Like many folks these days, I have a few group text and Facebook messenger threads running at any given moment. My local mom friends text group, my book club group DM, and a group DM for fellow admins of a Facebook group I manage, among others. In the past six months or so, a common refrain has sprung up in these groups: no one told me motherhood was going to be like this. And by “like this,” I mean anything short of 24/7 sun-dappled joy and #blessed moments.

We all arrived at motherhood differently and have different family structures, but we all feel this same push to keep quiet about the hard stuff. Those that breastfed were not warned about the split nipples or the pediatricians who make you feel like a failure if your kid is one ounce shy of the “growth curve.”

Those of us who arrived at parenthood after dealing with infertility or adoption didn’t get told how terribly guilty we’d feel for silly things like wanting a break from our kids or basically feeling any negative emotion about motherhood. After all, we fought so hard for this, now that we have it shouldn’t we just be happy all the time?

Those with multiple kids close in age were not warned they’d feel more like a WWE referee than a parent on some days. Those who are one-and-done weren’t warned that everyone and their uncle was going to try to convince them that if they didn’t have another kid their kid would grow up to basically be an antisocial freak who dismembers kittens for fun.

The single moms weren’t warned about the Judgy McJudgersons who would assume they made bad choices that got them there. Stay-at-home moms are shiftless lazy layabouts who are singlehandedly bringing down decades of feminist progress. Working moms are selfish uptight women who care more about money than their kids. Nobody warned us. I mean, we didn’t even warn each other.

Some would say the culprit is social media, where you see the filtered highlight reel of everyone’s existence and not the nitty gritty day to day unshowered insanity that is parenting small children. I wouldn’t disagree with this, but I think it goes beyond that. Our culture in general doesn’t want to hear about reality. We want our stuff airbrushed, CGId, fully made-up, and presented on a silver platter. Think about how you respond when anyone asks how you are doing: you usually say, “Oh, OK, how are you doing?”

If you were being real you’d probably say “My oldest bit someone at day care, I haven’t showered in two days, pretty sure the baby is actually a sociopath who wants to drive me mad via sleep deprivation and also my dog shit in the living room yesterday. Oh, and it’s been so long since my husband and I have had sex I’m pretty sure my private parts may have somehow grown-over or fused together.” Can you imagine the looks you would get? How they’d back away slowly while dialing 911 on their iPhone?

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A lot of mothers, even if we have our group texts and our play dates and our neighborhood buddies, feel isolated. If you have an infant, that isolation can be physical because good luck leaving the house and making it back again before they need a nap or a feed. For those with slightly older kids, the isolation is in-between our ears. All of these thoughts that we have about how hard this is, how we feel like we are often literally not doing a single part of this job correctly, we keep them inside for the most part, or let them out only for a select few.

Of course we all want to show off the moments where our kids are dressed in clean clothes or doing something cute. Why are we so afraid to talk about the others that really make up the vast majority of parenthood? Why do we have to pretend like every moment is precious and sacred and beautiful when we know it isn’t? How can we change the dialogue around motherhood in our culture to allow room for all the messiness, the sad and bad feelings? Why can’t we all just stop pretending that we know what we’re doing? That we aren’t all just out here throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks and hoping for the best?

The next time you go to a baby shower, here’s my suggestion. Give them the onesie with the funny saying on it, chip in for the behemoth stroller they’ll probably end up hating, enjoy the mini cupcakes and the mimosas, but give the new mom a card that says: “Hey, this Mom thing? It is going to be awesome. Sometimes. But there are also going to be parts that aren’t awesome. Parts where you wonder if you are a terrible mom and a terrible person. It’s possible no one else is going to tell you this. In the moments where you feel incompetent, or just that your child is slowly driving you insane, call me. I’ll be a judgment-free zone and I’ll do my best to try to talk you off the ledge and remind you that actually, you’re doing a damn fine job. Also, all those people you went to high school with who just post pretty pictures of their seemingly perfect children? They are lying like a rug, girl.”

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