Anyone who’s spent basically any amount of time in a pregnancy chatroom, parenting discussion forum or online moms group will know exactly what I’m talking about.
These sites draw you in with their promises of community, car seat cover giveaways and gazillions of answers to your “Is it safe?” questions. And these certainly aren’t bad things. At their best, these sites can offer new parents a lot of comfort, commiseration and desperately sought after information at one of life’s most exhilarating, yet overwhelming seasons: figuring out how to raise kids. At their best, they can offer many of the perks of a virtual (albeit enormous) PEPS group.
And then, just when you think you’re cruising along making friends, every once in a while (read: way too often), things turn ugly. The mom claws come out, disagreements turn into armored duels, and sharing views turns into shaming anyone who dares chart their own less-popular or more weakly-researched course.
Among the topics I’ve seen trigger such heated debates: co-sleeping, nursing, solids foods, cloth vs. disposable diapers, stay-at-home vs. work-outside-of-the-home parenting, childcare….. The. List. Goes. On.
When this mama drama infests these sites, it’s like a car wreck on the side of the road. Many people will anonymously drive by and observe what’s going on, say a little “glad it’s not me” prayer, and move along with their day. Very few will pull over and decide to get involved.
Well. Earlier this month, with my son taking a freakishly long nap and a little too much time on my hands, I observed one of these aggressive, dart-throwing debacles on a popular local moms group site, and – brace yourself- I PULLED OVER and got involved.
Never a dull moment once you make that decision.
What followed was a few hours of defensiveness, passion, opinions, pride, and hurt feelings. Then a few days of reflection, my own research, and some personal “aha” moments, on several fronts. The following is an open letter I posted to the 1700+ members of this moms group, after learning some lessons the hard way. Feel free to pull over with me, and read on….
MY LETTER TO THE MOMS GROUP:
“I just wanted to offer a personal update on something I learned the hard way in the last week, that may be insightful to other parents. A few days ago, women here were debating the safety of switching car seats from rear- to forward-facing just after the child turns two (the minimum age recommendation) vs. keeping child rear-facing until child outgrows height or weight requirements (largely considered safest and ideal). Admittedly, I was at first more caught up in the *way* women were arguing their points, and in turn disparaging others’ different decisions, than in the actual safety issue at hand. I defended those who had decided, like me, to switch to FF at 2 years, and referenced that my popular pediatrician’s office had actually *recommended* it! After the debate and hard feelings cooled down, I personally decided to do two things:
1) More of my own research – I found in even a brief (15 minute?) google search to several well-established health and safety sites, that rear-facing is in fact far and away recommended for basically as long as possible based on the seats max ht/wt for RF. It is considered to be significantly more protective of head, neck and spine in the terrifying possibility of a serious crash.
2) I called my pediatrician’s office, Ballard Pediatrics to ask them why they had said, “Move to a forward facing car seat at two years of age.” I was embarrassed I had blindly defended them and possibly misguided other mothers, and also felt misguided myself. The nurse I spoke with offered no reason for the recommendation. She only said she agreed with me and understood the same logic to be true about RF as long as possible. She said she would be passing our conversation along to have the wording changed on the literature they pass out to every 2-year-old in that office. As for me, after having my son FF for just a few days after his recent 2nd birthday, I switched him back and plan to keep him that way as long as possible. He has been fine switching back, doesn’t even seem to notice. Some bunched up legs is not a serious safety concern, I’ve decided.
3) I felt it important to post what I learned and point out two things: that doing our own research matters. I am the first to admit I am easily trusting of doctors and to find such conflicting research on my own was a wake-up call for me. And perhaps still most importantly – the way we talk about these things MATTERS. Shaming each other into making decisions we deem best (even decisions that ARE best) doesn’t work. Belittling others who are doing the best they can instead of giving each other the benefit of the doubt and gracefully offering insight, is toxic and destructive. I am thankful to the moms that day who DID offer their insights and what they had learned in a truly loving, non-prideful, non-aggressive way. Those are the people we all want to listen to and learn from, and that is the type of woman/neighbor/friend/peer I want to be to others. Thank you for reading this long, but I felt important, post.”
I was dragging my feet to post that letter. I had to swallow my pride and take some deep breaths, but I knew it was the right thing to do. The response I received was overwhelming. More than a hundred people chimed in with some kind of show of support – their words 100% supportive and kind. They applauded my “courage,” “honesty” and “integrity” in sharing what I had struggled with and ultimately learned. It actually brought me to tears simply because it reminded me of one single undeniable truth: WE’RE ALL DOING THE BEST WE CAN.
I hope this story might encourage every parent who reads this to pause before putting their opinions – however strong – ahead of another parent’s dignity.
We all deserve that. We’re ALL doing the best we can.
About the Author
Seattle native Beth Morris is a PEPS Newborn Group Leader, writer for this blog and her own (writeasrainblog.com) and stay-at-home mom to Anderson. She enjoys salty margaritas and can sing a mean Shania Twain karaoke cover (definitely in that order), and wishes life were more like the TV show Friday Night Lights.