Friday, March 15, 2013

Mommy Wars

How I got caught up in this I'll never really know.  I was struck by a comment, I ruminated, I couldn't find an answer in my own brain, I wrote it up and published it.  I found that my readers had strong opinions, and their answers helped me clarify my confusion.  I'm still not sure that I'm right, bu now I know how my audience feels.

I also hurt my friend's feelings.

This blogging stuff has lots of points and corners and twists and turns. I seem to have made a wrong one.

Little Cuter called me and wondered if my friend was hurt. She saw what others saw and what I had not considered: I was calling on people to disparage another's parenting.  Though that wasn't my intent, I quickly came to see how it could be construed as such.

I really didn't know what to think. Her son, after a long hard week of single-parenthood, offered to make her a margarita.
She'd be giving her son the opportunity to make her smile, to present her with something she likes. He offered to do it for her, he's demonstrating his love, he enjoys the process... what is my problem?
I was really wondering.  It made me uncomfortable, and I didn't know why.  I know she's a strong role model, a positive parent, a woman who makes those around her feel comfortable and included.  She wondered, in the Facebook post that prompted the brouhaha, whether she was a bad mother or a great mother and I took the question to heart.  I mulled it over, I talked to my friends in real life, I went back and forth, and then I sat down to type.  I was really wondering.

We all use our blogs for different purposes. This blogger is obviously more confident in her parenting skills than I was/am:
And I am certainly not going to go and write a blog post on whether your choice to provide samplings of alchool to your children is ethical or a good parenting decision. I don't need an audience to tell me "I'm right"
I wasn't looking for affirmation; I was looking for context, for other opinions, for analysis other than my own.  I wasn't sure where I stood and I was asking for help.  My title was a question, in and of itself : Am I Right?

It's worked for me as I heal, as I parent my 90 year old mother, as I deal with family stress.  I had no idea it would be so controversial when I brought up parenting. I've always aired my troubles to my friends.  It's how I make decisions.

"Is this what you do in your playgroups?" another comment asked.  Yes, indeed, it was.  We wondered aloud and with one another about our choices, our concerns, our stances on the issues.  Was she overly-anal or merely super-organized, our friend who had her full-time sitter fill out an hourly log of the children's activities? We thrashed that one out, over and over again, with her in the room.  Should my sitter have gotten her 17 year old daughter birth control pills when she asked for them?  There was a lot of disagreement over that one, believe me.  Don't imagine that my alcohol-free-party screeds were not contested, either.  We relied on one another, we listened, we learned.

I can see how my friend felt bashed by the number of people who took the issue seriously, who wondered about alcohol and tweens, who were concerned about the message it sent.  I suppose my opening comments, and their repetition throughout the post, were not enough.  Saying "I like this woman.  I respect this woman.  I wanted to answer her honestly,"  obviously was not enough. 

I'm still not sure about the right answer to the original question.  I can see them giggling over the ingredients, frothing the beverage til it was just so, hugging as the joy of making mom smile overcame them all.  As my son commented, 
As long as the parents are engaged and actively pay attention to how their actions are being perceived and parroted by their kid, I don't think this is necessarily a red flag.
Context is everything, as he says.  I know that the parents are "engaged and actively pay(ing) attention" and I know that their hearts are in the right place.  I'm still not sure about the right answer, but there's more that I want to say. I'm moving on to the meta-issue.

I think it's sad when we look at questioning as disparaging.  Sure, some of the comments were strongly on the side of NO, but if you look at them, you'll see "stepdad was an alcoholic," "family of alcoholics" running through the comments as a steady stream.  Once again, context is everything.

Our questions are a snapshot of our own issues; as a member of a generation that venerated sex and drugs and rock and roll these subjects roil around in my brain all the time. Are misogynistic lyrics the ruin of today's youth?  What about Mick Jagger singing "Under My Thumb?"  Is bad behavior by rock stars leading them down the road to hell?  What abou the Grateful Dead's Casey Jones, "ridin' that train, high on cocaine?" My parents were appalled at my music, just as I am appalled at Elizibeth's choices; it's a rite of passage and, with good adult supervision and values modeled by the grown ups in our lives, damage can be avoided.

But, if we look at an answer with which we disagree as an ad hominem attack, if we take issue with  raising the question, if we can only preach to the choir, then how will we learn? In the original post, I tried as hard as I could to present my quandary - a good parent wondered about a nuanced issue and I wondered, too.  I want to keep up with the times, I try to be accepting of cell phones on the table next to the 20-somethings in my life although it screams RUDENESS to my aged ears.  I try to recognize that life goes on, that perceptions change, that my reality is based on a 20th century, industrial age education, one where it was taken for granted that our children would do better than we did.

Faced with underemployment and instant access to information and wealth inequalities and dysfunctional government on all levels, the world is a vastly different place than when I was a young mother. My circles were live and in front of me, not spread over the interwebs. Who I was figured into what was said - by me and about me.  We've lost that connection as we've made more and more intersections.

