Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column Dear Jenny. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was really excited after my second baby to actually go about creating more of a support structure for myself, and connecting to other moms. I joined an online mother's group, rather than just floating around forums, and at first it was so great to be able to bounce around advice and questions and get that glimmer of recognition with the micro stuff that goes on week to week with a baby.
Somewhere along the way, though, I started to feel kind of crap after hearing from the group. I really had trouble pinpointing why I felt sort of obliquely attacked by the lack of replies on my comments, or the seeming consensus among certain moms in the group in opposition to things other people contributed, or something else i couldn't even explain. Maybe some moms clicked harder than others? I don't know. Explaining the dynamics of the group to my partner, it was such small-time baseball I don't think he understood what was rankling me so bad. So I tried for a bit to externalize the things people do and say in the group, rather than attribute them directly to my stupid, failing personality, but I've given it a moment and think that my online mom's group might actually just be full of evil bitches. How do I deal?
I don't fancy losing the support I get from the group, and actually feeling passively kicked out of a group would be a real blow to myself when I'm just trying to hang on with everything else, but then again, bitches.
Bitches of Eastwick
MOMMY'S GROUPS ARE HOTBEDS OF PRIVILEGE AND SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. THEY WILL TAKE YOUR CONFIDENCE AND SENSE OF SELF PUT THEM IN A JUICER AND SERVE THEM BACK TO YOU WITH A DASH OF TANGERINE LA CROIX AND A SMILE.
I fucking hate mommy's groups. I don't hate moms or small groups, but on the whole, large online mommy's groups are microcosms of the world order, with a few voices dominating and the majority creeping around in the shadows, alternately hoping to be noticed and hoping not to be.
Before my son was born, I joined a large Bay Area mommy's group because STILL WHY I suffer from the need to belong to a group. Also, the internet told me I needed to join one. My particular group is famous the way niche things are famous, like mescal and the band Pavement.
After my son was born, I spent hours reading posts, as I had descended into the wormhole known as Having a Newborn and was awake all the time (incidentally, I also read five books while I was on maternity leave, because I didn't have anything else to do, besides chasing down insurance payments and feeding my baby from the veined, chapped remains of my breasts. Also, for no reason whatsoever except that they existed in my house, I read Revenge by Jim Harrison and Angels by Denis Johnson, two books no person with a hormone imbalance should come within ten feet of).
In a group of 11,000 people, why are the loudest voices so homogeneous? Who isn't speaking up? Who isn't here at all?
From the outset, I felt uncomfortable. The group vacillated between an "us against them" and an "us against us" mentality. Resources were offered and shared among the loudest voices, but not often beyond them. Who is "us"? I wondered. In a group of 11,000 people, why are the loudest voices so homogeneous? Who isn't speaking up? Who isn't here at all?
Also, the group faced the inevitable problem alluded to above: snark, judgment, and an occasional resounding indifference.
Then something happened.
A homeless woman in downtown San Francisco showed up on the streets with a newborn. A handful of members of my group took her photo without her permission, posted them to the group, and discussed in a growing pile-on how Child Protective Services should take her baby away. One member said she was so angry at this woman she wanted to punch her in the face.
I posted a comment, but my defense of the woman was shouted down. I watched in disbelief as the thread grew out of control, unmoderated and unchallenged by thousands of members who remained silent. When a social worker finally made a plea for compassion, a tsunami of respondents "liked" her post. BUT WHERE WERE YOU BEFORE LADIES? WHAT YOU CAN SPEAK UP ABOUT WHETHER YOUR CHILD NEEDS TO SHARE ON THE PLAYGROUND BUT NOT WHEN A HOMELESS NEW MOM IS BEING ATTACKED BY THE GROUP THAT REPRESENTS YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU.
For my purposes, my values, and my temperament, I was in the wrong place. So I waited a few weeks and quietly unsubscribed OK MAYBE FIRST I GOT INTO IT WITH A WOMAN POSTING MILLION-DOLLAR REAL ESTATE LISTINGS BUT THEN I QUIETLY UNSUBSCRIBED.
Here's the thing, BOE: community is critical, especially when you have a kid. And mommy groups work for many moms MOSTLY THE SHITTY MOMS BUT I DIGRESS. The groups tend to be active and can be a great way to get a quick answer to your most niche questions. They also can be a great reminder that, whatever you're feeling or experiencing, you're not alone.
But, as with all groups, there's one problem: They have other people in them. And hell, as Sartre famously noted, is mommy groups. I mean other people.
Here's what I recommend: Your group makes you feel like shit, BOE. QUIT. NOW. Maybe another group will be better PROBABLY NOT but check out this list of Facebook mommy groups and this list of Google parent groups to see just how many there are.
Alternatively, you can seek out groups that are actively moderated and those that are more specific to your needs, culture, or background. I accidentally signed up for an online group of San Francisco-based Russian moms, and I found the group so supportive and drama-free that I followed for months, marveling at their civility (I also learned about the best Russian-immersion schools and that a kitchen remodel is imperative to a functioning household). Go to the Facebook search field and type "mom+" (or "dad+") and another keyword — "autism," "sober," "Filipino," "over 40," "multiples," "LGBTQ" — and you will find your people.
Otherwise, BOE, I've found that the best way to create a support system around having kids is to drag your tired ass to real-time mommy groups — many of which are free — where you can suss out the like minds and awkwardly ask for their phone numbers. Or look at the people already in your life and lean on them. You don't need 11,000 strangers (unless they're each sending you $5). But you do need at least one solid, reliable resource/friend/experienced mom to help you work through things. And if you like the convenience and flexibility of being online, stay in contact with your friend through email, text, or Facebook Messenger.
MOMMY'S GROUPS WORK FOR SOME PEOPLE. IF YOU LIKE YOURS, GREAT. IF YOURS LEAVES YOU FEELING UNDERREPRESENTED, INSECURE, OR ANGRY, QUIT. THE ROMANS DIDN'T HAVE ONLINE MOMMY'S GROUPS AND THEY INVENTED CEMENT, CENTRAL HEATING, AND THE CALENDAR. BUT DON'T GO IT ALONE. THINK OF SOMEONE WHOSE COMPANY YOU ENJOY AND REACH OUT. YOU GOT THIS.
Got a niggling question for Jenny? Email email@example.com.