Monday, July 28, 2014

Drop the rope: why fighting online is a waste of your life.

Any woman who has been in an online parenting forum has probably been there. A simple discussion about anything from potty training to circumcision takes a wrong turn and gets ugly fast. Opinions are stated, then personal anecdotes, followed by 'evidence' and when that fails the insults start flying, people are deleted and blocked and eventually an admin shuts it all down.

You might say it's debating, but debating is done with a clear head and cool temper. When it comes to parenting it's impossible to have that sort of detachment about your choices because you feel strongly about what you believe in. To be told how wrong you are with such conviction is going to infuriate you, no matter how right you feel your choices are. You'll try to prove your point, but only be met with more resistance, less tact and more anger the harder you try to show them the light. Eventually your blood will boil with the frustration and you'll reach the point of no return.

It's funny how these fights pan out, how somehow the validity of each comment or piece of 'evidence' is proved with the number of 'likes' it receives from others who are in agreement of that point of view. Few people realize that sheer numbers don't mean merit, and the fact that a narrow minded clique of online friends backing you up doesn't make you right. When you fight online, you're not changing anything. Arguing with someone rarely changes their mind on the issue, but rather strengthens their own point of view. The more someone presents their own argument, the more certain they feel about the ideas behind it and the less they will even consider anyone else's. The uglier things get, the more cemented you become in your own beliefs. And online, things always get ugly.

I belong to birth clubs, natural parenting groups and groups for parents of children with autism, each more vicious than the next. If you think the average mother is territorial, you should see how mama bear special needs parents can be. Those groups have specific graphics they post just to shut down a thread, which is something that often happens multiple times a day. I used to think it was just parenting groups, but then my husband pointed out that it happens to him too. The comments on news articles, videos on youtube and even the forecasts on the Weather Network go off topic and get heated on a regular basis. Just think of the famous rainbow number cake article- on the internet ANYTHING can go sour. It's even worse when it's on your own page, with people you actually know in real life. The ability to post articles, photos and opinions about all sorts of controversial topics previously reserved for private conversations can turn friends and family into enemies when the wrong button is triggered.

I am no stranger to these arguments, and have lost my cool on a few occasions. I had an innocent thread on the spacing between children turn into an all out brawl that ended in accusations of child abuse. I was called an immoral swine by the friend of a relative for standing up in my belief of my sister's right to marry and raise a child with her wife. I've said a few overly rude things to complete strangers when getting caught up in the comments section of articles or blogs.

It's tempting to get involved in these sort of situations. Sometimes it's just because a regular conversation thread goes off on a tangent and goes sour at some point, other times you know it's a hot topic but you feel you can just make 'one little tasteful comment' and then walk away. The problem is that it might even be fun at first. Perhaps you're bored and it's adding a little bit of excitement to your day. At first it can generate the good kind of adrenaline, before it escalates to something closer to rage. Sometimes it's even a bit disappointing when a thread is locked or deleted before it fully goes off the rails and you're left wanting to say and hear more. But other times it gathers momentum so quickly that it reaches a point of regret and remorse before anyone can step in and make everyone behave.

No matter what stage of the game you're in, you need to drop the rope.

Something catch your eye that looks like it might be upsetting? Stop reading.

Read something infuriating or controversial? DON'T READ THE COMMENTS.

Read some comments that have you shaking your head? DON'T ADD TO THEM!

Too late? Already said something and got a rude response? Walk away. Let it go.

Got drawn into a circular, forehead smashing argument with a cretin or two? Forget about the last word. Just disappear.

Let it get way out of hand, spew insults and feel terrible about yourself? Apologize, either privately or publicly and then leave it be.

People always claim they want world peace, but judging from the sheer amount of animosity online about both the big and the small things, clearly that's never going to happen. There are always these pleas for people to 'end the mommy wars' and all 'support each other' but frankly, the world is full of self righteous, uneducated jerk faces that are never, ever going to have a whit of common sense. When you get involved in these sort of things, you actually become one of them.

But the biggest argument against argument is this: Do you really want to waste your precious free time getting sucked into this pointless negativity? It's not going to change anything, or 'educate' anyone or make you feel very good is it? The other day a friend of mine was telling me about how much of a time suck even just READING the comments was for her. 'I didn't even SAY anything, and I lost an entire Saturday morning just trying to follow along. What a waste of my day off!'

What would you rather be doing? What makes you happy? I'm sure you know. If these people are SO stupid, why are you GIVING them sacred hours of your life? Drop the rope, shut er' down and walk away. They will fall splat on their faces with or without you there anyway.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer Hell-iday

I swore that this summer would be different.

Last summer was really hard, but I had learned from my mistakes and vowed things wouldn't get out of hand. I was going to take the kids on a fun outing every morning, make them a healthy picnic lunch, and eat happily on a blanket outdoors. I bought a big stack of activities and workbooks from the dollar store to keep my oldest daughter quietly occupied while her sister napped, and then we would play outside for the rest of the day. It wouldn't just be effortless, it would be fun!


