Skip to Content

What percentage of parents regret having a child?

Becoming a parent is a major life decision that involves significant changes and responsibilities. While most parents report finding joy and meaning in raising children, some do end up regretting the choice to have kids. Surveys suggest that around 8-15% of parents experience regret or ambivalence about becoming parents at some point.

What Does Regretting Parenthood Mean?

When researchers ask about parental regret, they usually frame it as having second thoughts about becoming a parent or wishing you didn’t have children. This does not necessarily mean parents dislike or resent their kids. Rather, regret is typically tied to lifestyle changes, loss of freedom, financial burdens, relationship strain, and other challenges that come with childrearing. Parents may love their children but regret the timing or circumstances under which they had them.

Feelings of regret also range in intensity. Some parents report occasional pangs of doubt when parenting gets difficult. For others, the regret is pervasive enough to impact mental health and family relationships. Gender, age, temperament, social pressures, postpartum depression, and a lack of social support can all influence parents’ attitudes toward childrearing.

What Percentage of Parents Express Regret?

Quantifying parental regret is complicated, as results vary based on how studies phrase the question and the demographics included. Some key survey findings include:

  • A 2015 survey found 8% of American parents reported regret about having children. Mothers were more likely to express regret than fathers.
  • A 2016 German study found over 15% of parents responded positively to statements like “If I could go back in time, I would not have children.”
  • A Norwegian survey found that around 5% of parents agreed “If I could choose again, I would not have children.”
  • Results from the European Social Survey in 2011 showed approximately 11% of parents “sometimes regret having children.”

Based on these findings, a reasonable estimate seems to be that somewhere between 8-15% of all parents experience feelings of regret or second thoughts about becoming parents at some point after having children.

Does Regret Vary by Gender?

Multiple studies reveal a gender gap in parental regret, with mothers expressing more regret than fathers. For example:

  • The 2015 American survey found mothers were 50% more likely to regret having children than fathers (9% vs. 6%).
  • In the 2016 German study, over 21% of mothers agreed they regretted having kids compared to just over 9% of fathers.
  • Data from the UK suggests mothers are 70% more likely to regret becoming parents than fathers.

There are a few possible reasons for this discrepancy:

  • Women face greater physical burdens of pregnancy, childbirth recovery, and breastfeeding.
  • Mothers still take on more childcare and household duties than fathers, increasing burnout.
  • Societal messaging encourages women to base their identity on motherhood more than men.

Does Parental Age Impact Regret?

The age at which someone becomes a parent also seems to influence regret. Multiple studies find parental regret is highest among young parents, such as those under 25. Reasons for this may include:

  • Younger first-time parents are less emotionally mature and established in careers/finances.
  • Early parenthood derails educational and career goals before they are achieved.
  • Young parents with unstable partnerships struggle more as single parents.
  • Missing out on experiences with peers due to childrearing responsibilities breeds regret.

One study found 32% of women who had children before age 25 felt regret compared to just 16% of those over age 30. However, having kids at advanced parental ages also increases regret to some degree, given concerns about less energy, more health risks, and less lifetime left to spend with children.

Does Marital Status Impact Regret?

Marital status appears to be linked to parental regret, with unmarried parents expressing more regret than married ones. For example:

  • In the 2015 American survey, just 6% of married parents reported regret compared to 13% of cohabitating parents and 23% of single parents.
  • The 2016 German study similarly found regret highest among single parents at 32%, vs. 15% for cohabitating parents and 8% for married parents.

Single parents take on more burdens and financial strain, which likely increases resentment and doubt about their decision to have kids. Cohabitating couples may experience more relationship instability and conflict as well.

Does Number of Children Impact Regret?

Does parental regret depend on family size? The evidence is mixed:

  • In the 2015 American survey, parents with 1 child reported the highest regret (11%), with less regret reported among those with 2, 3, or 4+ kids.
  • But the 2016 German study found regret highest among parents with 4 or more children (17%), followed by those with 1 child (15%).
  • Analysis of European survey data found no clear pattern between number of children and parental regret.

More research is needed to determine if family size reliably impacts regret. It may depend on other factors like partnership status, ages of children, and resource availability.

Why Do Some Parents Regret Having Kids?

