I cannot imagine parenting my two daughters without social media. I discovered networking with other parents, first on MySpace, and then Facebook, where I share stories about the things my children do, ask questions of my friends, and vent about the things that I might otherwise stew over and take out on my children or spouse later. With family scattered across the globe, social media has also enabled me to share my children with family members who might otherwise only know them by the pictures I’d send at the beginning of each school year.
There’s an ugly dark side to parenting, however, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. While every single one of the 200-plus people who are granted access to my online profile are people that I like and respect, I do not share all of my views with every single one of them. This is never more apparent than when I do something that one of them considers “Bad Parenting.”
In the past, when someone disapproved of a parent’s choices, he or she might make a comment. There might be a “look.” Those moments were fleeting, however, and if they occurred on a regular basis, you could simply make the decision not to visit Aunt Fran as often, or to avoid telling Granny about your philosophies on feeding solids to babies. With social media, those once behind-the-scenes comments are emblazoned across our computer screens in black and white. In some instances, others respond before you notice the comment, leaving a long back-and-forth discussion about your parenting choices that lingers. When that happens, you have a few choices: delete the comments, delete the thread, or delete the person. No matter what, you find yourself shoving that little bit of dissent away in a much more tangible manner than simply pretending you didn’t hear a comment.
There is something about the written word, regardless of the source, that feels more real than a verbal comment. It feels more true. And so it hurts more, makes us question ourselves and our beliefs, and, worst of all, serves as a huge judgment passed that is not just between us and whoever makes the comment, but everyone else you know, as well. It’s the difference between a whisper that might be overhead and a glaring announcement: “Someone thinks that I am a bad parent!”
I’ve addressed the issue of parents being unable to “win” before in my article, Raising the Adventure Child. There are no right and wrong ways to parent. Parenting is a process, and there are many ways to complete that process. Some of us even use a different process with each of our children. Parenting as a process should be very goal-oriented. When our children are first born, our goals are simple: get this child to eat, sleep, and evacuate on a regular basis. With toddlers, the goals are to keep the child from throwing a tantrum in the grocery store and start using the toilet. After that, the goal becomes very singular: raise this little person with whom I’ve been entrusted and create an honest, productive, educated, and self-sustaining member of society. In my house, we add an additional goal: That member of society must be open-minded and learn not to judge others for doing or believing things differently from herself.
In order to help my daughters become this kind of person, I must first learn to model that same behavior. Of all the challenges that parenting has posed for me, this is by far one of the hardest. With the exception of instances of outright abuse, it’s hard to learn to keep my mouth shut. Just as others have a hard time keeping their mouths shut about some of the things I’ve chosen to do. I once had someone make a very snide comment about my decision not to take my daughter to the ER for something she’d already been to three ERs for. We’d already had a couple of specialists tell us there was nothing to do about it, doctors telling me not to worry, and yet this one person had me second-guessing everything I was doing with this child. After a bit of fretting, I finally unfriended the person and deleted the comments — and then drove my daughter back to the ER, only to be sent home a few hours later.
These little comments about what someone should or should not do with their kids breeds not only resentment among parents, but also insecurity in the people the comments are aimed towards. Of all the tasks someone undertakes, parenting is by far the most important one. But like I said, it’s a process. Just like some people might prefer to take interstates and others stick to back roads, there are multiple paths to the same destination. With some kids, those different paths might even be necessary.
When someone makes a comment about their parenting that you disagree with it’s very hard to not immediately respond with a link or a cite or a comment about why your way is better. But remember — almost every single parenting choice has data to back it up, and one set of data is not necessarily better than another set of data. That’s because children are not photocopies of each other, and frankly, I wouldn’t want them to be. Instead of passing judgment on other parents, consider that perhaps their way of doing things is not necessarily damaging merely because it’s different. And then step away from the keyboard, because once we start judging each other as parents and tearing apart each other’s choices, we remove the ability to have honest and open dialogue about those choices.