A Guide to Surviving Mom Groups; or Don’t Be a Jerk

When you become a new mother, especially if you are a stay at home mom (SAHM), you often find yourself in a lonely place. Whereas you may have had adult interaction at a previous job, or had the freedom to come and go from your home with ease and see other humans larger than 20 inches long, now you feel secluded. In days past, I’m not sure what moms did. I suppose they made friends with their neighbors, had cleaner houses, and drank lots of martinis. But in my generation? We’ve found solace in the internet.

I know for myself, once I became a mom, mom groups on Facebook became my village. My place to escape, and vent, and socialize, and laugh and cry. With a sleeping baby on my breast, a granola bar in my mouth, and a phone charger always close by, I could have company at the tips of my fingers, from the confines of my 4 walls, without ever putting on a stitch of makeup or shoes.

I became obsessed. The first mom group I was really active in was Captain’s birth group, “The Blue Mamas”. These women became my everything. I talked to them about anything and everything, more than I talked to my own husband. I could count on someone being online at 3am when I had milk soaked sheets and a gassy, screaming baby. From there, I was added to a breastfeeding group. And then another one… and another and another (sooooooo many breastfeeding groups!). Baby product co-op groups, cloth diaper groups, local mom groups, local-er mom groups, mom and baby product buy, sell, trade groups, babywearing groups, general parenting advice groups, natural birth groups, natural family planning groups… ALL. THE. GROUPS. In fact I just looked at how many groups I am in, and I counted 204. Most of these groups are some how connected to mothering.  

How wonderful! I would think, as I found another kindred spirit on the other side of the globe. I had friends in every corner of the planet, people I could talk to and trust with my struggles and joys. What a marvelous age to be living in! One where we can communicate and bond with people time zones away! It was marvelous and it is marvelous–but it can also be not so marvelous from time to time.

With awesome people, come jerks. People who call you names, argue and accuse, and belittle the death of your baby (yes, that happened. From a real, live mom you would love to be friends with if you met her at the park during a play date. Religious, pretty, and fit– great hair, too! Beautiful children and a happy marriage. Literally made light of my baby dying.)

Of course, jerks are everywhere. Jerks are the people who leave trash in the shopping cart at target, cut you off on the freeway, and don’t pick up their dog’s fecal matter at the park. But jerks on the internet are much more brutal than the person who leaves droplets of pee on the public restroom toilet you are next in line to use. Jerks on the internet have a screen to hide behind. They type nasty and insensitive things that they would never say in person. They cut down your character, make rude remarks and follow them up with sarcastic tag lines like “enjoy your dead baby, sweetheart” at the end of a debate on co-sleeping. They are the ones who, in person, would throw a lovely dinner party and serve you the best wine while you had some laughs, but in their mommy group they call people the R-word and make threats about stabbing their mothers in law for daring to wash their dishes. The young mom you sit next to in church tells her mom friends on the internet how badly her husband performs in bed, and your sweet neighbor with twins down the street calls anyone who doesn’t fully vaccinate their kids “murderer”, “a-hole”, and “idiots”. You guys. Women call other women the C-word, simply because those women parent differently from themselves. THE C-WORD. Conversations that would never, ever, EVER happen in real life (at least while sober) happen on the internet with such vitriol and spite that you find yourself alternately blushing and raging while scrolling through your newsfeed.

Why does this happen? Well, if I had the gumption I would google some study that talks about normal housewives who become interweb vigilantes and their need for an outlet so they don’t run off with Fabio or start having nervous breakdowns in the dairy room at Costco. But the thing is, who really cares? I don’t care why it happens, I care THAT it happens. It stinks. 
Now you may be thinking, “yeah, this is nothing new, why is this lady on the internet ranting about ranting people on the internet?” Because I have a solution to share with all of my fellow dwellers on this series of tubes we share. Are you ready?

Here it is: don’t be a jerk. Yup. That’s it! Stop being a jerk. 

Need a little more specific help? Try one of the following:

-Scroll past topics that get you heated. You just move your thumb from the bottom of your screen to the top, and it’s like it was never posted.

-Is your thumb broken, and you simply can’t scroll past? Try reading the opposing view from their standpoint. This will teach you how to practice empathy. Empathy is a word that we like to talk about in feel good memes and want our children to practice, but don’t like to practice when the going gets tough. After trying to understand the other point of view, use your other thumb to keep scrolling.

-Oh no!!! Other thumb broken? Okay, here’s an idea. Ask questions if you really, truly can’t understand. And not passive aggressive ones like “wow, I’m not sure how anyone could be such a giant moron and endanger their children like you do by offering them snacks with red dye, could you explain how you are able to sleep at night while your child’s colon is being dyed green from those Cheetos?” Ask real questions that can help you understand where the other person is coming from.

