I gave birth to my oldest more than 14 years ago. At the time, I struggled with a lot of things: I was sore for weeks and had a hard time walking because my stitches didn’t heal properly. My breasts were red, cracked, and bleeding. They would stick to my bra, and I had a horrible time nursing because of the pain. It turns out I had mastitis, and my son had thrush. I found out because, in those days, you had no choice but to ask a friend, and if they didn’t have answers (they usually didn’t), you called a nurse or doctor.
While I’m sure certain online support groups existed even back then, I didn’t know of any. Facebook and Instagram weren’t around. Had they been, I would have been tempted to seek advice there first, lured by the promise of a quick answer from a fellow mum.
But while mums can be each other’s biggest cheerleaders and are full of valuable wisdom, they can also make you feel like a bad parent, even if you’re asking a simple question about nappy rash, or posting an innocent picture of your child. For example, a friend of mine recently shared a picture of her son playing in a mud puddle in a Facebook group, and she took a verbal beating because of it. The other mums accused her of neglect. They said she was exposing him to E. coli, and that she was unfit. And I’ve heard many similar stories about mums who have confessed something to their mum group or posted a sarcastic meme on Instagram, only to be barraged with negativity in return.
Of course, judgmental parents weren’t born with the invention of the internet, but when my kids were babies, people didn’t talk about how they felt like they were being critiqued at every turn. Social media has only fanned the flames of the “mommy wars.” There’s just something about sitting behind a screen that seems to make it so easy to pass judgment. And with the firehose-like stream of advice the web provides, it’s also become easier to feel overwhelmed by too much input. It can make a situation feel worse than it really is.
Now that I’m kind of a veteran mum, I feel confident in my choices. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t approve of the way I parent, or I make a mistake, but I didn’t feel that way when I was a new mum. I was in unfamiliar territory. I was anxious and perpetually short on sleep. I think online groups could have been a huge help in many ways. I understand why mums go to each other for advice instead of picking up the phone and calling a doctor—it can be comforting to talk to those you already know or people who have been in your shoes. Not to mention, there’s the appeal of not sitting on hold forever with the pediatrician’s office or waiting to make an appointment. But at the cost of being ridiculed or bombarded with opinions, is it worth it?
While I don’t have all the answers, I know that being a mum is hard enough without all the judgment. And the criticism that social media has given rise to—the judging and diagnosing of other people’s children, parenting styles, or postnatal bodies—has gone too far. I didn’t have online parenting support groups when my kids were young, and I believe I was a better parent because if it.