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.

My Blogger Promise to My Friends

A few months back, when my blog was brand spanking new, I went to lunch with a friend. As I rolled in fashionably late, she told me, “I wanted to make sure I was on time…I didn’t want you to blog about your late friends!”

I’m sure she was kidding. At least I think she was kidding.

After that, I went on a very fun girls weekend. Let’s just say the words: “This better not end up on the blog!” were uttered more than a few times. And rightfully so. We have PTA mom reps to protect.

Most recently, a mom asked me if a particular blog post was about her. I was shocked, as I didn’t even know that she had an experience like I wrote about (and in fact, the post was very much about me.) But it made me think, is blogging hurting my personal relationships? Are my friends scared to talk to me for fear of me being a “blogger mouth?”

I’ve been talking about this with a few bloggers much more lofty than me, bloggers that have tens of thousands of readers compared to my tens.  Some of them blog as “alter egos”, never revealing their true identities. A few even told me only their closest friends and family even know they operate a blog.

And then there are others who document every aspect of their lives in such a humorous way that you feel like you are part of their family, their every day lives. They let you see the good, the bad and the ugly with no fear or hesitation.

I like to think I fall somewhere in between. I like to share just enough of my own personal experiences to be relatable, but not so much that I’ll embarrass anyone around me. I struggle between the line of sharing personal stories that may help other parents and my children’s privacy — and the potential little dirt bags that one day may comb through my archives to pull out a post written about my kids and use it against them.

But most of all I worry about my relationships. The real-life ones I have with my family, friends, neighbors, etc. who are kind enough to read and support my blog, but even kinder to me in real life.  I do not ever want them to feel I will expose their secrets or share their experiences or embarrass their children (at least not on the blog.)

So, because I believe in accountability, I thought I would make a few promises to my friends about my blogging:

1. I will never ever post a bad photo of you on my blog. My fear of retribution will always outweigh my desire to get a laugh, and a lot of you knew me in my spiral perm days.

2. If you ask me to keep something you share confidential, I will. I would never write about anything you tell me in confidence. Ever. And if you told me something that I do include in the blog, I’d never reveal it was you. I’d go to prison to protect my source. As long as it was like the one Martha Stewart went to because the one in Orange is the New Black scares me.

3. Everything I write about in my blog is true, but in a Law & Order sort of way. Let’s be real. I want to be authentic and pure and honest, but I don’t want to be jerkish either by calling people out on my blog. Chances are if you think something is about you that I wrote, it probably isn’t. I share my own personal views on stuff, but I change dates and locations and backgrounds to protect the guilty. I also get a lot of my fodder from other people. Or Facebook. Because we all know that everything you read on Facebook is true.

4. Yes, I am constantly thinking what to blog about next, but that doesn’t mean you should be worried every time you talk with me. Yes, sometimes a friend or family member does something so wackadoodle that I want to blog about it — but I won’t. This is not Keeping up with the Kardashians or TMZ.  And no one else signed up for this.

5. I may ignore your suggestions (but would never ignore you.) A lot of my friends send me ideas on what I should write next on the blog, and they’re great (usually.) But sometimes I know they’ve been covered a lot, or I don’t know a lot about it, or it may not be right for my audience.  Two of my most popular posts, however, (My 12 Year Old Was Blackmailed for Nude Photos) and (Five BS Excuses Parents Make for Mean Girls) were completely based on real-life situations that happened to my friends. Sharing their stories were great for my blog, but also a little cathartic for them. That’s a win-win in my book.

6. What happens on girls weekends/girls nights out/playdates on Fridays, stays there. Period. See number 1 on fear of retribution.

Playdates on Fridays is growing by leaps and bounds. If you are new, thank you so much for reading, but a huge thank you to my friends and family, because without you, there would be no playdates for me!

Is Anyone Immune from Booger Eating?

Guest posting on Mommy Hot Spot today. Discussing a few of my favorite topics: social media (and how people react to it), parenting, and booger eating (yes, I said it!)

Read the post here or see below.

Lately I have seen a very unfortunate trend with my Mom friends. I’ve heard it at parties, seen it on Facebook, and even discussed it at book club. Moms are mad, frustrated and upset. And who is this rage directed at?

Mom Bloggers. Or Moggers as my friend likes to call them. People like me.

