Mom to Mom Monday: Internet Bullying and Motherhood

Posted by Becca on 10/14/2013 to Breast Feeding
About six months ago, I wrote a post about how my daughter was facing bullying at daycare.  It's been so long now, and so long since she's been in daycare even, that I don't remember all the specifics anymore.  What I do remember is that poor, three-year old Bunny was made to feel small and helpless in the face of someone trying to feel better about themselves by belittling her.  Unkind words, and actions that excluded her brought my normally bubbly and happy little girl motherhood,bullying,internethome bereft of all her confidence.   She was so sad and frustrated and this began to manifest itself in negative behaviors at home. My husband and I spent weeks building her back up and giving her the tools she needed to face those bullies.  We also singled out any bullying behavior she was exhibiting herself.  She was so busy feeling that bullies were villains or bad guys that she wasn't aware that she herself was capable of such behavior.  It was an eye opener for her to realize that she, also, could be a bully if she chose. 

  But this post isn't about my daughter and it's not about how children bully each other.  It's about us moms.  I'm ashamed to say it but we're bullies too.  And we're the worst kind because we should know better. 

Some of us are inadvertent bullies.  Me, for instance.  I have never been one to intentionally make someone feel awful (if you don't count my siblings).  I am by no means perfect and I'm totally guilty of judging the parenting choices of others but my opinions have never been so strong as to voice those opinions aloud and in a way that brings someone down.   If I can get along without saying anything, I do.  If not, I say what I need to say as kindly as possible.  This is not to say that I always succeed in that, though.   I'm a huge breastfeeding and cloth diaper advocate.  I'm particularly passionate about breastfeeding because I feel that nursing moms are at a disadvantage when it comes to having support, being bombarded by formula advertisements, and feeding our babies in public.   I'm constantly sharing posts on facebook about how women should be able to nurse anywhere they want uncovered, or how it's best for baby and so on.  I find these posts to be harmless and educational even.  I share them to help encourage people like myself.  I want people to know that nursing is normal and healthy behavior.  Well, my sister opened my eyes one day about how I come across.  I don't even remember the conversation, but I think it had to do with how my siblings and I have never been prone to being obese, or sick, or something of that nature.  It doesn't really matter, I guess.  The point is that I passionately asserted that we have an advantage because we were all breastfed.  My sister wisely pointed out, “You know, Becca, you have to be careful about that.  I know a lot of people who really wish they could breastfeed and can't and saying things like that could be hurtful to them.”  Hmmm. I honestly never saw it that way.  This means that there are probably some moms in my list of Facebook friends who already feel awful that they can't produce enough milk or don't want to breastfeed or had to go on medication so they couldn't and when I post my educational posts on the matter, they probably feel like dirt.  It's not that I shouldn't continue to try to educate, but I haven't been sensitive about those who can't or don't breastfeed as I do so.  They're good moms too and we all have enough inherent mom guilt as it is without others making themselves feel superior for their parenting choices and thus others inferior.  bullying,motherhood,internet

  Then, there are intentional bullies.  There are actually fellow moms out there who use their words as weapons others down.   I have a hard time believing is that there are so many of us out there on the Internet who are downright mean to others for their parenting choice; as if any of us have a say in how another mother or father chooses to love and raise their kids!  It's one thing when I see bullying from the general populace--that I expect--but from moms who are responsible for raising and training the future leaders and adults of our country and culture, that I can't believe.  Why would we make anyone feel inferior for choosing to bottle-feed or for breastfeeding in public?  Why would we have a self-righteous finger hanging off the end of our dirty look when someone mentions that they vaccinate or circumcise?  How is it our business whether another mother feeds her children whole foods, a vegetarian diet, or the drive-thru at McDonalds?  And ultimately, what are we teaching our kids when we behave in such a manner?  Are other moms to blame for my daughter being bullied in day care?  Has the child who bullied her been bullied at home or been watching her mother/father/grandmother bully others?  I don't know, but it's likely.  Some of our children's bad choices are inherent to human nature, but some of them are learned and taught behaviors. 

  What's my point?  Well, simply that being a mom (or dad) is hard enough. Rather than insult, put down, and bully other moms for their parenting choices, shouldn't we be uplifting?  Shouldn't we be supportive?  There are ways to say that you disagree without making someone else feel like crap.  There are ways to politely explain your opinion without putting down someone else's point of view; without emotionally injuring another human being.  There are ways of disagreeing that validate the parenting styles of others.  We also all need to learn when to just shut up.  So if you're one who is kind and appreciative of the views of other parents in your internet comments and suggestions, then keep it up.  People like you make others feel valued and important.  You make insecure moms like myself feel like maybe we can do this hugely important task of raising little humans.  If you like putting others down online, maybe you should throw away your computer because you've made it a weapon.  Why on earth would you purposely cause someone else pain?  It certainly doesn't do you any good to nurture and cultivate the hatred and bitterness growing inside you.  Besides the obvious benefit of making others feel good about themselves, I think you'll find that being nice to others is so much more fulfilling personally as well.  The joy of kindness and putting the needs of others first is one that simply can't be measured. 

