Remember that old chestnut from the playground? Well, it seems that sticks, stones, parenting forum posts and Twitter can all hurt – and often badly – in this age of the internet, the TWEETS, the LIKE, the SHARE, the COMMENT clicks.
I have been doing my job for over 20 years. I have a huge amount of experience and many hundreds of babies filed away in my heart (many of whom are now at university, secondary school or primary school). For the first few years of my job, the internet, thankfully, was not available to the majority. It started as a drip and turned into a raging torrent, and now only very few areas do not have access to it in some form.
Internet Forums for mothers flourish, and some of them are kind, well informed and supportive. However, new mothers, teetering through the early weeks of parenthood, often take to the interent for advice, for a little reassurance, wanting to be told that they are not alone in their sleep deprived state and that they are doing a great job. Expecting a kind nurturing arena to greet them, they start by tentatively posting a comment, waiting for gentle spirits to answer their cries for help, only to be met by a modern day equivalent of The Lorelei.
In 1824, Heinrich Heine seized on and adapted Brentano’s theme in one of his most famous poems, Die Lorelei. It describes the eponymous female as a sort of siren who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks.
Mom’s “support” network? It is often more like being thrown to the Lorelei. It makes me reel when I read comments posted by mothers about other mothers. Critical, judgmental and crushing in their reponses – not one of them having a clue about what mental or physical condition the enquiring mother may be in, how close to postnatal depression or post -partum psychosis she may be, how many weeks or months she may have been without rest or how many hurdles she may already have jumped. They pour out their hatred, their poisonous remarks and their bigoted opinions without, for a single moment, considering how this might impact on the original poster.
I have little or no time for those who hide behind psydonyms on ranting parenting websites, only joining in the collective bullying when they see a juicy fight in sight. I post on one or two forums, always using my real name and with my contact details at the end should anyone have anything they’d like to ask me in person.
Playground bullies are cowards, but they are bullies with a face. Cyber bullies are bigger cowards, as they quivver with misplaced, anonymous indignation about someone else’s beliefs, smashing out hateful comments on their keyboards day and night, showering new mothers with judgment after judgment, accusation after accusation and blinkered opinion after blinkered opinion.
These people have never met; they don’t know the first thing about each other yet there they sit on their thrones, “Queen Mums” shall we say, wearing the Crown of Perfection whilst sitting at their computers, writing vile and hurtful comments about parenting choices made by others.
Did these same mothers not ever have a bad day? Did they not arrive home with their newborn feeling just a teeny bit overwhelmed at the responsibility they now bore, the epic journey on which they were about to embark? Did they not feel that they too needed to reach out to other mothers and fathers to be told, “It’s OK love. It’s tough being a parent, but you’ll adapt and learn and even if you need to ping the odd comment on here we will respond with love, kindness and support, don’t you worry.”
So – the next time you see a thread on a forum and you wince, why don’t you climb on board and post one comment, just ONE COMMENT, to say “You are amazing. You are a mum. And you know what? Your baby thinks you are the best mum in the universe and that’s all that matters. And if you live near me, why don’t I pop over for an hour or two, with a bag of sticky buns and you can put the kettle on?”
“Oh, and I don’t mind whether you have decaffinated coffee or herbal tea – or even a glass of bubbly!”