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Competitive Parenting is Bullying. - helen-louise
Competitive Parenting is Bullying.
I just realised something.

Now, it's no secret that I'm childfree by choice. While I like children perfectly well, I also like to be able to give them back to their parents at the end of the day. I understand intellectually the level of responsibility required to be a parent, and it is something I have no interest in doing myself. However, that doesn't mean that I don't have an interest in other people's parenting, or the decisions they make. I am interested in the progress of the offspring of my various parent friends, and I want to support them in raising their kids as well as possible.

Lately I've become very aware of this idea of competitive parenting - where in reply to someone having made the best decision in their circumstances, someone else, usually a total stranger, pops in with some comment about how that decision is rubbish according to statistics, and their child is going to suffer as a result. The two examples I've seen recently are breastfeeding and childbirth - where two people who I know damn well are good parents are being made to feel guilty for decisions they've made, in one case, to save the child's life, and in the other, to save the mother's life. I'm not exaggerating here - those are the honest, truthful reasons why they made the decisions the way they did. Yet fucking moron strangers can come bleating in with "don't you know breastfeeding is best for the baby's health?" and "don't you know vaginal births are safest in 95% of cases?", and make those parents feel guilty.

I don't blame the parents for feeling guilty. I know it's easy enough for me to be made to feel guilty after some decision with far fewer hormones involved. It's even worse when you know full well that yes, theoretically what the other person is saying is true, but in your situation it hasn't worked and you're having to go for the second choice option. I put the blame entirely on the apparently "well-meaning" strangers. People who are "so concerned" about the health of a child they've never even met that they trample all over the intelligent, well-educated parents of that child. What is it about parenting that makes other people feel they can stick their noses in?

I have a new theory that it's nothing less than bullying. Parents, particularly mothers who are awash with hormones, are vulnerable - they need support and understanding, not bullying about their decision. If you, the observer, don't know or understand all the details about the relevant medical histories - what the fuck are you doing expressing any opinion other than support for the parent concerned? Why do you think you know more about the health of a child you've never even met than the caregivers and medical professionals who see that child?

If it was another child making comments like "don't you know that?", with the implication of "aren't you stupid?" to your child, you'd see that as bullying. So why don't you see it as bullying when you make those same comments to another parent? Morons. Fuck off back under your rock, and take your opinions with you. Save them for the people who are feeding Coca-Cola in bottles to their babe-in-arms.

Current Mood: enraged absolutely insanely angry

12 comments or Leave a comment
aca From: aca Date: 21st April 2006 15:58 (UTC) (Link)
"don't you know breastfeeding is best for the baby's health?" and "don't you know vaginal births are safest in 95% of cases?"

Don't you know in 93.7% of cases people who make sweeping generalisations are complete addhats whose opinions should be disregarded as a waste of energy.

People should really learn to butt out, shouldn't they?
ailbhe From: ailbhe Date: 21st April 2006 16:02 (UTC) (Link)
As per http://ailbhe.livejournal.com/241718.html :

This is why the entries on "How to be a bad parent" and so on aren't actually all that funny. Because all the time women need to reinforce their beliefs in their own way of mothering, and the easiest way to do this is to look at how other people's ways don't work so well, and condemn them, preferably without thinking "Well, maybe there was some difficulty I can't see here." Because every formula-feeding woman who tried to breastfeed sees every breastfeeding woman as a slap in the face, a personal reprimand. And every breastfeeding woman sees every bottle of formula as a statement that her contribution is worthless, that she gave up nights of sleep and moments of human dignity (have you ever used a breastpump? You need a well-attached sense of humour and a hot compress) for no really good reason, especially if the breastfed baby has, ooh, conjunctivitis, to pick a random one, and the formula-fed baby is in rude health. Or vice versa.

You know I recently started an attack-free parenting community? In three days it had over 50 members. It's violent out there in the parenting world. Yikes.
From: rivka Date: 21st April 2006 17:21 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, H-L.
From: evilref Date: 21st April 2006 18:47 (UTC) (Link)
One of the things that we don't realise until we become parents is quite how much guilt is involved.

