My Mummy friends often text me with their woes and hilarious anecdotes of bodily functions and toddler life saying, “you should write about this on the blog!”
But a short while ago, I received a message from The Illustrated Mum about the never ending Mummy Bashing she witnesses, or worse, falls victim to.
She forwarded our close knit group of five the messages received in a parent Facebook group. The messages lead me to just one question:
Ladies, what the hell is going on?
Parenthood is a assault on all your senses, especially for first timers. You’re exhausted, you’re swimming up shit creek (quite literally) without a paddle and you haven’t got a clue what’s going on. But this doesn’t mean you should lash out at other parents online.
During my pregnancy, like so many women (and men) today I signed up to BabyCentre.co.uk. I joined my Birth Club (a message board for women all due the same month as you) and started connecting with other mums-to-be online.
I was taken aback by some of the things women would post on this board. Everything from photos of themselves (with bump) in just their underwear to worrying questions that should be directed to a midwife or even A&E.
But stranger to me still was the bitchiness and the lack of support by some women, telling each other off for drinking caffeine during pregnancy or for asking a “stupid question”. Very quickly, I stopped writing on these boards, fearful I might fall victim to these brutal responses. I became more of a voyeur, searching the boards for relevant answers already posted rather than inviting a fresh response.
That being said, I did find a few local meet up groups through these message boards, and there were also some lovely moments of solidarity. One that sticks in my mind was the lady who posted asking “Has anyone heard from NewMum12345?”. Previously an active user she then suddenly disappeared from the board for over a week. We were all around the 30 week mark at this point and there was concern something might have happened to her or her bump. After a few days, someone else posted saying they’d got in touch with her and though they’d had a little scare, all was now well and NewMum12345 was just resting up and taking some time out.
The Community Managers also did a stellar job of keeping trolls at bay. They would shut threads down, dole out warnings where necessary and remind everyone we were here to support each other, not tear each other down. (They were also the first ones to suggest a woman should seek emergency help when those worrying questions would appear.)
Once Little Miss was born, however, I lost interest in the message boards. I joined a few local Facebook groups for mums and put my energy into keeping my daughter alive and finding real friends in the flesh.
The Facebook groups are a great way to find out about activities in your local area, adhoc events or even to sell unwanted baby gear to make room for the next wave of clutter. But the problem with Facebook groups, is they often don’t come with trained Community Managers. They’re set up by peers and local parents who don’t have community management experience or any knowledge of how to keep trolls at bay.
There also seems to be a major issue of digital detachment. People type before they think. It can feel as though there’s no consequences for online comments; no hurt in the other person’s eyes, so tears, no quick retort or swift slap to the face… (NB: I am not advocating violence in response to Mummy Bashing). Without a second thought, at barely even the click of a button, you can send the most hurtful words out into the world to bounce off whoever is at the other end, which in these parenting Facebook groups, is often a total stranger.
It worries me what example we’re setting for our children, who are growing up in far more of a digitally connected world than we ever had to deal with when we were children – and I speak as someone who had a computer at age five, her first mobile at age nine and joined MySpace at age 14 (remember when that was considered young for social media?).
These children will grow up into a world where it’s ok to hide behind a screen, to pretty much abuse each other online and then when they’re face-to-face, what? Will they have any idea how to act? How to talk? How to reason? How to communicate in a civilised way?
Natasha had no community management when she started the group, but as a blogger and a gentle parent, she saw a ‘gap in the market’. Over the years, the group has grown to over 1000 members and Natasha has learned on the job how best to deal with trolls and unwanted messages. Her ‘House Rules’ are simple: if you post something offensive, there is no warning, no second chance, you’re simply deleted as a member.
Harsh? Maybe. But effective in keeping the group a positive, supportive and a safe environment for those who wish to use it as it is intended.
Unfortunately, after speaking to both mums and dad with kids of a variety of ages, this does seem to be more of a female issue. Sure, dads can be just as nasty as the next person, but in my small population sample, female bloggers, mums and and women online in general seem to ‘invite’ more of this nastiness from other women than men do. Perhaps that’s because dad blogs are still somewhat of a commodity, perhaps it’s because women are traditionally more bitchy, or perhaps there’s just more sleep deprived and grumpy mums at home with nothing to do than chat to strangers online.
But whatever the reason, I remember when I was growing up, my Mama used to say to me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Twenty years on, it still rings true. Whether you’re male or female, have a newborn or a sixteen year old, breastfed or bottle fed, let your kid live on Domino’s for a year or they have only ever been fed a purely Organic, homegrown vegan diet since the day they were born – I don’t care and neither should you. Support each other. Parenthood is hard enough without the Mummy Bashing.
We all need to go back to basics and hold ourselves accountable once again for the things we say, do and type. We’re all grown ups here. So start acting like it.