Opinion | Yes, Raising Kids Can Be Tough. Why Are We So Reluctant to Talk About the Joy?

Here is a summary of a conversation I feel like I had countless times during my pregnancy: You think being pregnant is hard? Just wait until your baby is born and sleep exists only in your dreams! Except you’ll never have dreams again because you’ll never sleep again! Anyway, congratulations! Welcome to the Mom Club!

These dire warnings and endless jokes about the unspeakable horrors of parenting have only increased as my daughter enters the terrible twos. While friends, family members and kindly strangers have also shared encouraging words with me, the anxiety-inducing comments seem to vastly exceed the positive ones.

When I was trying to survive the hurricane of infancy, these quips were not only profoundly unhelpful but effectively depressing. Yet griping about the quotidian torture of parenthood — the mess! the lack of sleep! the disappearance of freedom! — often feels like the only way new parents can connect, and admitting you might find parenting fulfilling or rewarding increasingly feels like an unspeakable taboo. Why are we so intent on scaring the hell out of new and prospective parents? We’ve gotten accustomed to talking to each other about the bad stuff but I think we need to make a better effort to share the good stuff, too.

There is some irony (or maybe karma) at work here: For five years I was a writer on the Netflix comedy series “Workin’ Moms,” created by and starring Catherine Reitman. From the start, the goal of our show was to be brutally honest about motherhood, in all its absurdities and indelicacies. We existed in the tradition of shows like “Better Things” starring Pamela Adlon, the American sitcom “SMILF,” the Australian comedy “The Letdown” and the blockbuster film “Bad Moms.” Our show focused on the travails of the working mother, mining humor from the recognizable distress of juggling a career with the chaos of having kids.

Shows like ours — and other such parenting-sucks cultural phenomena that predated it, like the best-selling 2011 parody children’s book “Go the F**k to Sleep” — arose as an antidote to a culture in which stress over parenting could only ever be spoken of in a whisper. Voicing frustrations about your kids felt like something you could safely do just in a priest’s confessional — and never admit to other parents. Now, though, the pendulum has swung all the way in the other direction, as millennial parents are having children later in life and showing no compunction in sharing their displeasure.

When I started writing on our comedy show, I had no children — and I was wrestling with ambivalence. Listening to Catherine and the other mothers in the writers’ room talk so honestly and cathartically (and hilariously) about their experiences — with all their searing, uncomfortable, contradictory emotions — helped me exorcise my theoretical fears. I reveled in their honesty because I wanted to hear the truth, hoping it would help me decide what I wanted to do. And I wanted our show to speak the truth as well.

I became a mother in 2021, weeks before we began writing the show’s final season. Suddenly I found myself accosted by other parents who wanted to tell me all the terrible things about motherhood — and how it gets only worse over time. Once I had my daughter, hearing from other parents about every terrifying detail — and all the horrors to come — didn’t feel comforting or cathartic. It nearly broke me.

Maybe we millennials just find it too difficult to shed our firmly established adult identities, so we crack jokes about wine o’clock and sleeplessness. We’re all trying to sound like a cool mom — as though we’re Ali Wong or Amy Schumer or the latest straight-talking mother on TikTok. I also think part of the problem is that it’s really hard to talk about the good stuff without resorting to sentimental clichés. I’ll admit I often worry about sounding like something of a boring loser when I rhapsodize about my daughter.

I recently — very unironically — posted a photo online of my daughter’s very first piece of art hung up on our fridge. A good friend responded by telling me he’s enjoying my “descent into norm-core.” Generally I’ve found that talking about how wonderful my baby is to be a great way to end a conversation. When we talk about parenting hardships, though, other parents lean in, thinking: “Here we go! Giddy up!”

But I know that, as a new parent, what I needed to hear most was that it was going to be OK and that my partner and I hadn’t made a huge mistake. I need to hear that it might be possible I was actually going to be good at this. Yet those kinds of reassurances were distressingly hard to find.

I’ve come to understand that having kids can be both awful and wonderful, often at the same time. And while I (obviously) also want to be a cool mom, I’m personally finding that motherhood challenges my inherent sarcastic nature and undercuts my reluctance to be earnest — the very qualities that make me well suited for writing TV comedy. It also feels like a betrayal of my precious daughter to constantly harp about the inconveniences and pain-in-the-ass elements of parenting — and never mention the miraculous gratitude I feel when my daughter enters the room. She is my sunshine, full stop, as I tell her in song (poorly) each night. It’s dishonest to pretend otherwise.

In my experience, the task of parenting my daughter has gotten much easier over these last few years, or at least more joyful. There, I said it — and I will try to make a point of saying it as often as I can, especially to people who are pregnant or seem to be in survival mode in their first year with a newborn. And I’m going to encourage other people to say it, too. As much value as there may be in collectively sharing our hardships, there’s at least as much to be found in sharing our joy.

When I encounter someone with a child younger than mine, and I sense that the parent is feeling fatigue, vulnerability or fear that feels familiar to me, I won’t make a joke about endless diapers or wakeful nights. I’ll share the three magic words my doula used to say when I was pregnant that would make me cry instantly, every time:

You’re doing great.