Labor of Love: Kortney Wilson, TV Host & Mama of 3, Chats Determination, Devastation, and Living Happy
When it comes to all things house and home, there’s no doubt Kortney Wilson knows her stuff! Alongside her husband and partner of 21 years, you’ve likely seen her hosting HGTV’s Masters of Flip. In its 4th and final successful season, the show focuses on this couple’s quest to buy older, neglected houses in Nashville then flip them into stunning, show-stopping homes. The catch? Try to make their money back, end up with a respectable profit, and have a helluva good time doing it!
On our recent trip to Music City, Tennessee, mamabare connected with the peppy mama of 3 to talk all things motherhood and her favorite ways to live happy. In true Southern charm fashion, and despite describing her Google calendar as colorful as the pride flag, she graciously took time out of her busy filming and travel schedule the day before her 40th birthday just to chat with us. Thank you, Kort!
Growing up in Ontario, Canada, Kortney was focused on one goal: to become a country star in Nashville. Sure enough, by 18 she’d boldly packed her bags and headed south to take a stab at the music industry. She landed her first music deal with Reba McEntire within one week. Just a few months later, she had signed a deal with Disney Records.
As fate would have it, Dave, also a young Canadian singer/songwriter, had been living in the UK at the time but was in Nashville for a brief writing vacation. The pair met within days of Kortney’s move and Dave chose to claim Nashville as his new stompin’ grounds.
Kortney has made an entire life out of living fearlessly: the daring move to Nashville, musical and TV appearances, choosing to start a family in a success-driven music industry … and trusting Dave to organize her 40th birthday celebration! Candid about her penchant for perfect planning, we spoke to Kortney less than 12 hours before her big day. She shared her struggle with impending surprises, noting that, like many multi-tasking mamas, she’s usually the one managing the details. In the midst of her anxiety, Dave recently said to her, “I need you to trust me to take care of this.”
That trust has bred many successful collaborations between the wed pair so far: music, a family, as well as an intentional pivot towards real estate and reality TV. As Kortney explains, “I couldn’t pursue a touring music career and be the kind of mom I choose to be.” In an effort to provide stability for a growing family while exploring her tremendous creativity, she got her real estate license in 2008 and is now a celebrated, award-winning agent. She’s always looking to set her house and home designs apart from other options on the market with signature bold colors and accents.
Now the couple’s published Live Happy, a book from Harper Collins Publishing brimming with tips for home décor, navigating family dynamics, and living a fulfilled life! The last tip in the book, set to hit Canadian bookstores on February 19, focuses on the pair’s experience of taking a birth mother into their home in their pursuit to adopt a baby. Frank about their experience, Kortney shared with mamabare that they weren’t lying on their reality show, but you don’t always see the full story.
The full story is bold, fearless, and authentic: the oldest of four kids from a happy home, family has long been first on Kortney’s list of life goals, even with attractive music deals and potential TV appearances. As she explained to us, “The one thing that I was most certain of in my life was that I was going to be a mother.”
So, it should come as no surprise that on their first date, Kortney told Dave that she not only wanted to be a mother, but she also absolutely wanted to adopt. As she describes it, “On a Thursday, we decided to start a family and a week and a half later, we had conceived.” She mentions feeling guilty but grateful for their experience with fertility, as they were surrounded by many friends struggling to start their families.
First came Jett. Then Sully made his appearance two years later. Kortney was still nursing her youngest son when she told Dave adoption papers were on the kitchen counter. A few years and plenty of heartache later, the adoption process was complete. When initially visiting the agency, Kortney admits to feeling silly around other parents, many who had been struggling with infertility for years. She could empathize with them but says she had never known that type of loss and pain.
The couple was finally connected with a birth mother, a 21-year-old mother of four boys. The pair proceeded to support the young mom for six months – support that was, according to Kortney, financial, emotional, and spiritual. Two days before giving birth, the biological mother had a huge change of heart. The baby’s grandmother spoke frankly, a message Kortney will not soon forget: a white woman would never be raising her grandchild.
Kortney promptly fell into a depression that lasted weeks. As she describes it, “This period was a fetal-position, sucking-your-thumb type of depression.” Mother to two young biological children, she already knew feelings of fatigue and sorrow. But suddenly, she was viscerally able to understand loss, as she explains, “the kind that shakes you.”
She describes Dave as her rock. Throughout their next adoption process, the couple began diligently interviewing while also being interviewed. They became pickier in an attempt to avoid the same devastating loss that had just colored their painful parenting past.
Lennox Esmee was born in 2009, and within two hours, the Wilsons met their daughter at the hospital. Once cradling the newborn, Kortney turned to Dave and asked him, “What would you say to that first birth mother right now?” Dave simply responded, “I would say thank you.”
