When I think back to the 7th grade, I have terrible memories. I didn’t learn a whole lot in middle school, I was too busy revving all my engines in survival mode, clutching my Trapper Keeper to my chest (which someone later stole from my locker a day later), running from loogie bombs kids were spitting off the balcony above me.
Middle school is the actual worst. Let’s just scratch those two years and come up with some fresh ideas, shall we? For the sake of our younger selves with our big bangs and banana clips — we can do better.
A lot of people, like me, still have scars from childhood bullies. I recall sitting in 7th grade music class and a brutal bully sitting behind me, whispering the most vicious insults into my ear. It was almost sadistic, too brutal for a kid his age, and his words left lasting scars to this day. But I take a big sigh of relief knowing the harrowing days of middle school are far behind me.
And then I Google sleep training tips for my child and suddenly realize nothing has changed and maybe adults are really just insecure little middle schoolers with less brace face and more responsibilities. The proof is in the comments section. Maybe we can’t do better, we just get mortgages and chubby bat wings, but our desire to unload judgments and insults on people lives on.
Since I created a website focused on women and parenting humor, I’m not immune to trolls, but since my writing is mostly satire, I rarely take it personally. But when it comes to parenting my babies, discovering what is best for them and our family, I take it very personally. So to be judged over my parenting style, of a disciplining technique, a method of giving birth — just name it, people judge it — it hurts me more than I care to admit. I’d like to say random mean-spirited people on the Internet can’t get under my skin. But they do. Because they are hitting me at my most vulnerable, most beloved place — my identity as a mother.
I’ll admit, I’ve never had anyone attack me directly about a parenting-related issue. There’s a reason for that — I’m too scared to discuss parenting topics because I fear the criticism. I’ve seen bloggers, writers, and commenters get so brutally attacked that I refuse to put my own skin in the game.
I recall researching “sleep training” for my first daughter. I wanted her to get her best sleep and I suspected I was unintentionally making it harder for her to sleep peacefully during her naps. I fell upon an article by a popular blogger who was documenting her experience sleep training her toddler. The comments horrified me. Some threatened to call CPS on her, others called her a myriad of names, while some revealed their disgust then self-righteously announced “Unliking” the page. They weren’t saying this to me directly, but because I was researching and investigating the training for myself, I felt the insults as if they were directed at me.
A year later, I had an acquaintance over for lunch. After I put my toddler to bed for her nap without fuss, she asked me how I managed to pull that off. I froze. If I told her we had practiced some sleep training methods, would she judge me? I mumbled something about “putting her on a schedule” that “she took to so easily!” and “it must be her personality!” then quickly changed the subject. Looking back, who cares what this woman thinks? I’m embarrassed by my fear. But there’s something about today’s combative, ultra-opinionated-about-everything-including-your-life-choices-culture that puts me on edge.
What right do we have to tell loving parents to raise their children in a way that makes us most comfortable? Why are we so at ease judging and mom-shaming? Are we just a junior high bully who’s learned to disguise their cruelty behind a computer screen?
What’s worse, have our children learned to bully — from us?
The Parent Wars are a very real, and if you think about it, very silly reality. But where does the judging, shaming, and mocking originate from? Why are we more apt to battle each other over our differences rather than support and lift each other up?
It’s hard to know for sure, but I do know that people who hurt other people are hurting. Maybe we lash out as a defense mechanism for our own parenting choices. Maybe our insecurities cause us to see personal threats where none exist. Perhaps there’s something missing in our life so we tear others down to feel the sweet, temporary relief of superiority. Regardless of the reason — I’d bet my savings that confident, content, happy people don’t troll mothers for circumcising (or not) their sons.
A recent study answered the question, “Why do we judge parents for putting kids at perceived — but unreal — risk?” For instance, letting children play alone in the backyard or at a neighborhood park. And the answer is essentially, moral self-righteousness. We’ve turned even the most benign parenting choices into moral obligations because of an unreal perception that the choice puts our children in danger. Personally, I think this moral self-righteousness originates from a place of fear. If a child dies in some freak accident, blaming the mother means we can go to bed at night comforted that tragedy is her fault and that horrible, unspeakable tragedies can’t happen to us.
Mean Girls makes for a hilarious movie, sanctimommies make for a miserable life. We’re at a point now where many of us are more afraid of someone calling CPS on us than the minute risk something bad could happen to our 12-year-old walking home alone from school. It’s getting dumb.
As long as people feel pain, insecurities, and self-shame, bullying will always be a part of our reality. But maybe we can evolve. If we’re horrified at the thought of our children being ruthlessly bullied, perhaps it can serve as a reminder to practice self-restraint on a breastfeeding article that’s triggered us for whatever reason. As Amy Poehler says in her book Yes, Please about parenting — “good for you, not for me.” Can’t we just leave it at that and then get back to work managing our own problems?
If not for ourselves, then for our babies? For the little girl whose bully sat behind her in music class and whispered the most horrible things?
The good news is that we have the ability to choose. I hope we choose kindness. Middle schoolers everywhere are counting on us to get our crap together.
The Choose Kindness campaign aims to inspire kids, families, and change-makers around the country to put an end to bullying. Join us on social media: share how you choose kindness by using the hashtag #ChooseKindness.