Think you’re a good parent? Think again. Just join a mother’s forum or group on facebook to find out 20+ reasons why you’re doing it all wrong and your child or children as the case may be are probably going to bankrupt you in their teenage years based on the cost of their rehabilitative therapy.
With all of the reports on ‘bullying’ in the news nowadays I think the general population sees it as an issue for the up and coming generation of primary and high-schoolers. However I can attest to the fact that I have never experienced a more judgemental and (at times) mean group of people as other hormonal, insecure mothers looking for validation of their child rearing methods on an open forum. God forbid you don’t support their particular flavour of the day be it: co-sleeping vs crying it out, cloth vs disposable diapers, stay at home parenting vs daycare to name a few and don’t even get them started on the big four: home vs hospital births, non-circumcision vs. Circumcision, vaccinations vs. non-intervention and breastfeeding vs formula.
With the advent of the internet and social media parenting has evolved in a way our parents couldn’t have imagined. All they had to deal with was cranky in-laws calling them or dropping in to tell them how they would have done it. Now, lucky us, we have a whole sisterhood of new, empowered mothers who have strong and ‘researched’ opinions on every aspect of daily life during pregnancy, with a newborn, toddler and on! I’m not saying I never got any useful advice from the forums, absolutely I did! What I am saying is that the drama and bad vibes eventually outweighed the supportive culture that was imagined when those groups were formed.
Parenting, as I see it, is as individual as clothing taste or food choices. You’ll never meet anyone wearing the same thing as you, ordering the same meal at the same time at the same restaurant, so why do you expect every other parent to raise their children the way you raise yours? We all have the same goal of course: to raise intelligent, polite, active, independent and productive members of our society. Definitely a tall order, but if your parents did it all on their own, don’t you think you can do the same without 100 strangers commenting on what you fed your child for breakfast and how it will make him or her fat/lazy/autistic/diabetic, etc? We have enough to worry about without a bunch of additional voices throwing out ‘worse case’ scenarios.
To top this all off, the best part about the internet is that anyone can find ‘research’ that matches their particular viewpoint. And we all know how everything ever written on the internet must be true! When it comes to the debates on parenting forums you’ll, without a doubt, find all different view points linking to some various website that sells their particular brand of crack. And somewhere in all of that heated debate (and no-one can get heated like a mother who feels backed into a corner!) you’ll have someone mention ‘Well we couldn’t make you feel guilty about something if you really felt strongly about the decision you made. If you feel bad it must be because you realize you made the wrong choice’. Cue epic meltdown mode….
Now I realize that it is hard to bite your tongue when you think someone is tell you you’re being a bad parent. Raising a child is one of the most amazingly powerful things you can do as a human being and you never want to think you’re screwing it up. Nothing will ever make you quite this defensive. Everyone always says how you want your child to have everything you never had and if you think you’re messing it up already at 3 months of age, how will you ever succeed? Let me tell you a secret: No one has it all figured out…really….it’s true. We’re all going in blind and learning what works best for our families and children as it goes along. For example: yes breastfeeding is awesome, but if your milk doesn’t come in, you suffer from PPD, your kiddo has a bad latch or just plain isn’t interested, it’s not going to make them a serial killer. Just buy some bottles the kid can stand, pour the formula (and yes generic brand is just fine and using tap water won’t give them lead poisoning) and enjoy your well deserved glass of wine.
I have recently given up facebook groups and internet parenting advice sites. I finally realized that although I read them on a daily basis I rarely, if ever, actioned any advice I received and at least one post a week left me disappointed or angry. Not a healthy environment! I decided that going forward I was going to be confident in our decisions as a family and if I needed advice get it the old fashioned way. My mother-in-law raised 5 amazing, successful children and my parents should be very proud of the job they did with myself and my siblings (a lawyer and a financial wiz-kid – yup I’m a proud big sister!). Their advice is golden and they’re not afraid to tell it like it is. I also have amazing friends who are parents and it definitely encourages more healthy interactions for me and V by organizing play-dates and picking their brains from there! A week in and I’m more confident and content than I have been in a long time! This parenting thing is only as hard as you make it….but ask me again in a month or so okay?
Now if you feel that these groups are essential to your strategy as a parent, do what feels right! I’m definitely expressing my views but have no need to bring others over the ‘dark-side’. I just have a few pieces of advice (which you are free to ignore) that will help you navigating those treacherous waters:
1. As said across the internet: Don’t feed the trolls!
– Some mothers will jump on the controversial post bandwagon just to get others going. When you have to say to yourself ‘Wow…that escalated quickly’ this is probably going to be a thread deleted by the moderator shortly with a reminder to play nice with the other moms. Resist the temptation to pound out an angry response on your keyboard, take a deep breath and walk away.
2. Know what you believe in and have confidence in it! All advice should be taken with a grain of salt
– You and your partner, or yourself if you’re one of those super-amazing single parents, made decisions for your pregnancy, for your newborn, toddler, primary-schooler, etc based on your values and beliefs as individuals. Whatever decision you made is the right one regardless of what any stranger might tell you. Imagine you’re sitting in the mall and some random person approached you and told you that the brand of stroller you picked was terrible, the company made the shade out of kangaroo skins and you must hate your child because it only rated #4 on the all-time safety list. How would you react? Personally I’d look at them like they were nuts and then move quickly away from the crazy person. Treat online forums the same way. Everyone has an opinion but it doesn’t mean what you did was wrong.
3. Don’t be ‘that parent’. Think before you post
– Trust me there will be posts that make you roll your eyes. Just don’t be the jerk who replies and makes the original posting parent feel bad. They’re just having a bad day or insecure moment and need someone, anyone, to tell them they’re doing okay. You took your baby to the ER because you accidentally fed them an organic, fair-trade, gluten-free granola bar that contained traces of honey the day before their first birthday and you’re afraid you gave them botulism? Sounds totally reasonable to me. If you really must post, just send some virtual hugs and best wishes, they really don’t want to hear anything else.
4. Don’t ask for advice if you’re already made up your mind.
– It will just make you insecure and angry. Especially if it is one of those divisive issues mentioned before. If it does pertain to one of those aforementioned topics be specific and expect to hear some flack. Eg. “For those mothers who choose to cloth diaper: Which brand do you prefer?” or “We have made the decision to use a daycare: How do you interview a home-daycare provider?” This does help guide the conversation so the responses are more useful to you as a parent!
5. Balance Online with Real-life and other Sources!
Seems like a no-brainer but make sure that you’re getting your parenting advice from a variety of trusted sources as well. Whether you prefer a paediatrician, family doctor, naturopath, midwife, etc, all of those people are experts in their field and are there to support you as you support your child. Friends and family are also a life line, along with parent drop-ins and a good old fashioned parenting book or magazine. Remember how in high school your teacher wouldn’t take your bibliography if every source was from the internet? Apply the same strategy to your parenting skills!
Now I’m sure this blog post will have some mothers chewing their nails and wanting to pound out that angry response, but if you enjoy those groups and find them useful for gaining child-raising tips have at it! This post reflects solely my opinions and I’m living them without guilt or second thoughts. All I have to ask is that you respect and value all of the opinions of the other mom’s out there. We’re all in this together!! And yes I do realize the irony of me posting an opinionated view of parenting forums on a blog dedicated to parenting….