Parents give many reasons for feeling regret or ambivalence about having children:

  • Lost freedom and spontaneity: Kids require constant care and planning that leaves little room for freewheeling lifestyle choices.
  • Career sacrifices: Especially for mothers, having children hampers educational and career prospects due to discrimination and inflexible policies.
  • Strained relationships: Conflicts over child-rearing and domestic responsibilities increase arguments and resentment between partners.
  • Unmet expectations: Idealized views of parenthood clash with the difficult reality of tantrums, misbehavior, and family strife.
  • Dashed dreams: Some regret parents feel stems from mourning alternate paths their lives could have taken.

Parental regret is complex and deeply personal. While it centers on children, broader issues around social expectations, work-life balance, gender norms, and policy gaps also play a role.

Does Regret Lead to Resenting or Abusing Kids?

It is concerning if parents’ regrets morph into outright resentment or neglect toward children. However, most research finds parental regret alone does not predict poor parenting or child outcomes. Across studies, regretful parents are generally no more hostile, abusive, or disengaged than non-regretful parents.

That said, some factors can amplify the effects of regret:

  • Parents with mental health issues like depression show stronger links between regret and abusive behaviors.
  • Parents who strongly regret timing or number of kids exhibit more impatience and hostility.
  • Low social support and high parenting stress exacerbate negative impacts of regret.

Most parents can experience regret while still embracing their duties. But screening for severe postpartum depression and boosting social services may help counteract harmful effects in vulnerable families.

Do People Hide Regret From Children?

Given taboos around expressing parental regret, many parents conceal unfavorable feelings from children:

  • In one survey 83% of regretful mothers had never told their children they wished they hadn’t had kids.
  • Most hid feelings to protect children’s self-esteem and avoid guilt or confusing kids.
  • Many mothers said they would only confess regrets to children once they were mature adults.

Children still perceived effects of hidden regret through mothers’ moods and behaviors. Therapists advise being honest in age-appropriate ways to avoid further dysfunction in the parent-child relationship.

Do Parents Regret Childfreedom?

What about the flip side – regret about not having children? Surveys indicate:

  • Around 5-10% of childfree women express regret about not becoming mothers.
  • Childfree men regret the choice somewhat less – only around 2-6% report feeling regret.
  • Regret is more common among childfree people over age 40 who initially expected to have kids.

Some common reasons for “childfreedom regret” include loneliness in old age, desire for caretaking, and reevaluation after finding a committed partner. Overall though, rates of regret among childfree people are quite low compared to parental regret.

Does Regret Decrease as Children Grow Up?

Do parents’ regrets fade as children become more independent? Findings show:

  • Regret peaks when children are toddlers/preschoolers due to the intensity of care needs.
  • Some regret persists through teenage years as conflict and rebellion arise.
  • Regret declines once children reach adulthood and leave home.
  • Reflecting back as grandparents, most parents report feeling satisfied with parenting.

However, empty nest loneliness, strained relationships with adult children, and ongoing caregiving burdens can rekindle regret in later life. Overall, relief at completing intensive parenting seems to outweigh regrets. But for some, misgivings may never fully dissipate.

Can Parents Seek Support for Regret?

Seeking support can help parents work through feelings of regret while still meeting children’s needs. Options include:

  • Mental health counseling: Therapy helps parents adjust expectations, build coping skills, and address underlying mood disorders like depression.
  • Support groups: Connecting with other regretful parents reduces stigma and provides a space to share struggles.
  • Practical help: Assistance from family, friends, or paid help with household and childcare duties alleviates stressors.
  • Advocating for policy reforms: Campaigning for things like paid family leave, subsidized childcare, and flexible work arrangements addresses structural pressures.

Seeking help early before regret turns to resentment is key. All parents should have access to robust social support for the challenges of childrearing.


Raising children can be profoundly meaningful. But it also represents a massive lifestyle change that around 1 in 10 parents come to regret or question. Mothers express more regret than fathers, stemming from heavier caregiving burdens and societal messaging around motherhood. Younger parents also tend to have higher regret, pointing to a need for more support. While difficult to acknowledge, parental regret is normal and does not automatically jeopardize children’s wellbeing. Boosting social services and destigmatizing mixed parental emotions are critical steps for supporting both parents and children.