  Over my last four years of being a parent, I've noticed a trend that I have totally participated in--many of us like to identify our parenting styles by titles that identify what we're most proud of.  My personal blog has a description of me that says something to the affect of “I'm a breast-feeding, baby wearing, cloth diaper using, etc… mom of two beautiful children.”  It wasn't until I started thinking about mom-to-mom internet bullying that I realized that this is the first step in that behavior.  I wear those labels like a badge gleaming on my chest to say, “I'm a great mom and this is why,” and I'm limiting my ability to parent by a few, trendy or non-trendy practices.  One day when I was on a popular mom forum, I noticed that one mom's signature said something like this: “I'm a formula feeding, separate bed sleeping, disposable diaper using, etc… mom of X number of amazing kids.”  She stated her parenting preferences in a way that said, “I don't have to breastfeed or cloth diaper to be an amazing mom.” Honestly (and ashamedly) my snap reaction was to judge her.  However, as time has passed, her words have stuck with me and I realize that my parenting styles and preferences aren't right for everyone and don't define my ability to be a great mom.  What I realize is that these trendy styles don't have any bearing on whether or not we're raising our children well. They have nothing to do with our love towards our children.  They don't mean that we are or aren't doing a great job.  If you love your children and do everything in your power to do what's best for them, sometimes that means a Happy Meal or antibiotics.  Sometimes it means a Cesarean or formula.  Sometimes it means cloth diapers and no vaccines. 

  So let's stop the bullying and acknowledge the amazing job that both we and our fellow parents are doing as we take on the most difficult job on the planet--turning tiny little humans into responsible, well-rounded, loving, kind, respectful, hard-working adults.  If you have mean words, don't use them.  Keep them to yourself.  If you have nothing nice to say, keep your mouth shut because you are doing more harm than the supposed “bad parenting” of which you are accusing others.  But better than that, if you can find a way to reach out and encourage, uplift, and love on another mom out there who's standing next to you and also doing this crazy, difficult job, do it.  Maybe after a day of wearing fluids from both ends of her baby, taming various temper tantrums, peeing with a couple sets of little eyes watching her while they ask her for a million things, managing to get multiple sets of children or even just one safely through the parking lot to the grocery store, all while somehow keeping the dishes and laundry clean and putting something edible on the table by six (or maybe eight) o'clock, it will be just the thing she needs to hear.  Maybe your words will give her the strength to keep on doing what she is doing.  So let's aim for those words, okay?  Let's heed the advice we give our kids and then lead by example.  Let's use positive rather than negative reinforcement.  Let's use our words to build up and not tear down. I promise to do so.  Will you?


