It should have been a normal day. Ashley Grimm was simply driving her family to visit her parents. But, she faced a mother’s worst nightmare when a large rock fell from a cliff, landed in the lane of her vehicle, causing her van to crash and killing her youngest son. He had covertly removed his seat-belt moments before the crash. She refused treatment from paramedics as she sat inconsolable, holding the body of her four-year-old baby, and had to be sedated. Her anguish was to be intensified two days later when she finally read comments of readers responding to the news reports of the accident. “The readers commented the cruelest things about how horrible of a mother I was. How my children should be taken away from me,” Grimm writes in a Facebook post that went viral.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that the only critics new mothers were sure to face were their own mothers and mother-in-laws. But today, it is open season on parents. Complete strangers feel the need to not only share their parenting “expertise,” but also scrutinize and condemn parents for their choices and, sometimes, mistakes.
When bringing a child into the world, parents find themselves facing a plethora of child rearing choices: to co-sleep or not, breast or bottle feed, breastfeed in public or in a private room, cloth or disposable diapers, organic or processed food, be a working mom or stay-at-home-mom, home-school, public, vaccinate or don’t – and the list goes on. With so many choices, parents feel overwhelmed because they can count on the public to judge every choice they make.
It is dangerous to share any type of parenting experience on social media. People feel confident hiding behind their computer screens and are willing to blast hatred and condemnation on any parent they feel made a mistake.
To be honest, I was once a parent critic too. I didn’t have children yet, but often found it necessary to comment on the parenting choices my younger sister was making. I never intended for my criticism to be malicious, but, once I had a child of my own, I realized just how unwarranted and hurtful my comments had been.
Now a parent, I’ve been the victim. Two months after having my first child, at a child’s birthday party, I mentioned to other mothers that I had stopped breastfeeding. For me, the experience had been horrendous. At the end of each struggle to feed, both of us in tears, I would give her a bottle of formula rather than letting her starve. Pumping didn’t produce enough milk, and after four weeks of torture, my doctor told me it was okay to quit; it didn’t mean I was less of a mother. One of the other moms told me I shouldn’t have given up; I should just take her to a specialist to see if her tongue was deformed and try breastfeeding again.
I felt flabbergasted. After four weeks of pain, guilt, and anguish, I finally felt comfortable with my decision to stop breastfeeding and this woman had the nerve to not only give me unwanted advice, but to insinuate deformity in my daughter. As I drove home crying, my husband agreed she was inappropriate, but reminded me to forgive her. She probably had good intentions, who knew what her experiences had been, and he reminded me I had been like her once.
Public monitoring of other children and parenting choices in not completely negative – we should be more aware of what it taking place around us and be willing to stand up if we feel a child is in true danger. But we must find a balance. Often times, criticism is parent bashing in disguise; it’s not advocating, constructive, nor helpful.
We need to be cautious about giving advice. And, if you ever receive backlash for a parenting choice you made, forgive and remember that experience. Any parent understands that parenting is a tough job. Regardless of where you are in your parenting life you cannot forget what a challenge parenting is – so be compassionate and supportive.
A new mother shared via social media her experience of taking her nine-week-old infant to a restaurant for the first time. Just as the waiter brought her breakfast out, her infant announced he was also ready to eat. Instead of feeding herself, she began to breastfeed him at the table. Terrified when an older woman approached her table, she prepared to be reprimanded for breastfeeding in public. Instead, the older woman told her what a good mother she was and, because she didn’t want her food to get cold, began cutting up the mother’s food so she could eat with one hand while feeding her infant.
We need more experiences like this.