May 2, 2014

Moms Behaving Badly. ~ Angel Kalafatis

momma lion

I’ve encountered some very disturbing behavior on the interwebs.

I know, that’s pretty much what the internet is for, but this stands out to me as particularly gross.

Over the past 18 months I’ve witnessed more than a few examples of some pretty nasty and blatant bullying. Now, rudeness itself is nothing new, people are rude all the time. Hell, I’m rude every day until at least halfway through my first cup of coffee.

This particular series of indiscretions is especially striking for a couple of reasons. One, it’s starting to look like a pretty disgusting pattern. Two, despite its extremely childish and immature nature, it’s not coming from kids, it’s coming from other adults, most specifically, other MOMS!!

If we’re honest we can admit that females of all ages are capable of some pretty grandiose displays of “diva”.

As a group, we ladies are known for, at least occasionally, being catty, competitive, conniving. It’s nothing new to overhear two moms in a Starbucks play can-you-top-this over everything from who has the nicer stroller to which kid starting pooping solids first. For whatever reason, maybe deeply ingrained insecurity, at times it’s like we just can’t seem to pass up an opportunity to be superior. (Before you start drafting hate mail, I know that men feel insecure and get competitive, and I know that there are exceptions to every rule, but you have to admit that we women have earned a reputation for our very unique brand of passive aggressiveness.) 

As we grow and become adult women, we learn (from our mothers and theirs before them) how to be just snooty enough to satiate that little green monster inside us, but we’ve sort of collectively agreed to draw the line at outright meanness, which may be some sort of unspoken girl-code-etiquette of bitchiness.

Where I live, in the south, mastering the charm of the back-handed compliment is the crowning achievement of a true southern belle. The best of us even have the fine art of snark down to nothing but a lookcommonly known as “Bitch face.” As Kathy Griffin says, “This is the South, we have manners! We talk about you behind your back!”

However, as our culture becomes less face-to-face and more Facebook, the nature of our interactions with each other is evolving. It used to be the case that moms, especially stay-at-home moms, had to get together in person to socialize their children and themselves.

Now we have social media in our hands at all times and it is changing the way we relate to each other.

We’ve all seen people “comment” on things that they never would have said to someone in person. Subtlety has become a lost art. If we think we may have crossed the line we can throw in an “LOL” or a Smiley Face / Winky emoticon and then fall back on “I was just kidding” if someone actually has the nerve to get their feelings hurt.

We’ve even developed a new brand of passive aggressive communication: the meme.

It’s the ultimate way to vaguebook. We cloud our insults and self-importance in comedy and overly-generalized comments, paired with funny and ironic images that could or could not be about anyone or everyone, and then we sit back dare people to get offended.

I’m just as guilty of this as the next guy, I’m sorry to say.

My sense of humor is founded largely on sarcasm, so I can appreciate a good, spirited jab and it takes an awful lot to truly offend me. Sometimes I just think this inane stuff is hilarious and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve often had the attitude that if someone can’t take a joke it’s their problem and they shouldn’t be so sensitive.

Which, ironically, is not at all the way I would actually behave in person. In “real life”, I’m a bit of a people-pleaser and it truly distresses me if I think I’ve hurt someone.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? The internet is still REAL LIFE. Your actions on the internet are still your actions. Sobering thought for some of us, isn’t it?!

What really concerns me is that out of this culture of carelessness and “if you don’t like it, don’t read it” there is a growing phenomenon of increasing audacity.

It’s as if we truly believe that once we are behind a computer screen we aren’t accountable for our behavior, especially when it comes to what we “say” to other people. (Spoiler alert: casual disregard breeds active disrespect, which is a gateway drug to bullying.) 

As if it wasn’t bad enough, things really start to escalate when we branch out of our personal pages and join other groups and communities where most of the people we’re interacting with are strangers to us, like when we’re commenting on an article or blog post. If we thought we actually had to see these people again, we may at least think twice about what we’re saying and doing. However, as soon as we are in an environment where we know we’ll most likely never have to meet any of these people “in real life” there starts to be a serious breakdown in human decency.

