It's Okay To Regret Having Kids
Contemplating the unlived life of my mom. Plus, how to dress mindfully and the best snacks of 2021.
It’s been over a decade since I’ve been awake in the mornings in my apartment. The light hits differently before noon. Mom was a night owl too, and so if I was ever up in the morning, I was tip-toeing around so as to not wake her. I find myself instinctively doing this again, as if she’s still here. What was once her room is now mine, and still, I expect to see her body—a giant lump under the blankets; to hear her deep inhalations that bridged on snoring because she was a smoker—whenever I pass by the bedroom.
This is the strange thing about grief, the more time that accumulates between her being here and not being here, the more I long for her physical presence. I thought grief was supposed to get easier with time, but I think it gets harder. It’s like my naive, child brain thinks she’s gone away for a little while, and she’s just taking a really, really long time to come home.
There’s a common nightmare children have, awake or sleeping, where they start to worry their parents have died if they’re late to come home. It seems that it’s our innate nature to have separation anxiety from our parents, particularly our mothers. Most of us don’t long for our fathers in the same way we long for our moms; we expect less of them (hence the common phrase “deadbeat dads”). But mothers, we expect to be there (do you ever hear about “deadbeat moms”?). As much as we like to think women’s rights have progressed, mothers aren’t afforded the same leeway to be an imperfect parent; they aren’t given the same freedom of choice.
While women are still expected to be mothers, ironically, we fail to recognize their parenting as legitimate work. In the first episode of Maid, the protagonist Alex is asked by a social worker what work skills she has. Alex draws to a blank but the scene cuts to images of her tending to her daughter. My single mom worked full-time. To others, her career was her job as a lawyer. To me, her full-time job was being a mom.
But as we get older, there’s this shift that happens in our relationships with our mothers where we start to see them as independent human beings, separate from their role as a parent; it’s like we finally realize they had a life before the day we were born. When this shift happens, I think we awaken to the reality that to be a mom is a choice, one that comes with sacrifices. When I was a child, my mom’s duties as a mother felt mandatory. But as I got older, and began to witness the toll single-parenting took on her body, mind and spirit, I realized there was a life my mom was losing by being a parent.
How uncomfortable did that last sentence make you? Ever since my mom died, a part of me has believed that my mom’s death was partially my fault. Again, a totally self-centered line of thinking, but the child in me believes I was such a burden that parenting me led to my mom’s physical decline. When I tell people this, they’re quick to deny it. No one wants to believe being a parent could be so exhausting that it could kill them. No one wants to believe that both can be true: that a child can be desired and loved, but also a burden. If being a mother is a choice, then we expect that mothers who choose to stick around, want to do so.
But how often do we make a choice that we can say with 100% certainty we don’t regret? The Lost Daughter bravely explores this regret, with the protagonist Leda enjoying her time away from her children on a work trip so much that she decides to abandon them. The film tempts us with the unfulfilled parallel life of the mother; but unlike the typical real life narrative, Leda pursues that unlived life. The child in us doesn’t want to accept that said unlived life might have been better for our moms. As Simone Weil once said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” We want all of our mother’s attention to ourselves.
But doesn’t the mom deserve attention too? This is exactly why I don’t want kids—in my mind, the day the child is born, is the day a woman gives up her life; she stops being her own individual, and starts being a mom. It’s a dark, cynical outlook, I know. But I’m grateful to see it explored more in pop culture recently; that we’re finally starting to grapple with mom rage: the resentment that comes with giving away a part of your life to be a parent.
I wish my mom had faced her inner rage. Instead, she took it out on me, guilt-tripping me for every little thing she did as a mom; constantly reminding me that to be a parent was a choice, and she chose me. Our failure to accept that regret and love can live in the same space resulted in us fighting constantly. She made me feel indebted; as if I owed her something for birthing and raising me. I wonder how many other children grow up feeling this way. I wonder if so many children would face this boiling resentment if their mothers were afforded more space to be individuals; if their work was recognized; if they were allowed to voice their regret, and instead of being met with judgment, we’re told “it’s okay, you’re not a bad mother.”
When I ask personal stylist Dacy Gillespie if there is one word she wishes we would eliminate from our dressing vocabulary, she says ‘flattering,’ “It’s a fat-phobic concept because it means you are prioritizing appearing to be in a smaller body.”