The last week of school my oldest daughter got really sick, so instead of spending those last precious days of freedom preparing for the upcoming months, I was washing barfy laundry and tending to a feverish child. Then the first day of holidays our basement flooded in two places- one with rainwater, one with sewage. My first day home alone with the kids our dishwasher broke. And then to top it off, I got sick with whatever my daughter had the week before, only I couldn't lay in my bed and recover the way she had, I had to drag myself around to make sure they didn't hurt themselves (which they did anyway).

Despite the best intentions, I was not following through. Instead of fun outings and picnics, my kids were eating potato chips for breakfast while watching Dora as I frantically tried to bail water out of our dishwasher or drag all of our possessions out of the basement before they were destroyed. Some days we didn't even leave the house, despite the shining sun and hyperactive children.

And oh, how social media made it worse, by reminding me of how much I was failing while everyone else was having a great time. "Look, we're having a fun day at the pool!" "We're doing crafts!" "We're on a bonding shopping trip!" "We're berry picking!" "We're baking!"

But after a few days, something strange happened. My children, out of sheer necessity, learned how to entertain themselves. Aside from keeping them fed, I really couldn't be at their beck and call, and told them so. They squawked at first, but eventually gave up and found something fun to do. Unless something was brand new, I don't think I have ever seen them so intently engaged in their toys before. Instead of just picking things up and tossing them moments later, they got involved. They colored several pictures rather than scribbling once and abandoning it. They played with each other. They stopped looking to me to take away their boredom.

When things were going well, we had fun together. I took my oldest hiking and on a picnic one morning while my youngest was at daycare for a few hours. We made a day trip up to a friend's cottage on Sunday to swim and canoe in the lake. We had a BBQ with friends, we went to their cousin's birthday party and one afternoon I took my eldest to the carnival to for unlimited rides. Both the kids and I had plenty of excitement when it flowed naturally, and we enjoyed it all the more for the rough days in between it all.

All of this has taught me that I am not, and shouldn't be my children's daily entertainment director. Yes I like to play with them, and I like to take them places, but on an ordinary day it shouldn't be a requirement. If I need a day to catch up on housework, or lay around being sick, or even just read a book because I want to, my children should not go crazy with boredom in a house full of toys with a backyard full of playground equipment because I haven't planned anything specific for them to do.

Creativity is often born out of boredom, and kids in this generation rarely get a chance to even brush the surface of it. The other day while I was upstairs doing something else, my daughter started drawing faces with her noodles, because she was left alone with her thoughts long enough to come up with the idea.

I am hoping that things run a lot more smoothly for the remainder of the summer, but at least I know now that if things go awry, my kids can handle it. If they don't goes as planned, the skills are still there, and that means my job just got a whole lot easier.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reversing the fairy tale

The other day when my daughter told me that we live in a great big house I was a little shocked.

"We do?" I asked.

Then I thought about it for a minute and realized the right thing was to agree with her, because what we've unknowingly been trying to instill in her is actually working.

Back before we had children, I went through a rough time. I was nearing 30, and despite my education I was still just getting by on temp jobs in the struggling economy. I lived in a nice apartment with my now husband and we had a lovely life together, but I just couldn't let go of the bitterness and disappointment about where I 'should' be financially at that point in my life. I had envisioned a house, a car, a cottage, and fancy vacations. What I had was an apartment, camping and public transit.

Then one bitterly cold January night we met some friends downtown for dinner after work. Leaving the warm restaurant into the horrible cold we braced ourselves and ran to the bus shelter, cursing and laughing and picturing the relief that was soon coming. As we sprinted into the wind one of my friends suddenly said:

"It would be terrible to be homeless on a night like tonight."

Moments later we were sitting comfortably on a warm bus, heading toward our respective warm apartments. With a belly full of delicious food, I crawled under a warm duvet in a soft bed beside the man I loved. I had never felt more rich.

The next year our job situation had improved and we were on our honeymoon, cruising through Italy, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt. On a tour bus heading to Cairo it wasn't the pyramids that blew us away, but the living conditions we saw out the window. Countless families living on the side of the road, toddlers playing in piles of garbage next to the on ramp, the mud huts that people called their homes. After seeing that I could never go back to complaining about how 'poor' we were.

Nine months later our daughter was born, and without really meaning to we filled her head not with stories of princesses in castles full of riches we will never know, but a reverse sort of fairy tale of the millions of people around the world living without houses, food or indoor plumbing. 'Aren't we lucky?' we tell her, 'that we have a house with TWO toilets? A fridge full of food? A bed to sleep in? Toys to play with?' We've let her know from the start that WE are the rich ones. Comparison can steal so much joy, but done right, it can also bring gratitude, and a desire to help others. There are always those who will have more, and if you focus on that you'll always be miserable, but when you have all you truly need, you have to realize that you really are wealthy in the grand scheme of things.

As our girls get older, I know they will encounter friends who appear to have more and feel a little envious. Perhaps they will realize that our little semi detached is not the castle they originally saw it as. When that happens I hope to be able to give them the same reality check that I was given- through travel, volunteer work or just frank discussion. Until then we remain happy in our 'great big house' full of food, warm beds and love.