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.
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