When I Got Called Out on the Internet

One evening in June, I googled my blog name “Playdates on Fridays” to see if any sites picked up my content. I took several months off from writing as a result of an eye disease I contracted that made it difficult for me to work on a computer screen, so I thought I would check if any other blogs picked up work I submitted prior to getting sick.

The fifth item down was a piece from Mommyish that included a reference to a post I wrote earlier in the year. Exciting, right?

Except then I read the title: “Self-Described ‘Good Mom’ Wants To Know Why You Hate Her For Being Better Than You.” Uh oh, this was not going to be good.

The woman who wrote the article lambasted me from the get-go. She called me out by name. In fact, she actually called me a few names. As I read through the post, my heart beat a little faster. My hands were sweating. I felt embarrassed and shamed and yes, even a little bit angry.

Then I hit the comments section. Well, let’s just say I read about three comments and then I closed my laptop because no good was going to come out of reading the disdain some of her readers felt for me.

The article in question was an impulse post I wrote back in January about why we give flak to the moms who go all-out with parenting, such as elaborate Bento box lunches, over-the-top parties or the overachiever volunteers, but also the snark we give moms whose houses are too clean or arrive at drop off line in full make up. My intent was to point out that we shouldn’t be so judgey about moms who are trying to better themselves or do something kind for their kids.

I wrote the article because a dear friend overheard a conversation between other moms about how she must not spend any time with her sons because she was always so well put together when she arrived at school each morning. At the time I did not want to use a reference to her situation because it was so personal for her, so I used some examples from my past to underscore my points.

Unfortunately, unless you read carefully, it appears that I wrote a post about how great I thought I was as a mother because I spent more time on Pinterest than everyone else, and if you did not do these things, you sucked as a mom. At least this is how this particular blogger and her viewers took it.

The blogger and some of her readers took my post to read that I was the purveyor of all things Pinterest and loved to create elaborate crafts and lunches for my kids. This mistake is laughable because I am missing the craft-gene and the only success I ever had on Pinterest was when I made Arnold Palmer jello shots for a friend’s party.

A few people went back and read my original post and defended me, but most took the blogger’s assessment as truth and formed their own opinions about what an awful person I am.

The post and the commenters stayed with me. I intellectually comprehended that the blogger took my thoughts in a different way than I intended, and I KNOW that as a writer you should try to stay away from reading the negative, but my heart just couldn’t stop itself. I went back and read through each one of the comments — all 183 of them. Here are a few of my favorites:

This woman is clearly very insecure and/or self absorbed to the point of being narcissistic.

This woman reads into everything and loves to be a victim. I know a few people like that IRL and they are tedious and annoying.

You’re a show-off Whitney, that’s why people don’t like you. You are a show-off and a narcissist.

These will be the kids that everyone hates because their mom is an a-hole.

It’s sad. Her kids will be so f-d up when she passes her insecurity and baggage on to them.

Let’s just say, ouch. My ego took a major punch to the gut, and to put it simply, I felt bad. Even though I knew that my words were spun into a context I did not intend, it rocked my world.  I felt professionally embarrassed and unfairly judged.

The people who wrote these things did not know I was recovering from a debilitating eye disease that caused me to lose the vision in my left eye. They must have not known I was struggling with my recovery and the depression that is often associated with chronic pain. They could not have known that my goal as a blogger is about empowering parents, not taking them down.

I repeated the words from the immortal poet Taylor Swift: “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, so shake it off,” but their words kept echoing in my ears.

I decided to just ignore it. I did not tell my husband or close friends about the post. I still haven’t. I did not highlight it to my blogger buddies. I would squash the negativity down by acting as if it didn’t exist. If I did not talk about it, it wasn’t an issue.

I tried to learn from the experience. I re-read the article several times and realized I could have changed the wording in some places or elaborated to ensure my point was clear. I needed to sound check for some sanctimonious language.  I should have slowed down and not rushed to post it.

I tried to move past it.

Except every time I would check Google, it was there, loud and proud for all the world to see.  A series of judgments based on one article I wrote, one small sliver of who I am.

I thought about how friends sometimes promote my blog by saying just Google “Playdates on Fridays!” What if they came across this article? My mom could read those comments or my fiends, and I knew they would feel bad for me. One day, my daughters could read those words and be heartbroken at what total strangers said about their mother.

And that’s when it hit me. I closed my eyes and imagined what my girls would feel like if they were the ones to read commentary like what was written about me. I understood in that moment what it must feel like to be bullied online, ridiculed in front of the world, and shamed by people you don’t even know.

