It’s not because I’m losing. There are no winners: someone out there will always do it better than you, women who breastfeed longer, whose children walk and talk earlier, women who serve more organic vegetables, and women who have a more amazing birth story than yours.
Frankly, I don’t really like much of the competition. I find that the harshest critics of mothers are…other mothers.
Before Oscar was born, and for the first six months of his life or so, I started reading parenting forums, which are largely populated by upper middle-class, white, stay-at-home moms. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule, but that was the majority of who I was interacting with on these forums. These holier-than-thou sanctimonious women have nothing better to do than troll the internet looking for hapless moms asking honest questions about breastfeeding difficulties, formula, babyfood, diapers, cribs and carseats. God forbid a woman asks about the best formula for supplementing breastmilk, the safest crib, vaccines, or whether or not she should have an epidural. These women might as well be asking for permission to smoke crack during pregnancy. Because, you know, formula = crack, cribs are prisons, and pureed baby food will turn us all into a bunch of obese mutants plugged into the Matrix. Don’t even think about vaccines; you might as well hand your child a box of rat poison.
When I was a student in public school there was always a roving band of queen bees on campus who took enormous pleasure in smacking down the lesser girls. The ugly girls, the plain girls, the overweight girls, the girls who couldn’t afford Guess t-shirts and Nike shoes, the girls who didn’t wear their bangs just right. I got cornered by the queen bees a few times, and luckily escaped with few scars. But when I graduated from high school I breathed a sigh of relief that I would never have to deal with the queen bees again. And that was true…until I became pregnant. Then I found out that the queen bees are alive and well, on parenting forums and mommy blogs.
I got smacked around recently on a parenting forum I frequent, because I mentioned that I turned my son from rear-facing to forward-facing in his car seat at fifteen months, when he reached the weight requirement for his rear-facing seat. The current AAP recommendation is to keep babies rear-facing until age two, and most new car seats accommodate this recommendation. I do plan to follow this the second time around. However, there are many women who angrily insist that every child should be kept rear-facing until at least age four, and quite of few who go beyond even that. I made the mistake of saying that while I respect that personal choice, all children, parents, and family situations are different. I was told, repeatedly, that this is not a parenting issue. It’s about safety. OK, maybe, but you could make the same argument about buying a $500 Britax car seat, an expensive new car with top-of-the-line safety features, keeping your kids inside at all times, or not letting your child lick the shopping cart. If there is one important thing I’ve learned as a parent, it’s that you cannot, under any circumstances, keep your child safe from harm all the time. To do so is to prevent life from happening, and it doesn’t work anyway, no matter how hard you try. You can be safe, you can use common sense of course, but you can’t cheat death.
Rather than simply saying, “I think you’re wrong,” or “I disagree,” multiple women told me I was an idiot, an asshat, dangerous, and ridiculous. That’s right, these words from fellow mothers, women who don’t know me, don’t know my son, don’t know my family, and don’t know anything about how I live my life. From women who don’t know that I’m struggling with a complicated pregnancy, that I work full-time at a stressful job, that I have problems and fears and struggles. I will never, ever begin to fathom why people treat each other the way they do.
This was, of course, not the first time I’ve been smacked around on parenting forums. I’ve also made the mistake of mentioning that I’ve used a Snugli, that I pumped milk and bottle-fed my son at three weeks, that I selectively vaccinate, that I chose to get a flu shot while pregnant, that I will be having a repeat c-section.
I need to take a break. You begin to realize, after being a parent for awhile, that there is a tremendous amount of conflicting advice out there, and sometimes you just have to go with your gut and do what works best for your child and your family. While I know that some women enjoy parenting forums and take pleasure in visiting them, I think we would all be better off without the judgment, the snark, the one-upmanship, and the self-congratulatory “advice.” Women need to be there to support each other. I much prefer spending my time online reading blogs about writers and writing, whose authors and community are the most supportive and interesting people I’ve encountered on the web. I also enjoy a small community of infertility bloggers, women who are so desperate to have children, and so grateful to be pregnant, that they would never dream of questioning anyone’s parenting decisions. I do find supportive women in parenting communities, and will probably at some point go back to seeking and offering support and advice, but today I need to step away and breathe again.
“Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more, and all good things will be yours.” ~A Swedish Proverb