope you have a child JUST LIKE YOU!"

My parents used to say that, and I did... now I understand. It is tough to raise a strong-willed child, but she also has really great traits as well.

I understand the cash support thing - but couldn't the association be made if "dad does not visit or call you, he does not care?"

Posted by: single mom | January 12, 2007 2:24 PM

"Or perhaps just leave it as, 'I don't know.'"

That works to. We just need to think carefully about the effect of our words, to ensure that everything we say to our kids helps them rather than hurts them.

We won't always get it right, but that should be our goal, shouldn't it?

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 2:25 PM

Re the "stats" on the effects of losing a father for children - they are extremely misleading. Studies have shown that of all the ways children can "lose" their father (divorce, prison, death), children whose fathers die fare the best (for things like finishing school, becoming pregnant as teens etc). In fact children who lose a father that way are almost indistinguishable from children in intact families (only slightly worse). And those are the only children who are truly fatherless! Which means - most of the ill effects on children from "fatherlessness" are really due to the adverse effects that accompany the loss of their father. Like: distress in the family that lead to the divorce (and conflict afterward); drug abuse that lead to incarceration of their father; etc. In other words, those bad outcomes are ASSOCIATED with loss of a father but they are not CAUSED by it. Sure it is good to have a father in the home but the idea that his presence or absence is the determining factor in dropout rates and teenage pregnancies etc is just flat WRONG.

Posted by: Catherine | January 12, 2007 2:26 PM

Hmmm...no, I don't find it insulting about the PSAs. I think it would be funny to read a longitudinal study to see if they have any effect, but I'm pretty aware that a lot of parents NEED encouragement to talk to their kids about that stuff (if they feel so inclined). I think Nancy Reagan was way more effective than the "talk to your kids ads." She continues to scare me in my late 20s......

Posted by: SMF | January 12, 2007 2:26 PM

I don't have time to read all of todays comments but I think it is very healthy to tell kids there are pros and cons to choosing to parent or not parent. I would not go into long tirades about regret. Because for most people they may have wished some things that non parents have or did but overall the choice to parent was a positive one. And you need to phrase it just like that. You ( the child) was and will always be a blessing. A very undeserved gift. But there were things that parent must give up at times in order to put their children's welfare first, such as high powered career, travel, etc... And that may get frustrating at times but overall, I have thanked God or whoever for your existence. Parenting is a privilege and I am so very honored to be your parent. I don't know why you would always tell a child everything is great, there are no regrets in life, life is one happy party. How would you prepare them to deal with their own disappointments or choices in life. I think kids can sense when a parent has above normal regrets or unhappiness. This being said, you need to phrase it to a child when they are ready to hear the message. Telling a three year old that you gave up your high powered career to be a parent has no meaning and nothing positive can come from that discussion. Like all things, we have to somehow tell kids and adult children the truth at some point. Even the most painful things will need to be addressed at some point. Like one day, we will have to tell our younger daughter that she is adopted. In the beginning, you phrase it very simply and all positively. You were born in another women's tummy but she could not take care of you. So we adopted you and made you a member of our family because we so desperately wanted another little girl and you were perfect. And God creates families in many ways. Our way was through adoption. When my daughter gets older, she will obviously ask why her biological parents did not want her or could not take care of her. Then we would discuss how sometimes people don't have the money or are not old enough to take care of a baby on their own. When she is a young adult, I am sure she will ask did my birth parents want me. And that point, we would need to be honest and say we don't have any information about your birth parents desires to parent but we know that your birth mother made the very best choice to have you adopted by a family that will love you, care for you, and make you their own. And when our dd is an adult, I am sure we will discuss at nauseum, parents that simply do not want their children for a myriad of reasons. At that point, our hope is our relationship with our younger daughter would be so strong that even if she thought or knew her biological parents did not want her, that she would know that she was one of the most wanted children on earth, by us-her family. See everything phrased or presented in such a way and at a certain time that the child can understand, accept, and learn from. I don't know why you would ever tell a middle school or older child that having kids is one big party. Seems irresponsible to me.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 12, 2007 2:27 PM

Just remember that there are some words that, once spoken, can never be taken back.

Cuts both ways.

I enjoyed making my mother cry. She isn't a mean person, it simply amused me.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 2:29 PM

Interesting comments from Boxer to Rice. Using Boxer's guidelines, I am the one who should be setting policy in Iraq.

I have alot more to say on this but will (might) only do so if someone requests.

Posted by: Fred | January 12, 2007 2:30 PM

"Are we as a society SO completely self-asborbed, that we need commercials and advertisements to get us thinking about issues like that?"

Yes. You'd be surprised how many parents are disengaged.

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 2:31 PM

"Cuts both ways. I enjoyed making my mother cry. She isn't a mean person, it simply amused me."

