I found myself unexpectedly pregnant at 23. I was in a relationship, I know how babies are made, and I was thrilled—and shocked!—to become a mother. Being a mom has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have foreseen, but looking back, there are things I wish I’d taken the time to do before my life changed so drastically. Here are a few things I recommend accomplishing before becoming a parent.
- Live alone. I’ve never lived alone, always with a roommate or boyfriend. I think of the positives to living alone: being in control of my own space, enjoying silence, no responsibility to cook for anyone other than myself, and being the master of my own time. Also, I consider the hard parts I missed out on like being alone and having responsibility for all household duties; I see these as growth opportunities I missed out on. Once kids are in the picture, the possibility of living alone is gone for a long time.
- Enjoy the single life. I’m that girl that’s never been single. There were a couple of weeks here and there, maybe a month once, but ever since middle school, I’ve been wrapped up with some guy. I wish I’d dated myself, pampered myself, and gone through the rough rebirthing of getting to know myself while being single before I became a parent.
- See a bit of the world. I graduated college and thought I’d get a social work job and hop from country to country saving the world. When I got pregnant, I assumed this wouldn’t change my travel plans much. I’d already been to India, so I was a seasoned traveler, right? Wrong. It’s wicked hard just to go to the beach with a kid. Hell, even visiting family an hour or two away is a challenge. Family vacations become expensive, stressful, non-vacations. Dealing with diapers and physical discomforts in foreign countries has lost a lot of its appeal these days.
- Have a real job. In the two years between college and parenthood, I went to India, Peru, taught a ton of yoga, answered phones at a salon and checked out a bunch of groceries. I didn’t want or seek a “real job.” The struggle is that now, six years into motherhood, I’ve had to create my own jobs over and over again. My resume makes me look like a slacker even though I’ve been working my butt off juggling kids and self-employment. Frankly, I wish I’d invested more in a real career before having kids.
- Take a long road trip. I fantasized about road trips and camping with my kids, sleeping out under the stars in a new place each night. The truth is, most kids can’t hang in the car for more than two hours at a time without losing it. And, once we switched into family mode, it became near impossible to justify the time off work and the expense of a joy ride across the country. I’m not writing this one off until an empty nest, though—I still dream of doing it when my kids are a bit older.
- Reconcile family relationships. This is 1,000 times harder to do under the pressure of being a parent. On one hand, the maturity that comes from parenting helps me understand my own parents, but it’s a rocky road of judgment and pressure and setting uncomfortable boundaries with family once you start to have your own. Whether it’s how you want to feed your baby, where you want them to sleep, or even what you name them, feathers can be ruffled. Now, when I’m around my family, my kids are there too, so those tough conversations we need to have to heal are even more difficult.
- Spend a few years just as a couple. Parenthood found my partner and me one-and-a-half years into our relationship. We were young and still growing up ourselves. We didn’t get the chance to sort out our beliefs, our work-life balance, or how we wanted to raise our children before it was happening. I wish we’d spent more time just loving each other and enjoying life together. We would have had a stronger base to expand from.
- Save some serious cash. It feels so lame to admit this, but it’s true: kids are f-ing expensive. Birth, clothing, doctors, childcare, the food… it all adds up. While I don’t believe money is the most important thing in life, it would be incredible to have a financial buffer before jumping into childraising. When you have a kid, there’s one more person for emergencies to happen to, and one more person drawing from the pot.
- Go on an open-ended trip alone. Leave home without a clear date and time to return. Embrace this ultimate freedom of changing your mind on a whim. It’s terrifying and exhilarating to travel alone, and the boundaries pushed in oneself are priceless. Plus, the silence and doing whatever you damn well please are unbeatable. Take the chance to go somewhere alone, with no plans or pressures before you have a family to tie you down. After a baby, it’s an unspeakably long time before this opportunity comes again.