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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?