We're constantly hearing about the "Mommy Wars" - for some reason, the American vernacular is the one that is always used. The media tells us how breastfeeders feel themselves superior to formula feeders, how the Bugaboo brigade look down on the babywearers and how crunchy "granola" mothers can't bear to be in the same room as those who are more "plastic". (Yes, these terms exist and mean something in the murky world of modern mothering - not parenting, but mothering. I've yet to read an article about one group of fathers criticising another for their disciplinary methods).
I would have been tempted to believe that these wars existed only in the mind of those who produce our internet entertainment, our magazines and occasionally our highbrow articles in the Guardian or the New York Times, had I not seen them in action myself at times. In our technology-driven world, many parents turn to what I call "mum groups" - MumsNet forums, CafeMom chatrooms, Baby Centre boards and umpteen Facebook groups - for advice, ideas and support. Unfortunately, the relative anonymity of the internet means that the advice often comes with a giant serving of judgement, the ideas are tinged with sanctimony and the support only exists when you do as others do. In short, the internet can bring out the idiot in people faster than a large vodka and orange, and there's nothing like a thorny parenting issue to call forth the name-callers and the keyboard warriors.
That being said, these groups aren't all bad. Far from it, in fact. There's a group for everything, it seems, and while some of them are hotbeds of viciousness, sometimes you can stumble across an absolute diamond of a group that restores your faith in humanity. I used to be a member of many different parenting (mostly women-only) groups on Facebook, but I've slowly whittled them down to just two I pay attention to and one I actively participate in. That group has become a part of my life and I'd be lost without it.
It's almost embarrassing for someone of my generation, the last generation to know life before www., to say it, but some of the people I consider friends - actual, real friends - are women I've never met in real life. They're the women who've supported me through relationship troubles, who probably know more about the ins and outs of my personal life than people I've known for years. That same anonymity that brings out the worst in people also allows a certain freedom of expression, where we're not so concerned about bitching online about a boyfriend or husband as we would be about talking to someone who will then have to eat with them on our next double date. I know I've made the mistake of tearing into my partner when things have been going badly, only for friends and family to be less willing or able than I am to forget the bad parts when things start going well again. Sometimes just being able to have a rant is enough, to have other people agree that only a complete gobshite would ever do whatever he's just done. It's a safe space to laugh, chat and blow off steam. These women have helped me navigate the sometimes terrifying waters of motherhood, all with different insights, various points of view and sometimes opposing principles. They were the first people I was brave enough to share my writing with and they were the ones who supported me in it. They've applauded my baby's achievements with as much genuine happiness as my own family. They've picked me up when I've been down, they've made me laugh until my sides hurt, they've respected my views even when they don't agree with them, they've treated me with tenderness when I needed it and they haven't hesitated to tell me off when I've been out of order.
And that's just the little stuff, the "can I give carrots to my 10 month old?" stuff. I've seen these women deal with the big stuff with class and bravery and more balls than a football stadium on Cup Final day. I've seen them coming together to give advice to a new mother who can't get her baby to latch. I've seen them deal with marriage breakdowns together, cry with mothers we'll probably never meet and mourn their losses like they were our own. I've see women dealing with the most horrendously difficult situations getting support and friendship from strangers. I've seen mothers who are struggling being offered storage bags, nappies, financial help and advice from people on different continents. I've seen the strength and hope and power and potential we have, and I'm grateful and proud to be part of it. Thanks, ladies. I'm glad you're here.