Category Archives: social media

My Problem with Similac’s #endmommywars Campaign

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Have you seen the #endmommywars hashtag floating all over social media lately? It’s becoming a pretty big thing.

On the one hand, it’s an important idea. No mother should ever be shamed for any parenting choice she makes. Period. Truly, it shouldn’t matter if you breastfed, formula fed, stayed home, sent your kids to daycare, whether you were labeled as a “helicopter” parent or “free-range.” Every mom is just doing her best, trying to find her way, and learning as she goes along. The most important thing is how you love your kids. And there is more than one way to provide a loving, secure family base for your child. I’m sorry that any mother has made another mother feel anything but supported in her choices, whatever they may be.

But I’m afraid this #endmommywars campaign is not as supportive as it seems, and in many ways is just pitting mothers against each other further. Are there judgmental mothers out there? Sure. I’ve met them (and I’ve seen loads of them on the internet!). But for the most part, I have seen a ton of kindness from the other mothers I encounter in my daily life. And I think we need to accentuate that aspect of motherhood MORE. Let’s talk about what we can do to support one another, not underline how some small number of moms are cruel to each another.

But most importantly, the campaign shuts down our ability to voice our opinions and debate civilly. Although I wholeheartedly support motherhood in all forms, I know that feeding babies breastmilk is the best thing for their developing bodies. As a lactation consultant (IBCLC) it is my job to support mothers who wish to reach those goals. Does that mean I don’t support formula feeding mothers? Of course not! I know that breastmilk is not an option for all mothers, and I know that in most cases their babies will do fine with formula. But I should be permitted to say that one infant food is, in many ways, better nutrition.

The same goes with other opinions I may have about parenting choices, like what I think is the best car seat, how I want to discipline my children, and whether I think it’s important or not to feed children organic fruits and vegetables. Can’t I voice these thoughts and opinions without somehow starting a war with someone else? Not every disagreement is a war!

Now, I have to walk on eggshells anytime I state an opinion in this current parenting climate. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And #endmommywars only perpetuates the myth that there is some kind of huge divide between parents. Most of us all basically want the same sorts of things for our children, and listening to one another—hearing varied thoughts and opinions—can be truly enriching. In fact, I have learned a lot from talking to mothers who did things differently than me. If I couldn’t talk about things, I would never know what works for others, and how similar we are even when we look different from the outside.

And, of course, the biggest problem with the #endmommywars campaign is that it is entirely a marketing campaign from Similac! Yes, it is. Let me say it again: IT IS A MARKETING CAMPAIGN FOR FORMULA. If you do a search anywhere for the hashtag, you will see Similac’s name splashed right under it. Even if you like the campaign, you need to know that’s what it is. It’s a campaign whose aim is to get mothers to buy formula.

Formula is a really useful modern innovation, and many babies who have access to clean water and modern medicine do well on it (this is NOT the case in developing countries, and it is a dire problem). Many of my dear friends used it for various reasons, and I support them fully. I believe you can formula feed and be the most cuddly, loving mom. I know that.

But for a mother who really wants to nurse, is struggling, still finding her footing, getting criticism from left and right, and feeling entirely open and vulnerable, this campaign is potentially QUITE damaging–which is exactly Similac’s purpose.

Research has pointed out the power of formula advertising, and formula companies are quite stealthy in how they sneak their advertisements in. Have you gone into a pediatrician’s office recently? There will be pens with formula brands on them, and posters on the wall sponsored by formula companies. Our pediatrician gave us a little book to record shots and baby milestones that was made by Similac. And of course, there is the formula that is handed out left and right at hospitals, and sent to new mothers’ homes whether they request it or not.

I remember when a friend called me after her third baby was born. She had successfully breastfed her first two children, but her newborn was really fussy at the breast. She was exhausted, in tears. When babies fuss at your breast and you don’t know why, it’s hard to have faith that breastfeeding is going to work, no matter how many babies you have. She told me they’d been sent home with formula and were about to use some, but she thought she’d call me first. I gave her some tips to calm the baby down, helped her feel more normal, and things ended up going fine. But she told me had she not spoken to me, that bottle of formula seemed pretty damn tantalizing.

And it is, for many moms. Most moms don’t know what to do when their baby cries while nursing, when their nipples hurt, or when they aren’t sure if their baby is getting enough. They may not have a breastfeeding helper’s number to call, but they almost always have formula on hand, thanks to the generosity of companies like Similac. And quite often, one bottle of formula leads to another, and another, until breastfeeding is over. Obviously this is not the only way things unfold, but it is an altogether familiar scenario I encounter.

Thanks to formula companies, it is much easier to find formula than breastfeeding help. Thanks to formula companies, it is easier to say that women are at war than it is to find ways to unite them.

And I am sick and tired of it all. So, let’s END #endmommywars. And support one another by listening, questioning, thinking, loving, and listening some more.

