You know those sites like Pop Sugar and Scary Mommy - sites devoted to the ins and outs of mommydom? They collect amusing anecdotes, adorable kid images, humorous quotes, and insightful blog entries on topics across the spectrum of momhood. They are, undoubtably, meant to give moms a place to feel not quite so alone on those long, tough days of cleaning up a barrage of juice spills, making constant meals like an underpaid short-order cook, and enduring numerous episodes of counting to ten under our breaths to keep from losing our shit.
All good, all fun. All helpful, humorous and beneficial. Lately, though, I've noticed something unsettling about these sites. They are a hothouse for Mean Girl Moms, a place for the bullies of high school-turned moms to post an opinion, and then lambast those who reply with a different opinion.
During my mom's group days, I witnessed all types of women. There were the Helicopter Moms, the Hypochondriac Moms, the Martyr Moms, the Stepford Moms, the Bossy Moms. The Live Through their Kids Moms, the Constantly Negative Moms. Thankfully, I found quite a few Kindred Spirit Moms - those who laughed more than they complained, who admitted to having a glass (or three) of wine after a long day, who let their kids figure out their own woes on the playground, who used sarcasm and compassion in equal doses. I made several forever friends through my various mom's groups, and I am grateful. They provided a lifeline back in the deep trenches , two-toddlers-and-a-newborn years.
I took a few valuable things from being surrounded by other moms on a regular basis.
1) Everyone does the best they can every day in the long road of motherhood.
2) Some people are going to judge you no matter what you do.
3) Once a mean girl, always a mean girl.
Now that I am past the weekly Playdate / Toddler Era, I am experiencing deja vu thanks to the ills and convenience of social media. Every day, should I choose it, can be a Mom's Group Day. Every morning, I can sit down at my desktop with my coffee, read a blog post on a Mommy Site and peruse the comments, to gain insight or camaraderie. Every day, I can "listen" to the virtual opinions of all the types of moms I used to see. Except there is a major difference with social media: you can create whatever persona you choose from the comfort of your computer, without having to leave the house.
You can be a reserved woman with a sharp online wit ; you can be the depressed, lonely mom quick to chastise or insult. You can be the know-it-all with a degree from Google University, doing her doctoral work at the University of Wikipedia. You can be the popular high school mean girl, quick to make alliances and alienate the voice that rubs you the wrong way. Or you can be your honest self, putting yourself out there with an opinion that holds to your own convictions but not necessarily popular opinion.
Lately, I haven't been able to stop myself. I've commented. And to my surprise, gotten thrown back on my heels in a crash course of Women Vs Women.
First, I read a blog post about a woman who gave birth at home, who had a traumatic experience and was angry. Angry at the midwife, at the people who didn't give her or her baby the care she expected. Waiting for my car at the dealership, I cried a little bit, recounting my own horrifying (yet amazing) home birth with Liam. The author bemoaned the fact that people called her "brave" and a "hero" for undertaking such a difficult experience, for she didn't feel anything of the sort.
Many of the comments applauded her honesty and bravery, sharing stories of their own to reiterate what a warrior she indeed was. Some, however, chastised her for choosing to put herself in such a harrowing situation. For potentially putting her infant in danger "for her own gain" by choosing a home birth.
I couldn't believe it. I wrote a comment, touching upon my own birth experience and how difficult it is to share. I opined how every birth choice is tremendously personal and incredible in its own right and should not be judged. How that no matter the outcome, no matter how far the experience veered from her dream of it, she was brave and a warrior. And I thanked her for that.
Only a few people replied to my comment . How "risky" home birth was, how we should thank God our babies were okay through our choices. When it comes to motherhood, the road is paved with emotion and guilt, which can create some extremely personal and charged opinions.
When did women become so judgmental of each other? Nowhere but momdom - except maybe junior high - have I experienced the true nasty zone of women going against each other. God knows motherhood is tough enough. We question ourselves all the time. We feel guilt beyond what we should, we second guess, we cry into our pillows late into the night, we feel our hearts swelling to impossible heights with the littlest smile from our babies. Our emotions run at a constantly high level. So can opinions.
A few weeks ago, I veered into the no-man's land of the Great Vaccination Debate. It affects me because I happen to be someone who chose to not vaccinate. Not an "anti-vaccer" who believes all vaccines are evil, but we did make the conscious, educated choice to not vaccinate our kids, which has created some uncomfortable situations for me in the 12 years I've been doing this mom thing.
On the heels of news reports about measles breaking out in Disneyland, a scary thing to hear no matter your stance on vaccines, opinions reached a crescendo. Out came the research articles. Followed by images and memes about "idiots" who believed fake research and who put other kids at risk.
I saw an article lambasting the parents who brought their unvaccinated kids into the theme park and got other kids sick, and decided to jump in on what I assumed was a fair conversation.
But it wasn't. Curse words were flown around. The few who, in a smaller voice, threw in a few positive reasons for not vaccinating, were viciously - and quickly - shut down by strangers. In the comments to one blog post, I read the following:
"I would sue or do worse if you brought your unvaccinated kid over to my house and my baby got sick."
