I am not a mom. I have no plans to be a mom. I’m an aunt. My mother ran a daycare in our home for as long as I can remember. So I do have some experience with children. Just not any of my own. They go home at the end of the day, or weekend or whatever.
I am not a mom, but some of my characters are. Some of them are good moms, and some of them are terrible moms. Most of them are just trying to do their best every dayand that’s going to have to be good enough. Since I am not a mom, I look to the moms of the internet to help me figure out how my character moms will react, try, do their best, and even how they’ll fail.
One thing I know about children, is that each one is unique and defies whatever parenting education the last one gave you. This one likes trucks and pink tutus while that one is obsessed with peanut butter sandwiches. This one won’t tell you that they sprained their ankle jumping off the slide like you told them not to, that one insists on getting a bandaid when they see another kid get hurt. And those are just the kids in one family.
Consider then that every family is different. Different adults who grew from those different kids a generation ago. Different finances. Different jobs. Different priorities. You get the picture.
So I would expect, with all those difference crisscrossing every which way, that the parenting discussions online would be full of tolerance and understanding. More advice of “well, have you tried XYZ?” than the “Everyone needs to do ABC.” That’s not what I see though.
Let me be clear: the original posters are usually of the first type. Or more likely of the “This is what worked for my kid.” It’s the comments where I’m finding people can be total jackasses. (sorry for swearing, but anything less just doesn’t cover it).
If one woman (and it is mostly women that I see) puts up a post about how she wishes she could find a job that would get her out of the house without sinking their budget in child care costs, by the fifth comment someone is telling her she should enjoy her time with her kids. Another woman posts about letting her son dress as the Pink Power Ranger for Halloween and you can bet someone has assumed she bought the costume instead of making it herself and three more are complaining that she shouldn’t let her son dress as a girl.
Read deep enough into the comments and the claws really come out. Stay-at-home moms vs Working moms going at each other like it’s a life or death situation. It’s rather disheartening.
The truth is, there’s good and bad to every choice a family makes. Depending on the financial picture, some moms need to stay at home because the jobs they can get won’t cover the day care costs. Some choose to stay home so they can have more of a say in how their kids are raised. Some moms have to work because their partner (if there is one) doesn’t bring home enough. Some chose to work so they can get their daily requirement of adult conversation.
No matter what the situation, there are going to be days when anyone doesn’t like the choices they’ve made. A working mom might have to miss a special event at school. A stay home mom might get tired of watching the shows her little one likes. Kids have bad days, too. A day filled with temper-tantrums will make anyone crave a day away. A cranky boss or looming deadline could make you question your career choice (whether you have kids or not).
It’s totally natural to reach out when you are at your wits end. In today’s world that means posting on line. It’s natural and we’ve all been there. So why all the nastiness in the comment sections?
My guess is that at least part of it comes from insecurity. Women in general are lambasted for pretty much any decision they make. Wear the pant suit – why are you trying to dress like a man? Wear the dress – you’re just trying to be sexy. It doesn’t happen every day to every woman, but it happens often enough that you can hear it while you’re standing in front of the closet. We get good at pretending it doesn’t affect us.
Now add in the stress of kids. You know that someone disapproves of your choices for raising your kids. How you discipline, food rules, whether they have to sit nicely at the table or if they even can. People, even non-parents like me, have opinions on every aspect of child rearing. Worse than that, there are a million answers to every question so the chances of randomly picking the right one are as close to nil as you get.
Except you only have to choose what’s right for you. Let the rest go. If some other woman happens to chose differently, let her. Seriously, it’s not your kid, not your life which means it’s also not your choice.
That’s hard to do on a good day. When you’re also at your wits end and you see someone making a choice you gave up, it’s easy to tell them they are wrong. It’s easy and it feels good to validate the choice you did make. For a moment. It’s a fleeting sensation and you still have to deal with your own kids and stress and constant second-guessing.
For you it’s a momentary high. For her it could be the blow that kills her confidence, and that takes a lot longer to put back. For the rest of us, it sets up battle lines. No one escapes unscathed.
As a writer, I of course use all of this to inform my mom characters. I also see how these parenting battles are just like the writing battles. We yell and scream at each other over the “right way to write a novel” only to find that just like kids, every novel is different. No matter how many you have, you have to learn the process for this kid/novel from the beginning. If you can’t even carry over your “expertise” from one novel to the next, how can you hope to tell another writer how to write theirs?
Best we can do is tell the world how we got here. “I did this, and it worked out this way.” And when you are looking for advice and you find someone talking about the choice you didn’t make, walk away. That advice isn’t for you anyway.