Actually, I think that's the crux of the matter.  My readers intersected with my friend.  They never really connected.

It is an awful feeling when your words hurt another.  I'm responsible for giving my friend some bad moments, and for that I apologize and seek forgiveness.  I had no idea that the Mommy Wars would touch The Burrow.

I remember the school psychologist telling the 5th grade moms that we were "parenting against the culture," back in 1993.  It seems as if it's only getting worse.... with more eyes and ears to hammer home truths... if truths they be.

So sorry, Becca.  So very very sorry.

17 comments:

  1. Well at the risk of wading into a war and finding it backfires on me, which has happened a time or two, I have some comments on the issue. As a blogger myself, as well as one who regularly reads a few blogs including this one, there are two ways to approach blogging. One is an idea blog (which is what I do) and the other a journal type blog where the writer uses their life, what happens and maybe turns it into an idea but the basis is their own life. This blog is the latter type for the most.

    Both blogs can end up having people unhappy with them but hurt feelings generally come out of journal type blogs and I've seen it happen before as when you use your life, that involves what happens to those in your circle as well as possibly the wider world. Definitely it can lead to some taking offense (writers of memoirs run into the same thing) which makes it always a balancing act as obviously some things you leave out and some you use.

    To me this particular issue, brought up in a public place which is what Facebook is, unless the person has a very limited list, is fair game to take to another public place like a blog and discuss it. You didn't take a private conversation and you weren't finding fault (I went back and looked), you were discussing your instinctive feelings and asking for opinions which it sounds like the mom also had done. She was trying to work through if she had done the right thing (my opinion on whether she had would require knowing her kid which I don't. I can see where it could be fine with some kids and not so smart with others. Just handling a bottle of alcohol will not turn someone into a drinker. She decided it was okay based on knowing him but must have felt uneasy, maybe just as a cultural concern, and hence brought it up elsewhere-- or that's what it sounded like to me).

    There is no doubt that there is a lot of need in many of us to want reassurance we are doing/thinking the right thing. When we hear we aren't (and true friends will tell us that), we aren't so fond of it as when we get attaboys. If we don't want opinions from others, we are better off not to bring it up at all in public settings-- or even with friends if we don't want opinions.

    Having already raised my kids, now watching them raise theirs, I mostly keep my opinions to myself unless I would think something could be hazardous to the health of the grandchild (which fortunately has yet to come up). If they ask what I think, I tell them the honest truth whether they would prefer something more sugar coated or not. If we ask, we should expect the truth from those who love us.

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    1. Ah, Rain, you got it exactly.

      There are so many consequences to the openness and breadth of our lives these days, that unintended harm flows freely. I've read about/talked about/sat on panels with momss involved in this issue. At BlogHer12 I was on a panel with a woman who let her son dress up as the girl in ScoobyDoo for Halloween; internet comments were the least of her worries, but they were the most vitriolic.

      She was using her post to work out an issue. She won't be doing that again for a long time.

      Perhaps it's that I am, like you, one step removed from the immediacy of parenting. It's easier to look at it from afar than to be doing it right now, that's for sure.

      Thanks for weighing in.
      a/b

      Delete
  2. Your space, your opinions. That simple. Your judgement and assessment of what qualifies as good parenting has always been right on in my book. Don't change a thing. You have a lot more experience under your belt than the rest of us in the trenches & for that you have my respect. There are always gonna be those people in life who aren't happy with one thing or another.Keep on keepin on, Suz. <3

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    1. Our space, our opinions :)

      I love you right back, Liz.
      a/b

      Delete
  3. From your initial post, "A woman I like and respect has put me in a bit of a pickle." From your post today, "How I got caught up in this I'll never really know." I'd like to suggest that you got yourself into this pickle, not her. You chose not to comment on her original post. You chose to cut her post, paste it into your own blog and start a dialog with your readers. That's where your initial post got gossipy for me. From your post today, "We thrashed that one out, over and over again, with her in the room." Becca was not in the room when you decided to hash this out with your friends and readers. And that's where this gets hurtful for me. I don't care what generation you come from, everyone needs to take responsibility for the energy they bring into a space.

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    1. What you see as "gossipy", Leah, I see as a point of departure, a prompt, an issue to be dissected. I recognize that there is validity to what you say, if for no other reason than the original poster was hurt.. .never my intention, but then I never had to parent in quite as public a way as she is right now.

      I didn't comment on her FB post b/c I wasn't sure what I thought. That was why I wrote the piece for The Burrow; I find the back and forth to be very helpful and enlightening. My readers have taken me to task from time to time, and I always saw it as constructive criticism... a phrase common to my generation but one I fear has gotten lost as we worry about self-esteem more than embracing the dialogue that conflict/differences/other opinions engender.

