I’ve had an emotionally rough week. It started out with my very sick father-in-law in the hospital and ended up with moving both my father-in-law and mother-in-law into the same long term care facility, and my poor husband’s nerves stretched to their capacity.
Oh, somewhere in there, about 300 people left comments on this New York Times piece I wrote about negotiating Instagram with my 9-year-old, telling me in great detail what an absolutely horrible parent I was.
So it’s been fun.
I wasn’t surprised that people disagreed with my approach of working with my 9-year-old to navigate Instagram so he can follow these extreme flippers and parkour people and share his own acrobatics. I’m not surprised when other parents are shocked that I let him do triple back flips on our backyard trampoline (yes, that is three back flips in the air at once—see picture above). He scares the shit out of me daily, but it’s who he is. I desperately want to keep him safe, but I also want him to stay motivated and be inspired so that his energy doesn’t go astray.
And now, he wants to share his talents with the world, the same way I do with my writing talents. Why should this be off limits to a 9-year-old? Of course his brain isn’t fully matured to be able to handle all of it at once. Of course I’m not going to unleash the entire world of social media on him and let him have at it. Of course. But I’d rather stand beside him in the shallow water than forbid the whole pool—which doesn’t mean we don’t have rules or that I don’t second-guess myself because this shit is hard.
I’ve got a whole transparent live-and-let-live free-range pragmatism going on with my parenting. I’ve arrived here for my reasons, and I’m 100 percent okay that other people don’t see the world the way I do.
What I’m not okay with is the culture of meanness and the inability to debate things on their merits, without sarcasm, judgment, assumptions, and nasty personal attacks. I admit, I was caught off guard by the tenor of the comments, and how many people seemed to think that by helping my son share his talents on a more public platform, my son and I were leaving all other pursuits behind. A commenter from Flagstaff pleaded with me to take my children to the library and buy them books, instead of giving them the equivalent of cocaine; someone from LA begged me to get my son into sports and take him to the park; a woman from Albuquerque implored me to put my screen down and have a conversation with my kids.
But those were just the polite responses.
A Denver man told I was responsible for causing my child’s ADHD (actually a few people told me that); a Maryland commenter said what I was doing was a form of child abuse; someone from NYC called me a spineless pushover; a woman from Houston told me I was setting my child up for a prescription drug problem (I admit, that one particularly stung, seeing as how I have a brother who died from a prescription drug problem). I could go on—and on. It only gets nastier and more personal, trust me.
Though I accept their right to speak, especially since I put my personal story out there, I am both hurt and sad. The hurt is obvious—nobody wants to be cyber-bullied, whether you are 14 or 43. But I’m sad, too, because the Houston woman must be hurting deeply to say something like that. What happened to that Maryland commenter that he or she would make the link to child abuse? Adults don’t behave so poorly because it’s fun. They behave that way because they are ashamed, afraid, or angry. The AAA of nastiness. And it shows up everywhere. It even shows up when we’re on the same damn side. I got into a Facebook discussion with a very smart woman a few weeks ago about feminism and sexual consent. We are both feminists who believe in equality and speaking out and a better future for both men and women, yet we saw a specific issue differently. I was trying to engage in a discussion, and she just kept attacking me personally with sarcasm and anger. I finally had to give up. And related to that: Why are those of us who can’t stand Donald Trump attacking him for anything to do with his appearance? Isn’t there enough to say about his misguided actions and his horrible words? For those of us offended and disgusted by his presidency, why would we engage in the very same behavior that offends and disgusts us?
I can explain to my son that Instagram ultimately wants to make money off of him. I can explain to him that if he does see an image of a woman with bare breasts, someone is making money off of that, and it’s probably not the woman. I can explain to him why kids his age bully or act out.
What is much harder and more devastating to explain is why parents would do it.
To my Denver commenter, of course I didn’t cause my child’s ADHD. Did someone tell you that you caused something that you know you didn’t? I’m so sorry. If you were here, I would hug you. And then I’d invite you to dinner at our kitchen table, where we eat together every night as a family and have honest and interesting discussions about our day, the world, and how to land an over-rotated triple back flip without breaking your elbow (always tuck your chin and roll—don’t ever stick your arm out behind you).
PS. This past Monday, I got the chance to do a radio interview with the lovely Leslie Roberts for The Leslie Roberts Show on Montreal's CJAD 800 AM about the Times piece. You can listen here.