About a year after my husband and I got married, we decided to nix birth control and let nature take its course. At 24 and 25, we felt ready to start a family, ready to take that leap, ready for the next inevitable step in our life together.
While I don’t regret having our children at all, I do wish I could go back to 24-year-old me and slap some sense into her. If I could do it all over again, there are some things I would have done before kids. Looking back, these are things I would do:
1. Pay off my student loans.
Or at least pay them way down. I came out of college owing an uncomfortably large sum of money, and almost 20 years later, I’m still making payments on an uncomfortably large sum of money. At the time, I just resigned myself to it. But now I wish we had held off having kids for a year or two, lived off of my husband’s income, and put all of my income into paying off our loans.
2. Travel more.
I know, it’s cliché, but it’s so true. I lived in Japan for almost a year after college, and I’m so thankful I did. But I do wish I had traveled more, both alone and with my husband, before the kids came along. I’ve learned so many creative ways to make travel affordable, and I’d love to go back and apply that knowledge to my pre-kid years.
3. Get a higher degree.
Many times over the years, I’ve wondered if I should have gotten my Master’s degree or Ph.D. I know some moms do it after kids (more power to them), but I just couldn’t see that happening when my kids were little. And now that they’re older, I don’t really have the drive, desire, or energy to go back to school.
4. Spend time walking around a museum, reading all the plaques.
We’ve spent many hours taking our kids to museums, and while it’s always fun, it’s more like a whirlwind highlight tour than an in-depth learning experience. Every time, I lament not being able to read all of the info because I’ve got a kid pulling on my leg or dashing off to the next exhibit. If I could go back, I’d spend all day at a museum walking really slowly and reading everything.
5. Go to more live performances.
I never realized what a luxury live theater was until I had small children. I’d go to symphonies, concerts, plays, poetry readings — everything that kids tend to disrupt or prevent altogether.
6. Appreciate a full night’s sleep.
I’m sure this one doesn’t need any explanation because everything you hear about parenting and sleep is true. Even when I get a full night’s sleep now, I never really feel fully rested like I did pre-kids. Sleep has forever been altered.
7. Learn more about time management.
I didn’t really realize the vital importance of good time management skills until I had two jobs, a spouse, three kids, and community commitments. And now, because of all of those things, I don’t have time to delve into time management theories. #irony
8. Get in fabulous shape.
I’ve always been an on-again-off-again exerciser, but if I knew then what I know now, I’d have taken advantage of my youth and my free time and gotten Jillian Michaels fit. It would have been nice going into motherhood with that already established, rather than trying to muster the discipline at 40.
9. Keep a regular diary.
I have a few journals that I started and then let slide, but I wish I had kept more of a written record of my life, thoughts, and feelings before I had kids. It would be fun to see how I’ve changed and how I haven’t. This far into motherhood, I feel like I barely remember who that young woman was, and I’d love to get to know her from this perspective.
10. Treasure my alone time.
After we got married, my husband and I spent almost all of our time together for the year before I got pregnant. And in the 16 years since, I’ve had a kid attached to me in one way or another, with very little time to just “be.” I’m an introvert. I love being alone. I wish I had known how little alone time I’d get so I could really relish it when I had it.
I wonder — if I really could go back, would I actually want to do things differently? I know that hindsight is 20/20 and we probably didn’t have the money to do half of the things on this list. But it’s still fun to imagine what I might change, knowing what I know now.
It’s all moot, though. I suppose at this point it’s more important to think ahead to when I’m 60 or 70. What will we wish we’d done while our kids were still at home? Better make sure we’re doing those things now.