The Things I Miss Most From My Life Before Kids

Friday, May 12, 2017 - 5:00 am

The Things I Miss Most From My Life Before Kids

My body boundaries: there is no consent or consideration when it comes to young children. They need you when they need you. They need your lap and your milk and your smell and your energy, even when you have none. It’s profoundly exhausting and sometimes even feels extractive — like they have no compassion for your limits, which they don’t, and they shouldn’t (at least as infants).

But that’s a strange place to find yourself in when you’ve worked so hard to create relationships where your body’s autonomy and desire is respected. Sometimes I feel like my 20s were about learning to love and protect my body and then, in my 30s, I gave it over completely.

Mornings: I write best in the mornings, so I used to literally roll out of bed and walk straight to my desk. If my boyfriend tried to talk to me, I would give him the death stare. Don’t you know that my brain is at this very moment firing on all cylinders for a precious few moments of time before the Internet or the unpaid bills or hunger or some other less important thing sneaks into my consciousness?

You’ll be glad to know that I don’t give my babies the death stare when they wake me up at 6 a.m. Truth be told, they are as cute when they wake up as I was once inspired. Even more so. But I do miss those mornings with my fingers flying over a keyboard, my brain ever so briefly un-muddled.

Drunk dancing: I was going to write late nights, but there is actually something kind of lovely about my nights these days. I’m so worn out by the time I get the girls to bed that I positively relish that first moment when my ass hits the couch with a book in hand or a TV show in mind. Sometimes I eat a bar of chocolate. Usually my husband and I recount some ridiculous moment involving the girls and laugh together.

It only lasts an hour or so before one of us crashes, but it’s often sweet. What I do miss is dancing for hours on end in a dark bar, not thinking about the hangover the next day, not thinking at all, actually, just being in the flow state thanks to some hot, snobby DJ.

Timelessness: children impose all kinds of beautiful ritual on a life. The upside is that the existential exhaustion that accompanied my previous existence because of all those damn daily choices is gone (see Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice). The downside is that my life feels slotted into a merry-go-round of routines.

The smoothie must be put in the heart glass. The purple water bottle must go in the Wonder Woman backpack. The parking curb must be walked like a balance beam. Again and again and again… Part and parcel of not having much timeless time is that I rarely get to be lost in a book, which is one of my deepest pleasures.

Following the muse: I have a dozen notes on this phone (on which I am right this very moment drafting my column while I pump) that were supposed to be the seeds of brilliant columns or profound poems and instead they now read like stones that plunk dumbly into a lake rather than skipping. Real examples: freedom from denial, you’re wrong and I love you, pre-grief?, therapist no email.

Wandering: one of my favorite things to do is walk through a city with no agenda, watching people, getting sucked into the black hole of a great bookstore, eating something out of a truck or a diner. Infants require too much stuff and too many naps to wander. The only time I’ve been lost recently was within the confines of a bedroom pretending to be camping with unicorns (which was pretty awesome, actually).

Being fearless about dying: I used to sit on an airplane and think, if I died right now, I would be happy. I’ve had an amazing life filled with funny, brilliant, big-hearted people. I’ve been able to express who I am, be of service at some level, laugh a lot. But now that I have the girls, my entire being screams NO to death. I have to be here to make sure they eat enough protein and take a bath at least every other day and I never want to stop pulling long-legged Maya into my lap and smelling her head. Death is no longer a graceful option. I’d go kicking and screaming.

Being one person: people often evoke that saying about having kids being like having your heart walk outside of your body. It’s kind of like that for me. But it’s a different quality — more like the umbilical cord was never actually cut, spiritually speaking. If it were my heart, I think I’d actually feel less compromised. I can be reckless with my own body, my own heart, in a way that I cannot with theirs.

When they were born, it was like a dimension of the universe unfolded wherein I am not one person, but three people now. They are never outside of my mind, even if they are hiding in a corner for a moment while I give a speech or swim laps. They are permanently included in my sense of my own well being — how am I? Well, how are they? This is a deeply meaningful way to be in the world, but it’s also heavy and permanent. I never wish I were one person again. The gifts of being three are so vast. But I do miss the unbearable lightness of just being me sometimes.

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is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at

Share Your Reflection


  • Cate

    How lovely to read an article acknowledging the personal losses of being a mother. Our culture doesn’t make much space for women to speak frankly about how children sometimes diminish their lives, as well as sometimes enrich them – more on both counts than for most men, I think. Thank you.

    • Gabby

      While I never felt pangs of loss on becoming a mother, my mother missed many things she gave up or put behind her on having children. I wish she had discussed these feelings with other adults rather than with us, the children- that as you write, Cate, the culture had made space for it for those who feel this way. I don’t think hearing about it was positive for us as children growing up.

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  • Cindy

    Yes to this. Perfectly written. And I hate to tell you but it does not diminish. our children are no longer children and “how am I? Well, how are they?” still applies.

  • knsimpson

    I am reading this because the young professionals with families are my target audience… but I am a happy empty nester, so sometimes I need to hear from the trenches and remember! My words of encouragement are… you will get all of those things back someday, assuming you raise healthy, independent children. It is not permanent. The only things that have not come back are the fearlessness of dying, and a bit of the being more than one person… I have to say, I do not think about my adult children on a daily basis. I do not see them on a daily basis. And it is my norm now. But I would also say that if they were going through a very hard time, I would feel it and I would want to take it away from them at all costs. So rather than grieve the things you lost… realize you can get them back! I wander… and write in the mornings… and drunk dance… and am spontaneous as much as possible! I also get to read and pursue my passions with gusto! Enjoy every stage!