-Can’t help but interject some advice? Re-read the post. Was someone ASKING for advice? Or were they just venting? Or maybe just sharing an article or stating an opinion? Ask yourself, “do I like unsolicited advice?” If the answer is no, use your pointer finger to scroll. 

-Just really, super, can’t help but grace the interwebs with your opinion? We circle back to the first step: Don’t be a jerk. Just don’t. You can still state your opinion without being mean. I’m sure of it. Because you do it every day when you talk to your girl friend over coffee, pillow talk with your husband at night, and sit across the table from relatives at Thanksgiving. Besides, you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If you really wanted to convince someone of your viewpoint, you’d do it nicely.

And you know? Being nice isn’t all that hard. Saving your sarcasm for super witty blog posts (cough, cough) or open mic night at the local stand up club is okay. Kissing emojis don’t need to be used next to peach emojis, unless you’re sending your husband a suggestive text, and threats of dismemberment, bodily injury, or death… well those are best left unsaid at all.

I’m preaching to myself here, too. We can all stand to be a little nicer. I wiped feces off a few butts today and I bet you have as well. I’ve eaten chocolate in the closet and sobbed with a glass of wine in the bathtub while my kids banged on the door, and I assume that also speaks to your experiences as a mom. I have cried staring at my sleeping babies at night, my heart exploding with love, and you do that, too.

So when next we meet on the internet and the topic of formula vs. breastmilk, MMR, organic food, circumcision, or how much screen time is okay, let’s all not be jerks. It makes the internet a nicer place to hang out while I ignore my kids’ screams for more snacks. 

When Internet Friends Become Real Life Friends

Did your mom tell you not to talk to strangers?

Apparently mine didn’t.

I am a part of the generation that discovered using the internet for the purpose of social interaction. At 14 I met a group of girls on an online message board for The Fab Four– the ultimate tribute to the Beatles. By 15, I had met them all in person and had an entirely different group of friends than those I had been raised with. We were odd ball, Beatle crazed teenagers in 2000, and sprinkled around Southern California. I am still friends with those girls, and was even in 2 of their weddings!

The friendships I gained from my teenybopper years as a Ringo obsessed adolescent was the beginning of me getting to know people on the internet with similar interests and making a real friendship out of an online screen name and profile picture. Whether Beatles, Disney, Swing Dancing, Metal, or Theology, I continued to meet folks here and there via different groups and websites.

Within weeks of my first ever positive pregnancy test, I had set up an account on the What to Expect message boards looking to connect with other moms who were due the same month as I was. Some mom put up a post saying she had started a Facebook group for women due the exact week that I was! I joined that, and was introduced to a group of women who would shoulder me through the joys and worries of my first pregnancy, and entry into motherhood with a new baby. Asking a question and hearing “that’s normal” or posting a problem and reading “me, too” was incredibly comforting. After being in that group a year and a half, I left. There was drama, and I couldn’t hang. But I was able to maintain relationships with several other women in the group with whom I was close.

When I became pregnant with my second, I started my own Facebook group for women due my same week. I did this with each of my last 3 pregnancies. And while I am not in any of those original groups (did I mention I have a hard time sticking around drama?? Hehe!), I remain friends with pockets of ladies from each of those groups. 

One small dollop of ladies (can groups of people be dollops? Or is that just for sour cream?) from Mamitas’s birth group became incredibly close. So close, in fact, that we talk every, single day via video chat. We talked about 500 times about meeting up and I decided we needed a date and a deadline or it would never happen. So, this last weekend, 5 of us, from different parts of the country, with different backgrounds, and stories, met up for the first time.

Okay that’s cool. We’ve all met people from the internet. 

Did I mention on this first meeting we all shared one hotel room? Oh and between us there were 2 or 3 strains of the stomach virus and some pneumonia-like plague? Add in a shooting down the street, walking for 10+ miles, and cockroaches in our bathroom at 2am. Oh also, not a single thing we planned went according to plan. Like every single thing we had decided to do failed. (Wait, I lie. We ate at Taco Bell together. And that was actually on the official plan. Because nothing says flying and driving in from different corners of the country to be united in fake cheese sauce!) 

You might think that planning a trip with people you haven’t met before in person could be a proving ground to see if you still like each other. You’d be right. But once you add “EVERYTHING GOING WRONG” into the mix, it becomes a test of whether or not you may end up hating someone by the end. 

But guess what? Even with everything not going according to plan, we had a wonderful time. We are moms. We roll with the punches. We adapted and laughed. 

So, while we may tease that meeting people on the internet is for the socially awkward who can’t make friendships in real life– I sure am thankful for my interweb mom friends.