Date 10/14/2013
Thank you, I just looked in the mirror. Like you I don't intentionally berate people but I have been advocating for a different parenting style. I hope I haven't offended anyone. Though, I also feel like I should continue to advocate because I do get bullied quite often for my parenting style. (Especially full term breastfeeding) By family even!! I advocate because I feel very alone and I don't want others to feel that way. But I also don't want to be a perpetrator of anything hurtful to those that are choosing other parenting styles.
Date 10/14/2013
This is an amazing point of view. It is insightful and initiates self-reflection by others, including myself. I too have witnessed and possibly been a perpetuator of bulling, though not intentionally. I feel others, regardless of opinion and choice, need to attempt to understand the circumstances of others. I as a parent who wishes not to circumcise, however, family pressure, particularly my husband, mandated that I must. I being one person out of the entire family can not make that decision on my own. So every time I change my adorable son's diaper, gently retract his foreskin, I feel huge amounts of guilt over the procedure. Worst of all, others, both online and in person have "bullied" or commented about my baby. Those people probably would hold there words, if they knew my true feelings.
Date 10/14/2013
At the end of our MOPS year in late spring of this year, I had a few people in my life, not just at MOPS but in other areas of my life as well, making me feel like I was a bad mother because I didn't buy all organic and dye-free, sugar free foods, which is what they say is the root cause of my son's borderline ADD behavior. Also, why I couldn't lose weight. And also, they were shocked that I didn't meal plan. And I felt like I was the worst mother on earth because I didn't grow up meal planning, and the few times I had tried it, it completely failed after about two weeks because of my creative spirit feeling like it was being too restricted. I am a writer and a scrapbooker, and although I plan a lot of stuff now that my kids are in school, I also like being spontaneous as well. Anyway, we are an income-based housing family because I choose to be a stay at home mom and also because my husband had to go back to school to finish an IT degree that he started five years before meeting me, which was why he couldn't get a job other than stocking at Target. And I also had my fair share of people tell me that I needed to get a job and put my kids in day-care, but for us, if we did that, we actually would be losing money and not making money. And also, just because someone thinks a stay at home mom is great at math and great at budgeting...another thing we judge...well, I'm here to say it's not true. I was not a math major and barely squeeked by in school with C grades in math, and I WORKED hard for those grades. So, it wasn't until the middle of JULY this summer, when God decided he was going to take both of our vehicles (both paid off and not brand new, but perfectly good vehicles) away from us with mechanical problems beyond our capabilities of fixing up. Which is because after my husband graduated with TWO Associate IT degrees in Dec. of 2011, did not even get an interview for a job until NOVEMBER of 2012 and has only been employed since DECEMBER of 2012. So we are still a little bit like fish on dry land here. But when both vehicles went, I had to do something. I had to learn to cope with one borrowed vehicle and try to get creative with our finances. Including things like making my own laundry detergent, making my own meals instead of boxed ones (like hamburger helper--believe me, they were what we could afford and I didn't think I had the time to make homemade ones--but I found 11 different variation recipes and they take the same amount of time as the boxed mixes.) And when my husband went to get me a fancy smancy white board calendar/cork board so I could keep track of all the Kindergarten school going ons and what not, I wracked my brain for the month and wrote in dinners for the month and what do you cut my grocery bill again! By almost half! So, like the old saying goes, you can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. That was me. I liked MY way of doing things, but got mad when the money was gone and pondering what the heck we are going to have for dinner tonight because I forgot to get something out of the freezer. So, I will no longer judge those in my life who are all organic, because honestly, I will not ever be there because if I can buy hamburger in bulk, I will instead of having to go the store every two or three days for fresh. No judgement be passed here though, because I know what it's like to be bullied because people thought that I wasn't caring for my family to the utmost of my ability by not feeding them 100% all organic all the time. I think if we could just stop and think before passing on judgement (It will take practice) and keep an open mind, that we are all good mother's in some way. Just some of us are stronger in some areas than others are. Oh, and I am glad that you realized that you thought you might be hurting people about the breast-feeding thing, because I will advocate for any breast-feeding Mama out there, because I was determined to breast-feed come hell or high water. But I suffer with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, and I was blessed to even have the children I do have, but because of that, I never got any milk in at all...and it devastated me. So, thank you for admitting that you may have been inadvertently hurting others. It takes a strong person to admit when they have been wrong! I myself will not try to judge and bully inadvertently from here out in either.
Date 10/15/2013
I agree with uplifting everyone, but I find it ridiculous when someone says that stating a fact (Breastfeeding may help prevent obesity.) or being excited and celebrating your own breastfeeding accomplishments (or other parenting choice) is making others feel bad. I don't breastfeed to make anyone feel anything. I do it because it is right for me and my family. It's not a statement on how well or not well someone else is parenting.
Date 10/15/2013
Mary S
It takes a lot of effort to really be aware of what you're saying and making sure you're not offending anyone! Thanks for your thoughts!
Date 10/16/2013
Craig Adams
