When I found out I was pregnant, I panicked and ran out to buy a billion books on parenting and pregnancy. I’m a reader. A nerd who researches everything. Mostly because I realized a long time ago that I mostly lack common sense and need ideas on how to function as a basic adult in society. How do I feed myself? What does one make for dinner? How do we care for our young?
I also didn’t have much to pull from in terms of my own family. I love my parents, they’re great, but they were teenagers when they had me and surprising to absolutely no one, teenagers are not the most stable parents because, well, they’re kids, too. So I set out to do a lot of learning on my own because when it comes to raising kids, I didn’t want to like wing it and hope for the best only to realize that I accidentally repeated every imaginable cycle (What’s that saying, That you do exactly what your parents did or the exact opposite?). So I read a lot, I researched a lot, I followed every parenting instagram account that talked about healthy parenting. I cherry picked things from all over, concepts or ideas that seemed good or had evidence-based results. It was also helpful that I had a couple of friends who were pregnant at the same time and willing and excited to share information so we could learn together. And then I went online to find my community but what I found instead was a bunch of super angry folks yelling at each other in the comments sections of mommy or daddy bloggers/Instagrammers.
Mean, Mean, Mean
Parenting content attracts a ton of Karens and Chads. Like a lot. And people can be fucking vicious. For example, today a pregnant mom posted a pic of her baby bump along with a caption about getting the Covid vaccine and I’m not joking the first comment was by some Sociopath named Nancy that was like “you killed your baby.” Jesus Christ, Nancy.
I felt like I was peering into the window of a title 1 Junior High school (like the one I went to) because there was so much yelly name-calling. So much judgmental shit and a lot of “you can’t sit with us, bitch I will cut you” sneering from adults wearing sun visors and bicycle shorts in their profile pic. And I was surprised by how much I saw parents furiously defending one school of thought like it was a universal truth, set in stone. Like gravity makes things fall down also Waldorf or die bitches.
I’ve never been that sure of anything in my life. And honestly, I’m almost jealous of that level of certainty. I’ve questioned my underwear choice more than once today. It’s like the world is full of mean little parents who all use the internet to rub everyone else’s noses in their “I have it all figured out” superiority. I do not have it all figured out and I’m okay to admit that. I don’t think it makes us bad parents to still be learning every single day.
Being “balanced” isn’t an identity, it’s just hard to read and takes too long for the immediacy of social media where snap judgments are king.
THE MEAN PARENT CLUBS
So when I say the mean parent clubs, I don’t mean everyone who follows a specific parenting philosophy. There are plenty of nice and lovely people out there in every group. What I’m talking about specifically are the assholes who follow a specific parenting philosophy and the specific sort of way I see them being jerks online.
So Natural It Hurts. There’s the “Au Naturale Essential Oil” parents who are intensely against vaccinations and science and medicine and they fight tooth and nail for the use of lavender oils to treat any and all ailments. These folks often follow bougie af rich stay-at-home mom influencer accounts. You know, the ones who are full of positivity and light and are all about joy and yoga pants and somehow they never get camel-toe despite all of their pants having crotch seams (I also follow these accounts and am equally as enthralled by their eternal glow). These folks are also real quick to accuse parents who had their children vaccinated of “ruining their child’s I.Q.” as one father said to me recently when I inquired to another parent about extra vaccines for travel. I quickly let him have it in what would result in the worlds worse put-down because it was actually a compliment? I apparently forgot how to be salty online. I told him, “My tot is barely two, can speak in paragraphs, can count to twenty five, knows his ABC’s, can spell his name, and can identify like 200 species of bird. Trust me, he’s fine, and he’s fully vaccinated. Also if your child is really bright, that has a lot more to do with environment, your great parenting, and genetics and nothing to do with vaccines.” Fucker. Take that. You and your good parenting.
Self-Care? I don’t know her! Another intense group is the “As Mother I Shall Sacrifice Myself on This Stone of Martyrdom”. This is the group that is so devoted to their children (which isn’t the worst thing) that they believe any and all things done outside of child-rearing is selfish and awful. Have friends? Wouldn’t it be nice. Went on a vacation? Without your babies, the nerve?! This group devotes every second of their lives to their children and then shames other moms for not making artfully hand-crafted seventeen course toddler lunches. “Omg, are you feeding your baby a strawberry that isn’t organic? Well I guess if they don’t graduate from high school we’ll know it’s from your blatant neglect.”
Cheetos and Walking Dead. “Everything You Do is Fine, Put Your Kids in Front of the T.V. And Throw Cheetos At Them.” This group prides themselves on their totally hands-off parenting style that was directly passed down from their parents in the 80’s. In real life we remember these parents from our own childhoods as owners of those “latchkey kids” i.e. ME. These parents are totally confident that parenting is actually as unnecessary as personal growth and are proud of their unwillingness to read parenting articles or second-guess their life choices in any way. Their six month old skipped veggie purees and went straight to fire Cheetos. They know IT ALL and everyone else trying to figure it out or trying to do their best are RIDICULOUS! T.V. time? Sesame street (and Nightmare On Elm street) raised their babies and they turned out JUST FINE.