That's absolutely right - our kids sometimes say some absolutely horrible things to us. But remember, we're the adults - it's natural for children to be hateful at times, and it's our responsibility to help them learn to outgrow it. We have a responsibility to not harm them in turn (speak bluntly on ocassion, yes - harm, no).

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 2:37 PM

"Using Boxer's guidelines, I am the one who should be setting policy in Iraq. "

Guess that totally discredits that set of guidelines, then!

;-)

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 2:39 PM

"Studies have shown that of all the ways children can "lose" their father (divorce, prison, death), children whose fathers die fare the best (for things like finishing school, becoming pregnant as teens etc). In fact children who lose a father that way are almost indistinguishable from children in intact families (only slightly worse)."

And this suggests that divorce is o.k. for kids? That they would be better off absorbing the trauma associated with a divorce than they would be if their parents stuck together?

I'd say you have this one completely backwards - it suggests that, absent serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse, kids would be better of if their parents sucked it up and worked things out together.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 2:43 PM

This is a little off topic.

I am late to the discussion today, but I recently found out that my 15 year old niece is pregnant and wants to keep the baby. I am really devastated that she is going to have to be a mom at 16 and that the baby is going to be raised by a 16 year old.

Has anyone else had to deal with a teen pregnancy? Either yourself or one of your kids! How do you cope! I feel that all the plans we have made for her are just down the drain.

Posted by: scarry | January 12, 2007 2:54 PM

Fred - at this point, it would be nice if ANYONE could set a policy for Iraq. :-)

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 2:54 PM

Has anyone else had to deal with a teen pregnancy? Either yourself or one of your kids! How do you cope! I feel that all the plans we have made for her are just down the drain.

Set up a 529 plan for the baby.

I don't suppose the father-to-be is in the picture? Is he even her age, or is he older? Why isn't HIS life going to be a blasted wasteland, as hers is more likely to become?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 3:00 PM

Scarry, I don't want to go off-topic, but so far I am the only one I remember on this blog saying that they are/were a teenage mother - as such, I have a LOT to say, but considering the forum, I'd just like to keep it to - do NOT give up hope and do NOT assume your plans for her are down the drain!!! For me, after the whole world found out about my pregnancy, the most amazing thing was how many people did NOT treat it as a crisis - my community continued to assume (or act convincingly that they still assumed) that I would follow the course laid out before I became pregnant - that support meant the world to me, and I believe explains a lot of my success.

Posted by: TakomaMom | January 12, 2007 3:01 PM

Are You Ready for Children?

Mess Test: Smear peanut butter on the sofa and curtains. Now rub your hands in the wet flowerbed and rub on the walls. Cover the stains with crayons. Place a fish stick behind the couch and leave it there all summer.

Toy Test: Obtain a 55-gallon box of Lego's. (If Lego's are not available, you may substitute roofing tacks or broken bottles.) Have a friend spread them all over the house. Put on a blindfold. Try to walk to the bathroom or kitchen. Do not scream. (This could wake a child at night.)

Grocery Store Test: Borrow one or two small animals (goats are best) and take them with you as you shop at the grocery store. Always keep them in sight and pay for anything they eat or damage.

Dressing Test: Obtain one large, unhappy, live octopus. Stuff into a small net bag making sure that all arms stay inside.

Feeding Test: Obtain a large plastic milk jug. Fill halfway with water. Suspend from the ceiling with a stout cord. Start the jug swinging. Try to insert spoonfuls of soggy cereal (such as Fruit Loops or Cheerios) into the mouth of the jug, while pretending to be an airplane. Now dump the contents of the jug on the floor.

Night Test: Prepare by obtaining a small cloth bag and fill it with 8 - 12 pounds of sand. Soak it thoroughly in water. At 8:00 PM begin to waltz and hum with the bag until 9:00 PM. Lay down your bag and set your alarm for 10:00 PM. Get up, pick up your bag, and sing every song you have ever heard. Make up about a dozen more and sing these too until 4:00 AM. Set alarm for 5:00 AM. Get up and make breakfast. Keep this up for 5 years. Look cheerful.

Physical Test (Women): Obtain a large beanbag chair and attach it to the front of your clothes. Leave it there for 9 months. Now remove 10 of the beans.

Physical Test (Men): Go to the nearest drug store. Set your wallet on the counter. Ask the clerk to help himself. Now proceed to the nearest food store. Go to the head office and arrange for your paycheck to be directly deposited to the store. Purchase a newspaper. Go home and read it quietly for the last time.

Final Assignment: Find a couple who already has a small child. Lecture them on how they can improve their discipline, patience, tolerance, toilet training, and child's table manners. Suggest many ways they can improve. Emphasize to them that they should never allow their children to run riot. Enjoy this experience. It will be the last time you will have all the answers.