Dave, Kortney, the boys, and baby girl lived in the state where Lennox was born for a glorious eight days post-birth, days spent away from the spotlight and camera crew, just bonding as a new (and complete) family of five. The boys, at the time three and five years old, accepted Lennox wholeheartedly. As mom explains, “There was absolutely no difference in how Jett welcomed Sully into the family versus Lennox.”
Prior to adoption, Kortney had chosen not to nurse, a decision that allowed her to avoid hormone supplements. Without hormones, she would not be able to produce breastmilk. Even opting in, she’d be unable to produce colostrum, the valuable immune-boosting, nutrient-rich food first produced when nursing. She was, however, deeply committed to enjoying skin-to-skin with her newest baby. The birth mother had already chosen not to breastfeed. It had been a good 20 months or more since Sully had been weaned. During their first moments of skin-to-skin, Lennox started rooting. Confused, and a bit in disbelief, Kortney asked Dave what she should do. They decided to let the newborn just connect naturally. Mom describes her own reaction as “going to that crazy dumb blond place”: she was terrified her milk was sour or something was horribly wrong. As Lennox began to suck, sure enough, the infant was swallowing milk and soon was fully breastfeeding. Nurses and lactation consultants were dumbfounded, considering this an incredible and rare experience! Kortney and Lennox enjoyed nursing twice a day for three full months, a bonding experience she still remembers so fondly.
Our conversation concluded with Kortney sharing so many inspiring and insightful thoughts about her purpose in parenting:
“With motherhood, I feel like I fake it every single day. I’m always trying to figure it out. I’m just trying to keep up and make sure the whole family is in tune with each other.”
“Every new stage for my kids is a new stage of parenting for me too. Parenting does not allow us to be stagnant.”
Jett is now a strapping 14-year-old hockey player who started high school this year and headed out on his first international trip without his parents. When asked how she feels about her kids growing up, Kortney explains, “I love seeing our kids take on new experiences. It’s so fun for me. I’m happy for them and, although I get a little teary from time to time thinking about them flying the nest, I’m so excited for the adventures they are going to have and equally curious where life is going to lead them.”
Having travelled all over the U.S., Canada, Italy, Mexico, and Thailand in 2018, her take is: “Travel is the best education we could ever give our kids and we live for connecting with people from all over the world.”
Sully, now 12 years old, was homeschooled like his brother for 3 years before transitioning to a traditional school this year. He’s an avid soccer and flag football player. “[The boys] went to elementary school from K-4 so I only homeschooled them for 3 years before they transitioned to upper middle. I say ‘only’ because once we got started, I was really enjoying it and I was kind of bummed to stop. It was time though.”
“I am so much more capable and intuitive as a mother than I thought I ever could be.”
Lennox, now 9 years old, is a thriving violinist who is still homeschooled. Kortney never planned for this but was dissatisfied with the Nashville school system. Never one to shy away from challenges, she figured if homeschooling didn’t work out, they would also just figure that out. When asked how she navigates the worries that inevitably accompany motherhood, Kortney says, “Wine. […] In all seriousness, I take comfort in knowing that I’m not alone. […] I guess finding people to make me feel less crazy has been a strategy!”
“When I see my kids upset or going to sleep early or anything out of the ordinary, I’ve learned to dig a little more. I’ll take my 14-year-old on a coffee date. We try to parent each child as they are. We don’t parent them the same way because they aren’t the same kids. I have learned to trust my instincts for the good stuff and the bad.”
The Wilsons use humor and humility as much as possible in their parenting. As she tells us, “Humor is healing, and we don’t ever take ourselves too seriously. Our kids have seen us fail. It means growth. It means we’ve tried. […] The minute we give up on our dream, they feel that may also be expected of them.”
Make no mistake: Kortney Wilson has not given anything up. She has chosen.
On the heels of her latest birthday celebration and in preparation for her book launch, Kortney is drinking champagne in back alleyways and making no apologies. She considers the last four decades her “research” years. Recently reconnecting with music, a driving creative force during her early Nashville days, we spoke to Kortney the day after she sat down at the piano for the first time in two years. She described singing while tears flowed, reminded of how music feeds her soul and overwhelmingly grateful for where she is today.
On an early episode years ago of CMT Canada’s Meet the Wilsons, Kortney exclaimed, “The dream is to have it all.” We think she might have figured out how to do just that – by intentionally creating a life that is bold, fearless, authentic, purposeful, and happy!
She and Dave introduced their website www.kortneyanddave.com in early 2018.
Kort & co. will soon be launching, initially featuring bed linens, home accessories, and pillows, with hopes to expand to bigger pieces of furniture and other home goods.
Their first book, Live Happy: The Best Ways to Make Your House a Home, can be pre-ordered now. It will be available in Canada as of February 19, 2019 and elsewhere this spring. The couple will be touring North America for their book launch starting at:
Indigo, Sherway Gardens in Toronto on February 23
Indigo in Kitchener, Ontario on February 24
Nashville Convention Centre on March 15-16
Edmonton on March 22-23
Winnipeg on April 4