I often make the joke that after my daughter was born, and the placenta came out, I waited and waited for the instruction manual to follow but it never arrived. Okay, so perhaps its unnecessarily graphic, but seriously, that placenta was huge! – nothing to be forgotten. Anyway, here’s what I’m getting at: as a first time parent, we really have no idea what we’re doing. Sure we get better as time goes by, but it’s like we’re on some reality tv improv show, where the challenge is transform a screaming, self-centered, and thankless id into a polite, smart, worldly, and socially well-adjusted human being. Added obstacle courses include: sleeplessness, tantrums and puberty. But unlike most reality shows, there is no getting voted off this island. You’re marooned buddy – for life.
It’s not easy to figure out at first, but thankfully it’s a very common job, one that billions of people have done and survived. “Surely, there must be lots of advice out there,” you tell yourself at 2 am, when trying to understand why your two month-old won’t stop screaming. So you Google “Baby won’t stop screaming” and like magic, a list of parenting forums, where thousands of other parents who have already asked this question, appears.
Most advice is pretty good, and by reading enough responses to various questions you can usually figure out what the herd consensus is on certain issues. It’s the outliers, though, that this post is about – the responses, which are completely unhelpful. There are probably many more categories, but I’ve run into the following the most often:
For those unfamiliar, ‘mommyjacking’ is a term popularized by STFU, Parents, and refers to when an overly exuberant mom jacks someone’s thread on Facebook or in a forum, with an unrelated and glowing account of their own child’s latest accomplishments. In response to one of the most common afflictions encountered by new parents – bizarre newborn sleep patterns – it’s not uncommon to find a response like this reply:
“Wow, that is rough. I guess I should feel pretty lucky that our Aidan has been such a champion sleeper! Ever since he was 10 weeks old, he’s been sleeping 12-14 hours a night without at peep! Hang in there, it’ll get better!!!”
As you can see this takes the disguise of encouragement, but for the sleep deprived parent desperate enough to seek advice from random strangers on the internet at three in the morning, it really just says ‘fuck you.’
The Portentous Forty-something
Its always a little disconcerting when you get together with a bunch of mixed age parents, and they all fawn over your baby using phrases that begin with “Ahh, I remember when…,” as their three year-old delivers a left hook to the temple of another parent’s toddler behind them. It delivers a pretty clear message that parenting is a parabola on the age and happiness chart that are sliding down, bottoming out around 16 years from now. Their eyes look at you as if to say “You’re at the top my friend, and your not going to be this happy again until you’re 63.”
This ominous message is frequently delivered, with more standing, from mothers whose children are probably now teenagers, and are nostalgic for the cuddly newborn years when their babies couldn’t tell them to ‘Go to hell!’ As an example, in response to a mom requesting advice on how to deal with her 12 month-old, who is throwing her binky and blanket out of the bed:
“She is playing the game! My daughter use to do that, my mother stated that I did the same with my bottle. So to me, this is normal. Enjoy it while you can, they are only young once!!”
Not a parent
I pretty sure it’s well understood that if you’re a parent looking for advice in a parenting forum, you’re pretty much only asking for advice from other parents. And more specifically, from a parent who has been through what you have questions about. I have one daughter and she just turned one. I have absolutely no expertise on what life will be like at two. (In fact, for that matter I really wouldn’t even say I have much parenting expertise at all. *Male sports metaphor alert*: if you picked up a tennis racket one day and practiced every day, in a year you’d probably be able to carry on a pretty good rally, but you would be far from being able to call yourself a tennis expert). Nonetheless, every once in a while, you’ll read a response written from someone without kids. A parent of a three year-old who is dragging out bedtime and is looking for suggestions on how to get her back on track. In response, someone wrote the following:
“I agree with the poster that said start looking outside just the sleep pattern/problem. I don’t have a 3 year old so I can’t speak from experience. It could be another phase that she doesn’t want to sleep – I don’t know.”
Thanks for the baseless advice that ends with “I don’t know.” So true. Seriously, what are you doing trolling in a parenting forum? Little advice back at ya: when all your friends start having babies, don’t try to relate to their new found lives by talking about your dog. Trust me, I’ve got some expertise in this department, because before I had a kid, I did it all the time.