Unsubscribe Me: The Perils of Online Parenting Forums
That said, on to the topic at hand. Online Parenting Forums, which I will shorten up to OPF for the remainder of this post, have been a dilemma for me recently. Let me explain, if I may.
I am one of those folks that could talk child development all day. No joke. It's my passion, it's in my nature. My sis, Amanda, and I can spend an hour talking just about the kids, sometimes asking each other advice, at other times just listening to each other's challenges and triumphs in the parenting world. I like this. It's encouraging to me to both be able to have that support and to sometimes be able to suggest an idea that helps her family out. Having worked for so long with children, I am loaded with ideas. Our conversations are rich and nourishing to me, and I so appreciate those moments when all of our kids are engaged and we can chat for a chunk of time.
Loving that sort of connection, I've tried twice to participate in OPF's. The first, focused on attachment parenting, was hosted on large website that touts itself as a community for mothers. The second was a list-serve based on another more specific, less-popular parenting style which suits me quite well, but is relatively new. I went into both of these with hope that some rich discussions could come from posts, and that I would not only be able to pick up some new ideas from other parents, but to share the knowledge that I have instead of just letting it sit in my brain, unpicked.
Well, here is where that whole part of Being Human comes into play. Apparently, people are still people no matter if they all "agree" on a general philosophy. About a month into my first OPF, the group's name changed. Not just for mothers practicing AP, it was now followed by a string of qualifiers "no this, no that, and no other such and such", thus excluding some former members. I was surprised that the moderator had made an executive decision that these few things meant that someone wasn't really an attachment parent. I know, in my life, several women that practice AP and still had, at one time or another, done one or more of these things, which don't bear repeating, and were fine parents. The exclusion factor made me uneasy. You don't conduct the persuasive argument by first belittling or offending your target audience, and I don't wonder if a lot of mothers felt angry and upset as a result of being so broadly slighted.
After posting with a couple ideas that were, to be sure, a bit unheard of but relatively sound, (with the caveat that I was probably going to be unpopular, but they worked for me) I was attacked by a furious mother who took what I had to say a little too personally. I calmly responded, defending myself point by point, and she admitted that she'd been recently criticised for her parenting. I kept at it, trying to find some common ground and validating her hard work as a single parent. It grew to be quite a meaningful online conversation and I was glad that we found some resolve. However, it was extremely draining and I decided that my days of posting on that site were done.
The second OPF was a smaller, more localized list-serve. Conversation is centered on the "how" of a relatively new parenting philosophy. Once again, I was looking forward to participating in some of these conversations, in helping to problem-solve, and to learning about how other parents are employing this into their parenting in a sort of "here's what works for me" round-robin. Sounds good, right?
I discovered that there are some loud, righteous parents out there. They get mad about everything. Their friends, in-laws or their own parents don't parent exactly the way they do. Instead of using common sense and good boundaries, they blow up. Someone in the street says an admittedly idiotic thing about their kids behavior, or a teacher isn't on board with the family's way of parenting and wham!, it's like they get out the baseball bat to beat them in effigy online. Or, more distastefully, parents share how they "set someone straight!" and how right they were in doing so.
OPFs are full of parents. Different people, all with different sensibilities. They have the potential for community, but seem to be stymied by a most detrimental pitfall: people are easily offended and easily offensive. Online, people say things no one would ever say to another person's face. I saw this a lot in my first OPF. People's dogma about different parenting issues is frightening. The things mothers would say to each other was downright hurtful. Not agreeing with one another on a hot-button issues does not give us the right to demean each other or to make a judgement of malicious intent. I was saddened, too, that the posts that received the most attention were one's where the poster was angry that someone wasn't parenting the way she was. Posts that were more focused on problem-solving never seemed to garner as much attention or response as those which were sensational in their own way.
I'm human. I don't want to play in that park.
Lately, I've spent a lot of time practicing not being offended. It does not come easily to me, being a hothead, but I'm very aware of working on it. It helps me to ask myself why I'm offended, and if that was really the intention of the person or the situation. Most likely, it isn't, and I cool down and move on. Consequently, I don't want to be exposed to people's personal bonfires, nor do I want to pour fuel on those fires.I think it's all right, make that wonderful, that we have so many differing backgrounds, back stories, different lives and different opinions. And I hope that someday there will be a place online that is friendlier to each other, where people will want to post what will help, instead of what distracts us from being the best parents we can be.