Do you ever regret being a father?

Ms. Donath, have you ever regretted your decision not to have children?
On the contrary! I wake up every morning glad that I belong to a social group that allows me not to be a mother. Because not every woman in this world can make this decision. It is a privilege to be able to live the way I want.

In her new book, #regretting motherhood. When mothers repent «you are addressing a topic that has so far hardly been discussed: that many women do not find the prescribed fulfillment in motherhood. When did you realize that you didn't want children?
When I was 16 years old. I am often asked what happened back then. People assume that I've experienced trauma. But it was not like that. My friends started talking about how many kids they want, what they want to call them. It was natural for them that at some point they would be mothers. I thought: Oh, interesting. That was never my dream. I realized that I don't want that, it was a feeling deep inside of me.

Many say that it is natural for every woman to want children at some point. How is it that some women do not want to or regret it afterwards?
The question needs to be asked differently: Why does society assume that every woman wants to be a mother? I understand your question, after all, I live in a society that thinks that way. But I think it's logical that there are women who want to be mothers and others who don't. We are different. Just because we are all women and have the same reproductive system doesn't mean we have the same dreams, fantasies, or goals.

In Judaism there is the image of the Yiddish mother ...
... well, I think that every society has an image of the good mother. This is not only the case in Israel.

Nevertheless, Israel is considered to be particularly family-friendly. No other country supports having children so much. And if it doesn't work naturally, the state will even pay for the artificial insemination.
But it's not about the image of the Yiddish mom, but about the mood in society. The pressure to become a mother is enormous in Israel. It has to do with history, the Shoah, the wars, the political situation and "Be fruitful and multiply". It's complicated.

What exactly is it that mothers might regret?
Many feel, "It's not me." It doesn't suit them. You regret being responsible for another living being in this way. Of course, we as humans always have to take responsibility. But this kind of responsibility is difficult, there is a lot of pressure to be someone's mom. It is about this relationship with another living being, regardless of whether the women have small or adult children, whether they take on the daily tasks, whether the man takes care of the children or whether the women even live separately from the family.

Do these women like their children?
Many have told me that they love their children, as people, as personalities. They just regret motherhood, the relationship they have with these people.

Do they feel like bad mothers?
Yes many. Some because of that regret. They know that feeling this way is socially unacceptable. Others do not have the patience to be good mothers. They are not interested in playing with their children or going to the park.

Do the children know about their mothers' feelings?
They didn't say to their children, "I regret having you, you ruined my life." But there are mothers who talk to their grown children about the possibility of not becoming mothers. In one case it was a mother of two grown daughters. She talked to them about how motherhood is not a guarantee of happiness and joy and that they should choose whether or not to want it.

Did these women think about it before giving birth? Did you suspect that this is not for you?
A third of the 23 women I interviewed did not want to become mothers, but were pushed to do so by their partner or others. Another third couldn't remember if they really wanted to. For them it was clear: it is the natural way. And the last third are the women who really wanted to be mothers, who were sure it would satisfy them. But it wasn't like that afterwards.

You published the results of your study back in 2015. Things remained relatively calm in Israel. In Germany, on the other hand, you triggered a social debate. Did that surprise you?
In Israel we have the image of Germany that it is easier there to be childless. So I didn't expect the study to cause such a storm. Now I understand: In Germany there may be more women who are not mothers. But their status is not as high as that of mothers. Mothers are also expected to feel accordingly, so they will not regret it.

They now want to publish the book in Israel too. But it seems that there is not so much interest there. Why is that?
There have also been articles in Israel about my study that have sparked debate. But that only lasted a few days, it's not nearly the same as in Germany. Maybe we're not ready yet.

Regardless of whether it is Germany or Israel: What can societies do now with the results of the study? There was a third of women who were convinced that they wanted to have children. You had made a conscious decision to do so.
First of all, we should acknowledge that repentance is not a bad thing. Afterwards you always know more, that is part of life. But I believe that the pressure on women must decrease. In Israel, for example, it is often said, "You will commit the mistake of your life if you don't." I've spoken to 70-year-old childless women who are happy with it. Of course there are women who regret it. Everything is possible. And one more thing: many think that with my study I am calling women to regret their motherhood. No! But these women shouldn't be turned into monsters. It is human to repent.

Lissy Kaufmann spoke to the Israeli sociologist.

Orna Donath: "#regretting motherhood". Knaus, Munich 2016, 272 pages, € 16.99