This is what Dacy does best—she helps us realize the patriarchal, fat-phobic fashion rules that limit our clothing choices (like being told that you only look good in a certain season of colours or that your body shape—like a ‘pear’ or ‘apple’—looks best in particular styles).
I interviewed Dacy on how we can incorporate mindfulness into the way we shop and dress, to create a wardrobe that actually makes us feel good. She shared practical tips on everything from closet sorting to ethical shopping to finding the right size online.
Full disclosure, I was so impressed with our interview I’m thinking of hiring her to help me revamp my wardrobe. I can tell a session with Dacy is like therapy—she gets you to really challenge the arbitrary fashion rules you grew up with in order to find a personal style that empowers you.
What do you get when you combine hunger, desire and complex mother-daughter relationships? Milk Fed by Melissa Broder.
Rachel—a 24-year-old Jewish woman who works at a talent management agency in LA—finds control each day by restricting calories. She falls in love with Miriam, a young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at a nearby froyo shop.
In the absence of her overbearing mother due to a self-imposed 90-day communication detox, Rachel learns how to let in unconditional love from Miriam instead. From her she also learns how to give in to all her forbidden desires—for a lesbian relationship that goes against Miriam’s religion and for all the foods she’s restricted.
“Love is when you have food in your mouth that you know is not going to make you fat. Lust is when you have food in your mouth that is going to make you fat. Fear is the day after you had food in your mouth that is going to make you fat. Fear is when you eat your allotted calories for a given time and you find yourself still hungry. Fear is when you no longer trust yourself to stick to your prescribed regimen.” - Melissa Broder.
🤰 On the perpetual rage of motherhood.
👫🏻 The biggest single factor influencing your health, happiness and longevity? Friendship.
🤷🏻♀️ But yet it’s so hard to make friends in midlife.
❤️ Maybe we can be our own soul mates.
“Many of us no longer require love, much less a soul mate, to fulfill our rudimentary needs. Partnership is now seen as a pathway toward perpetual self-growth,” Bradley B. Onishi.
🍔 It’s time to get rid of calorie counts on menus.
“It’s clear that calorie counts on menus have not worked as intended, because health is much larger than the individual numbers associated with a single meal,” Jaya Saxena.
🍽 As restaurants here are closed again for indoor dining, I’m contemplating how the pandemic has changed the restaurant menu, and dining at large.
“We want speed but also quality. We want convenience but also value. We want to be safe, but crave also the freedom to eat alongside strangers. The place where these negotiations often happen is on the restaurant menu, which is constantly being reshaped to fit our desires,” Patricia Escarcega.
🥑 Have avocados become the almond milk of fruit?
👸🏻 A thread of early 2000’s it girl bffs.
I’ve been loving the cultural discourse on mom rage that’s been sparked by Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter. Protagonist Leda (wonderfully played by Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman) abandons her children when they’re young, and finds herself haunted by her choice when she witnesses a mother and daughter on vacation. What the film does so well is reveal how our culture frowns upon the choice to give up motherhood,
“When a man leaves in this way, he is unexceptional. When a woman does it, she becomes a monster, or perhaps an antiheroine riding out a dark maternal fantasy. Feminism has supplied women with options, but a choice also represents a foreclosure, and women, because they are people, do not always know what they want. As these protagonists thrash against their own decisions, they also bump up against the limits of that freedom, revealing how women’s choices are rarely socially supported but always thoroughly judged,” writes Amanda Mull.
If Leda is the antiheroine, then Alex, the protagonist in the TV series Maid, is the heroine. Fleeing an abusive, alcoholic dad, poor and homeless Alex desperately takes on a job as a maid to make ends meet as a mother. We see her go above and beyond to ensure her daughter is taken care of. Despite the exhaustion and sacrifices Alex faces, she never expresses an ounce of regret for being a mother. As much as I like the show (probably because it’s from the same team behind Shameless), I wish she would.
“Maid misses a vital opportunity to explore the raging anger of mothers who have had systems that were already stacked against them break down, and the bleak truth over which mothers are allowed to make mistakes,” writes Elizabeth Skoski.
I meant to share this in my New Year’s edition but I ran out of space, so here are some of the foods that changed me last year (both literally—in that they helped me gain my health back—and figuratively, as in—they taste damn good!).
👏 And arguably the best biscuits in Toronto.
On the note of dressing mindfully, I leave you with a great pie chart from Ann Friedman: