Well guys, the internets have gotten me all fired up again. And surprise, surprise, it’s because of an online parenting “support” group.
Not having a great many friends with kids, I joined a bunch of these groups shortly after baby P. was born as a way to connect with other moms. What I discovered is that many of these groups masquerade as support, but are really nothing more than a sanctimonious group of moms who tout their own parenting skills while condemning those who don’t agree with them. After feeling frustrated and angry reading some of their posts on my Facebook feed, I dumped almost all of them, save for a few that seemed to be offering real support.
One of these was a Facebook page that focuses on a style of parenting called “continuum parenting”. I actually really enjoyed it as I agree with much of what was writen. Until the moderator posted this Facebook status last Wednesday:
Do you know what I find so frustrating? When parents argue that all parents make different choices and that just because they are not the same as our own, we shouldn’t butt our noses in.
Of course I am not under the illusion that we all have to do things the same way – we all have our own thoughts and feelings on how to parent.
However, I feel it is my duty as an adult to stand up for those who cannot do it for themselves.
I cannot stand by in silent acceptance and hear a mother tell me how she lets her baby cry it out for her own good.
I cannot hear a parent tell me they smack their child to get them to comply, without speaking up.
I cannot blindly support a parent who refuses to let their child play in nature, or fills them up with nothing but junk food.
I just cannot do it.
These children need someone who can speak up for them, who can help their parent to find another way. The parents deserve to hear all the information out there, to know that there is a happier path for all of them.
It is their right to ignore my words. But I wont stop sharing what I believe. This page and my website are about sharing the truth, sharing how joyful parenting can be and educating parents about the myths of parenting. I want to help parents to find the confidence to follow their instinct and enjoy their children, and I want to protect the children (who will soon grow in to adults responsible for the care of our planet) from harm. Saying nothing is in effect, condoning these choices. I can’t do that.
I want to say that I know that I am not perfect. We all judge each other, and I am no exception. There are times when I see parents doing something that I myself would never do. And yes, sometimes, I judge them on it. The difference, however, is that I don’t say anything (unless the child is clearly in immediate and honest distress). I tell myself that I don’t know that mom’s story, and I don’t know her child. I have no right to think that because something does or doesn’t work for me, that she should follow my example.
I appreciate and respect that other women have their opinions on how they want to be a mom. I acknowledge that anyone has a right to post her viewpoints on her Facebook page or blog, just as I do with mine. What I can’t tolerate is someone thinking that she has the right to offer unsolicited parenting advice to another person based on her own values and morals.
The problem is that if she’s allowed to do it, then I’m allowed to do it, and you’re allowed to do it, and every mom is free to tell every other mom how they feel we should be raising our children. It’s a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? Sure, it makes sense to say that we shouldn’t feed our kids only junk food. But what is junk food? One parent might consider a Happy Meal once a week fine. Another might consider anything other than a strictly organic, vegan diet as harmful. Which one is right? How often does a child have to “play in nature” in order to meet that particular mom’s threshold of acceptance? Once a week? Once a day? Two hours a day? Do you see how subjective this is?
I can show you communities of moms who think that sending your child to public school causes irrevocable damage. There are those that condemn mothers who let their children wear a certain colour. I’ve recently written a draft post on moms who think that letting your child believe in Santa is tantamount to child abuse. “Well,” you might say to yourself, “That’s just stupid.” Not to those moms it isn’t. They believe in it just as passionately as we believe in how we raise our kids, and they can probably find studies to back up their claims, just as other moms can of theirs.
The result of imposing our perceptions of “proper” mothering onto others is exactly what we see in the parenting community today: moms feel judged and unsupported and learn to tune out other people’s opinions, no matter how well-meaning. Being a constant, unwitting combatant in the mommy wars makes us weak, tired, and doubtful of our own abilities. By “speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves” we are cutting the legs out from underneath our children’s caregivers and most crucial support system. This does nothing to benefit our children.
In the Facebook status that inspired this post, the author describes the worst-case scenario as the recipient of her advice ignoring her words. I’m sorry to tell her, but it could be a whole lot worse than that. You don’t know how someone else is going to react, and the last thing you want is a mom going home and taking out her frustration on her child because she was made to look bad. It happens. Providing “education” to other moms is simply not helpful.
There are ways that we can support each other, however. If you think that someone’s child would benefit from more time outdoors, invite them on a play date to a park. If you think that they eat too much junk food, make sure healthy snacks are available when they come to your house. If you don’t agree with spanking, be a compassionate ear and let your mom friends talk and vent to you, so perhaps their frustration won’t reach a level where that happens.
If you have a legitimate concern that a child is in imminent danger and should not be in the care of its parents, then there are trained authorities that can step in and assess that situation. If you feel compelled to devote your time to helping children, there are many community organizations that do good work with at-risk children and youth, and they’re usually looking for volunteers. There are so many ways to help without telling a mom that she’s doing something “wrong”, no matter how nicely you think you’re saying it. It is not our job to tell other moms how to raise their kids. Ever.
I find it presumptuous that anyone would tell me that their unsolicited advice will help me find a “happier path”. My son and I are on a happy path; one where I make choices that others might not agree with, but where my son will always know that he’s loved. I hope that by modelling tolerance and respect, I am creating a safe space for him to explore and make mistakes without fear of me condemning him for his choices. So, to all of the parenting communities that I’ve left behind, it may not matter to you that you’ve lost a follower, but removing myself from environments like your page helps me on the path to being a better mom.