      Being in the public eye, perhaps I am more inured to the fall-out, the follow-up, the "gossip" if you will, after I speak/write. I assume that everything I put out in public is there for you to notice and to have a reaction, should you choose. I don't feel disrespected if people think I'm nutty, or dogmatic, or just flat out wrong. I take it as constructive criticism, and try to learn.

      I tried very hard to frame the issue neutrally. It breaks my heart that it was taken badly. I was after the issue, not the person.
      a/b

      Delete
  4. I agree with you that blogging has made life different, which I don't quite understand except that people who don't know us very well read our comments and take issue with what we said. In face to face communication, we say things that are on our mind, hash it out, and laugh it off, going on our separate ways. In social media that laughing it off part and going our separate ways seems to be missing. People return to the scene of the crime, over and over, and overthink the discussion. I made a similar mistake, a few years ago, and even though I apologized, took down the post, and sent a bouquet of flowers as a peace offering, the person never forgave, never forgot. So? How long does one stay mad? I guess when it come to social media, for a very long time.

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    1. Wow.
      It's enough to put you off blogging entirely, dkozy.
      The nuance that accompanies face-to-face communications is lost... emoticons be damned. From now on I'm sticking to my own life and my own issues.
      a/b

      Delete
  5. Well, a/b, that was certainly a stew, wasn't it? Sometimes when we write we are thinking as we do it and not really editing as we go along. Or at least not looking it it from someone else's view. In a way, that is what is so nice about blogging--"my blog-my opinions" indeed. Not that you anyone else to weigh in or anything, but if you write what is on your mind and your friend reads it, they have a frame of reference that others who don't know you haven't got. Hopefully, that frame of reference informs the writing. But hey, you apologized so its over, right?

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    1. I'm sure it will never be over, cynth :) The more I look into the awfulness that takes place in The Mommy Wars on the interwebs, the more I see the sensitivities which arise when questions like these are asked. I was thinking hard as I wrote the original post, and even harder when I wrote this one... separating the issue from the person seems to be the problem.

      Are we all so wrapped up in our own selves that we can't step back and see the meta-discussion? Are we so sensitive that answering a question leads to all this blow-back? Is there a different privacy standard for that which is posted on FB v that which is blogged?

      So many questions. I'm just a little bit afraid to raise them now :)
      a/b

      Delete
  6. I was thinking of that too that maybe people who post on FB think it's just a group of friends where blogs are not. The truth is anything we put out onto the web can be used by others. If someone has their fb set up to only have comments go to friends, then it won't go beyond (unless a friend copies and pastes it); but IF it's set up to allow friends of friends to read it, someone we do not know can share it and it can go anywhere from there. People need to think before they post anything online as it's not as private as they might wish. I've read blogs where people post very private information about their lives. I always wondered if they would not someday regret it and I quit reading that kind of blog because I didn't want to know about breakups and fights with their spouses, etc etc.

    Years ago I wrote a manuscript that was about a year on this farm. I didn't write any of the negative stuff I know because I wanted to keep living here. I did though discuss things I was doing with friends. I asked one of them if she minded my writing about that. She asked that I give her a pseudonym. I ended up not publishing it and not sure I ever will. A lot of good stories just lead to too much hassle. She recently told me that she has been writing in a critique group and talking about me (she no longer lives here). I did kind of wonder what she wrote but maybe better not knowing ;)

    However, to me, that is different than expanding on a question that someone posted one place and taking the debate somewhere else. I read one comment above where someone said you should have answered it there. But I have done before what you did, felt I wanted to think longer and expand on something way beyond what was feasible in a comment. It comes back to-- if we don't want opinions, don't ask for them.

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    1. I usually ask people if they mind their stories being incorporated into my blog, but I took the FB post as de facto agreement.

      Obviously, I am generationally impaired and unaware of social strictures on what can be used where by whom and to what end.

      I count myself lucky that in the 4 years I've been writing The Burrow this is the first brouhaha of its kind.
      a/b

      Delete
  7. I don't use Facebook or any of the other social media things, but I thought that Facebook posts were almost always public. So if this woman asked the same question herself on her Facebook page and invited people to give their opinions, I don't understand the furor, unless it is because she did not consent to you repeating her question on your blog and asking your own readers to give their opinions. It seems to me that she started the whole thing by posting her question on the web. If someone she did not know had done what you did, perhaps she would not have been hurt. If all of the responses had been positive, perhaps she would not have been hurt. This is a complicated situation, even when viewed from my perspective. I hope that your friend will allow you to apologize and then move forward.
    I must say that this reinforces my resolve to never, ever use social media or write a blog!! xoxo

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    1. It's a tight rope, Laura, that's for sure!
      a/b

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  8. As someone without kids of my own (aside from already-adult stepkids, I mean), I've had my share of doubts and second-guessings and couldabeens about the way my life developed. But boy, I do not at ALL miss all the potential flashpoints...!

    In a side note: NPR: The 'Nasty Effect': How Comments Color Comprehension. Coincidence? Hmm.

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    1. You illuminate and expand and inspire, as always JES :)
      a/b

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