Apparently women are ticked at the perfect way Mommy bloggers are portraying their lives, and it’s too much pressure to live up to on a daily basis.

“No one’s cupcakes come out that way,” screamed my friend the day she lived out a Pinterest-fail of tie-dyed cupcakes for her daughter’s 7th birthday party. I actually thought they came out pretty good, but clearly not as perfect as the picture she showed me on her iPad.

Another friend vehemently exclaimed the other day: “It’s not like parenting three kids isn’t hard enough, but now all these ‘perfect’ Mom bloggers are out there talking about organic food, no screen time until they turn eighteen, keeping your kids in car seats backwards until they’re nine…enough is enough!”

I get it. I really do. I am one of those moms that is creatively challenged. My youngest out-paced me in the craft world at four years old when she took the glue gun out of my hands to put the feathers on the turkey we were creating for Thanksgiving. I would rather stick pins in my eyes than spend a day scrapbooking, crafting or baking cakes that involve words like fondant. If I judged what kind of mother I was based on this, I would get  a big fat F.

And sometimes when I read about the food a blogger creates from scratch every day to feed her nine children or the organic garden a New York City mom cultivated on the roof of her apartment, I feel pangs of guilt for the cheez-its I sent in for group snack (although they did have letters imprinted on them, you know, to make the kids smarter).

But a few years ago, I had a life-changing experience. I met a mom through my daughters’ My Gym classes. She also had twins, but that was where our similarities stopped. She had lost all of her baby weight, had no muffin top, and was constantly pulled together. She had her own successful business she started while breastfeeding her twins for 14 months and teaching them sign language. Because their father was from Montreal, they were already speaking two languages and had travelled extensively by the tender age of three. No joke.

Despite the fact that this mom made me feel like an utter failure, she was very friendly, so we decided to hit the local Chick-fil-A for lunch after class one day. As we chatted while the kids were eating, I looked over at her son who continuously picked his nose, and yes, ate it. Her daughter had a meltdown of epic proportions because she had white milk instead of chocolate. They had to leave early because her son threw his shoe at the back of a stranger’s head. It was not pretty, and she was mortified.

ELEANOR-ROOSEVELT-QUOTE-INFERIOR-600

Apparently perfect hair does not make you immune to booger-eating. Because I had lived this scenario myself (several times), I was relieved to see this mom also succumbed to the same issues that I had with my kids. Although the image she projected publicly was much different, at the end of the day, she was as frazzled as I was.

It is no different in the blogging world. As bloggers, we project the image we want our readers to see. We carefully choose our words, images and topics that we think our readers will embrace. And although there are the mommy bloggers that believe honesty in parenting is what they want to portray, most of these women are building a brand, and that brand is their carefully-crafted persona.

While it may be hard to believe, most of the moms writing blogs are not doing it to make other moms feel bad; but let’s be honest: how many of you would attempt to try a recipe if the cake looked lopsided? I always equate blogging (and in some cases social media) to publishing your own magazine — an opportunity to share what you are passionate about whether it is clean eating, fitness, crafts, make-up, decorating, or just your kids. They are trying to put their best foot forward to their audience, just as they would showcase their best products in their storefront.

I believe the rage against the mommy bloggers, Pinterest-ers, and perfect Facebook posters is symbolic of what has always been going since the dawn of mommy-hood. So many of us strive for perfection and use other parents as a benchmark for our own self-worth. When we look at others though the lens of resentment, there is no way we can support each other or encourage our kids to treat each other compassionately.

There is no way to parent perfectly, and having a child absolutely guarantees you will be imperfect. It doesn’t matter how many perfect cakes you bake, marathons you run, or crafts you create, your kid still may eat his own booger in front of somebody else.

What can you do to sublimate your rage? Instead of feeling guilt and resentment when going on social media, digest the information and decide what you want to do with it. You may want to embrace having your own chickens for free range eggs or you may go back to buying your egg McMuffin.

Because while some bloggers do try to shame us into thinking that their way is the only way — using fear and judgement — we often  forget that we, as readers, have the power in these situations. Bloggers are only as successful as their followers make them. Trust me, I know.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I think we all need to remind ourselves of this as parents in today’s digital age.

Or you can just start your own blog…

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