Drew Barrymore wanted to quit acting after having kids: 'All I wanted to do was be their mom'

Since skyrocketing to superstardom as a child actress, Drew Barrymore's life has been shaped by a multitude of experiences — including a stint at a "child institution" for troubled teens and years of drug and alcohol abuse.

But one of the most affecting was becoming a mom, the actress, activist and host of The Drew Barrymore Show explained in a new interview on The Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. Since having children, she said, her philosophies on life, parenting and forgiveness have shifted in ways she never thought possible.

Drew Barrymore arrives on the red carpet for the film
Drew Barrymore says her entire view on life and work changed since becoming a mom. (Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch)

“I wished anything was a catalyst for me to be my best self, [but] nothing was until I met my kids,” Barrymore explained. “I could be a highly functioning woman at work. I was a woman in the boardroom and a child in the bedroom — and I didn’t f*cking care. I would drive with people intoxicated on Mulholland [Drive]. How I didn’t go over that side and I’m dead, I don’t know.”

Of the rockstar lifestyle she lived in her early years, she added, “My life was an absolute experiment in how far can I push this? And idiocy and immortality and just complete delusion and hedonism and selfishness. And a lot of fun and adventure, again, I wouldn’t change a thing. But it was like, I had my kids and I changed.”

Barrymore’s turbulent upbringing has been highly publicized over the years. Emancipated at just 14 years old, she was living and working on her own with little adult supervision — something she says was replaced by work, which took over “the accountability that a parent should have instilled in me to develop,” she explained. “Work was like, ‘You gotta be in bed.’ ‘You gotta know your lines.’ The work was the parent. It gave me the discipline and total accountability.”

When she had kids, however, Barrymore said the desire to act deteriorated, and was replaced by the responsibility she felt for being a mom.

“You wake up before your kids do and you get home after,” Barrymore explained of the long days of shooting that kept her from spending time with her family. She soon realized that “I didn’t want to be anyone else. I didn’t want to pretend to be someone else. I didn’t want to study someone else’s life and become them. I couldn’t come to grips with the fact that I didn’t want to do the job I’d done my entire life anymore because all I wanted to do was be their mom.”

Becoming a parent has also allowed her to find forgiveness for her own parents — especially her mother — for not giving her the nurturing she longed for at the time.

“I did not forgive myself or my mom for a long time — mostly myself,” she said. “The funny thing that happens to kids, and I’d like all parents to know this, is that when you f*ck over your kids, your kids usually feel really horrible about themselves. They don’t hate you. They hate themselves. That’s the worst part.”

“The guilt I had that my mom and I could not have that societally perfect mother-daughter relationship crushed me throughout my life,” she added. “I finally let it go and was just like, this is what it is, this is who she is, this is what I am.”

That ultimately led Barrymore and her mother to “come together,” not as a “damaged” mother and daughter “corroded with guilt and toxicity,” but as two adults ready to “forgive” the past.

“I was like, hey you know what? F*ck it!” she said. “Woman to woman. Guess what? You’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. Let’s just f*cking not live the rest of our lives like this. I can’t take it anymore. I’m so ready to let it go. I’ve sat in this sh*t for so long I can’t wait to get out of this. And it’s been great ever since.”

Coming from a “long line of addicts and alcoholics,” Barrymore said that at this stage in her life she wants to “be the breaker of that chain in my family,” adding that even now she’s “still trying to master it.”

“Here’s my theory about life that I learned in the last few years,” she began. “I believe so much in the Jiminy Cricket that lives on your shoulder that is your conscience. And it tells you, it screams in your ear what you’re doing wrong — and you know it. What I would do [as a teen] is I would ball-gag that motherf*cker and stuff him in a closet and he would scream muffled, but he’d never shut up. And every single day he’d make his way out back on my shoulder and go, ‘These are the things you do that are wrong.’ ‘These are the things you do that keep you broken.’”

“I’m so glad that I’m in a clear state of my life and that I’m ready to be so present and just not have that desire,” she explained of overcoming her drug and alcohol adduction. “Finally, Elvis has left the building and it’s so quiet. Insecurity is loud, confidence is quiet.”