I've learned a lot of things in the past year. Most of those things involve bodily fluids.
But one thing I was shocked to learn is one thing that shouldn't have really shocked me at all:
Mean girls grow up to be mean moms.
(Moms who are mean to other moms).
It's as competitive and catty as high school, except uglier and colder. Because it involves your children.
I came across this creepy phenomenon the moment I got pregnant. You see, I had turned to the internet for help. I knew nothing about babies. I didn't really have a support network of moms-to-be around me. I wanted to be a part of a community of women who understood what I was going through. And maybe make some friends in the process.
On Facebook, there are hundreds of pregnancy/motherhood pages. And in the past year, I have seen five major ones get shut down. All because of mommy-shamers.
What are mommy-shamers? They are:
Moms who call each other nasty names. Moms who criticize other moms for not doing things "the right way." Moms who think they know more than any other mom in the history of mankind. Moms who are, to put it bluntly, just bitches.
On the internet, mommy-shamers (much like trolls) are brazen behind the safety net of a computer screen.
On a Facebook page, a mom will write a question, seeking advice from other moms. In most cases it's something benign, like "Is it okay to give my four-month-old water?"
Some responses will be normal. "I don't think babies under six months should be given water. My pediatrician warned me against it because water can affect how the baby digests milk or formula."
Then, come the mommy-shamers: "OH MY GOD, ARE YOU RETARDED? THIS IS YOUR FIRST CHILD, RIGHT? NEVER GIVE A BABY WATER! YOU WILL PUT HIM IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM! WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU????"
Or, the question might be: "After a six-week-long maternity leave, I'm heading back to work next week. Any advice for full-time moms?"
Normal responses will involve breast-pumping tips and how to find the right child-care provider.
Mommy-shamers: "YOU'RE GOING BACK TO WORK AND YOU'RE GOING TO ABANDON YOUR BABY?! HOW COULD YOU? I COULD NEVER LEAVE MY CHILD IN THE HANDS OF STRANGERS FOR SOME STUPID JOB! PLEASE RETHINK YOUR DECISION. YOU WILL NEVER GET THESE PRECIOUS MOMENTS WITH YOUR NEWBORN EVER AGAIN!"
But the mommy-shaming isn't just online. It's in person. Well-meaning friends and acquaintances, and even strangers, think it is of the upmost importance to tell you how to raise your baby.
Breast is best! If you give your child formula, you might as well pack your bags, because you're going to hell.
Vaccinations are the devil's autism juice.
Circumcision is CHILD ABUSE.
Fortunately, I haven't been subjected to that extreme kind of mommy-shaming (knock on wood). But just witnessing it everyday on forums is enough for me. It's the main reason I have been too terrified to post anything in any forum anywhere.
Being a bitch in high school is bad enough. But at least your excuse is, um, you're in high school. When you're an adult and have children, there is NO excuse.
It's even harder when mommy-shamers do it unintentionally. They genuinely think they're being helpful by offering (unsolicited) motherly advice.
When Neill was two months old, I was sitting in an auto shop waiting room, feeding Neill a bottle (I'm not comfortable breast-feeding in public yet). The receptionist in the waiting room walked up to me and told me I was using the wrong brand of bottle. "All three of my children used Playtex bottles," she told me. "Honey, you need to switch. You're not doing your baby any service using Dr. Brown bottles."
When Neill was three months old, I was in line at the craft store and he started wailing. The mother in front of me turned around and glared at me. "You're not feeding your baby enough if he's screaming like that," she sneered.
And finally, last week, I was at the grocery store when I walked by the elderly woman who passes out samples. After cooing over Neill, she glanced into my cart and told me, "You need to put that carton of ice cream back in the freezer section, darling. Sweets aren't good to be eating when you're feeding that little baby! Shame on you!"
She literally mommy-shamed me. Er, grandma-shamed me?
Anyway, it made me go from a beaming new mom to a beet red buffoon. I was embarrassed and I couldn't come up with a good comeback right away because I've given most of my brain cells to my child.
Why can't mothers just be supportive of other mothers?
New moms are already so fragile, clumsily learning the ropes of child-rearing through sleep-thirsty eyes. We don't need you to chastise us on what worked for you. Because what worked for you might not work for me. Every mother and child and situation is different.
Don't make us feel bad, when we already have the harshest critic breathing down our necks: ourselves.