I am a member of a number of parenting forums where mother’s write in seeking help with an issue they have around their parenting. These issues might include wanting to know “which pram should I buy”, “how do I clear a milk duct”, “which formula is best for my reflux baby” and even “how do I deal with my overbearing mother in law?” Mostly the advice from other mothers on the forum is positive with many solutions being offered such as links to pram reviews or home grown truths of placing cabbage leaves on your breasts for mastitis. And when I say “mostly” positive, I genuinely mean “most of the time”. However, last night on a certain Facebook forum, I was witness to one of the horrendous spectacles I have ever seen.
To give you some context, the admin team of the forum had only days before posted rules for commenting on formula and breastfeeding questions due to being inundated with judgmental and at times quite rude and abusive comments from other mothers who didn’t agree with the mother’s decision on what she fed her baby. And, I will add it wasn’t just the mother’s who believe ‘breast is best’ that were rude, it was also the mother’s on the defensive who were being rude in retaliation. It was both sides.
Anyway, against this already contentious backdrop a mother posted a question on the forum seeking advice on how to treat nappy rash as she had not had the chance to change her baby’s nappy all day. Many mothers posted helpful comments such as trying Curash cream or paw paw ointment. Some mothers questioned why she hadn’t changed the baby’s nappy at all; turns out the baby was 2 years old and the mother had to work from home which meant she didn’t have time to change the nappy but she reported the baby was happy and contended throughout the day. The initial comments were from kind hearted mothers who wrote gentle words of encouragement for her to seek some help in the caring of her baby.
But then it began.
And not just any war… a Mummy War!
Mother’s commented that she was a neglectful mother and that she should be ashamed of herself for not changing her child’s nappy all day. Then in retaliation, there were comments from other mothers about how judgmental those mother’s were. Then the first lot of mother’s responded again and said they weren’t judgmental at all as they couldn’t care less about formula vs breastfed babies but when a child is neglected they would speak up. Then more mothers jumped in and said that obviously this woman had postnatal depression and was struggling to meet her child’s needs. To which even more mothers responded saying that they have postnatal depression and they were tired of people assuming that mother’s with PND didn’t meet their children’s basic needs. And it went on and on like this for ages with new comments every thirty seconds or so.
Then just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse…. the mother who posted the initial question said that she had posted this fictional issue about the nappy rash because she had heard the group was judgmental and wanted to conduct a behavioural experiment to prove it right! So the whole needing help scenario was a lie! An experiment that unfolded before my very eyes!
I was in shock!!
Actually, perhaps shock isn’t the right word. I was… angry… dumbfounded…. embarrassed? It took me the rest of the night and the following morning to reflect on what I had witnessed and to compartmentalize why exactly it had bothered me so much. And here’s why… (gosh where do I begin).
1. Firstly, I was angry because from a psychology research point of view it is completely unethical to conduct such human behavioural experiments on people without their knowing or some form of ethical approval. A lot of people have been effected by that post, or am I the only one – I am not sure? But to be honest, that is not my major gripe.
2. Secondly, I was dumbfounded because it not only raised the issue of neglect but it inadvertently raised the issue of postnatal depression. Just because someone identifies with having PND or has been diagnosed with PND does not by default make them a neglectful mother. Certainly, many mother’s struggle with their new parenting role but it doesn’t make them ‘bad mother’s’ and it certainly doesn’t mean they are going to be neglectful parents. But this isn’t my major gripe either.
3. Thirdly, I was embarrassed as a mother. I was witness to a real Mummy Wars battle and I realised that some mother’s are simply just judgmental (yes, I know – I couldn’t believe it either). It is not acceptable to judge another mother on what she feeds her baby, or, if she safely co-sleeps, or, even if she sends her child to child care. It is not okay to judge her because she has PND. Let’s get perspective people – our babies are happy, healthy and safe for goodness sake! But this again isn’t why this whole situation bothered me so much.
4. The big reason it bothered me, was because this mother had used a terrible issue to make a point to other mothers about their judgmental attitudes. This issue of neglect affects many, many children around Australia and the world each day. There are many mother’s around Australia who are unable or unwilling to care for their children and not changing their children’s nappies can be one sign that a child is neglected. Presented alone, it probably wouldn’t grant the removal of a child but with other factors present then yes, it may well meet the threshold. If this mother wanted to really prove to other mothers that they were judgmental then use a topical issue such as co-sleeping or breastfeeding vs formula feeding for goodness sake. Her point was completely overclouded by the fact that she was considered a neglectful mother by others and they felt the need to speak up about child abuse. And rightly so, isn’t child abuse everyone’s business?.
But to be honest, why is there the need to make this point in the first place? How have we come to a stage where it is an issue if a child is breastfed or bottle fed. Honestly, it is infuriating that many mother’s feel they have the right to judge another mother on how they raise their child. If the child is living in an environment where they are loved, safe, happy and will grow to reach their full potential, then why is it anyone else’s business as to how they are raised. It is as if some mothers have not progressed past their righteous adolescents years where they believe they have the ‘right’ to bully others in the playground. Except, the playground is now a social media platform.
Look I get it. Being a mother is an emotional journey and it is natural for mothers to be passionate about children, it is in their nature. And it’s hard when hormones are going haywire not to take things personally. But rude, judgmental and down right abusive comments aren’t natural. They are actually quite ignorant and dare I say it… shameful!
So what’s the answer? How can we all move on from the Mummy Wars once and for all and live in peace and harmony with our beautiful, safe, healthy and happy babies?
Should we all name and shame mothers that judge others? No, that’s no the answer. What about we just don’t talk openly about the issues mothers face? No, definitely not the answer.
Maybe we should just ignore it? Yes, maybe that is it. Maybe instead of adding fuel to the fire and responding to hateful comments, and instead of posting fictional issues to prove a point and that end up blowing beyond proportion, we should go back to basics and simply ignore the judgments by others.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not only blaming the mother who posted the fictitious question, I am not only blaming mothers who write judgmental comments, rather I am blaming all of us!! Yes, you heard correctly! All of us… we are the ones fueling this fire by reading the comments or responding to them. Even me, I’m at fault too. I am not in the business of blaming others without first reflecting on my own contribution. I am at fault too for reading the comments in the first place and I am a fault too for feeling the need to write this post now.
Isn’t it about time we all just stopped engaging.
After all, isn’t that how you deal with bullies in the playground… by ignoring them?
What are your thoughts? Engage or not engage the trolls?