There is nothing quite like being a parent for the first time. Holding your newborn baby, nuzzling your face into their tiny neck and inhaling their sweet smell. Gently rubbing your cheek against their skin and knowing you have never felt anything softer. Your heart simultaneously increasing in size and breaking into a million pieces. Because you know you have never loved something this much or been this afraid in your entire life.

Nothing can prepare you for the completely life-altering experience of parenthood. You can be told a million times, in a million different ways. But you will never understand until you are in the trenches, knee deep in diapers and spit-up. Sleep deprivation robbing your body of every last once of energy you have, but still you somehow get through another day.

Motherhood is the most wonderful, rewarding, and exhilarating job I will ever have. But it is also the hardest. We are so used to seeing everyone’s perfectly filtered lives on social media that we sometimes forget. I wish mothers were more honest with each about just how difficult it really is. Then maybe we wouldn’t feel so crazy all the time, like everyone knows what they are doing except us.

So I’ve compiled a list of some of the things I wish I had been told. This list is by no means comprehensive, but simply a starting point for a conversation. I encourage you to add your own in the comments below. I would love to hear from you.

There is no such thing as the perfect time to have kids. You can prepare somewhat by having a job, health insurance, maybe a little money in savings. But the truth is, if you are waiting for everything in your life to line up seamlessly while a beacon of light proclaims, “NOW IS THE TIME!” You will never have children. Taking the leap will always hold that slightly uneasy feeling of the unknown. And it doesn’t stop with the first kid. Truthfully, I had a harder time jumping to a second kid. At the time, I couldn’t imagine loving another child as much as I loved my first. But I took that leap, and I loved her just as much.

It takes a village. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. So often we think we can do it all, and we feel we are a failure when we ask for help. Being a mother can be a very isolating experience if you let it. I cannot express the importance of getting out and meeting other mothers, (and fathers, too) especially if you do not live close to family. Having a strong network of people around you that you can also trust around your children is VITAL!

You will need a suit of armor. Don’t take things personally. What is the saying, “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one?” This is especially true about being a parent. It seems every person you meet will have something to say about your baby or the way you are choosing to parent. Just nod your head, smile, and go to your happy place.

Children’s TV shows will be your lifeline. You may have visions of being that mother who never lets their kids watch television, but there will come a time where it will be necessary. And your life will never be the same again. You will actually find yourself singing songs from your child’s favorite show in the shower. Or finishing an episode when your kid has already left the room.

Don’t compare. Every baby is different. Even siblings reach milestones at different times. Trust that your baby is growing and developing just the way he is meant to. Besides, walking at 10 months old is not necessarily a good thing.

Trust in yourself, but know that you will make mistakes and that’s OKAY. Although we often look like superheroes, mothers are in fact HUMAN! This means that we are fallible, we make mistakes. Everything doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect. Your baby truly has no idea you don’t know what you’re doing. They just want your presence, your love, and maybe something to eat.

They will push you to your limits. You may not think so right now, but there will come a time when you will most certainly lose your cool. You will hear one too many “MOM! MOM! MOM! MOM!” pick-up one too many toys or repeat yourself one too many times, and you will go absolutely CRAZY! Don’t fret, it happens to the best of us. Once you regain your composure, calmly explain yourself, and move on with life.

Don’t micromanage your husband, your parents or your in-laws. Everyone parents a little differently, and it is beneficial for your kids to experience the many ways they can be loved and cared for. A little roughhousing with dad or spoiling from the grandparents is actually good for your kids.

Every stage has things you will miss, things you dread, and an END. It may sound cliché, but it truly goes so fast. You may feel like you will be breastfeeding forever or that your son will never be potty-trained, but this too shall pass. Try to enjoy every stage you are in because one day they won’t reach out to be picked up or to hold your hand, and one night soon they won’t ask for you to read them a story.

Say goodbye to privacy and hello to embarrassing questions in public. No place in the house is safe even the bathroom. The second you sit down on the toilet will be the exact moment they need something. In fact, public places are even less safe. Changing rooms and public restrooms are just an invitation for your child to open a door and show you off to the world. Or they will simply ask a question in the loudest voice imaginable, “Are those your boobies?” “Why does your butt jiggle?” “Did you fart?”

LISTEN! One of the best things you can do for your child is give them your full attention when they are speaking. It is not always easy to do, but it is so important. Showing them you care about what they are saying when it’s something small means they are more likely to come to you when it’s something big.

Take time for yourself. Remember you’re allowed to have a life. Even if it’s only 20 minutes a day at first, take it. Stay in touch with that person you were before you became a parent. Nurturing and taking care of yourself will help you to better take care of them.

Let your children be who they are. As parents, it is our job to teach our children. We want to show them all the things we love, and we want them to love those things just as much as we do. It’s easy to forget that they are their own little person with their own quirks, interests and loves. Don’t be afraid to sit back one in a while and let them “do their thing.” They may actually inspire you to try something new for a change.

Having a baby is the most pure, uncomplicated love you will ever experience. Of course you love your parents, your siblings, your spouse, but there is nothing like the love you have for your child. Love as an adult often comes with complications and baggage because everyone has past experiences which have shaped them. But a baby is pure innocence and pure love with no complications. There is no comparison.