A mother in an online group for mothers of large families recently responded to a comment of mine by asking me if the only options I provided my children at mealtimes were to vomit or go hungry. I kid you not. What I had said was that if my child did not like a food, rather than force it (as we have some very gag-prone toddlers), I simply let them choose to be excused and not eat until the next meal.
Never in my life have I seen name calling, insults thrown, and nasty judgments made the way I have in online mommy groups. Sadly, the worst of these were the select, Catholic, invitation-only, secret groups that should have been the best not the worst. One in particular has thousands of wonderful women in it. And yet, the loudest voices in that group spewed the most awful things.
Heaven help you if you said that you voted for Trump. You were clearly racist, misogynistic, hated your children, and were in a state of mortal sin. This went for any comment that did not kowtow to public wokeness.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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My recent article on boys would have caused uproars of horror over the promotion of “toxic masculinity.” These were Catholic women who often voted Democrat simply because they did not like what a conservative, pro-life candidate said rather than from dislike of his or her politics. One real-life friend, who was also a vocal member of these groups, unfriended me and ceased contact when I reposted—on my own page—a meme that said unborn babies are human. This woman, like the others, considered herself a faithful Catholic. What has happened to Catholic mothers?
As always, this was a loud minority, with the majority of women in those groups being kind, faithful mothers striving only to bring their families and children to Christ. I was and am still good friends with some of them. But the fact that they had to remain silent or be vilified by people who should have been on the same team, the same side, fighting for the same cause, is abominable.
If anyone can be accepting of a different viewpoint and handle it with charity, shouldn’t a group of Catholic mothers be the best? After all, we spend all day peacemaking among our children and attempting to model those virtues that the Blessed Mother herself exemplified so well. But oh, no. Don’t get on the wrong side of a liberal Catholic mom. You will not find a more fearsome adversary anywhere.
Why is it that we as Catholic mothers have lost the ability to be kind? The “Mommy Wars” that are the joke of so many memes and comedy club skits are quite real, but they should not be something in which Catholic mothers partake. Shaming another mother for how she feeds her child, disciplines her child, or for choosing to stay with a difficult spouse for the sake of her children and marriage vows is common in these circles. It trickles into real-life society as well.
When the majority of our interactions with other mothers is online—a sad state of affairs that is plaguing young women—we begin to think that this is normal interaction. It is easy to think that the loud minority holds the group opinion. But this, like in so many other social experiences, is untrue.
I have spoken to a number of women who are nervous to speak in a group on any topic deemed controversial because once you get on the wrong side of a mom group, whether in person or online, it is very hard to recover. The topics that can get you in the social stewpot range from sleep training babies to discipline, politics to schooling, and, sadly, even to religion. How does one find anything about which they can converse easily? It’s a challenge if you want to go to deeper topics than food or the weather.
What can we do to help women’s friendships reach stronger levels and avoid some of the discontent and genuine nastiness that is so rampant in women’s forums? There are a few things that would go a long way to helping women avoid some of these problems. Containing social media to its proper place is the first step. Remembering social manners is the next. And, finally, bringing real-life friendships back to the normal sphere of life rather than the wishful would be wonderful.
Social media, for better or worse, is here to stay, so we need to have a care in how we use it. The false sense of belonging and friendship that can come from a group of like-minded people online is a wonderful thing; however, the relative anonymity that comes along with the friendship is where trouble begins. Limiting groups to those where you have a real-life presence aids in maintaining manners. One is less likely to rip another person’s opinions to shreds if that person will be serving doughnuts after church on Sunday or leading the book club on Tuesday.
Social media friendship breeds a loneliness that true friendship does not. We feel accepted and as if we belong in an online group, and yet we could bump into our online bestie at Starbucks and never have a clue. These online “friends” aren’t the ones who drop ginger ale off at our house when our kids are sick. They are not the friends whose kids we watch while the new baby is being born. Those are the hallmarks of true friendship.
What we have online is a pseudo-friendship, and deep down we all know that it isn’t real, which brings loneliness. Keeping a select online presence is not bad and can help with staying abreast of local happenings, but it must be done carefully.
Manners. Oh, manners. As a mother, I feel like all I do, day in and day out, is talk about manners. And yet, somehow, in groups of mothers, manners are lacking. Sometimes it’s simply that we don’t know what to do. How does one navigate calling on someone else when there are children along? It certainly changes the dynamic. What about when the conversation goes awry and wanders onto topics where disagreement and public censure are rampant? As everything from how you feed your baby, to how your baby sleeps, to what your teenagers watch can be topics rife with strife, this is always a danger.
Struggling in social settings is not a new trouble. Dale Carnegie wrote about it, and solutions for it, in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People. While that book is aimed at aspiring careerists, it is pertinent to anyone who needs a little help with people. People are the most complex animal, after all, and none of us is completely like another, so some hints are often well warranted.
Some generations took these social suggestions and embedded them into cultural practice, but that is not the case with today’s younger people. We have to figure these things out for ourselves and know when to apply them, and that is where the difficulty comes. The freedom that anonymity online brings only makes the challenge harder, as people often feel free to simply throw politeness to the wind and launch themselves at another with an energy rarely seen in reality.
So, what are we to do? The key to ending these mommy wars is to reflect back on the basic principles of our Faith. Treat others as you would want to be treated. The Golden Rule is, indeed, golden, and if we used that as the core for all our social interactions—in person and online—these problems would mostly end. We could see someone make a comment both inane and rude and do nothing more than roll our eyes and scroll (or walk) on by.
Maybe, then, we wouldn’t have so many moms blushing and looking nervous when some aspect of their parenting is asked about at playgroup. They assume that criticism and negative judgment will follow, which is sad. If we could share and help each other without so much fear, we would be a lot happier in our parenting pursuits.