"Please, tell us more about the fake research you read about and the evil medical system."
"Watch out - the anti-vaccers are coming " (Followed by a photo of a rundown trailer and a barefooted , big-toothed mom holding two toddlers on each hip).
"Shame on you for not keeping your kids home and infesting the world with your germs. You are killing children with your selfishness."
WTF? Where did this image of a bunch of illiterate, sheeple people who don't give a shit about their kids or the greater society as a whole come from? Jenny McCarthy without a doubt dug the grave deeper with her book about vaccines and autism, and there is a faction of society who tend to quote celebrities as their main research sources rather than do their own due diligence. I get that. I've witnessed it.
But, mein Gott. What about the sheep-following crowds who take everything the medical world says without questioning it? Why does questioning the system and having any small doubt about vaccines and terrible side effect instantly make you "insane," "irresponsible," "stupid, or "bat shit crazy?"
Because I was called all that and more. Because I have been gifted with a talent (or crutch) of seeing all sides of a debate, the Gemini in me can understand most angles, which leads me to be overly understanding, at best. Wishy washy, at worst. In this case though, I grew tired of reading post after post, tirade after tirade of judgments and criticisms based on fear and lofty opinions.
My response was short. In 2014, there were only 644 cases of measles reported in the US. That is more than we have seen in one year since 1994. In 2000, measles had been all but eradicated in the US. We had Liam in 2003. We had done extensive research, and there was enough evidence about thymerisol and other harmful additives in some vaccines. In his first year of medical school, Brendan had done due diligence. Not vaccinating seemed a safe, logical, unselfish choice .
I wanted to put in a voice for the people out there who did make an informed decision. Who were educated. I admitted freely that all three kids weren't vaccinated, and two ended up with autism. I also added that we feed our kids diets based on whole foods, and they very rarely get sick. I gently urged the naysayers to not judge every non-vaccinator by the general opinion of them, or the few loud outspopken ones out there who are judgmental on the other end of the coin. I reiterated that measles in Disneyland was terrifying, and I understand vaccinating and protecting our kids. Back when we first became parents, we chose to protect our kids in a different way.
Within seconds - seconds - a Mean Girl called me out. She said she would sue me and my "witch doctor" husband if one of our un-vaccinated kids got one of hers sick. Another piped in that I was an "idiot" and asked if I understood that healthy foods won't keep my kids safe from measles. One questioned my sanity again, calling me a moron. I answered the witch doctor reply with most naturopaths I know are research-based doctors, who put science - and their patients - first, though there are some witch doctors out there. What about the MD's who are grossly negligent, who balance out the majority of great MDs who do good in the world?
But mean girls aren't interested in an engaging debate, in chewing on the other person's opinion. They are interested in attacking, insulting and egging on.
One addressed the autism issue. "Wow, you found out that vaccines don't cause autism since two of yours got it. How do you explain what gave it to your kids then? " She ended with "you are insane."
It perplexed the people pleaser in me, as well as the logical thinker. To be called stupid and insane -- I had to laugh. If anyone knew me, they would too. No compassion towards my autistic boys, just a challenge of how my idiocy might explain the cause of it.
I had to bow out. I believe I ended it with "women are meaner to each other than men could ever be. No one is going to listen with respect, so I am done here."
Ladies - other moms aren't the enemy. Vaccines, politics, gun control, religion, abortion. Hotbed issues elicit emotional reactions. But no matter the charged emotions, no one deserves to be insulted or attacked when making an informed decision from her heart. There are plenty of irresponsible moms and people out there. Why reduce everyone down to that level. Why not give us the benefit of the doubt - as there are stories and personal convictions that you may not agree with, but should still respect.
It can be easy to judge if you haven't been on the same side of the fence as someone else, having to confront personal and heart wrenching decisions on your own. Please, don't call a witch hunt on a website a "debate" or a discussion, because last time I checked, a discussion means a meeting of minds, to look at all sides of an issue.
The word debate , according to Webster, means:
1. To consider something; deliberate.2. To engage in argument by discussing of opposing points.
Discussing, call me crazy, need not involve name calling.
The whole exchange rattled me for a few days, then amused me, then made me feel a little proud. Putting myself out there can be benefical, to express an opinion even if its met with the worst possible reaction. It saddens me that mean girls still control the way women relate to each other.
If women stopped the bullshit competition and name calling, I do believe we could reach our best selves as a collective unit. Instead of alienating each more, we could make the bumpy road of motherhood easier. Less charged, softer, with more empathy.
As the saying goes, "can't we all just get along?" Not to all agree, like sheep, but to respect not only each other, but the rules of debate. If we can do that, I believe women would become more powerful and much happier.
The fight isn't against each other, girls, but rather against the mean girl that lives in each of us from time to time. Time to snuff her out and invite everyone in , differing opinions and all, to the overwhelming journey we call Motherhood.