When you are an expectant parent, it seems like everybody has advice for you. And I do mean everybody. Your family. Your partners family. Your friends. Your co-workers. The cashiers at stores. The clerks at gas stations. The waitresses at restaurants. Strangers on the street. Yes, strangers on the street will come up to you, put their hands on your belly (usually without asking) and then ask you personal questions and offer unsolicited advice. Be warned.

From the moment the world knows you are pregnant, it’s an unending barrage of unsolicited advice. And you just grin and bear it. Even if it’s the 137th time someone has told you to let your baby sleep on their back or the 219th time someone has told you about the latest, greatest baby thing you just HAVE to get. You just nod, and smile, and say “Thank you.”

People told me everything they thought I needed to know, about everything. How the baby should sleep, how often I should feed the baby, which diapers I should buy, which neighborhood I should live in, what books I should read to the baby, what music the baby should listen to, how old the baby should be when they stop nursing, which day care they should go to, which elementary school, which instruments they should play, which sports they should participate in…people told me all of these things, and more. So much more.

But the one thing that nobody told me was this: When you become a parent, guilt becomes your constant companion. 

If you are a working parent, you will feel guilty about the time you spend away from your child. If you are a stay-at-home parent, you will feel guilty when you enjoy spending time away from your child. If you are a conservative, traditional parent you will, at some point, feel guilty for the “adventures” your child didn’t have. If you are an unconventional parent, you will, at some point, feel guilty for the “stability” your child didn’t have. If you are a single-parent you will sometimes feel guilty for the “family” your child didn’t have. No matter what you do, you will at some point feel guilty. Even if you are a perfect parent (which, none of us are) you will, at some point, lose your shit and then you’ll feel guilty about that.

The guilt ebbs and flows over different things, and as your child gets older the things you feel guilty about will change. There is nothing you can do to stop this from happening. I’m not telling you this to scare you, I just wish somebody had told me. I wish somebody had told me about all the not-so-pretty things that come with parenting-not just which diapers to buy or which schools are the best. Because it’s the messy parts of parenting that make you a parent. Life is a messy, imperfect thing that none of us are experts at. We all make mistakes, in our own lives and in the parenting choices we make sometimes. And that’s ok. As long as your kid knows you love them, and that when things get messy you will be there for them, then everything will be ok. I promise.