I am a 42-year old mother who intellectually understands that the people who made those hurtful comments didn’t even know me. I can grasp that those words do not change who I am or what I have achieved. I comprehend that I am not defined by what others say or write about me. Yet, it still bothered me.

But what about my young daughters? Do they have the emotional capacity to understand this? Will they talk to me — or someone else — if they encountered a similar situation or will they think their world has come to an end? How would they respond if someone called them ugly on Instagram? Or a loser on Facebook? Or told to go kill themselves on Twitter? I know that the potential for something similar happening to them one day is very real.

I am a (mostly) self-confident, happy adult, and it was difficult for me to swallow or to even talk about some bad comments with anyone else. Can I expect more of them?

I often read the heartbreaking stories of kids who commit suicide from online bullying. I never understood it  — until now.

I am not trying to imply that for even one moment I contemplated taking my life, but I was surprised at the physical and emotional toll those comments put on me. I understand that what happened isn’t that big of a deal, but I was shocked that I couldn’t shake the disdain the other blogger felt for me. Despite my efforts at rationalizing the experience, it still affected me.  I have spoken to other bloggers who feel the same, as well as other adults who have experienced some bullying online.

A few year’s back there was a movement to shut Ask.FM down due to a slew of teen suicides associated with the site. One high-profile case was about Jessica Laney, who was slut-shamed to the point she took her own life.  One of the examples used by investigators to prove she was cyberbullied came from a fellow teen:

First of all. You’re life sucks. And second of all. NoOne cares about your life so stop posting it on Facebook. You just look like an attention whore: trying to make everyone feel bad for you. NOONE CARESSSS

And here’s the grown up version:

You’re a show-off Whitney, that’s why people don’t like you. You are a show-off and a narcissist. You know how many f***ks your kid gives that they get a painstakingly prepared bento box over a sandwich, some apple slices and a cookie? None. They don’t give ANY f***ks, Whitney. You make the bento boxes and the elaborate Valentine’s Day boxes, and the homemade playdate cookies because you are a show-off.

I am writing this today not for personal comments to boost my self-esteem or to lash out at the people who hurt my feelings; but instead, to help ensure that as parents we understand that what our kids read about themselves online can and will affect them. They may not share their experiences because of embarrassment or shame, or fear that we will step in to interfere in their personal relationships. We may not find out until it’s too late.

Although I am still embarrassed by the blog and wish the commenters knew the real me instead of the one projected in the post, I am thankful for this experience. I now realize that I probably will never grow the “thicker skin” I need for the blogging/writing world, but I can change some of my own personal behaviors to deal with the negativity. I know I am not the only writer to experience the roller coaster ride associated with reader comments.

I plan to sit down with my girls and discuss how the entire event played out from beginning to end. I will show them the comments and then let them read this post. We will have a frank discussion about the impact their words have on other people, as well as how we should handle it when unsavory comments appear about ourselves.

And here’s just a gentle reminder: Whitney, and the rest of the people who write online, are real people who most likely will read what you say about them. The Internet isn’t as big as you think.

A good rule of thumb may be if you wouldn’t want it said about your kid, maybe you shouldn’t write it about someone else.

Even if you think she deserves it for being a Pinterest-loving, bento box-making, volunteering narcissist.

The Day I Let My Daughter Quit

The big blue eyes of my daughter filled with tears when I walked into her room to kiss her goodnight. She quickly looked down at her teal comforter to avoid my worried face.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” rolled quickly off my tongue, but I already knew the answer.

Her little fourth grade fingers held the page of a book, and she looked exhausted.

I sighed as I found a spot on the side of her bed that was not already occupied by a stuffed animal. I placed my hand on her leg and watched her fight off the tears, her pursed lips like a dam holding back the mighty Mississippi.

She was trying to finish The Penderwicks, a classic novel she started reading a few weeks back. She and her two older sisters were participating in a school program that required reading 25-plus books in about six months and then compete in a trivia-like contest against other schools on their factual knowledge about the material. The local children’s librarian selected the list, which was a mix of literary classics, non-fiction material, and contemporary novels. I happened to be one of the “coaches” for the program.

My daughter eagerly devoured books over the summer, but when reading something she didn’t enjoy, it took weeks for her to complete it. Once her Fall activities started up, it became even more difficult to get her to finish and do the required work to be a member of the “team.” It was starting to become a fight we had every day.

A few days before, she broke down in hysterics over something ridiculous, like asking her to take a shower after soccer practice. Thirty minutes later when I told her it was time to head upstairs to bed so she could read, she out-and-out lost it.

