I became a mum two-and-a-half years ago, and we’ve moved three times since. In the very early days of motherhood I was lucky to have an upstairs neighbour with a three month parenting lead on me; she was my salvation. But when we left that city for a new one closer to home and my baby became sturdy enough that I felt comfortable taking her out and about more, I was in for a rude awakening.
Most of the “mummy groups” I found in our new area were awkward spaces for me. I felt uncomfortable, judged, and defensive. In the presence of women with whom I didn’t agree on every minute detail of parenting, I would have preferred to swap ideas and listen to each other with open minds. But it felt like if I said something someone didn’t like, I was attacked. I was always on edge, so I quit the groups, met some mums to hang out with one on one, and got over it.
As the months wore on, though, I realised that there was something to the concept of a group. I liked the idea of having multiple women at once to bounce ideas off of and to cheer each other on. So, I got on Facebook and joined some. Even better was the fact that these social media groups are semi-anonymous. I don’t know most of the women in any of these groups in real life, so I felt I could trust their unbiased opinions. I felt comfortable knowing I had some resources now outside of my few local friends with kids.
But if I thought the in-person mummy groups were rough, nothing could have prepared me for the aggression that some women are capable of when hiding behind a computer screen. I’m in about five groups now — one local, a few for women expecting babies the same month of my due date for Baby #2, and even one for mums who like to drink wine. You would think that these benign group affiliations, especially the seemingly laid-back vibe of the latter, would mean positivity, camaraderie, and kindness. You’d be (mostly) wrong.
The other day a woman in one of the expectant mums’ groups posted saying that she was having a boy, and curious to know everyone’s thoughts on circumcision. Maybe I live in a bubble, but it was not until I read the outrageously cruel comments that ensued, that I learned what a hot topic this is. While some women offered their reasoning for or against in a clear and non-judgemental way, a good 75 percent of the comments were just plain nasty. She was accused of being “no better than a baby killer” for even considering the procedure. One women even went into an antisemitic tailspin over it, which (thankfully) got her kicked out of the group. All this over a procedure that’s been carried out for hundreds of years and basically boils down to personal preference? Sheesh.
It’s no wonder that vaccines and breastfeeding are also at the top of the list of things women can’t give each other a break about. But I just have to sit back and wonder, Why? There are so many ways to raise children, and we’re all very lucky to live in a part of the world where we have choices. As long as another mother is not out here abusing or neglecting her child, can’t we all just get along? And with some respect would be nice!
Even in the “wine” group there’s constant drama. Mums pitch a question to the group and within minutes they’re being accused of risking or harming their children. You’re shamed if you stay at home (lazy), and judged if you put your kids in daycare (neglectful). If you co-sleep, you’re a freak, but if your baby sleeps in a cot (like mine has from day one), you two will never bond. Oh and forget about birth methods. I had an emergency C-section with my first, and when I chimed in on a conversation about VBAC’s saying I wasn’t strongly hoping for or against one, I was accused of not caring about my baby or my own body. What the what?
Here’s the thing: I get that as mums in an age when information is plentiful and readily accessible, we all have a lot of opinions on parenting. I do, myself. But I don’t know if it’s because my mum had a diverse group of friends — from hippies to yuppies to glamazons — or if it’s just my nature: I’ve just never been one to judge another mum or think her way is “wrong.” In fact, I’d rather have mum friends who do things differently from me because I think we can both learn from each other.
But one thing I’ve definitely learned is to hold back anything too serious in the mummy groups and to leave the ones that are dominated by sanctimummies. I do still see the value in connecting with women all over the country — and even the world — and believe that the majority of them have good intentions. But when mums are being attacked for asking questions or sharing their opinions in a warm and open-minded manner, I just don’t understand it. We are all supposed to be raising our kids not to be bullies, right? That should probably start with our own behaviour, even behind the comfort of a keyboard.