The ‘mean-girl’ moms

In her new book, Toronto mom blogger Rebecca Eckler explores how many ordinary mothers can turn into judgmental Internet trolls.

fall-2014-just-for-momsThank God for Rebecca Eckler.

The well known, often polarizing Toronto writer, who has been a major presence in the mom blogger scene for the last decade, is back with her ninth and latest book, The Mommy Mob – Inside the Outrageous World of Mommy Blogging.

It’s a roundup of some of her most controversial posts – known for drawing massive reader response and often ire – and some of the choicest comments posted in response.

Eckler’s writing, as evidenced in her book, is typically raw, uncensored, smart, laugh-out-loud funny, and, I think, much needed in an online world where moms can be supportive, but are often so competitive and judgmental – as well as racked with guilt about their own decisions, feelings and missteps and overly concerned with other moms’ perceptions.

I admire Eckler (and think she’d be incredibly fun to share war stories with over a glass of wine).

She’s totally unafraid to say the things most moms would usually only dare to think as we go about our daily lives and mundane parenting tasks (whether they’d admit it or not), largely for fear of judgment from our peers (fellow moms) – and there is plenty of judgment in the online universe, as she lays out for us in the book.

In her 10+ years of blogging fearlessly about her motherhood experiences, Eckler has often found herself a target from the very audience she likely thought would most be able to empathize and laugh along – fellow moms, including bloggers.

A number of the comments on Eckler’s posts are nasty, vicious and occasionally threatening and abusive. Common to most is a strong undercurrent of judgment.

Not all – some moms simply disagree and explain their positions civilly, while others (quite a few) are so vulgar, I can’t even repeat them here. But here is a small sampling:

“Congrats on being a half-assed parent.”

“As usual, I’m left wondering why the author had kids. She is just too materialistic and lazy to really appreciate what being a parent is all about.”

The fact that many moms judge other moms, and harshly, doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone; it’s as old as time.

But what’s shocking is the level of venom so freely expressed by a number of moms, empowered by the anonymity of the Internet and the “interactive design” of blogs, as Eckler puts it.

She writes candidly on hot-button parenting topics such as going for several weeks without changing a diaper (I never got that lucky), hating parent-teacher interviews (yep), hangover parenting (I may have done that a time or two – and on those occasions, I made sure I was the cheeriest mom ever, all day long, because if I was hurting, it was my own damn fault, not the kids’), and the weirdness of baby penises (they totally are). 

And what she reveals is often met with shock, disgust and righteous indignation from other moms.

“I’ve always written truthfully, and sometimes TMI (too much information) is the result,” Eckler writes. “I just write what happens in my life as a parent.”

When I spotted Eckler’s latest on the bookshelf this spring, I let out an almost-audible sigh of relief. From one peek at the title and the cover, I knew I would relate and that her book would be a fun, reassuring read.

I have found it tough to delve into and navigate the mom blogger world. Loyal Parenting Times readers may recall that I used to have a blog. 

I found it challenging to keep the blog current, and ensure that all of my posts offered entertaining and useful information, sprinkled with enough humorous anecdotes to draw a real following. It was an overwhelming endeavour for me.

While I can’t say that I have had similar experiences to Eckler with blog commenters, I see myself and my thoughts and feelings about motherhood in much of her writing. It definitely resonates.

Back in my blogging days, I kept my posts – when I wrote them, as I struggled with it – soft, fluffy, happy and tried to be as uplifting as possible.

But motherhood – and parenthood in general – just isn’t that simple.

There will always be parts that, if we’re being totally honest, are not 100 per cent sweetness and light and fun. You can’t always live “by the book,” or by conventional wisdom, or what your neighbour, friend, sister or mom thinks is right. 

There are certain parts of parenting I resent, parts I dread and there will always be aspects of being a mom that, for as hard as I try every single day, I desperately fear that I am failing at. 

One part is the work-life balance. I am a working mom who juggles multiple jobs in the publishing biz. Along with the parenting magazine, I also work for a daily newspaper.

So there is, by necessity, a huge part of me that is preoccupied with matters that have absolutely nothing to do with parenting, and demand a large portion of my time, thoughts and energy which I often feel guilty about.

And then there are times, when my jobs overlap slightly, like the time I wrote an op-ed for my paper’s editorial pages.

In my piece, I stated strongly that the “attachment parenting” philosophy was not for me, and that it shouldn’t be preached as the best or the one true way to parent.

Above all, my core message was that no matter our individual approaches, moms simply shouldn’t judge each other; we should only be supportive, even if we don’t always agree about how best to parent.

As soon as it was published, I had to face a few tweets that, while completely civil and polite, were critical of my take. From other mom bloggers. On the very public forum that is Twitter. 

I felt like I was onstage, forced to defend myself publicly after writing a piece that I thought came off as unifying, a rallying cry for moms everywhere.

But not everyone liked it, and that’s what you sign up for when you write an opinion article on parenting, which, as I’ve learned and Eckler certainly knows well, can be a minefield.

I certainly wasn’t called names, no vulgarities were used, and it was a completely open discourse that ultimately was respectful and ended well – but I still felt badly. I felt like I had let down my tribe in some way. That maybe there was something bad and wrong about my viewpoint as a mom.

So I can imagine, but can’t fully understand what Eckler has had to endure after being compelled – and brave enough – to share her distinctive voice and self-deprecating perspective on parenting.

Fortunately for the many moms who can sit back and laugh at ourselves and our quirks, mistakes and embrace the little tricks and cheats we find to make life easier, more enjoyable, and even make us better moms, it’s evident in this book that Eckler has not been deterred from her mission, nor has she lost any of her edge. 

It’s good to know I’m not alone.