Every day you have to make decisions, and you have no idea what the outcome of those decisions will be -- only that the decisions may have a profound effect on the life of someone who you care about and who is totally relying on you, and that the outcome of those decisions may not be visible for twenty years, if at all.

There really is no guilt like being a parent.

That kind of guilt does funny things to peoples' minds. The things you are describing as parental bullying are, in many of the cases I recognise, simply parents who are clinging to some hope they have read in some magazine somewhere, to avoid drowning in the tide of doubt that comes with the fear that you are blighting the future of someone you love very much.

As a teacher, you'll see the same thing when it comes to making school choices, or to getting that education once they get to school. Guilt affects different people in different ways, but many of them are ugly.

Sorry about that.
ailbhe From: ailbhe Date: 21st April 2006 19:50 (UTC) (Link)
It's parents clinging to the hope that they've done the right thing, and reinforcing their fragile belief in that fact by being derogatory about other parents' choices. That's using bullying to make yourself feel stronger, in my book. The fact that it comes from a position of weakness makes it very little easier to sympathise with.
baratron From: baratron Date: 21st April 2006 20:18 (UTC) (Link)
I agree with most of what you're saying, but not entirely. Do you really think that blasting another person's way of doing things is an acceptable way for someone to deal with their own insecurities? Because I don't.

In the situation where someone was asking for advice about some aspect of parenting, it would be acceptable to give that advice. If you give the advice cheerfully and without any moral judgements that your way is the One True Way, that's a bonus for everyone who might ever read the post. Likewise, if someone posted something about parenting that sounded REALLY clueless (I'm talking along the lines of the girls who turn up in amipregnant who aren't even sure which hole is for what), it could feel like a moral duty to offer some guidance even if advice wasn't being specifically asked for. But if someone simply posts about the way they're doing things, and it's different from the way you're doing/did things or the beliefs you hold, I cannot see how it's acceptable for you to deal with your own insecurity that you are doing/did things differently by blasting the other parent so hard that they feel attacked. That's what I mean by the bullying - not simple disagreement, but turning round and saying "Don't you know X?", with the implication that they must be an idiot for not having considered it - when the whole reason they didn't mention all the HOURS and DAYS of agonising about X in their post was that they didn't want to have to think about that painful thing again.

I do have to wonder, though. In most areas of life, we like to encourage people to feel that they are competent at what they do - as people who feel that they are competent are better workers, more confident and make better decisions. It's also useful to be aware of where your competence ends, so that you can consult someone with more knowledge and skill in those circumstances. OK, that's how things normally work in the business world. So, why is parenting, the perhaps most important job that any human being can do, different from that? In parenting, it seems the idea is, rather than praising other parents for everything they got right, the outside observer focuses on the one thing they do "wrongly", and attack them for that.

If 99% of what the parent does is "good", and 1% is "bad", that makes them 99% competent in my book. Yet by the time the One True Way competitive parenting bullies have finished with that person, they'll feel 99% incompetent. That's just unfair.
ailbhe From: ailbhe Date: 21st April 2006 20:37 (UTC) (Link)
That which does not drive us to run away with the circus makes us stronger, perhaps?
From: evilref Date: 21st April 2006 21:02 (UTC) (Link)
Do you really think that blasting another person's way of doing things is an acceptable way for someone to deal with their own insecurities?

No, I don't.

I can understand why they behave like that, but that doesn't make it acceptable.
micheinnz From: micheinnz Date: 21st April 2006 20:39 (UTC) (Link)
(Here through Ailbhe, but I know you from another online forum...)

Have I told you recently that I adore you? Because I do...
johnckirk From: johnckirk Date: 21st April 2006 22:05 (UTC) (Link)
Just to forewarn you, this is another of my "comments that you probably won't like hearing"...

