Life Before Kids: Make the Most of Your Time Now
Before the 2 a.m. feedings, diaper changes, teething, potty training, skinned knees, birthday parties, first days of school and everything in between, spend time to find yourself and do what you have always wanted to do.
As I sit to write this column, I'm listening to Change by the Lightning Seeds and I'm instantly reminded of the trips I took to the south of France during the mid-1990s.
"…You're never going to be
like all those fools
You're coming out tonight
There's nothing to lose
You're going to give it all a try
Don't ever change…"
This song was always on my playlist during the plane ride to Paris and the train trip through the countryside, and the lyrics were my mantra at the time. I was in my early 30s and carefree. I became nearly fluent in French. I toured the small villages and towns of Provence and soaked in the ethereal light that has long attracted so many painters and photographers to the region. I stayed with friends, shopped specialty markets for groceries, learned to cook.
I'm grateful for those experiences; they left me with some wonderful friendships and memories.
But I could not have done it as a mom.
When you have children, your whole life changes. Your attitude changes, your priorities change. You shift your focus from yourself to your responsibilities for this new, blossoming little person who is completely dependent on you for his or her health and well being. Your life is no longer your own.
But don't let that daunt you.
I certainly don't classify myself as an expert but my piece of advice? Try to take advantage of whatever time you have now. Whether you're single and carefree or married and planning to start a family, there are many things you can and should do to make the most of your life before having children.
Many of us have a bucket list for our lives. Here, a pre-parenthood to-do list courtesy of those who know it best— local moms.
Enjoy Your Freedom
North Shore mom Beatriz Zijlstra says that 'enjoying your freedom now' is number one on her list.
"Embrace your life as a single person by learning to love being yourself and being alone, because later you will lose yourself in parenthood," she says. "You have your time now, use it wisely. Do all the things you would do if you were retiring."
Her only caveat is that many of us don't always know when it's the 'right' time to have kids.
"Some couples want to wait until their jobs are secure, until they can afford that first house, so on and so forth," she says. "Don't wait too long because I do have friends that were too busy chasing their careers or waiting for that time, and it passed them by."
Long before she even thought about marriage and family, Zijlstra followed her dreams to Hollywood where she was an understudy for Andie McDowell and worked with other celebrities like John Candy and Catherine O'Hara. Although her father insisted on sending her to Amherst College for business school, Zijlstra says she snuck in every film history, production, and theater class she could find.
"Many people are afraid to follow those inner dreams because of pressure from their parents," she says. "But becoming an accomplished TV and film producer and actress was literally something I had to do."
Travel, Travel, Travel
Glenview residents Kristen and Pete McGargill have a two-year-old son and say they're glad they traveled, especially overseas, before starting a family. Pete owns a local contracting business, and Kristen is a former event planner and used to travel quite a bit for her job. During college she spent a year in Australia, a time in her life she'll always remember, she said.
Zijlstra also strongly recommends traveling.
"Probably the most exciting trip I took was to Sevilla, Spain for the World Expo," she says. "My other passion is Africa, and South America. I've been to Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and other countries where I was involved in helping homeless families, and through that I found my ministry."
The Fun Stuff
"Pete and I used to go to Cubs games all of the time but not so much anymore," says Kristen McGargill. "We also enjoyed trying out new restaurants and going to the movies."
Zijlstra says that she went to clubs and stayed out dancing all night. "I said 'yes' to everything I felt like doing," she says, "whether it was a drive across country, a concert, an invitation to audition or acceptance to the Second City Training Center. I had weekends to myself. I waitressed for the first time in my life – on roller skates at Navy Pier. I visited friends on a whim."
A Last Hurrah
As a "last hurrah" before starting their family, Zijlstra and her husband went to Cape Town, South Africa so that he could complete one of his MBA courses.
"Visiting Cape Town was my dream and his dream before we even met," she says. "We have many others, but they will have to wait until our kids are grown."
And When You Do Finally Make the Leap...
"There are challenges at every stage, and rewards at every stage as well," Zijlstra says. "Enjoy each one, live in the present with your child. The key to the success of our family, and I am blessed with beautiful children inside and out, has been assuring that we are close."
Kristen McGargill agrees, and adds that it's helpful to live near friends and family.
"The sleepless nights do pass," she says. "Your life does eventually balance out to where you can be with your child, spend time with your spouse, family and friends."