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.
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.