Fuck off back under your rock, and take your opinions with you. Save them for the people who are feeding Coca-Cola in bottles to their babe-in-arms.

Something I've covered on my first aid courses is hypoglaecemia: this is when someone has very low blood sugar levels (typically a diabetic who hasn't taken their insulin on schedule), which can produce various symptoms (e.g. aggression). The short term fix is to give them a temporary sugar boost, e.g. by getting them to eat a bar of chocolate or drink a can of Coke. I think this is quite rare in babies, but it does sometimes happen, so if a parent is feeding their baby Coke that may actually be for a legitimate reason (e.g. they're out and about and realise they left the insulin at home). I think that's very unlikely, and in the vast majority of cases it's going to reflect poor parenting skills, but I wouldn't discount the possibility altogether, particularly without knowing anything about the people concerned or their medical history.

So, bearing that in mind, why do you think it's ok to make generalisations about them, but bad to make generalisations about other areas? It seems that you're either advocating a double standard, or you're saying "It's ok to be critical when you're right, but not when you're wrong", i.e. "When you make a mistake and you're wrong about something, that's wrong", which isn't particularly useful.

I won't comment on the particular cases I mentioned, since I don't know any of the context involved. However, in the general case I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with asking people whether they're aware of something. For instance, in IT support I've found that's it better to ask "Have you heard of IP addresses?" rather than assuming that the other person has already done a ping test etc.

Finally, there is the issue of implications vs inferences; if I say something with a hidden meaning, I'm implying it, while the listener is inferring it. Are you sure that you're gauging their intent correctly, or is it possible that the other people really are well-meaning, and they just phrased themselves badly? (The internet does seem to be prone to that kind of misunderstanding.)
baratron From: baratron Date: 22nd April 2006 00:07 (UTC) (Link)
I have to admit, I had never, ever thought of Coke as a cure for hypoglycaemia, and that's despite having had a diabetic grandad for 15 years. Lucozade was the thing recommended for him, or in an emergency, 7Up - but never anything like Coke with its high caffeine content. Had Red Bull existed when he was alive, it would have been Right Out. (I believe there's even a warning on Red Bull saying it's unsuitable for diabetics under any circumstances.)

Yeah, I almost left out that last flip line, for fear someone would come back and say what you're saying. To be honest, I don't think it's ok to make generalisations about anyone - but the fact is, people do. Pretty much everywhere I go, any time I see other people, I'm watching behaviour and body language and words said and unsaid, and making assumptions about them. For me, that kind of non-verbal communication is a necessary safety thing - by observing what's going on around me, I check whether I'm safe in an area or situation. Most of the monitoring is unconscious - I only *notice* that I'm doing it if there's a significant change from what I'd expect to be normal behaviour in a situation.

So, the thing is - if you see all the non-verbal stuff that goes on, it's difficult not to notice when a caretaker is being crap. If observed over a period of several minutes (>10), it usually becomes obvious whether the person is a good caretaker having a crap day, or if they just don't care about the kid they're with. Pouring the same Coke you're drinking into your kid's bottle to feed them with is symptomatic of the kind of caretaker who feeds a teething child mini Mars bars, yells at the kid when they're screaming on the bus instead of trying to calm them, and is too busy chatting on their mobile to notice that their kid just fell over and is hurt :/

I suppose what I was saying is that ideally, you wouldn't criticise anyone - but if you feel that you do, make sure they actually deserve it. On the internet, without the body language - I'm not sure it's ever possible to tell.

Also, IT Support =/= Parenting Support. Really. If you think people get upset about computer problems, you have seen nothing compared to the guilt and angst that people have about whether they're caring for their child properly.
ruth_lawrence From: ruth_lawrence Date: 23rd April 2006 13:12 (UTC) (Link)
"Don't you know yadda-yadda" is from henceforth code for "I don't mind if Ruth shoots me".

Of course it's bullying, or at least Yet Another Tedious And Offensive Example of Non-Con Domination.

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