I had my first troll this weekend. I've had unsavory comments before: some unnecessarily vehement disagreement with my positions on issues, as well as a personal attack by a former boss who had the mistaken impression that he could achieve anonymity on the Internet. But I don't really consider those trolls. I know I play hardball when I express controversial opinions here, and people who are arguing about issues rather than attacking me personally can't be considered trolls, no matter how fierce they get. As for the boss thing - which did unsettle me, but ultimately was a good lesson in relying on my instincts when I sense people are untrustworthy - I don't think he could be considered a troll because I knew him in real life.
But this troll was a true troll. She came; she squatted under my bridge where I couldn't see her face; she grumbled several nasty, pejorative things; she left. Her entire purpose in visiting here was to spread meanness. I imagine she left feeling better about herself, but she certainly didn't enrich her life or her soul in any way.
I deleted the comments when I found them. I'm all for reasoned discourse and criticism, but I'm not interested in preserving nastiness for its own sake. And honestly, although I certainly wasn't happy about the whole thing, I wasn't shedding tears over it either. Her comments bugged me the way it might bug me if I found a rotten spot on an apple I was eating, the way any disorder in my world bugs me. But they didn't reach me, didn't affect me on a deeper level. It took me a while to figure out why, but I finally did.
I go to confession on a regular basis. It's an excellent source of grace, it's humbling, and - most importantly in this case - it does a great job of keeping me in touch with my weak points. I know where I fail on a day-to-day basis, and if the troll had known to attack me there, she could have done some damage. If she'd known to call me out for being impatient, for having a sharp tongue, for the fact that my laundry is never done and my bathrooms are rarely clean, that would have hurt. Instead, she called me a bad mother.
I have many, many failings. But I am a darn good mother. And this is not a case of my protesting too much because I have secret doubts. Deep down, at the very core of my being, I am sure that I am a good mother.
I actually feel that knowing this is part of what makes me good at it. I go with my instincts. I don't doubt myself. I trust Bryan as a father and believe wholeheartedly that the two of us together are the best possible parents for this beautiful little girl we're raising.
I credit my own parents for the confidence. They themselves were natural, instinctive, confident parents who taught me that parenting is not a set of skills or a job in which one's performance is judged by the standards of "experts," but a relationship. They taught me that being a good parent does not mean conforming to those "expert"-determined standards for feeding and clothing and teaching my child; it means putting my child before myself, understanding her, responding to her, loving her.
I'm a good parent because I do that every day. Sometimes I consult data, and it influences me to do things like breastfeed and put my daughter in flexible-soled shoes and regulate her sugar intake, but doing those things does not make me a good parent. I could do all those things perfectly and still be a horrible parent. I'm a good parent because I love Camilla and do my honest-to-God best for her, day in and day out, and I know it's working because she is happy and thriving and loves me back.
Like I said, I'm fully aware of this, which is why the troll couldn't really hurt me. But I still feel bugged by her and what her comment represents.
Mothers have this awful tendency - especially on the Internet, I've noticed - to tear other mothers down. I think it's a product of our own insecurities. We're convinced we don't measure up, so it makes us feel better to think that some other people, at least, are even worse than we are. The whole thing makes mothers as a group incredibly vulnerable. It makes us vulnerable to each other, and it makes us vulnerable to people like my troll, who came across my site, saw I had a child, and decided immediately that "you're a crappy mother" should be an effective way to pounce.
This is bad. Now sure, it's human nature to be competitive and antagonistic (although a part of human nature that we should attempt to civilize, in my opinion), and certainly mothers have been criticizing each other through out all of human history. But today's parenting culture makes attacking each other so. darn. easy.
There is a huge industry based on the practice of implying that parents are doing it wrong, then selling them something so they can do it right. You can buy a dizzying array of products designed to make your child healthier, safer, smarter, and happier than all the other children on the block. Many of these products are valuable in themselves. But the marketing behind them - the idea that your child has a God-given right to an organic diet and the safest car seat on the market and a collection of educational toys that will have him reading by age three - stinks.
A child has a God-given right to his parents' unconditional love. If that is present, then the parents truly have the child's best interests in mind and (assuming basic knowledge of safety and nutrition) can be trusted to make the series of decisions and compromises that constitute life in a world with limited resources. A time-saving fast-food lunch, a budget-saving lower-end car seat, or a sanity-saving video do not a bad parent make. It is the relationship between child and parent that matters.
But that is not what we hear in our culture. What we hear is that the experts know what's best, and that we should toe the line.
Setting aside the not-insignificant fact that much of the "expert" parenting information given over just the past hundred years has turned out to be wrong, the expert-driven approach is hugely problematic. It impoverishes the relationship of parent and child by reducing parenting to a set of tasks to be performed, subject to external standards. It has parents doubting ourselves to a truly unnatural degree, wondering whether we're doing it "right." It has the potential to rob us of much of the joy of building a relationship of love with our children. And it turns us into insecure people who are relieved to be able to point at the parenting "mistakes" of others, so we'll feel just a little bit better about ourselves.
I'm guilty of it too, absolutely. It is true that I feel confident in my relationship with my daughter, but I am not without my moments of self-doubt. More than one time I have looked at another mother and felt relieved that she was not measuring up in some way, because it took the (self-inflicted) pressure off me. Many more times I have failed to compliment other mothers because... well, because it feels like a race, and how can I win if I'm taking time out to compliment the competition?
It's ridiculous. It is so ridiculous that it deserves to be called many words that I will not use here, this being a family-friendly website and all. But I will say this: I am opting out of the race, starting now. Those few times I have let my better self win and have told another mother she's doing a wonderful job, I've seen the flash of gratitude in her eyes and known that she needs to hear those words just as much as I do. I'm going to start fighting to let that better self win more often, actively fighting to become the person I want to be. We parents are in this "expert"-driven parenting culture together, and the absolute best thing we can do for ourselves and for our children is to band together against it and keep on loving them in spite of it. I think we can have a great time along the way.