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Emily Writes: Are mum groups on Facebook a vortex to hell?

Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes wonders if Facebook groups for parents do more harm than good.

I saw Blade Runner finally. Without much of an interest in blades or running it took me a while. I saw it only because it had Ryan “Sad Eyes” Gosling in it. As I was watching I thought about how I would report back to one of the only groups I’m in on Facebook. It’s not a mum group. It’s a collective of well… mostly mums and some gay dudes – anyone with an appreciation for proper reviewing of movies (as in don’t waste your time seeing a movie that somehow doesn’t have Zac Efron in a shower in it). It is aptly named “The Zac Efron Shower Scene Rom Com Appreciation Club”.

I started this group after being repeatedly asked to set up a mum group on Facebook. These days most mummy bloggers have a companion “group” that goes with their blog. This to me, and I mean this with all respect, sounds like an unending nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong, mum groups can be a wonderful place for support and guidance. But they can also be, how can I put this? A vortex to hell? And I would like to not have to moderate a group of thousands of sleep deprived people fighting over forward-facing car seats and sleep training.

I admire the resilience of anyone moderating and being an admin in a Facebook group. I have been an admin before for a very large group – and it’s for that reason that I’m no longer a member of any of these large “mum” groups anymore. I don’t know what makes Facebook groups such toxic places for parents, but many of them are horrific – I am sure we can agree on that. And some admins don’t have the time or energy or maybe even the inclination to handle them, that “all drama is engagement and engagement means more likes and more likes means free shit” thing.

Some have tried to nail down the “no judgement” rules. Some have somehow gone too far and ended up with posts where mothers support a parent who shaved off her daughter’s hair because her daughter didn’t listen to her (yes, this happened).

All in all, my mental health has been a heck of a lot better since I left all of these groups and stopped seeing parents screaming at each other for hours at a time over whether it’s OK to use a bumbo. For at least six months I haven’t been subjected to: “OK, so I know I could ask a doctor, but instead I’m going to ask 8000 parents living on one hour of sleep: Should I vaccinate?” or *posts photos of baby with half a leg* “do you think I should take my baby into A&E? Her leg just fell off?”

I have not seen a rash post in so long – I am truly #blessed.

When I first became a mother I joined every mum group I could find. I had no idea what I was doing and I wanted to know. I wanted guidance and help. I wanted to be able to say “Is this normal?”. I wanted a community.

I have found this in Facebook groups – but not in Facebook parent groups.

In the Facebook parent groups I was in I became fixated on feeding because it was all anyone talked about. I started to feel I was going mad. Post after post was on mixed feeding and bottles and nipple creams and mastitis. Studies and studies and studies on how breastfeeding didn’t matter (not great when you’re trying to breastfeed and you’re being told “you don’t even know what’s in breast milk/your baby will starve”) and studies and studies and studies on how formula feeding is bad for your baby (not great when you’re trying to formula feed and keep being told your baby will have “a low IQ and no immune system”).

My second time with a new baby, and not in any of these groups, I actually went and sought face-to-face advice and guidance for feeding. I felt so much less anxious. I let go of the baggage I had from my first and had a far healthier mindset toward feeding – leaving me and my baby a lot happier. (I did bitch a lot on Twitter about it – but Twitter has a great group of Twitter parents who you can totally moan about feeding to without any of them accusing you of hating breast feeding/formula feeding mums because you have asked for help).

Photo: Getty Images

I had a sick baby the first time around, and the competitive nature of mum groups only highlighted that he was underweight and not meeting milestones. The relentless health privilege in many mum groups was exhausting. My son was on heavy heavy drugs to keep him alive in ICU when I read a mother’s screed on how she would never give her child any Pamol because it’s all poison. Modern medicine was “unneeded”. Vaccination killed and any child who died from a preventable disease was a case of “survival of the fittest”. Everything was Big Pharma or Big Hospital or, I shit you not, “Big Obstetrician”. Or “have you tried a cranial osteopath for your child’s kidney disorder? It totally works!” Don’t even get me started on how often people told me to try amber beads when my son was in hospital with a tracheal collapse.

Competiparents humble-bragged about their kids constantly. “My six week old is ready for school? What should I do to slow down how advanced she is?”

The groups were so white it was painful. “Why can’t I have golliwogs? This is PC gone mad! Next you’ll tell me I can’t have my Little Black Sambo book!”

Sleep – dear lord. “Don’t hate me because my child is having 125 hours sleep a night! It’s actually really hard!”, “Just because my child is getting 24 hours sleep a night it doesn’t mean I am!” or “I sleep train because I respect and love my baby, not saying you don’t, but maybe you shouldn’t have had kids, no judgement, but my child sleeps so much I’ve forgotten their name, not an ad but if you mention my name you get 20% off from Baby Sleep Consultants R Us”.

And everything, everything, turned into a fight. And I joined in. I remember the day I quit cold turkey – I realised I was having an argument with a mum about toothpaste. I don’t know how it happened. So many groups just foster this atmosphere of tension and justification. You’re so rarked up all the time because so many of the posts are passive aggressive or straight out aggressive aggressive (is that a thing?) And you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and frankly a bit rusty with socialisation given you’re stuck at home a lot… It’s possibly inevitable for some.

So I quit.

And instead I joined groups that made me feel empowered as a mother. I joined smaller groups – we all knew each other so we were kind to each other and gave each other the benefit of the doubt. We were still able to be “social” even though we were locked inside with sick kids. We gently challenged each other on comments that were unintentionally hurtful SO WE COULD LEARN (amazing!).

I love now being around people who know feeding isn’t the be-all and end-all that we thought it was. We don’t fixate on milestones – we celebrate our children as unique. We know sleep happens when it happens and we cheer each other on when it has been a bad night and we celebrate the good nights. We don’t give unsolicited advice or free advertising for sleep consultants. We know we have more in common than we think when it comes to parenting and we know exhaustion makes it very, very, very hard to connect with others so we are gentle.

So if you’ve found your group, hold on tight.

Love those women like they’re your sisters. Find your village and set up camp.

The best group I’ve ever been part of  is a lovely, kind, caring, diverse, and supportive community of (brilliant and amazing) mothers where we talk about things outside of parenting without making parenting seem like something we can’t talk about. It has helped me in so many ways. And the ZESSRCAC is a thirsty delight – we never talk about kids unless it’s to complain that Married At First Sight is on and they need to go the fuck to sleep. I’m in a few PND and anxiety groups to support others after having that same support given to me when I was struggling.

So clearly, Facebook groups aren’t vortexes to hell. But they can put you in a bad place just as they can take you to a much better place as a parent. You just need to work out where your group is taking you. Are you where you want to be?

Emily Writes is editor of The Spinoff Parents. Her book Rants in the Dark is out now. Buy it here. Follow her on Facebook here.

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