I did not recognize this girl sitting in front of me. This girl is moody, combative and harsh, not the happy-go-lucky kid that usually is a joy to parent.

Originally, I chalked it up to a pre-pubescent outbreak, but the pattern of behavior didn’t seem to match up to raging hormones. Her outbursts were linked to one thing that I did not want to admit.

A few days before her epic meltdown, in a moment of haste when reminding her that she needed to finish a book to stay on track with the program, I yelled: “Listen, if you’re not going to finish the books, you can’t participate. I’m not going to fight with you, so maybe you should just quit.”

My daughter shouted back through waves of tears: “I don’t want to quit, I just don’t want to read right now!”

It was not my finest parenting moment, and I wanted to take my words back as soon as they shot out of my mouth. In our house, you finished what you started. It was a rule. I mean, every parenting article you read nowadays talks about how we are raising a generation who does not understand responsibility, is coddled by parents and cannot handle rejection. How could I let my daughter quit something she loved to do?

I made a deal with myself. She didn’t have to do it next year, but she had to finish what she started.  I did not want to raise a quitter.

I feel that children who persevere through challenging tasks, those who push through set backs, knuckle down and power through, learn a valuable life skill.  It is a very competitive world, and figuring out how to hang in there is an important lesson. “Just Keep Swimming” is a family motto.

I spent the better part of the next several days trying to create blocks of time to read that were earlier in the day or reading aloud with her to make it more of a fun, bonding activity. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. The Penderwicks for her turned into what the Kardashians are to me: a family in your face that just won’t go away. There were more tears and the tension between us grew.

When I walked into her bedroom that night and saw her tired, dejected face, I knew what I needed to do.

“Honey,” I said, taking the book out of her hands. “You don’t have to finish this book, or any others on the list. You are officially released from the team.”

“But, Mom,” she mumbled, finally meeting my gaze. “I don’t want to be a quitter. I don’t want to be the only one in our house who quit.”

Hearing her say the words I was thinking felt like a bee sting to my heart. She obviously was carrying this burden around for quite some time. In her face I recognized what I already knew: she was doing this for me, and it was beating her down. Her fear of disappointing me was the only thing keeping her tied to this thing she was growing to hate, and that’s when I knew I was the problem, not her.

“You are not a quitter,” I said defiantly. “You have stuck with soccer for five years, sometimes playing entire games for your team. You finish every craft you ever start, no matter how long it takes. And you hate to turn off MineCraft before you finish exploding the house you just built,” I joked as I pushed a soft brown hair off her face.

Relief poured through my body as I finally saw the smile that lights up an entire room.  “But most importantly, you usually finish books, and I know how much you love to read. You do not have to do this program, but I still want you to read 25 books by December, and I know you are already half way there.  And, you’ll have to come and support your sisters when they compete. Deal?”

“Deal!” she responded happily.

I hugged and kissed her goodnight as usual, and the tears in the room were now mine. I watched as she reached for the tattered bunny she slept with and settle into her pillow with a smile on her face.

I always find it difficult to walk the parenting tightrope. I do not want to be a helicopter parent, yet I want to push my children to reach their potential. I want to avoid acting like Tiger Wood’s dad, but I do not want my daughters’ biggest fear to be disappointing me.  I want to see my kids for who they are in this moment, now what I want them to become or achieve.

It seems so silly and trivial to even be contemplating. It is a simple school program, for Pete’s sake; but I do believe these moments, these small intersections of choice, can shape little minds. The difficulty comes in choosing when to be firm, and when to let things go.

So much of my daughter is beautiful, kind and right. And I know she is neither a coward nor a quitter. She loves to try new things and has an abundance of courage.

What it boiled down to, however, was I did not want to take the joy out of something she loved. I did not want to add any more stress to her busy little life. And I think she gave it her best shot. This was just not a match.

I still believe perseverance often makes the critical difference between whether kids succeed or fail.  But I also believe kindness, empathy and compassion for what you child is going through can go a long way too. I forgot that we all could use a little more of that.

The next day after school my daughter excitedly showed me two books she checked out of the library.

“All my friends said this book is hilarious, so I couldn’t wait to get it,” she told me. “And guess what? I finished The Penderwicks today in read-to-self time.”

“Really?” I questioned, surprised that she even brought it to school with her.

“Yeah, I already read most of it anyway, so I figured I might as well finish it,” she shouted over her shoulder as she happily raced out the sliding glass door to play with her friends.

I guess quitting can even turn out okay sometimes.

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