Perhaps, since some of us were first exposed to technology as children playing video games, we have no frame of reference for taking it seriously. Maybe that’s why as long we are hiding behind the glass of our computers, we treat our interactions like a video game where the people aren’t real, their feelings don’t matter and our actions have no consequences. (Who cares if I throw a bomb at her? She’s got like 6 lives left and she’ll just regenerate in the next level!)

Speaking of people who play video games…This time last year, I submitted this photo and caption to a page I like that is directed at moms who play video games and have kids that play video games.

Moms behaving badly1

Last night I programmed my kids tables so they get only 2 hours of screen time. After that, the only apps they can access are learning and reading apps. This also applied to Xbox the rule being that a time on the tablet tracks the Xbox use and applies it to the screen time total. So, what happens when the kids have to get creative with their free time??? THIS* #skylanders #notallgamingisdigital

*For those of you that are confused, this is a princess castle that my daughter was playing with. My son decided to bring his Skylanders to join the fun. It’s funny on multiple levels—the mix of “boy”/”girl” toys and my son’s commitment to playing with the Skylanders, even though he couldn’t play the Skylanders video game.

Most of the other moms on the page enjoyed the post and thought it was funny, and more than a few wanted to know which app I used so they could use it,too. Those that were uninterested or didn’t like it simply ignored the post. Well, most of them. Not surprisingly , there were a few moms who just couldn’t help themselves. (Oh, look! An opportunity to be superior!)

One Mom wrote, “My daughter has this castle she loves it. I would never ever give my kids a tablet or anything like that though. That’s just wrong in my opinion. Kids need an imagination : ) ”

Notice that she included The Smiley. The Smiley is the online person’s “bless your heart”.  She has now assumed carte blanche to criticize my parenting. This broke the ice for a few of the other moms to chime in with her and, even though I kept reminding myself that this is what happens on the internet, I was starting to feel a bit ganged  up on.

(Side note: If you’re offended by the idea of a kid playing with a tablet, why are you on a page for moms of kids who play video games? Like many other insults, it’s probably just misplaced insecurity as she’s clearly just jealous of my awesome Gryffindor Snuggie). 

There’s nothing that’s quite as frustrating as being judged on your parenting skills by someone who knows nothing about you. I expect other moms, of all people, to be empathetic and considerate of this, and to be kind (yes, I know, I live in a fairy tale, but a girl can dream, can’t she?!). Here I am on a page devoted to mothers, a community dedicated to bringing moms with similar interests together. It should have been a safe place and it wasn’t. (Is nothing sacred, Ladies??)

Despite my not owing her an explanation, I wanted to make a point and perhaps get Judgey McPerfect-Mom to think before she posts next time. So, I posted this reply, “And to those who judge, my daughter is autistic. The tablet was purchased as part of her therapy. My son got one because he’s constantly getting the short end of the stick as she consumes so much of our time and attention and well, we just felt that time it should be fair.”

She didn’t respond, which indicates that she perhaps had the decency to be embarrassed—if not the good sense to apologize, but other moms rallied around me in a show of support, which was nice to see.

Problem solved, right?

Well, no. After this interaction, on the very same post, another mom went off on a fairly sizable, and down-right mean, rant that can’t be directly quoted since it was removed by the page moderators. She glanced at the picture and then proceeded to opine that she couldn’t understand what the big deal was. She essentially wanted to know why the page would post a picture of a kid playing with dolls in dollhouse. “That’s how dolls are meant to be played with.” She said that she didn’t see why anyone was impressed that a kid could play with a toy the way it was made to be played with. She even had the brass cajones to acknowledge, in a very dismissive and derisive aside, that yeah, well, maybe if the kid is autistic it’s a big deal, but seriously why does everyone else care, are your kids seriously that tuned in to video games that we think it’s a big deal when they play with real toys, etc. etc.