EDITED TO ADD: Part of the publicity for #endthemommywars is that Similac is putting out a movie with that title. Click here to watch the trailer. I was actually asked to participate in this film a few weeks ago. More about that later…

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Crazy Commenters on Social Media (Or, What is Wrong With the World?)

huhWriting for internet publications is a funny thing. I have been blessed to be published widely, and it is thrilling to be able to connect so readily with my audience, and get paid for it! As a writer who wrote primarily for print publications for years, I rarely had feedback on my work. If I did, it was mostly from friends and family, not total strangers.

I have been blown away by the positive comments on things I’ve written—people who have been moved to tears, people whose lives feel changed by my words (at least for a minute!). Yes, there are haters out there, but that’s par for the course, and I don’t usually let it get to me. I mean, I’ve had a post go viral in which I talk about breastfeeding a (gasp!) two-year-old, and there were some ugly responses, all of which I let roll off my back.

So I was pretty shocked when a post I wrote for Kveller got slammed by comments, replete with personal attacks on me and my family. It’s an honest, blunt piece about how in this season of my life with young kids at my feet, making phone calls is annoying and nearly impossible.

I should mention that the response to the article was overwhelmingly positive. It’s been viewed by over 14,000 users (and counting), it was shared publicly by the actress Mayim Bialik, and the comments on Facebook are mostly from mothers who identified with it and found it refreshingly honest.

But the comments on the website itself were just… well, you should read them yourself. I was called self-centered, pathetic, insufferable, and my kids were described as ill-mannered brats. Not only was my parenting slammed, but I was also declared to be a terrible friend and an even worse family member (because, you know, my family will die eventually, and I haven’t appreciated them enough while they’re alive).

All of this because I don’t have time to call people on the phone. THE PHONE. THE PHONE. Is that really the only way for people to connect? What?!

It doesn’t matter that I say in the article that when someone really needs to talk, I am more than willing. The article is about the fact that catching up, making chit-chat, shooting the bull—the kind of phone conversations that are just check-ins—they are what are difficult. The article says nothing about how often I see my extended family (which for the record, is OFTEN), my friends, or anyone else. It doesn’t say anything about all the other ways I show up for my family and friends. It was simply about the fact that I don’t prefer talking on the phone. Period.

I know that these comments aren’t really about me. These people are venting about their own problems. And most people don’t think of authors as real people who might read what they say (I don’t read every comment, but I check in to get the gist). Commenters have this feeling of being removed from the situation and feeling like they can spill any shit they want on the page, unleash all their rage and anger about someone else’s words.

My Kveller article is not a literary masterpiece. Maybe I could have made certain parts clearer, certain parts less snarky. But for goodness’ sake, when you read something that someone has written about her life, you are only seeing a small slice of that person. To make judgments about the writer’s moral character is not only insensitive, but ridiculous.

I NEVER comment on my own posts—but, because I felt that my piece was being misunderstood, I stepped in to clarify. What happened next was even more appalling. Even when the commenters knew they were speaking directly to the author, they were still rude and insulting. It was awful.

I am left wondering what it is that touched such a nerve with these people. I can understand people getting into heated arguments about politics or religion—but phone calls?! Maybe these people have been burned badly by family members who don’t stay in touch. Perhaps they don’t realize that in this day and age, phone calls are becoming obsolete and many people prefer email or texts. I, for one, would much rather have someone stop by my house to say hello than talk on the phone. Maybe it’s that the piece points to the fact that my children are the center of my world right now (because by gosh they are little and won’t be forever), and some people think that is exactly the wrong way to parent (those people can eat my foot).

Whatever the case, I am basically over the whole thing, and I kind of regret engaging with the commenters at all. None of it will stop me from writing and putting my thoughts and opinions out there, but boy oh boy has it made me wonder what the hell is wrong with the world.

UPDATE 7/21/2015: Happy to report that Kveller took down some of the worst comments. Criticism is one thing. Critiquing a kind of parenting or kind of writing is usually fine too. Direct insults, name-calling, blasting the character of an individual and her kids? Something else entirely. Being mean on the internet is the same as being mean. Period. All of this has caused me to think even more about what I post on the internet. We all need to be certain we are practicing kindness, in real life and online.

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Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

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It feels good to feel wanted. I have felt that these past few months. Awesome places want to publish my work (and, often, pay me for it). New mommies want my help and advice. And of course, my children with their endless wants and needs (and love).

I had always been a writer, but things slowed down a bit when my first child was born eight years ago (here’s a new piece I wrote about my firstborn). When the new year hit this year, I decided I was ready to “dive in” again. I have been blessed with words, and new places and people to share them with.

