In this current age of what feels like parenting by online committee, I’ve seen many a mum taken out by commenters shout-typing their opposing opinion and take that mum down a peg or two for daring to share her thoughts. On the flip side I’ve seen some incredible support and rallying, often sparked by those exact same women or by very similar topics, in carefully monitored groups.
A group I’m in, The Motherhood Project, recently shared an article written for Stuff by one of the group members, Rebecca Goodhue, about how relentless she’s finding motherhood because her baby is a non-sleeper. I read her article and completely related because I knew that non-sleeping life. It’s exhausting, it’s hard, it’s lonely, it takes the shine off the moments that everyone says you must treasure, and you feel like you must be doing something really wrong because your baby isn’t doing the things with sleeping that everyone says theirs is doing. I thought thankful thoughts about Rebecca on behalf of the mothers of other non-sleepers, because there’s no greater feeling when you’re struggling with something than realising you’re not alone.
The comments on The Motherhood Project share were supportive and sympathetic. One commenter had said “just don’t read some of the comments on the Stuff article!” , so I thought I’d head over there for a read to get my daily dose of outrage. And there they were, the I-Know-Betters in all their cryptically-named, keyboard pounding glory: why did she have kids if she didn’t want to be tired? Millions of other women have done it and you don’t hear them bloody complaining. Of course her baby should be sleeping she obviously hasn’t read this particular book that works for 99% of people. She should just switch to formula feeding, that always works. Cry me a river, it’s just life to keep humanity going (nice one, Grant). She mentioned drinking a cup of tea, and tea has caffeine, so that’s why her baby isn’t sleeping, duh! Get used to it because my kids are in their 30’s and I still don’t sleep for worrying about them. Just sleep when the baby sleeps. Don’t expect the bloody tax payer to pay for help for your bloody decisions. etc.,
My personal favourites were along the lines of ‘it really annoys me that she says MOTHERHOOD is hard, because it’s actually PARENTHOOD that’s hard. I’m a Dad and I get up to the baby too, it’s not just mothers’. Thanks for flying the #DadsToo flag, Dave*, maybe go write your own article about how hard fatherhood is and then bask in the glow of all the comments saying, “omg Dave is amazing, I wish my hubby was like that! Dave is right – fatherhood is so hard I also let my wife sleep in sometimes while I get up to the child that I had a part in creating! Inspiring, Dave, there should be more men like you! Dave for Prime Minister!’
Australian blogger and author Constance Hall is no stranger to a good old online slating. Holy shit it must sting sometimes, and people get so far beyond personal and judgmental with her that they essentially clamber inside her uterus and start spray painting My Opinion Woz Here. She brushes it off in the queenly manner she’s so well known and loved/hated for, and the really cool thing to see is how members of the community that she has grown from a tiny Insta following rally around her and fight the good fight on her behalf. And she has merchandise now, too, and uses her online community to support charities. Clever lady. Constance says the stuff that some people wouldn’t imagine saying out loud in their wildest dreams. But every time she does, there’s an almost audible sigh of relief across the social world as women think “Yes! This! This is what it’s like!”
Last week, a New York based photographer, Reka Nyari, caused a tabloid stir after she posted a series of incredible photos of her breastfeeding her toddler in retaliation to a situation where a woman accused Reka of trying to steal her husband by breastfeeding on a plane. Firstly, if you’re worried your partner is going to run off with every woman he sees feeding her child then you might need a word with yourself over the stability of your relationship. Secondly, the fact that an article about a series of breastfeeding photos has gone viral makes my brain go nnnrrrrrrrggggghhhhhhhh, because we are STILL having judgmental conversations about how a mother chooses to feed her child. Honestly, if you give a little baby formula because you can’t or choose not to breastfeed, people react like you’re giving them heroin. Conversely, if you breastfeed your toddler, people react like you’re giving them heroin. There must be some amazing sweet spot of an age where a mother can pop a bottle of formula OR a nipple in their kid’s mouth and have people walk by thinking “I actually have no opinion either way on this scene right here”. What is that age? Six months? Is six months ok with everyone?
I digress…back to Reka’s photos and the articles that have now been written about them. The photos show Reka breast feeding her daughter in a variety of stylised and natural/candid situations, including one particularly incredible shot with an owl perched on her arm. I should disclose here that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Reka, and she’s the close friend of someone I’m close to (because the world is tiny like that). I’ve loved seeing Reka’s photography collections of powerful tattooed women with stories to tell over the last few years, and it didn’t surprise me at all that the artist would become the subject to support a cause she believes strongly in – that being a mother’s choice in how she feeds her child and for how long. But the comments…oh wow, the comments. If Reka hadn’t said upfront on her own social posts that she was finding the comments on the Daily Mail and other articles quite hilarious, but could friends also please drop a few positive comments in the mix to help support other mothers, I would have been concerned for the damage those comments could do to her mental health. Reka seems happy to take one for the extended-breastfeeding team and weather the debate and controversy that her images have stirred, and I assume that’s because as an artist her work is designed to spark conversation and opinions. She’s welcoming the opportunity to discuss and educate, but the vitriol she’s encountering would be too much for most people.
I see your owl-perched-on-arm-while-breastfeeding, Reka, and raise you a cat-perched-on-lap-while-breastfeeding-with-dude-drinking-beer-in-background. #WhoWoreItBetter
We need Rebeccas, and Constances, and Rekas. We need them to put themselves out there and say ‘hey, this is how I’m living it’, because for every one person shout-typing their opinions in the comment sections, there are dozens of mothers (yes ok and #DadsToo) quietly scrolling through their stories thinking ‘oh thank god. I thought it was just me who was struggling with this’. And we really need closed social media groups with strict moderating policies such as The Motherhood Project, The Parenting View, The Mum Hub, and many more like them because mums need a safe space to unload, ask questions, and share experiences without feeling that harsh judgement will rain down on them. These groups are a safe place to land.
If you’re not thick-skinned and fear an online whipping in your quest to find information on a topic, moderate how much of yourself you give to suit the situation. In the same way that you’d tell some friends stories that you wouldn’t tell your great aunt, read the social media room. When I was thinking about having a c-section delivery, for example, I knew that ‘Mothers who exclusively freebirth’ groups probably wouldn’t have the supportive opinions I sought.
As a fellow parent/woman/human being, be kind, or at least hold back on the angry typing when someone tentatively puts themselves out there. It’s hard to share experiences and thoughts, and even harder when the landing is a bumpy one. We’ve got so much to gain from shared honesty in parenting, and a lot to lose in making it impossible to do so.