Thanks for your article. I just want to provide some information on infant circumcision as it is a surgery that has greatly impacted my life. World wide, only about 20 out of every l,000 newborn male infants are circumcised—and 18 of those 20 are in the U.S. The medical evidence however is overwhelmingly against circumcision in infancy. Studies show that neonatal circumcision causes significant pain and trauma, behavioral and neurological changes in infants, potential parental stress from persistent crying (colic) of infants, disrupted bonding between parent and child, and risk of surgical complications. Other consequences of circumcision include loss of a natural, healthy, functioning body part, reduced sexual pleasure, potential psychological problems, and unknown negative effects that have not been studied. Disgracefully, The American Academy of Pediatrics is completely isolated worldwide in promoting infant circumcision as a parental choice and, worse, witholding information on the many risks and complications as well as the benefits of raising intact sons. International pediatric societiess provide parents with information on the risks and discourage the surgery. “There is no rationale for carrying out this extremely painful, traumatic and potentially dangerous procedure on male infants. The prepuce (foreskin) of the young infant should be left in its natural state.” – Dr. Matt McHugh, Dublin Consultant Plastic Surgeon. “[P]hysicians should discourage parents from circumcising their healthy infant boys because non-therapeutic circumcision of underage boys in Western societies has no compelling health benefits, causes postoperative pain, can have serious long-term consequences, constitutes a violation of the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and conflicts with the Hippocratic oath: primum non nocere: First, do no harm.” – 40 international pediatricians, urologists and medical ethicists writing in the American Academy of Pediatrics own journal, Pediatrics in 2012 Today's parents are educating themselves and saying NO to infant circumcision. Many Jews are reconsidering Jewish circumcision. Brit Shalom is a non-cutting naming ceremony for newborn Jewish boys. I was neonatally circumcised at a New Jersey hospital , and it completely injured me. My parents were provided with no information, and they did not know what was done to me. Had they known, they never would have consented. I am a circumcised father of an intact son. The more you know about circumcision, the more you are against it.
Date 10/16/2013
Rina JOye Bly
Sometimes, I run into this [perception of bullying] in children's right advocacy. I always do my best to present my experience and the facts with sensitivity and compassion. However, there are times when individuals are defensive (and even irrational) in the face of accurate information, and it's usually due to their own grief and regret. I feel empathy for them, but it's an issue they need to work through on their own. Facts are not attacks. I think it's wise to be sensitive and compassionate, but it's also so important to get accurate information out there.
Date 10/16/2013
Rina Joye Bly
Also, I agree with a lot of what you said. However, I disagree that circumcision should be a parenting decision... My first son is circumcised, but I regret it.  The surgery was extremely painful and traumatic for him, and he has had common complications and infections. My second son is intact.  He has benefitted from the protection of his foreskin, and will continued to benefit for the rest of his life.  I am so glad we learned more and did better for our second son. I believe that girls, boys, and intersex children should have their rights to genital integrity and autonomy protected.  I also feel that our religious and cultural freedoms should end where another human's body begins. In my humble opinion, all parents should take the time to learn about the functions of the foreskin.  I wish we had before having our first son...  Maybe he would still be intact.
Date 10/17/2013
This post makes me frustrated... It is not my job to control other people's emotions. That is their responsibility. It is not my fault that they made an ignorant decision and now their egos are bruised. I share facts. These facts might be inconvenient for some, but they need to shared. If others have an issue with that it is their problem, not mine. You go ahead and try to please everyone and avoid speaking out for the betterment of our culture. I just hope you realize that that will be an impossible never ending battle. It is actually very cowardly.
Date 10/18/2013
Carly T
I completely agree. Many parents I know are worried about their parenting choices being judged by others. Parenting is hard, and there are many complex, nuanced choices that we make every day. I do what I feel is right for me, but I can't say what is right or even possible for others. Though I will say there's a difference between being forceful with ones opinions and outright bullying. Sharing opinions may or may not be appropriate depending on the context, but name calling and ridiculing is never ok.
Date 10/18/2013
Sarah Jane
The place I encounter it the most is with labor and delivery. Are you going to have a "natural birth"? And then go on to tell you all the negatives about being electronically monitored, having Pitocin, an epidural, etc. I love how people point out, "It causes a cascade of interventions." I gotta say, I loved my epidural labor with my three year old; well, as much as I could love labor. ;)
Date 10/19/2013
Amanda O
This idea of "stating the facts" is ridiculous. You can make an argument with "facts" to either side of a debate: cloth vs. disposable, circumcision vs. not, "natural" childbirth vs medicated childbirth, vaccines or not, breastfeeding vs formula. Unless a mom is soliciting advice, it is rude and disrespectful to start "stating the facts" where your OPINION was not asked for. That's bullying. That's pushing your point of view on someone that didn't ask for it. Yes, the internet is a public forum, but that doesn't mean you need to be a jerk. State what works for you but leave the facts for moms to ascertain from doctors and real experts. You are not the "fact" police.
Date 10/22/2013
So true! I know I've judged other mommas when I should have been showing the same respect and support that I so desire as a FTM. Well said.
Date 10/24/2013
Ginger Stone
Fact police? LOL Sounds like somebody's defensive. LOL Everyone needs facts. Sometimes, the truth ain't pretty or what you want to hear, but it is the truth none the less.
Date 10/25/2013
This is wonderful. I make a lot of choices that are best for me and my family but I think we as moms get so passionate about doing what's best for our family that we forget that there are endless ways to be a parent. We don't know everyone's situation so I think it's very important to share knowledge but as the saying goes, "you can lead a horse to water..." except in this case the horse is an adult raising a family and doing the best they can. We need to do our best to be kind and remember that we aren't all the same and that's ok.
Date 11/1/2013
Katelyn Western
It's so sad that this even happens. There is enough pressure put on moms by society to be "perfect" moms that we should be trying our best to encourage each other, not tear each other down. If moms are not going to stand with other moms, who will? It takes a village, not hateful judgmental people questioning every decision momma makes.
Date 7/17/2015
Mary Schuh
I've run into this a lot with my friends. I get really passionate about my own choices because I love them so much, but I feel like sometimes that passion can make others feel like their choices (if different from my own) aren't good enough. But I think you really have to just *own* whatever choice you make as a parent.

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