In addition to freelance writing, I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counselor and IBCLC. I get frequent emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls for help. I manage a Facebook discussion group, and I host a monthly breastfeeding support group. I have a part-time IBCLC business. I do consultations on weekday evenings and weekends. It is very part-time at this point, but I always have a mom or two I am working with in this capacity.

Let’s not forget (because I do so often) that I am a full-time mom. My own mom does come by to help a few hours a week, but it’s just me in charge of the house and the kids for 10-12 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

I think I kinda forgot that. I thought I would do it all, all at once. I was wrong, as usual. It’s happened to me before.

I reached a breaking point last week. I had about four writing pieces out (including this one about breastfeeding older children that went kind of viral), which meant promoting them, getting and answering emails from fans, and just generally feeling full and overstimulated from it all. Plus, there were a few breastfeeding emergencies along the way, from both my volunteer work and paid work. And of course, kids, replete with tantrums, spills, nightwaking, early mornings, and sibling squabbles.

I don’t drink coffee (gives me terrible anxiety and tummy aches), but I eat bits of dark chocolate to power me through the day. I realize this is not a terrible thing if done in moderation. It started with a few squares here and there. But with all the endlessness of my days lately, I had been going through several bars of chocolate a week. Plus, I’d been exercising less, eating more crap, and just generally putting everyone else’s needs in front of my own. I don’t usually weigh myself, but I’d gained five pounds in about a month.

I felt the weight of it all, just everywhere.

So I did some things I’d been meaning to do for a while. I figured out some ways to cut back on my volunteer work, and streamline some other aspects of my life.

And I made the intention—just like I did six months ago, when I decided to write in earnest again—that I would take care of myself. That’s it. Take care of myself: those four words. However it works, however it manifests.

It may be thrilling to “do it all.” I may be able to do to it all, in the sense that I can get it done. But it doesn’t always feel right. Something gets lost along the way. This time it was me. Sappy, yes. But true, 100%.

Just saying I need to do it has made a difference already. The days have felt simpler already, less encumbered. I have been taking more time for stillness. I have been putting my phone away. I have been eating my bits of chocolate, but savoring each small bite instead of stuffing in more. And I have been enjoying my babies more, taking the time to sit with them, read to them, cuddle with them, draw with them—all those good things.

I want all the other things to, and I can have them, but I just need to take it slower, say no to some of them, and say yes to the ones that matter most.

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To the Other Mothers on My Facebook Feed

What you’re seeing is just a slice of my life as a mother. A minute. Scratch that—a second. The seconds I want you to see.

Here is a picture I snapped of my kids sitting on the windowsill looking for birds (really wholesome, right?).

looking at ducks

About five minutes before this the big boy was grabbing a hockey puck from the little guy screeching, “He cheated!” (he’s two years old, ahem). And a second later the two-year-old was in a ball on the floor because his puck got stuck beneath the air hockey table and he couldn’t get it out, and of course would not accept help from anyone else (“I do it meself!”).

But for that one second, on the windowsill, they were still, talking to each other about birds and ducks and snow, actually enjoying each other’s company. And I was watching them enjoying each other’s company, and I was enjoying that. So I took a picture of it, and shared it with you.

Sometimes I tell you about the times they drive my crazy, too. I make light of it, usually. I make fun of their juvenile ways. Thank you for listening to my vents. Maybe some of you think I vent too much. But a lot of the time, I want to share the loveliness of these children with you.

I am not doing so because I want to show that I am a better mother than you are, or that my kids are happier or better behaved than your kids are. They most definitely aren’t.

Some of you I don’t see a lot, some of you I have only met once or twice, a few not at
all. I am sharing because I want to emphasize the beauty in our lives. For myself. I want to focus on that. There is plenty of the other stuff. I probably spend 80% of my day cleaning up, preparing food, breaking up fights, explaining rules, clenching my teeth, sneaking bites of chocolate. I find it therapeutic to savor the moments of calm, beauty, insight, and love.

And I enjoy seeing these pieces of your life as well—the sorrow, the frustrations, the hilarity. Your lives are beautiful, every aspect you show me.

But I know for sure that you are not showing me everything. Of course not. The world has gotten too big. I wish we could all just gather together on our stoops and chat at the end of the day. Social media is awesome, but it’s no substitute for that.

I know that sometimes you don’t remember this. Sometimes you are truly struggling, and my moments of celebration might feel like daggers in your heart. I’m sorry for this. I know how easy it is for mothers to compare themselves to each other.

For any time my sharing has made you feel that way, I am sorry. You can unfollow me, unfriend me, whatever, and I truly won’t take offense. I know we’re all just trying to get through.

But I want you to know that you are a courageous, interesting, fucking awesome mom, whatever you think of yourself.

So let’s take it like it is. I am so glad to share with you, but my life—oh, it is much deeper, complicated, and messier than I could ever—or would ever—want to show you. And so is yours.

And that’s exactly as it should be.

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