modern motherhood (or, why Google is not my friend)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Sometimes I really hate Google.

The thing about being a first-time Mum is that you often second-guess yourself. Some mothers I know are so confident that they wouldn't think twice once they'd made a decision, but by taking a quick (and admittedly, most likely biased) straw poll from the first time parents I know, there is an awful lot of uhhming and ahhing going on about every decision you make. I suppose it's because we're all getting used to the fact that we are responsible for a tiny, fragile life, and the way that they are raised will have huge implications for their whole lives. Really, it's quite a big deal. And so the smallest of things suddenly seem to have huge significance, a kind of weight, behind them. If only we could see our child's lives, spread out in front of us like a flow chart ('If you are going to co-sleep, choose option A), then we could understand what the best choices are to make.

Fortunately (or unfortunately?!) children are not little robots with set functions, but people that are infinitely complex and very often, quite mysterious ('Why is she crying?!' is something we said quite often in the first few weeks of Baby B's life). As parents, we are suddenly handed this beautiful little bundle who, right from day one, is its Very Own Person, thank you very much. And our pre-conceived ideas of how we might parent flies out of the window. Because a baby won't just slot neatly into your life. It will completely disrupt it.

As a parent I am happy and proud to have my own little disruption, and I would very much like not to accidentally ruin her by making the wrong choices. This is why female friendships are so important. We reach out to each other like people lost in the dark. 'How are you doing with ...?' and 'Is anyone else's baby doing this weird thing where ...?' are pretty much standard conversations. And mothers with more than one child? Or older children? They are priceless. Because they can see past the fog of the first few months and they understand that the real challenges are yet to come. They have that precious gift of hindsight, you see. I am thankful for all the mothers in my life that remind me that these small things don't actually matter in the long run. That you'd actually have to go pretty far out of your way to 'ruin' a baby for the rest of it's life. That in a year or so I'll find my neurotic-ness quite funny. That, when I've had my next child I will have the privilege of being the Wise, Experienced Mother smiling warmly at the exhausted, frazzled new-Mum friend in front of me.

I think that the worry over your precious baby is timeless. That all mothers - no matter when they had a new baby - worry. I think that's natural. I think mothers have always reached out to one another for help, guidance, and wisdom, and that is a wonderful thing.

However. I believe that good things like mum-to-mum relationships have the potential to be corrupted.

And that's when competitive Motherhood enters the scene.

I wrote briefly about this before, but I've rediscovered it again over the past few days. I decided to do a bit of Googling because we're going to be weaning soon, and like most information-needy women of my age, I decided that I couldn't possibly buy a book about weaning without first reading about a hundred strangers' opinions on said book. Once I had read this book, it called into question something the health visitors taught us in our postnatal group, and of course, I had to Google it to find out which one was right.

And I fell into a kind of parenting forum black hole.

Because there are types of parents, apparently, in the same way you'd imagine movie-style cliques in a high school. There's the Natural Parents. The Attachment Parents. The Gina-Ford Parents. The Supernanny Parents. Rieparents (still not quite sure what that one is). Gentle parents. Green parents (to refer to eco status, not actual colour of parents). And there's all these things that I've only discovered since giving birth have names (babywearing, cloth-bumming, etc). And yes, I believe that most people in real life pick and choose from each (whether previously researching or not), finding out what works best for their family and sticking to it.

But for some people, their belief in a certain choice is so strong that they feel every person must also choose to do the same. Otherwise Bad Things Will Happen.

I remember when, in the midst of my emotional breastfeeding moment, I did some searching around on bottle feeding. Was it as bad as I thought? According to some people, it was much, much worse. I remember one quote specifically 'Well, if you're happy feeding your child junk food from day one, then go ahead and formula feed.' Looking up weaning, I found people tentatively asking if they could combine both baby-led and pureed feeding, only to be told that no, you cannot, because that would not be technically Baby Led Weaning and you wouldn't be allowed to call it that any more. I've read forum posts that suggest that sitting your baby into a pushchair is tantamount to child abuse.

Seriously. For reals.

Where do these extreme opinions come from? Would these people be so strongly opinionated outside of the internet, without the anonymity? Or does the internet actually encourage and enforce this culture of extreme parenting styles? Does the internet undermine our confidence as mothers - to trust our instincts, to make a decision without double-checking it first?

Did mothers in previous generations go through this comparison, competitive thing like we do, just in real life instead of online? Knowledge is power - but is it good that we are bombarded with choices right from the get-go? Is it easier being a mother now we have all this information, or is it harder?

I don't know. But in some ways, the internet has been such a lifesaver for me (when the health visitors didn't talk to me in depth about types of formula, experienced formula feeding Mums were available to discuss different brands - and the switching of brands really helped us get over colic, which was a nightmare at the time). In other ways, it can be horrendously confusing.

Because the decisions you make as a parent feel so vital, the hurt that you feel when someone slams that choice kind of correlates to that. So it can feel personal. It doesn't matter that it's online - emotion-wise, especially when you're tired, that person may as well have come round to your house and punched you in the face with their opinions.

Inevitably, reading this stuff made me equal parts baffled, hurt, and angry. Well. Maybe the scales tipped a little closer to angry. And I made myself turn to my Bible study homework instead, because I needed to not be thinking about the correlation between the use of spoons and childhood obesity any longer. And I read this:

'Temptation is one of the great equalizers in our world. No-one escapes temptation.'

It was talking about the small part in James where he explains about temptation to sin and where that temptation comes from. But just the word 'equalizer' really hit me. Because as tempting as it is to hit 'reply' and go down the rabbit-hole of arguing with strangers on the internet ... as tempting as it is to feel justified in my anger towards someone because they've said something that hurt me ... as tempting as it is to rage at people that enforce a parenting 'regime' because they've surely never had to struggle with what I've had to struggle with ...

I can't. Because I'm supposed to be Christlike. As in, Like Christ. I have to try and be like someone who loved everyone. Who died for everyone. Not just the down to earth people. Not just the 'nice' people. Everyone.

Every blooming one.

I just - argh. I just want to have an excuse to wallow in my rage for a bit. Every time I fool myself into thinking I'm justified in my anger, in my bitterness towards people, along comes God to say Your scorn towards these people is no better than their scorn towards you.

We all have stuff. Stuff about ourselves we don't like. And we all have the capability of not being a very nice person at all. Which when you think about it really is an equalizer.

I started to imagine these people. I started to wonder where the extremity of their opinions comes from. If someone will go online and put that much effort into defending something that really, is such a tiny, insignificant detail in their child's life in the long run, does that come from a place of confidence in their identity? In their self-worth? In their choices?

I don't think so. In that case, people that say nasty stuff online suddenly become a lot smaller and more sympathetic in my mind.

So in conclusion? I have a lot to learn about love, about accepting different opinions, about taking things with a pinch of salt. I have a lot to praise God for, that my self-worth, my identity doesn't come from things like whether or not my child's vegetables are organic.

After all my research, I decided to go with what I originally had planned - half-mushy stuff, half-finger foods for Baby B. So really, I actually wasted a good hour processing unnecessary information. So my final thought is this:

Maybe sometimes new parents would be better off banning Google from their lives ;)

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