No Comments, Please


No Comments, Please

Long before I became a mother, I was writer and blogger. I was also a sanctimommy. (I realize this is rich, coming from me, a mommy blogger.) I had a LOT of preconceived notions about what motherhood was like and how ‘easy’ it should be to raise a child. I’ve discussed it somewhat in my first post ever on here and I continue to be slightly flabbergasted by many of the things I swore I’d never do as a mom.

But you know what? During my sanctimony phase, I usually didn’t haphazardly share those opinions with many people, especially complete strangers. Thankfully, Facebook wasn’t around for most of my holier-than-thou-single-lady-with-no-kids phase. I kept a lot of useless ramblings to myself and my journals. I also read a lot of actual newspapers, print magazines and books, and managed to have fairly intelligent conversations with friends and colleagues about both world affairs and trivial matters, even when we differed on our opinions.

Nowadays though, lots of people skim stories and status updates and fire back responses to people they’ve never met or whom they hardly know, without much thought as to how it’ll be received by the author, or any other people who’ve commented. I have been especially horrified by the amount of mom shaming that goes on out there.

I didn’t grow up with the Internet, so ‘commenting’ on posts online has never been a big thing for me. In fact, on my first ever (now offline) blog I ever started, I disabled comments entirely from the get go. I thought if people wanted to comment on something I’d written, they could click on the email link and send me a personal note.

If I feel strongly about something I’ve read, I’ll make an effort to thoughtfully send the author a personal message. It’s not that I don’t think I have a valid opinion. I just don’t always think it needs to be shared with the entire world.

Words hold weight, and whatever I write or even comment on, will be out there forever, whether I want it to be or not. Likewise, if I read something, it might stay with me for a while, whether for good or bad. I still read a lot and according to the Interwebs, (at least when I’ve read many comments on mom stories) I was and still am a terrible mother.

Apparently since I’ve flown around the world with a baby in my lap (and therefore saving thousands of dollars in tickets), I am an awful mother. I am a horrible mother for not hauling a car seat on a plane (even though it’s NOT REQUIRED) when the Peanut took his first flight at only six months old. I am apparently a disgusting mother because I nursed a toddler who could ask for ‘milkies’ by name. (Oh and my kid will be scarred for life because of this. Obviously.) I’m not really a mom because I only have one child. I shouldn’t even be a mom at my age because that’s selfish. I didn’t really give birth because I had a c-section. I kept the Peanut in diapers because, you know, I wanted to keep him a baby forever and I’m LAZY. I am gentle in many of my parenting methods and often give my child a choice, but that means I’m a pushover and raising a kid who will eventually walk all over me. And clearly I’m also a tyrannical mother for raising my voice to my child at Walmart. (I would have been an even worse mother if said child had knocked that entire display over, injuring you in the process.)

Those statements above are simply ridiculous. And yet they are nearly verbatim of comments of articles I’ve read online, aimed at other mothers who made decisions similar to mine. Notice I said ‘comments.’ While many articles themselves can indeed offer sanctimommy moments, most of the judgment I witness online comes from readers’ comments and not the writers of the piece (although there is that too).

I KNOW I’m a good mother. No matter what the Internet says, complete strangers in a comment section won’t convince me otherwise. I daresay I’ve never had many opinions of my own swayed by the online comments of others. But maybe a young mom with less confidence would think otherwise after reading comments seemingly aimed at her mothering style. Maybe a mama who is at her wit’s end by bedtime might read a comment online and feel like was aimed directly at her. Momming is hard enough as it is without someone telling you that they think you’re doing it all wrong.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have an opinion. I just think that in today’s world, we have an awful lot of them that are shared way too quickly. So quickly in fact, that I don’t even think people get past a headline or the first paragraph of a story before their fingers are poised, ready to comment.

After college, I worked for a conservative but fairly opinionated British magazine. I was the token youngster on the editorial team. My editor liked to stir the pot, if you will, so he’d send me on trips to far-flung places to gather stories written from my post-modern Generation X perspective (In my mid-40s, I’m still not sure what exactly that meant.) Our readership was mainly elderly people, and my voice in the magazine was a far cry from what they were used to reading.

The Internet was a new commodity and while I was reachable on no less than three personal email accounts in 1999, people still took the time to write snail mail, mainly because of their age. I would occasionally get a letter that praised my article, although more often than not, it was a somewhat scathing response, questioning my motives in life and reminding me of the age gap between myself and the magazine’s readership. But even though the letters seemed to somewhat ‘attack’ me, they were often well-written and thought out. They were not a knee-jerk reaction to a headline or the first paragraph of a story, fired off from a phone keyboard. They were reactions to the entire article that the person likely read through more than once, before they methodically penned their reply. By the time I received a letter, it had been months since I’d actually written the story — weeks since it had been published. Even if I wrote a response back to the person that day, it would take at least a few days to arrive in the mail.

Twenty years ago, there had been time to let both opinions and reactions ferment, if you will.

I have a lot of things I would love to say on Facebook or on an online article, but honestly, hammering out my opinion in the comments section isn’t usually worth it to me. And really, I don’t mind when people DO share their opinion. Part of the beauty of the Internet is that it IS possible to create a community and to build others up. So maybe just ask yourself the next time you read something, ‘Should I really comment on this? Will this encourage someone? Will this shame them? Would I actually say these words out loud to a person if they were right in front of me?’

I certainly won’t stop reading, but these days I simply stop at the end of the story and I skip the comments. Maybe we all should.

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Brenda Steffen
I spent my twenties and a good chunk of my thirties living and working in various countries. I met and married a South African sailor and I was quite content to keep traveling without kids. We landed in Chattanooga in 2013 and our son arrived over the summer of 2014. We haven’t really slept since. Sometimes jet-lag gets the blame. Or Daylight Savings, or even a good book. Usually though, it’s the Peanut. You can often find me charged up on caffeine, chasing after my son at Coolidge Park, the zoo or the library. You can also find me online on my blog.