Posted by: A Lighter Note | January 12, 2007 3:01 PM

My mother was young when she married and had me (at 19) - as for being a teenage mother she can still suceed in life, but will just need more support for her and the child from her family - and graduating from HS/College may just take longer (if that indeed is her goal). My parents say that they enjoyed growing up with us, and were perhaps more willing to try new things because they did not know better. Right now your niece needs support, not words of dismay about her future and what everyone had in mind for her.

Posted by: single mom | January 12, 2007 3:02 PM

Scarry,

Fredia sees young women like this every day. it can be depressing. I see many of the girls that my girls went to school with, that I coached softball for, with young kids.

My baby brother was in the same boat but he was 17. Both of his kids are really great young adults now.

It is not the end of the world. Please support her in anyway that you can. Accept the mother to be and child with all of your heart. But, do not let her shirk her parental responsbility by taking over for her.

Posted by: Fred | January 12, 2007 3:02 PM

No, I am not saying it is fine for kids if their parents divorce. Not at all. The best thing is for children to be in a functioning, low-conflict, loving household. It means that what is best for children, if that is still possible, is for the defects in the family structure to be fixed. Which is not the same as one partner "sucking it up" and enduring bad behavior or a loveless relationship.

The other thing is that such arguments about fatherlessness and its effects are usually touted by the likes of mcewen to argue that after a divorce, the "fix" is for children to spend more time with their fathers either through joint custody or father custody. But doing those things do nothing to fix the underlying problems that are making trouble for the children, and may in fact make them worse by raising the level of conflict or exposing them to more instability.

Posted by: Catherine | January 12, 2007 3:07 PM

"I feel that all the plans we have made for her are just down the drain."

Yes, because she had no plans of her own, obviously.

It's not a death sentence, it's a baby. Granted, at 15, she's not going to be able to handle that on her own. It'll cause her to grow up faster than she should have. But, that's the consequence from having sex at 15.

Guess those PSAs someone mentioned earlier did nothing for parents and child alike in this case!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 3:08 PM

"couldn't the association be made if "dad does not visit or call you, he does not care?"

Sometimes it can, but not always. Maybe Dad lives far away (my MIL moved the kids from the Midwest to New England and when they asked why they didn't see their dad every week, she said that he must not care). Maybe Dad thinks - mistakenly - that it would upset the child more for her routine to be disrupted. Maybe Dad thinks that kids belong with their mother and seeing him will only confuse the matter. Maybe Dad is a workaholic who didn't spend much time with the kids before the divorce and finds it easier not to spend time with the kids now that they're with Mom full-time. Maybe Dad knows he's not exactly Walt Cleaver and believes - mistakenly - that his kids are better off with no contact.

People go along with imperfect situations all the time in all aspects of their lives because going along with imperfection, however profound, is frequently easier than ensuring change that may be shorter-term but can also be deeply traumatic. It's not ideal, and it certainly does indicate that the love in question is also probably imperfect, but imperfection doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Posted by: Lizzie | January 12, 2007 3:09 PM

Scarry,

I had a cousin who did the same thing. Beyond that, the child was interracial, in a small town a bit south of Atlanta - not the best place for it.

No one was happy - this was a truly, truly foolish choice - but the entire family has supported her, and it's turned out better than any of us could have expected. This was about 8 years ago. The father was young too, of course, but he tried to help as best he could. About 4 years ago she married him, and they now have a second child.

It can really, really throw a monkey-wrench into a girl's life, but with enough support (and all the good sense she forgot to use when she got into it), she can still build a good life for herself and her child.

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 3:12 PM

If I were the aunt, I would probably just offer my undying support and assure her that she is still very loved. I bet she's getting an earful in terms of advice from her parents (assuming they are in the picture).

Posted by: Meesh | January 12, 2007 3:13 PM

"Guess those PSAs someone mentioned earlier did nothing for parents and child alike in this case!"

Or it could be the million and millions of dollars that the Bush administration is spending on abstinance campaigns totally ignoring condoms, birth control, and delayed sexual onset... there is also a reduction in teaching sex education in school and the facts/results of sex. It happens, it is best to give kids the tools on how to prevent pregnancy and disease rather than denying that they do it.

Even people that are totally education about all of these things have accidental pregnancies (including married people that are much older than 15).


Posted by: single mom | January 12, 2007 3:14 PM

Well, I would like to just adopt the baby, but she says she wants to keep it and try to make it work. The father is a 19 year old senior, who two months ago flung a desk at my niece in study hall. (yeah, he must really have a death wish) Anyway, while I am not thrilled with the thought of being a great aunt at 32, I will of course support her like I support all of them. I was really just hoping that she wouldn't have to struggle like the rest of us.

