Photo: Stocksy, illustration by Stephanie Han Kim
When my eldest was born in 2011, Facebook parenting groups weren’t really a thing. People were using the social network to connect with friends, plan events and share pictures. Groups were mostly used the way that group chats are used today, where you create or join a group to talk to the same people regularly. That began to change in 2012, when more and more parents started forming groups for “like-minded” connection, usually based on neighbourhood—though my first invite came from a U.S.-based babywearing group, which made zero sense to me. Since then, I’ve joined—and left—half a dozen groups, from holistic to cloth diaper to babywearing ones. The one thing all of these groups have in common? I left every one of them for the same reason.
The first thing that alarmed me was that they asked multiple medical questions on a daily basis. I totally get that parents (usually moms) place a lot of value on the experiences of others who’ve come before them (plus, it’s tough to land a day-of doctor visit), but I believe that most queries are best directed at an actual medical professional, not a bunch of strangers.
You know what’s more rampant than a case of hand, foot and mouth disease? Users asking the same questions time after time. Did you know that Facebook groups have a search option? Did you know that no one in parenting groups ever searches before asking their particular version of a timeless classic? Did you know that even when someone kindly points to the search function when commenting on a post, members usually ask anyway? After unwittingly scrolling through a few too many images of kids’ rashes, injuries and diaper areas in my feed—always captioned with a variation on “Does this look infected to you?”—I had to slam my laptop shut and walk away.
While we’re on the subject of medical care, I can do without the judgment, debating and name-calling that fills every thread on vaccines—the most contentious issue in any parenting group, hands down. My opinion on it matters very little here, but I have strong feelings about one thing: If one more person slams something for being “chemical,” I may just dive out a window—or leave a group (which I did swiftly when an argument over sunscreens devolved into two adult women threatening each other). Everything on earth is made of chemicals. Water is a chemical, and humans are 70 percent water. Chemicals, by and large, aren’t bad for us. I think the word some people are reaching for is “toxins,” although, even then, the word isn’t being used in the right way.
Come to think of it, you could really substitute the words “vaccine” and “toxin” for any collection of the following: organic food, breast is best, “natural” delivery. How can we call ourselves a community when we’re so quick to judge and shame other parents for their choices? Every group I joined was part of an ongoing quest to learn tips and tricks that would help me survive motherhood, but I ended up feeling defeated by what I saw. I’m always seeking different perspectives and opinions, but instead I found hard lines drawn in the playground sand. I’ve found such a lack of empathy and curiosity for uncertainty and grey areas—things are either toxic or natural, nurturing or neglectful, feminine or masculine.
That last one has prompted me to hit the “leave group” button more than once. The opinions of seemingly progressive people who insisted that toys or clothing items be assigned based on a kid’s genitals (as opposed to interest or preference) or pushed the “Girls are princesses, big boys don’t cry” agenda were not for me.
After all of this, though, I can’t say that I haven’t had some good come from these interactions. I’ve met some amazing friends in terrible groups. I’ve connected with local moms regularly via text or in person at dinners and play dates. My distaste for Facebook parenting groups has even bonded me to two neighbourhood moms—we have eight kids between us, so the support is crucial and flows all ways.
Connection is really what I’m after. With three kids of my own, I know the drill and need way less advice. And if one of them comes down with some sort of mystery illness, I do exactly what I would have done before kids: I Google it and make a doctor’s appointment.