Regretting Motherhood: A Sociopolitical Analysis

Based on in-depth interviews with twenty-three Israeli mothers, this article seeks to contribute to an ongoing inquiry into women’s subjective experiences of mothering by addressing an understudied maternal emotive and cognitive stance: regretting motherhood. The literature teaches us that within a pronatal monopoly, threatening women that they will inevitably regret not having children acts as powerful reproducer of the ideology of motherhood. Simultaneously, motherhood is constructed as a mythical nexus that lies outside and beyond the human terrain of regret, and therefore a desire to undo the maternal experience is conceived as an object of disbelief. By incorporating regret into maternal experiences, the purpose of the article is twofold: The first is to distinguish regret over motherhood from other conflictual and ambivalent maternal emotions. Whereas participants’ expressions of regretting motherhood were not bereft of ambivalence, and thus were not necessarily exceptional or anomalous, they foreground a different emotive and cognitive stance toward motherhood. The second purpose is to situate regret over motherhood in the sociopolitical arena. It has been suggested that the “power of backward thinking” might be used to reflect on the systems of power governing maternal feelings in two ways: first, through a categorical distinction in the target of regret between object (the children) and experience (maternity), which utilizes the cultural structure of mother love; second, by opposing the very essentialist presumption of a fixed female identity that naturally befits mothering or progressively adapts to it and evaluates it as a worthwhile experience.

Donath, O. (2015). Regretting motherhood: A Sociopolitical analysis. Signs,40(2), 343-367.

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