My brother always made sure he watched her and made sure she wasn't with the 19 year old, when he and my sister in law broke up a few months ago, my niece went wild. So, even if it is a little off topic, it is still kind of on topic with what we have been talking about the last few days about kids and role models. Thanks for your advice everyone.

Posted by: scarry | January 12, 2007 3:16 PM

Lizzie - I get your point, and it is logical. I guess we are lucky in that I receive child support, have a great kid, and one day he may get around to spending time with her. He does live far away and has a family. Perhaps he does love her in his own twisted way. One can never really get into the head of another so it is hard to determine intentions

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 3:19 PM

Lizzie - I get your point, and it is logical. I guess we are lucky in that I receive child support, have a great kid, and one day he may get around to spending time with her. He does live far away and has a family. Perhaps he does love her in his own twisted way. One can never really get into the head of another so it is hard to determine intentions

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 3:20 PM

Whoa! 15 and 19? Statutory rape!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 3:21 PM

"It means that what is best for children, if that is still possible, is for the defects in the family structure to be fixed. Which is not the same as one partner "sucking it up" and enduring bad behavior or a loveless relationship. "

Granted - fixing defects in our families is very important. My real pet peeve here is that no family is "defect free" - certainly not mine (of course, the primary "defect" is me).

Seriously, it's never going to be perfect. Does that mean that it's all the responsibility of one person, or that we should be satisfied with a loveless relationship? Of course not.

But too many people seem to suffer from a "greener pasture" sydrome, or simply don't put the time and effort into their marriages.

A friend down the street told his wife, about six weeks ago, that he doesn't love her any more and that he wants a divorce - he just doesn't want to be married to her any more. They have three kids - one just out of collge, one in college, and one in high school. There is no other woman, there's no substance abuse or gambling, no abuse - just a slow growing apart. This is not an uncommon story.

The oldest child's reaction? "Mom, does Dad know how selfish he's being?" (Understand, this child is engaged to be married this spring.)

Should he suck it up? Heck, yes! He should have made an effort to re-connect when he first started feeling distant from his wife. Could he turn it around? Absolutely! She wants him to stay, the kids want him to stay, and there's no fundamental flaw in the family - other than his desire to leave.

Should he endure a "loveless" relationship. No - he needs to dig in and make that marriage work.

Will the kids be better off if he does in fact leave (as it looks like he will)? I don't see any way they can be.

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 3:24 PM

It's not a death sentence, it's a baby. Granted, at 15, she's not going to be able to handle that on her own. It'll cause her to grow up faster than she should have. But, that's the consequence from having sex at 15.

Duh, no one said it was, but it is going to make things harder on her. As far as having plans for herself, let me tell you all the kids where I come from would love to have someone help them with a plan.

Hers included going to college. As far as having sex goes, we didn't know she was and honestly, there are probably a lot of parents who don't know that their teens are. If someone in my family did know, she would have been on the pill and would have been given condoms.

Posted by: scarry | January 12, 2007 3:25 PM

Whoa! 15 and 19? Statutory rape!

Yes, her mother is looking into that, but I am not exactly sure that that is either fair or the right thing to do.

Posted by: scarry | January 12, 2007 3:27 PM

The hardest part right now is the constant WHY WHY WHY my almost four year old is dishing out. We've got a code word, though. When he starts getting on my nerves, I get his attention and whisper, "Duct tape." He laughs out loud and then stops whatever he's doing. I've never threatened to tape his mouth shut, but I've laughingly threatened to tape him to the wall. He thinks it's hysterically funny but he cuts out the annoying stuff.

Seriously, I think he knows that being a parent is hard work, and I'm doing the best I can. Raising my hand when anyone asks, "Who here is a single mom?" He knows he drives me nuts sometimes, just as I know I drive HIM nuts, too. When it gets bad, one of us asks if we need to start over. Meaning, deep breath, big hug, and a giant reset button on our emotions.

Posted by: solomother | January 12, 2007 3:31 PM

Whoa! 15 and 19? Statutory rape!

Yes, her mother is looking into that, but I am not exactly sure that that is either fair or the right thing to do.

Yes--it is actually. That four-year difference in age at this point is a BIG DEAL. There is a reason it is on the books.

Not to mention the fact that this 19 yo has already thrown a DESK at her?! He needs to be behind bars already. That gets WORSE, not BETTER.

Go read "Why Does He DO That?" by Lundy Bancroft to get some insight into what makes him tick.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 3:32 PM

"Yes, her mother is looking into that, but I am not exactly sure that that is either fair or the right thing to do."

I don't know either - and would not dare offer an opinion.

It would say that it's important for her mother to think very carefully about what she would be trying to accomplish with a statutory rape charge, and what the effects would be.

If there's a chance that this young man will have a positive role to play in the lives of your neice and her child, a rape charge may destroy it. Depending on how the girl feels about him, it may also drive her away from her family just at the point she needs them the most.

I do understand. My uncle wanted to kill my cousin's young man (and I would have been willing to hold his coat while he did it, but there would have been one brother, one brother-in-law and an uncle in line ahead of me). He didn't, though (perhaps because my aunt is wiser than the rest of us).

On the other hand, if this young man is out of the picture either way, it might help prevent him from doing this to another young woman.

Good luck. I'll pray for you all.

Posted by: Older Dad | January 12, 2007 3:36 PM

I had a baby at 16 and am currently working full-time while going to the local public university part-time. She may be having a baby but there is absolutely no reason she can't go to college if she wants.

Her life is not about to become a barren wasteland unless she decides to make it one. 16 is young to be a parent and take on that responsibility but I did it and I am very happy with my life now.

Posted by: lurker | January 12, 2007 3:36 PM

Scarry,

Of my spouse's 7 siblings, the only marriage that has survived (30+ years now) is the marriage of the sister who got married immediately following confirmation of pregnancy -- at age 15. To her 15 year-old boyfriend, who had already had a couple of scrapes with the law. They were the first two of the various spouses to attain their undergraduate degrees, and their oldest son is one of the most successful (by all definitions) of our nephews. Strong, local family support was key. The irony of this outcome has not escaped anyone in the family who initially thought the pregnancy would doom his sister's future.

It's also made it exceedingly difficult for family members to discourage their kids from teen sex and pregnancy because they can all point to Sister X and say, it didn't work out too badly for her! I'd say she had the last laugh on the statistics.

Posted by: NC lawyer | January 12, 2007 3:37 PM

Well, they are not allowed around each other anymore outside of school, but they still see each other at school. I geuss the only reason why I said I am not sure if it is fair is because he is still in high school. I mean she and her mother have to take some responsibilty for her having sex, it's not just him.

I do agree that he is not for her and I have always said that, but I am just the aunt and not the mom, so no one really listens.

Posted by: scarry | January 12, 2007 3:38 PM

Man this whole blog is sad. Why do you people even have kids. You spend all your time time 'balancing', uh.. avoiding your kids.

Good gosh, its pathetic, drop your kids in daycare everyday, then afterschool program, then you pick them up and see them a couple hours. Poor poor kids, and you call this 'balancing??' I call this adding accessories to your life...human beings.

If you are considering daycare, please do not have children, it's not fair to them

Posted by: DC | January 12, 2007 3:39 PM

Oy vay. Best of luck with that, scarry. Your family is in my prayers.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 3:40 PM

DC, Consider reading the previous 100 or so posts. Is there a particular post or comment you're responding to, because the topic of bash-the-working-parents wasn't exactly on deck yet today. There's also been precious little comment about balance.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 3:44 PM

DC - feel sorry for you. I kind of thought this was a blog with people that cared about their children and are trying to find a way to be good people as well as good parents. Not sure what has gotten you so upset, but I am happy with the decisions that I have made. being a single parent need to work, and love the pre-school I found for my child. we are both happy - you do not sound the same.

Posted by: single mom | January 12, 2007 3:48 PM

Thanks so much everyone. The stories and the advice made me feel better. My neice seems upbeat and she has a lot of support.

Posted by: scarry | January 12, 2007 3:50 PM

I didn't lose my virginity until 25 when I was beyond good and ready. Can't imagine what it's like for a 15-year-old. My thoughts are with you and your family at this trying time.

Posted by: waited | January 12, 2007 3:53 PM

New pink cave assignment: DC, with only the bears for company.

Posted by: NC lawyer | January 12, 2007 3:53 PM

When I was 16, my mother, in her despair, said to me, "When you go to jail, I'll bring you your insulin."

Yeah, my parent's divorce was my falt.

But I've only been to jail to visit my friends. Suppose I'm very lucky in that reguard so far.

Last year, while my mother was visiting, my annoying son, as usual, was amusing himself in attention getting behavior. I think he was trying to impress Nanna by standing on his head. I could tell my mother, Nanna, was getting irritated by the commotion he was making as it was interfering with our conversation. But, our dialog had reached a resting point and I was hoping that Nanna would acknowledge his efforts to be noticed by saying something nice. After all, the point of the visit was to spend some social time together with me and the grandchildren and my son was having fun in his own, special way.

Instead, she scolded him.

As my son quietly left the room after the lecture, I added very quietly so only my mother could hear, "And when you go to jail, I'll bring you your meds."

My mother about flipped, for she had also remembered those same, stinging word she had delivered to me over 25 years ago and realized how terrible they were.

Mom, you've been forgiven, but there are things not fogotten. but don't worry, we still have a lifetime together...

Posted by: Father of 4 | January 12, 2007 3:58 PM

"Whoa! 15 and 19? Statutory rape!

Yes, her mother is looking into that, but I am not exactly sure that that is either fair or the right thing to do.

Yes--it is actually. That four-year difference in age at this point is a BIG DEAL. There is a reason it is on the books."

This is a very grey area IMO. Someone in my husband's family was in the same position. He was the older male and said the girl lied about her age (she looked older than 15). He was charged and convicted of I don't know what, but he now is a registered sex offender. He married the girl, and they did split up as happens quite often with young marriages. The girl left and he is raising the baby girl(now age 7) with the help of his grandmother while living in her house.

They live in another state, so I rarely see them, but when I do, he always asks for parenting advice since I have girls also. He appears to be a good father, although somewhat unsure of himself.

The sad thing is that he cannot leave his home state without permission and will always be labeled a "sex offender". I do agree that an "older boy" can unduly influence a girl into sex, and a girl who agrees under certain conditions is not fully capable of "informed" consent. However, a boy/young man having to carry the brand of sex offender for life over a consenting act is a little hard to take.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 4:00 PM

Scarry - just to echo what others have said that while getting pregnant at 15 is certainly not what any parent/aunt would plan for their child/neice, it doesn't have to mean your neice has to give up her goal of going to college. I read an interesting article in the NY Times last fall called "House Mothers" about programs many colleges have instituted to help single mothers with children continue their college education. The article was geared towards colleges that provided living arrangements on campus for mothers and their children, and had a list of some of these colleges. While I'm sure this is not the primary concern for your neice and her family right now, you might find the resources mentioned in the article helpful.
http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=FB0714F8395B0C768CDDA80994DE404482

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 4:05 PM

In addition to what 4:05 said, the reason I was able to make going to school work was that my university has an onsite daycare for students who are parents taking night classes.

Posted by: lurker | January 12, 2007 4:10 PM

To Demos.. gosh, I feel sorry for your friend and their family. This can be considered a "mid-life crisis" perhaps on his part.. You are right - they both have EVERY reason to fight for that marriage and FAMILY - and they should. They should try Marriage Savers or Retrouville.. and give things time to heal over... and not give up... in the meantime they both should agree to give a "time out" but commit to not dating anyone!! A third party coming into the picture (and trust me this can oh so easily happen - people give total disregard to respecting separated people as still married) will seriously jeopardize a reconciliation.

This is where society (friends/family) needs to step in and identify that this is marriage that can be fixed and better than anything they can every imagine. They just need to work on it! Their kids - their family is worth it!

Posted by: cyntia | January 12, 2007 4:12 PM

Father of 4 - some parents are just not cut out to be either parents OR grandparents, are they?

it's a good thing you have a well-developed sense of humor.

Posted by: NC lawyer | January 12, 2007 4:14 PM

StudentMomToBe - My guess is that your child is going to be smart enough to figure out for his/herself that he/she was unplanned.

My opinion is that it would be far better to tell the truth in a loving, happy way (much as you described here today) than risk the child hearing an ugly version of the truth from relatives or a jealous cousin or acquaintances.(do you really think no one will ever mention it? people can be very insensitive about things like this).

Or your child could go through life always wondering, afraid to mention it since you have signalled with your silence that the topic is off-limits. I say better to say what my mom always said to my sister: she is the best accident that ever happened. and she is!

Posted by: Leslie | January 12, 2007 4:19 PM

Cyntia,

thanks. His wife wants to do counseling. We've suggested Marriage Savers. The real question is whether he's going to be willing to try.

Posted by: Demos | January 12, 2007 4:25 PM

Struck by the diversity of opinion today. Doesn't seem like anyone is right or wrong, lots of good arguments on whether to be honest or protective. I see both approaches working well in my community and extended family. Proof of how individual parenthood is.

Posted by: Leslie | January 12, 2007 4:29 PM

Scarry,
One of the colleges profiled in the Times article is Wilson College. If you google "Wilson College" and "Women with Children Program" you'll find lots of information about their program, and other colleges that have created similar programs for single mothers. Reading about some of these programs makes you feel optimistic about a teenage mother's ability to continue on to college.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 4:32 PM

Okay, call me uninformed. How does anyone manage to pay for college, living costs for herself and her toddler, and childcare? Or, and acknowledging that each situation and student is different, is the most workable plan to live where you have family back-up childcare, maybe can live at home, and commute to college?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 4:39 PM

NC Lawyer, I think we parents just make it up as we go along, and relationships, just as ourselves, change with time. I have only respect for those who try to be better husbands, wives, parents. We make mistakes, try to better ourselves and move on to the next day.

