Friday, January 10, 2014

Modern Warfare: How Social Media Turned Motherhood Into An Epic Battle Royale

Picture it: June 3rd, 2009. The day my life began.
Not really. I had a meaningful life long before I had my first son. But motherhood was definitely a new and uncharted part of life for me. One filled with wonderment, grandeur, and of course the occasional (when the occasion comes more often than not) "failure". Part of motherhood [and by motherhood, you can assume I mean parenthood in general, although I will use the term motherhood because I am a mother, not a father], perhaps the biggest part, is being faced with decisions and realizing that you are making them for another human being. I don't know about others, but before actually lacing up my mommy shoes, I never really thought about that. Every single decision I have made from that point on affects not only me, but my children. And many of those decisions are solely geared toward their well-being, and theirs' alone.

From the moment they come into this world: Do you vaccinate? Do you breastfeed or formula feed? If you breastfeed, do you pump too? If you formula feed, what brand? Do you rock them to sleep or put them down awake? Do you let them use a paci to comfort themselves or do you see it as unnecessary or even possibly a hindrance to your breastfeeding? Will you use a stroller or will you always wear your baby? Will baby always be held or will you "hand them off" to a swing or bouncer? If you have a boy, will you circumcise? If you have a girl, will you pierce her ears? When will you introduce solids? Will you cosleep? Will you put baby in his or her crib right away? What if it takes baby too long to sleep through the night? Will you sleep train? Use CIO? How long is too long before they STTN, anyway? Will you push your baby to learn new things like crawling or walking or talking or will you sit back and let it come on its own? Will you use a carrier or convertible car seat? And when will you turn that car seat forward facing? Will you take your child to church, involve them in your faith or will you teach them to feel it out on their own? Will you spank, use time out, just try to reason with them? Will you homeschool or send your child to public school? Will they go to school with organic packed lunches or will they eat what the school serves? Will you give your child an allowance? Make them work for it? What about when they turn 16? Do Mom and Dad buy their first car or should the child buy his/her own?
You will be making decisions for your child from the moment they are born until they are well into adulthood.

Before becoming a mom, I would think about these things from time to time and think "No big deal, we'll cross that bridge when we get there." And sure, there were some that I immediately answered "No way." or "Of course."
I knew all of these decisions would be of some importance in my children's lives. I probably didn't realize of how much importance.
But what I definitely didn't realize was how important my decisions would be to nearly every other mother I know. Now, keep in mind I said "nearly". I just want to point that out before I continue.

When I was a child, I remember overhearing my mom talk with her friends about my brother and I. Occasionally she'd seek parenting advice from one of her close friends, a church lady or my grandmother and aunts. Honestly, though, I think my mom's philosophy was this: Love them, feed them, clothe them, show pride in them, discipline the wrong, praise the good, and wing the rest.
Were there times she made the wrong decisions? Of course. But I don't recall many specifics. And I also don't recall anyone ever saying to her, face to face, "Oh no. You can't do that. You can't spank your kids. That causes brain damage." Or "You really had your son circumcised? You know that's inhumane, right?" Or "That's really sad that you had a C-section with your second. That's like you didn't even give birth to her."

Yet, I see these things on a daily basis now. Let that sink in. Daily I see mothers being constantly and obsessively criticized for the way they raise their children.
It has become so easy. Moms everywhere are using their fingers and keys as deadly weapons on the battlefield of Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Instagram. And every other social media site you can think of.

Why is this okay?
Sure, it's great that you are able to offer instant advice for mothers who are struggling with some of those tough decisions. But more often than not, that advice is really just pokes and prods, meant to be hurtful, aimed at frail women seeking some kind of support during some of the hardest days of their lives.

And what's worse is that we've all been there. As a mom, in this technologically fueled environment we live in, we have all gone to our respective outlets and vented our frustrations about a baby that's been up every 25 minutes for the last 7 hours. We've all posted that article that seems to state just what we were thinking about vaccinations, or circumcision, or sleep sacks, or whatever. And we've all posted that celebration status about breastfeeding for a year now or having a baby that walks at 8 months or rear-facing for 3 years or potty training at 18 months.
And it's all fine. But when you posted that you needed help choosing a formula, you never dreamed someone would actually comment "None. Breast is best." And you never dreamed that comment would lead to several other people discussing how giving formula is mistreating your baby and you should be ashamed. And how your child would be getting the nutrition he or she deserves if you would just have had the gutso to stick it out. When you posted that article that talks about how vaccines save lives you never thought someone would accuse you of poisoning your baby. When you posted that your baby was trying her first green bean and loving it, you never dreamed someone would give you a lecture about how solids aren't good for your child before 8 months or even necessary before a year..that is if you were breastfeeding like the mother you should be.
And 'round and 'round we go. And we get our feelings hurt, so we have to retaliate. Or at least, we have to defend. And that can get messy. And goodness, does that get tiring.

You know what standard I want to live up to? I want to teach my kids to love God, to love others, and I want to provide them with food, shelter, and education. I want to do those things the way that my husband and I have decided to do them. And if we're happy and our kids are happy and healthy, then I want that to be that. The end.
When I reach out for help, I want just that. I don't want to be shot down or told how I'm wrong.
Newsflash--we're all wrong. Isn't there always room for improvement? I can't be perfect and I can't do every thing the best way. I try, but I know that there are going to be times that it just doesn't work.
And those are the times when I, as a mother surrounded by other mothers, need support. Not criticism.

Seriously, to all fellow mommies out there. To the the TTCers..sit your weapons down and walk away. Motherhood is a hectic, tender, and sometimes very fragile state we're in. It's hard enough making the big decisions for the lives that you took on the responsibility of bringing up. It's even harder when those decisions are being scrutinized by everyone around you.
So, I leave you all with this:

The only battle that should take place in your state of motherhood is the battle between your own will and the will of your tiny, courageous, world-changer. Not between you and all other mothers.
You are doing just fine and your children can survive, can thrive, in many different circumstances and situations. Our children are going to make up the world's population one day and they will be thankful that they are all unique.

So, step back. Step down. Disarm.