I’m not making this up. This went on for four paragraphs.

This was flat out offensive. She was rude, mean, hurtful, and, on top of that, she was wrong. She didn’t notice the Skylanders in the castle, so she didn’t “get” the joke. She spoke harshly and without all the facts, speaking out of turn—oh the great Achilles Heel of all creatures with language—and made herself look pretty absurd when all the other moms jumped to my rescue.

It’s really hard to be a parent, no matter what your situation is.

Parenting decisions are deeply personal and we have all, at one time or another, encountered unfair and unproductive criticism. However, even the strongest of us are going to have an emotional reaction to attacks on our mothering and on our children. This is often referred to as “mama bear mode”—that’s not an accident. If anyone can understand that and be supportive, it should be other mothers.

The more I thought about this incident, the more upset I became. It occurred to me that if people can find a way to be hurtful and cruel over something as truly innocent as a picture of Skylanders in a princess castle, how would they behave in a situation that really mattered?

I know that wasn’t an isolated incident, because I’ve seen it before. God forbid you post that you’re not breastfeeding your new baby or share a picture of your kid eating non-organic hot dogs! Someone else on the internet will always be ready to come along and shame you into submission. We’re hard enough on ourselves, the last thing we need is anyone else coming in and picking at us.

It was equally disconcerting to note that even some of the moms who “stood up” for me were behaving just as badly as the rude mom. One mother called her the “turd in the punch bowl”. Name calling? Really?! Sort of the pot calling the kettle black at that point, isn’t it?

When we fight bullying with more bullying all we’re doing is perpetuating the cycle and nobody wins.

This problem is not new and it’s getting worse at an alarming rate.

As I was researching this troubling trend I came across The Mom Pledge, which was created by writer and mother Elizabeth Flora Ross, who was so bothered by this rapidly growing phenomenon that she decided to take action.

According to the Mom Pledge Facebook page, “The Mom Pledge is about women standing up, speaking out, and coming together to end cyber bullying among moms, fostering respect, understanding and acceptance.”

You may find The Mom Pledge on Facebook and share it with all your mom (and future mom) friends. It’s message couldn’t be more important. 

The Mom Pledge

I am a proud to be a mom. I will conduct myself with integrity in all my online activities. I can lead by example.

I know my children learn from my attitudes and actions. I promise to model respectful, compassionate behavior. It starts with me.

I pledge to treat my fellow moms with respect. I will acknowledge that there is no one, “right” way to be a good Mom. Each woman makes the choices best for her family.

I believe a healthy dialogue on important issues is a good thing. I will welcome differing opinions when offered in a respectful, non-judgmental manner. And will treat those who do so in kind.

I stand up against cyber bullying. My online space reflects who I am and what I believe in. I will not tolerate comments that are defamatory, hateful or threatening.

I refuse to give those who attack a platform. I will remove their remarks with no mention or response. I can take control.

I want to see moms work together to build one another up, not tear each other down. Words can be used as weapons. I will not engage in that behavior.

I affirm that we are a community. As a member, I will strive to foster goodwill among moms. Together, we can make a difference.

Sounds pretty awesome to me! Where do I sign?

All jokes aside, whether we’re speaking in thinly veiled insults and back-handed compliments or we’re being directly, deliberately hurtful and aggressive, it’s wrong.

Playful and even sarcastic banter with trusted friends and family is one thing. Mean spirited disrespect and caustic words are another.

It’s time to decide that not only are we grown women, we are mothers raising the next generation. That’s a huge responsibility. And when we behave poorly to each other, what’s the message that we’re sending our kids?

Mom Bullies is also an awesome blog about the very same problem.

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Apprentice Editor: Sue Adair / Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: Wikipedia / Courtesy of Author


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Angel Kalafatis