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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guest Post: Facebook and Parenting

Melissa Jean Photography - Family Photographer-22-XLHi new friends! My name is Kelly and I write about motherhood and foster care over at Our Cone Zone!

We've all experienced it. So-and-so posts something on our Facebook about their parenting decision; vaccines, cry it out vs. attachment, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, working, tv-watching, homeschooling, healthcare, gluten, proper carseats....the list is overwhelming, no? And we feel irritation. We may glance over it, move onto something else, but the irritation stays. Sometimes, it's even worse than irritation-- it manifests itself into full-blown hurt. Did so-and-so do something wrong by posting it? I'm not going to give a black and white answer on that one, because it's not up to me to determine that. Only the one who posted it knows their true intentions behind why they did. For me to assume and say they did anything wrong would just feed the problem.

 To be honest, I've found some really valuable information on Facebook. I have some, how shall we say this, well-informed friends. I appreciate the wealth of information they have to offer because, hey! Less research for me! But how do we keep the wealth of information from turning into something that overwhelms us and makes us resentful? We can't and shouldn't try to control others, so what's left to do?

A few days ago, a bloggy friend of mine posted an article about napping when her baby naps. I loved the article, but was astounded when I got to the comments. Moms were viciously attacking each other and the author! I couldn't believe it. The article wasn't even controversial! I got so fed up after about 30 seconds of reading that I wrote my own little response. Go ahead and find it. I'll wait. I'm not proud of how I said it. But it saddened me to realize that every single one of those moms felt so irked by some hidden subtext that they had to respond in such a manner. Mommas, we have a responsibility. We cannot shut ourselves off from information just because we know we'll react in a certain way. We have to get to the source of the problem and control the reaction, because without that ability, we're vulnerable sitting ducks for any tiny disagreement or criticism that comes our way. We are insecure time bombs, just waiting for someone to set us off. Believe me, I know. I am so sensitive that if someone tells me I did something wrong, I feel sick to my stomach for days.

About two years ago, I learned that the way I process information and criticism needed to change, or I'd have to become a friendless hermit. Here's how I figured out how to do it. (Side Note: There are two groups of people who I feel are exempt from what I'm about to say: Preggos and Moms of newborns. Both of these groups get a free pass for almost anything, in my book, because hormones are awful). First of all, whenever something I read online irked me, I sat down and really took an honest investigative look at the thoughts and feelings surrounding the irritation. I asked myself some brutally honest questions and tried my best to answer them truthfully, without just saying, "Well, that's the problem with Facebook these days!" (cop-out alert!). Here are the feelings I uncovered:

  1.  I felt like someone was telling me that they were better than me. Somehow, someone was saying that their parenting decision was better than mine, and they were trying to rub it in my face (how DARE they?). 
  2. I felt like someone was calling me a bad parent. 
  3. I felt like someone was telling me I was lazy for not looking into such and such thing sooner, or for not being willing to "buck the trend" along with them (because, don't we know yet? ALL doctors are lying! ALL food companies are lying!). 
Secondly, once I'd admitted to all of my thoughts, I played the "what-if" game. What if all of those moms really are better than me? What if someone is calling me a bad parent? What if someone is saying I'm lazy for not distrusting conventions along with them? The what-if game REALLY works for these thoughts! Because here's what I discovered!

  1. Yup. In all honesty, most of the moms I know probably ARE better moms than me. If I take myself lightly enough, I can admit this pretty readily. What does this really cost me? Will my friends (true ones, not acquaintances) love me any less if I'm not as good of a mom as they are? Actually, ironically, they will probably love me MORE if I'm just me, full of imperfections and errors! The road to perfection is paved with loneliness, because you start pushing away anyone who could drag you down. When we start thinking that every article is about US and OUR WORTH, we become the ultimate egotists. And that color ain't pretty on nobody. Conclusion: I only gain more love and acceptance if other moms are better than me. Threat neutralized! 
  2. If someone is calling me a bad parent (they probably aren't, but this is the "what-if" game, after all) and they are someone whose opinion I actually care about, they are someone close enough to help. For example, if they think I should be using cloth diapers, maybe they'd like to come wash them for me? If my food isn't organic enough for them, are they willing to buy it themselves? Believe it or not, in extreme cases, I've had friends and family actually volunteer help when they think I'm overwhelmed. The moment I lay my pride down at the door, I actually become grateful for it! On the flip side of this, if we criticize how someone is doing something, we should consider that the equivalent of volunteering to help. Who are we to say what someone should be doing if we're not willing to do it ourselves? Any of my true friends and family would only criticize if they were willing to either help or back off. Conclusion: Even IF they are calling me a bad parent, I probably don't care about them very much in the first place. Or maybe they'll come and clean for me? Score! 
  3. Am I lazy for doing what convention has taught me? Guys, our generation is so used to bucking the trend that we forget that Mommas have relied upon tradition for THOUSANDS of years. We used to learn about parenting from our community and our Mothers. The fact that I have done things differently than my Mother did has caused me grief many times, because I wish it's something we shared. Doing things differently shouldn't be taken lightly. I also realized that there's no way that so-and-so could know what I'm going through at that particular moment. Maybe I'm already feeling overwhelmed and that extra information was enough to send me over the edge. But how were they to know? On a better day, I might've thanked them for the info instead of getting hurt. Conclusion: Maybe I do trust convention too much. Okay, I'm a trusting person! Chalk me up some points in the character department! After playing the "what-if" game, I usually feel significantly better because much of the "threat" has been removed. 
Finally, I look at the big picture. Ultimately, I only care about two opinions about my parenting here on this Earth-- my husband's and my childrens'. Because guess who has to live with all the results of my parenting? If I become convinced that we are ONLY eating organic, Jesse better be on board with it because he's the one who has to help pay the bill. If I become convinced that my kids shouldn't have another vaccine, my kids are the ones who have to get the measles and chickenpox someday. I should take their "opinions" into consideration, because they're the ones who have to live with the consequences. Not so-and-so on Facebook. This doesn't mean that I've cashed it in. If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I am constantly striving to find the best balance for our family, navigating the tense waters of the parenting debates. I can do this because I know my family, but God help me if I try to do it for someone else's, or let someone else's opinion dictate our lives.

I'm not just trying to make sure my kids are parented well, I'm also striving to be a good example. I don't want my kids to see someone who is afraid of others' opinions, ranting off and on about so-and-so on Facebook. I want them to see someone who is confident enough in her own decisions, who takes herself lightly enough to admit when she's wrong, who trusts in the good will of her husband and close friends. I want to teach them not to hide from information and differing opinions, but to face them knowing what they believe and why. Even if you successfully find a way to ignore most of the hurt feelings associated with articles on Facebook, it's still good to remember the struggle that most moms go through when they read these sorts of things, and we should check twice to make sure that what we have to say will be received well. If you know that most of your friends are gluten-eating foodies, articles about how gluten is poison should probably be avoided, or couched in a few reassuring statements (lesson learned last month when one of my close friends unfriended me!).

Another friend of mine posted a few nights ago that she was literally shaking after reading Facebook articles, a big thank you to all the people who posted that night. Boy was I glad that I wasn't one of them that particular day, but I very easily could've been. I forget that just because I'm not affected doesn't mean that others aren't. Because if we saw a hurting mom right in front of us, instead of imagining them across a computer screen, we wouldn't hurl rocks at her right? Even organic, grass-fed rocks. cropped-BlogHeaderwindow3.jpg You can follow along with Kelly here or on Facebook!  photo flowerburstsignature_zpsb8a612dc.jpg

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