Scarry, please don't be devastated over your niece's pregnancy. Remember, God's will, for some reason, though maybe not understood by us, has created another human life for all of us to love. And I think that there is much good to be enjoyed from it in the future. So...

Congratulations! I'm looking forward to a new addition to the Scarry family! That's just the way I am.

Posted by: Father of 4 | January 12, 2007 4:45 PM

A lifetime commitment to Salle Mae.. or the schools can give scholarships and have programs for child care.

Posted by: single mom | January 12, 2007 4:46 PM

Thanks, single mom, for the info.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 4:47 PM

He probably needs time to get his head cleared. This issue falls right in line with todays and yesterday's blog. When people reach the point of "saturation" of dealing and caring for their family.. they feel like they need to bail. And this is a situation where serious help is needed.

And this is a wakeup call to everyone to support themselves and their friends and their families to work to keep their marriages and families intact.

Families are work it - 110% worth it.

Posted by: cyntia | January 12, 2007 4:50 PM

I think it's great if teenage parents work out an arrangement where they stay close to, or with, family - but only if that situation works for all involved. I chose to go to a school a 7-hour drive from home, and I can see how my college years would have been different if I had picked a school closer to home.
In terms of affording it, your number of dependents is taken into account when calculating your financial aid - I got MUCH more aid than my childless friends - to cover extra costs such as daycare and off-campus housing. No, it is not easy, and I've said before that I (we) were very poor - I was also on food stamps and a state-sponsored medical plan - but at the end, I don't actually have any more debt than my childless friends, because it was the amount of grant money that changed, not the amount of loans.

Posted by: TakomaMom | January 12, 2007 4:52 PM

"I guess we are lucky in that I receive child support, have a great kid, and one day he may get around to spending time with her. He does live far away and has a family. Perhaps he does love her in his own twisted way. One can never really get into the head of another so it is hard to determine intentions."

I'm very sorry - that really sucks. I'm sure he does love her, but it's really reprehensible that he doesn't make a point of seeing her regularly. When friends of mine - male and female - have gotten divorced, the hardest thing for them has invariably been to watch their child become distanced from one parent. I feel for you and your daughter, and I hope she one day is able to re-connect with her dad.

Posted by: Lizzie | January 12, 2007 4:59 PM

TakomaMom, How did you juggle parenting and studying? Were you just more efficient and mature than your friends, whether by necessity or inclination? I barely managed as a mom in law school and I was married and in my mid-30s. My hat is off to you in oh so many ways.

Posted by: NC lawyer | January 12, 2007 5:01 PM

Childcare was more an issue for me in college than anything else, I was kicked out so had no family support. I work full-time and only take two classes so I can do it without burning out. I'm just starting to take out loans, before my Pell Grant covered everything but I go to a very cheap university.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 5:01 PM

Every parent mometarily wishes they were not a parent for a few minutes each week! But you don't say it out loud, just as you don't express any other very personal thought that pops into your head! Grow up.

If you TRULY regret having become a parent, get some help with that. Still don't say it out loud to the kids!!! They will probably figure out anyway that parenthood is not your favorite thing. But if you say it directly to them, it will break their hearts.

Think about it. How would your SPOUSE feel if you told them, for the sake of "honesty" and without any intent to end your marriage, that your life may have been happier had you married someone else or stayed single!!!?

Posted by: boomette | January 12, 2007 5:04 PM

"Every parent mometarily wishes they were not a parent for a few minutes each week!"

Not really. They generally wish:

a) their kids would behave;

b) their spouse would just handle it for awhile;

c) they could afford to hire Mary Poppins;

d) they hadn't thrown away the application for that military academy; or

e) they could just get some sleep.

Not quite the same as wishing you weren't a parent.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 5:09 PM

I think law school is probably much rougher than my little undergraduate BA!! :) To a certain degree, yes, I had to be more efficient, but I wouldn't actually say I spent less time studying - I spent less time doing all the "normal" college things like intramural sports, partying, spending all day at the library ... and it helped that I met a fantastic roommate with a daughter just one year older than my son and we did a lot of trading off - almost as good (for both us and the kids!) as having a two-parent family! I was so, so blessed, and I read the statistics about how many teen parents struggle and it just crushes me, because I know they can make it just as well as anyone else with the right support.

Posted by: TakomaMom | January 12, 2007 5:10 PM

My parents always told me, "You were a complete surprise, and we liked you so much we went on to have both of your brothers too."
Syrupy, I know, but it totally conveyed their love for all of us without their having to lie about the level of planning!

Posted by: worker bee | January 12, 2007 5:18 PM

Scarry, my sister had her son as a teenager, and an ill-advised one-time tryst made her a grandmother in her thirties. It changes things, but it doesn't ruin them, you know?