The most vicious parent fights happen between the Martyr group and the Cheetos group. The martyr group will post something like, “The Pediatric Guidelines state that your child who watches the Wiggles is going to be a murderer and never get a job.” And then the Cheetos group will jump into the comments like, “OMG just stick them in front of the Telly and make a goddamn cocktail you snowflake bitch.”
All Work and No Play Makes Baby A Harvard Grad. The Montessori Parents. The Monti parents aren’t usually super mean. They’re usually the ones just commenting with heart emojis, asking for the brand name of that organic virgin bull balls rug. On occasion they’ll casually drop information on the evils of all things electronics while posting beautiful images of their toddlers in organic Mars linen running through an organic non-radiated poppy field with their sustainably harvested wooden push mower. They’re like, look at my child’s 6,000 dollar handcrafted floor bed and nursery full of wooden toys that are great for development but will also cost you $92,000 dollars and after paying tuition for private forest school there’s no way you can afford college so better hope all of these (extremely heavy) wooden toys win you a scholarship.
I have no idea how we’ve become so incredibly divided. How are there so many clubs and why is everyone so mad? What the fuck happened to balance? But then again, it has everything to do with personal branding. Parenting clubs are now a part of our identity, just like political affiliation and religion and class. Being “balanced” isn’t an identity, it’s just hard to read and takes too long for the immediacy of social media where snap judgments are king.
When Toddlers Rail Frosting
You might be wondering where I fit in to all of this while I’m sitting over here poking fun at the forty-something mean girls/guys of current day parenting. I think that I, like many parents who aren’t screaming at people online, just pick and choose from all over and figure out what works for our family specifically. I’m really into balance and am working every day towards being a more balanced person in general. My little has plenty of Montessori style wood toys and a Montessori knife and he helps me cook and clean and washes his own hands (messily and like there’s been a Hurricane in the bathroom). But he also has remote control cars and toddler power tools and a singing Elephant and a toddler boom box by Yoto (HIGHLY RECOMMEND). I naturally lean towards the “Martyr” group, as someone terrified of the world and repeating cycles, but lots of therapy has allowed me find a mostly healthy balance-ish so I can travel to see friends alone, without tot in arm. I carve out time for myself, even though it makes me anxious and usually results in me tossing some CBD gummies down my throat first and checking in a couple (dozen) times. We are doing a toddler course with Big Little Feelings and we do our best to follow positive parenting stuff. We also mix a lot of things from Italian style parenting (kids spending lots of time with adults and expected to participate in adult conversations) and French parenting that I learned from Bringing Up Bebe that have worked great for little (he slept through the night straight outta the womb because of tips I learned in this book).
The first year that my little was alive we chose to follow pediatric recommendations and didn’t allow any screen time at all, we also didn’t allow any refined sugar or electronic toys or fun. He now watches PBS (except for Curious George who is a little shit and teaches my tot to stand on a table and throw shit while hooting at us). We eased up on the sugar when we started to realize that my kid was going to go to a birthday party and eat sugar for the first time, go bonkers and start railing frosting up his nose with a reusable silicon straw. No electronic toys meant being WAY too out of touch with the very tech world he’s growing up in and let’s face it, I want him to dance to the beat of his own drum but I didn’t want him to faint the first time he saw something battery operated in kindergartden.
I try my best but I also try to remind myself that being perfect isn’t a thing. I work on myself a lot but try to remind myself that I’m also human. Whether you do the work to improve yourself or not matters, it does, because if I’ve learned anything in the past two years it’s that modeling is everything. But I think it’s just as important to fuck up and own it so kids can see how to make repairs in their lives too. Plus, like some level of fucking up is just inevitable. Parenting is super hard and that’s why finding a solid community is so important. It’s important to have a group of folks you can lean on, bounce ideas off of, and share experiences together. And luckily, I found this fantastical group of humans in real life. This morning one friend texted me, “Hey, is little going through separation anxiety?” Yesterday I texted a friend and was like, “So I just got off of the phone with poison control” (long story to share soon, don’t worry, everything was fine).
Real Life: How I Found My People
Turns out that the best place for me to meet other open-minded and supportive parents was in real life. My therapist actually recommended this initially and I was like bleh whaaatever. Because you see, most of my friends chose not to have kids OR they had them a long time ago (remember, I’m an old mom) so they’re like dealing with high school shit while I’m over here googling like, “Is my baby supposed to lick the goddamn floor like that?” But she was right, like she often is, and when I put myself out there to meet other parents I did. I met two amazing moms while working at my last job, I met some great folks at an activity class (Little Gym), and simply by reaching out to my friends and being like “do y’all know any other moms of youngsters I might get along with?” A handful of the moms I know I met that way, by literally asking around and being hooked up like a blind date. And another great thing about meeting in real life is that your kids can meet, too, and play, and hit each other so you can look at your mom friend and be like “I’m sorry about that, another cocktail?”
Because it takes a village. It really takes a village. And the last thing any of us need is for a Nancy, or a Karen, or a Chad, to tell us that our kiddo is going to be the dumbest boy in school because I gave them Tylenol or vaccines. And none of us need to be shamed for not eating organic OR not letting our toddlers watch horror shows and live on processed food. Being a parent is hard enough, and every single day most of us already feel like we are screwing up somehow. What we need are kind and supportive folks to lean on so we can take this thing in stride, one day at a time, together.