Parenting Out Loud In the Age of the Internet (and Ignoring the Trolls)

Filed under: Opinions

I love living in this age. I can't imagine what it must have been like to live in the time when it took weeks to get news or a return letter from someone. It must have been so isolating to be able to talk to so few so rarely.

Today women who have ideas or stories to share can do so via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email and text messages. We can use our voices, whether it's to swap recipes or craft ideas, to try and improve our children's education, to raise funds for a cause we care about or to commiserate with people who have similar life struggles. It's thrilling to be able to connect with so many. And yet, you know there's a downside. If you raise your head up and out of the crowd, you might get judged. Or shot at.

I recently wrote a post here on ParentDish entitled "I Don't Like Babies." It was about the fact that parenting my children as infants made me terribly nervous. Their fragility scared the heck out of me and their inability to communicate with me was an unending frustration. I find that I hit my mothering stride once babies are past the first year. I wrote the piece thinking it was pretty normal for mothers to feel more comfortable during certain developmental stages and less comfortable during others. Imagine my surprise at how far some people took it.

One commenter said, "I'm thinking if you didn't love the bonding with your baby and all that goes with it maybe you should not have had them. Sounds more like you need friends not children!" Another wrote, "Something tells me she should not have had the two she did have. I feel sorry for the children and the damages that are being inflicted on them during their formative years ..." Still another suggested I should have had my ovaries cut out. Those were tough to read, even though I knew in my heart they were wrong.

Here is the one that really stood out to me: "Who the hell is this person, and who the hell cares about her so called insight? Does no one have a thought of their own, make a decision of their own? Why are we listening to all these no-names & so-called celebrities about everything?"

Brene Brown writes, in her book "The Gifts of Imperfection," that "most of us have shame triggers around being perceived as self-indulgent or self-focused. We don't want our authenticity to be perceived as selfish or narcissistic." She says that speaking out is a major shame trigger for women because culturally we are expected to "stay as small, quiet and attractive as possible."

I know that shame. I felt it when the commenter asked who the hell I was. My first reaction was, yes, who am I? I know I'm nobody special. So why am I writing this stuff? Nobody asked me to be honest about motherhood. No one cares what I think. I should just keep my mouth shut. Brown adds, "When we go against the grain and put ourselves and our work out in the world, some people will feel threatened and they will go after what hurts the most -- our appearance, our lovability and even our parenting."

She's right. I'm not the only one who gets reactions like these. If you've had the audacity to create a blog or share your opinion publicly even once, it's likely you've gotten them, too. Jennifer did, with her story on the difficulty of online dating after a divorce. Someone called her a "picky b*tch," and another told her, "You have no decency about you what-so-ever. Instead of looking for another mate or trying to rope your ex-husband back in maybe you should look to the porno film industry instead." My jaw is on the floor. Same thing happened to Amy, when she wrote a story about her daughter's struggles with eating. One had the gall to write, "Are you serious? Get a job and quit screwing up your child ... I am so sick of mothers without parenting skills." And that's one of the kinder ones.

I suppose they could take this as a sign to sit down and shut up, but Jennifer and Amy and many others just keep on trucking despite the negative reactions they receive. If so many people weren't willing to ignore the trolls of this world, where would we be? There would be no talk about the difficulties of divorce, or what it is like to raise a special needs child, or how common it is to have postpartum depression or how to help a kid with an eating disorder. I don't want to live in that world.

Every time I'm honest about my struggles as a parent, I hear from people who are grateful to know they aren't alone. I put myself out there not because I think anyone needs to pay attention to what I have to say (they don't), or because I think I have some magic secret about motherhood (I DEFINITELY don't), but because it helps me embrace my life and accept that I'm not perfect. I am able to write through my troubles, and if at the same time my words help someone else, I am doubly blessed. I plan to continue parenting out loud.

I hope those of you who feel that you have something to say bubbling up inside you are not stopped in your tracks by the unfortunate behavior of others. I hope you aren't led to shrink from being the full measure of who you are. As Ann Lamott wrote, "Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.