It’s something of a common trope for parents to wax nostalgic or even try to recreate their younger, crazier kid-free days despite the fact that their current reality is weighed down by the obligations of parenthood. But I don’t miss my younger self at all — nor do I miss my child-free life.
Of course, at first, it’s tough for all parents to adjust to life with a new baby. We grieve for the parts of ourselves that seem to be gone forever. We miss doing the things we enjoyed before we were moms. For me, of the things I miss most is taking the time for self-care. I spent so much of my 30s learning how to truly give myself what I needed, and the opportunities to do so seemed to quickly dwindle with a baby in tow.
Then, when you feel like you’re starting to get the hang of motherhood, it’s natural to want to get back into the things you enjoyed before the baby came along. For me, those things were simple: reading for hours on end, sleeping in when I wanted, watching television, going to the beach to recharge. In my world, those things rarely included wild nights out, cocktails with friends or other activities that I had gotten tired of in my 20s. (I had my son at 39 and am now 40.)
But when I talk to other moms my age about transitioning into motherhood, I’m often shocked to find that many of them, after having their babies, actually wanted to go back to drinking and partying with friends. I had assumed most moms would want to spend their baby-free time doing things like catching up on sleep or, I don’t know, hitting the spa. Who knows what I was thinking? And what’s worse is that it feels like the moms I know are judging me for not having a booming social life — even though my life wasn’t even booming before my little guy came along.
While I could never dictate what’s “normal” for other moms — or what other women should and shouldn’t be doing — for me, I tend to think that life changes mean we have to change with them. Of course, I still think moms should go out, have fun and make opportunities for self-care, but I also feel like keeping up our pre-baby momentum isn’t realistic. Why are these other moms striving so hard to go out and party it up? Why the obsession with clinging to their pre-parenting lives?
Because as much as they try, they can’t. Because they have a child (or five). Because from that child’s birth forward, nothing will ever be the same.
This realization is hard to come to terms with; it certainly was for me. But it got easier once I accepted that, although life after Baby doesn’t have to be all about being a parent, it does have to change after you have a child. If you don’t allow it to shift, you’ll be left trying to relive the glory days — all while the most glorious gift of all is right in front of you covered in spit-up.
I believe life with a kid is only better than it was pre-kids if we let go of what we think it should be like. After all, not being able to spend as much time doing what you want is temporary. Our kids will grow up (shocker, I know), and we’ll have time to ourselves again. Things will go “back to normal” in certain ways — and in other ways, would you even want to go “back”?
Even though I miss time to myself right now — heck, I even miss having time to work, as I speed-write this essay while my son hopefully sleeps for more than an hour — I wouldn’t take my pre-mom life back if I could. I’m committed to building a better life for myself and my son despite the chaos of parenthood. I maintain the mindset that I can balance motherhood with the things I enjoy. I just don’t want to strive so much have my old life back that I either get consumed with it or take spending time with my child for granted. I’m a mother now, and my responsibilities and goals have changed accordingly.
Can I still do the things I enjoyed before having kids? Of course. But should I drive myself crazy, constantly trying to reclaim my old lifestyle after a life-changing event like becoming a parent? That seems awfully challenging — and exhausting, and kind of impossible. Sure, I can still enjoy a night out with friends and handle a few drinks. But I don’t want that to be my only way to unwind or take care of myself. Sometimes, I want self-care to be about quiet moments and intentional relaxation. I may not be at every party anymore, and that’s OK.
When I think about talking to — let’s be real, defending myself to — the more “fun” moms, I have two takeaways: First, maybe they weren’t trying to shame me at all. Maybe they just don’t realize that different people have different ways of relaxing. Telling me I should do what they do in order to have fun is simply ignorant on their part. On the flip side, maybe their rowdier choice of kid-free activities is what they consider self-care, and I should be less judgmental myself.
The second takeaway: You can grieve for pre-mom life, you can fully embrace mom life, and you can do both at the exact same time. We all love our kids — that much we know is true.
When it comes to what we do with our kid-free time, moms should be able to enjoy themselves. But instead of driving ourselves crazy trying to go backward, we should move forward. It’s OK to take a bath instead of hitting up happy hour. Some of your acquaintances may not understand, but your true friends will.
It takes us all time to get back into taking care of ourselves after having children, however we choose to do that. But we can never really go “back” to pre-mom life. And most of all, I don’t miss my pre-mom life because having a child has enabled me to grow in ways I never dreamed possible. That growth isn’t always easy — and yes, it can be “boring” at times — but it propels me forward. To me, growing and moving forward is what life is all about.