Think of this as not an end to the plans you made, but an unexpected plot twist. The story keeps going, but takes a new turn. Good luck to all. This is rough but doable.

Posted by: Historian | January 12, 2007 5:29 PM

Regret having my darling children? Are you crazy? There may be things I wish I had done in my life, or experiences I wish I had tried before I had them, but never, not for one second, have I regretted a moment of their existence. They complete me and make me who I am and that is a much better person than who I was without them. They are gifts. That doesn't mean that I don't get tired and frustrated and overwhelmed at times but it defintely doiesn't ever make me regret having them.

Posted by: Palisades | January 12, 2007 6:02 PM

"while getting pregnant at 15 is certainly not what any parent/aunt would plan for their child/neice"

Getting pregnant at 15 certainly *is* what some parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents plan for their daughters/nieces/granddaughters. Who did you think pays the dowry when a 15-year-old girl gets married off to a man who wants more loyal labor on the farm ASAP?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 12, 2007 6:07 PM

I am 48 and was told repeatedly growing up by my mother that I was not planned, that I was a mistake, that her life would have been so much better had I not been born, and the scars run deep. I also knew that she was a terribly unhappy person who was very dissatisfied with her life. I could have done without her honesty, thank you very much. With my own now adult children, I wanted them very much and have found my greatest pleasure in life in them. There were huge struggles and problems as I raised them, financial and otherwise, and I made many personal sacrifices for their welfare, but I wanted them to have a happy childhood and saw no point in burdening them with my problems. To this day (they are 22 and 26) they don't know and if I have my way, they never will. Of course I would share with them some of the challenges of parenting just so they know what to expect when they have children and would understand what an important role being a dad is.

My 88-year-old mother-in-law recently told my husband, her 53-year-old son, that she never really wanted to get married and have a family. He suspected that by her behavior but to hear her say it was devastating. How can you not take that personally?

Posted by: Suzy | January 12, 2007 6:13 PM

Leslie, except for my mentioning it anonymously on this blog, nobody except for my therapist and my husband know about the situation preceding my child's conception. I believe in discretion, not blabbing :) So anything my child might "figure out" in the future would be based on pure conjecture: since neither my husband nor I would tell her anything, the therapist would be bound by law not too, and everyone else is ignorant of it. So no, I am not gonna go filling her head with things that are in the past, do not matter one iota, and have absolutely no productive value whatsoever to her.

Posted by: StudentMom2Be | January 12, 2007 6:15 PM

hang in there scarry, hopefully everything will be ok. I'd skip the statutory rape thing but go after him and his family for child support and court required anger management classes. It would be nice to keep the dad in his child's life emotionally.

Posted by: experienced mom | January 12, 2007 6:16 PM

Depending on whether scarry's niece's state has a Romeo and Juliet law, and depending on the specifics of that particular law, the statutory rape charge may well be a non-starter. Many states have laws that nullify statutory rape situations when one partner is of legal majority but still only 2-4 years older than the younger partner. These laws are created specifically for situations like this, and specifically so some young person who does something cataclysmically stupid and immature doesn't have to go around for the rest of his life with sex offender status tied to his tail.

Posted by: Lizzie | January 12, 2007 7:12 PM

After reading through a lot of these...

I am all for the truth. My Mom told me she never wanted to have kids. However, they didn't mean she didn't love my sister and I or that she would have traded it. But it gave me some perspective. I didn't assume everyone just went and had kids, and that's what it was all about. I realized I had a choice. I also realized she had kids because my father wanted kids and that was a strong message of love between two people that all their arguments couldn't chase away.

My parents did a decent amount of illegal drugs in their younger years. When we reached about the teen years (maybe age 14 for me) or so, they had started getting more specific in their stories about doing drugs. They never said the regretted doing drugs, but we heard all their ridiculous stories (black outs from the drinking, memory loss now from the smoking, bad trips on various kinds of drugs, not completing college due to drugs/messing around) and my sister and I decided early on it wasn't for us. I'm not saying that was the only reason but it helped. We respected our parents, but we knew to try to be better than them in some ways. I'm glad they told us. You know how teens want to be exactly opposite from their parents? I think that's why a lot of teens do drugs, to be rebelious. If they find out their parents did the same thing thirty years ago, maybe they'll rethink going down that path. It's less new and appealing.

Posted by: JM | January 12, 2007 9:02 PM

"The father is a 19 year old senior, who two months ago flung a desk at my niece in study hall."

Well, that isn't the beginning of a happy story, irrespective of the ages of the two people.

She's 15 and in high school. He's 19 (a senior in the same high school) and he is an adult. He really can't sing the "But I didn't know she was so young!" song given that the young lady is a SOPHOMORE.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 16, 2007 9:23 AM

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