By Tanu Shree Singh
‘Listen, I think it might be cancer.’ ‘Wait. What?’ I nearly choked on the tea. ‘Yes.’ She distinctly sounded like she had been howling her lungs out. ‘Okay. Whom did you consult?’ ‘The appointment is today. I just know.’ ‘Huh!? How?’ ‘I surfed the net. There are these website that check your symptoms. And I asked on a mommy group. People have had these symptoms and it turned out to be cancer.’
At this time, the good side of me was whispering, ‘Do not explode. Do not explode.’ The real me however announced, ‘I have a club, let’s go smash her brain into place.’ The next half an hour was spent half- abusing, half-counselling her against self-diagnoses based on some website or fellow moms’ opinions.
I am a part of quite a few mommy groups too. I think I mostly got on to them out of curiosity, because of a friend inviting me, or sheer guilt of not doing enough as a mum. As is with any community you get a fairly diverse group of people in each community. Some of them silently observe and some have an opinion on everything from the colour of the baby’s poop to what people are feeding their kids. The surprising bit of course is that mommy groups abound, daddy groups are barely existent. We are not going there today though.
Now the mommy groups were all instituted by their harrowed admins with good intentions. Raising a child does require a village after all. But in the process, a lot goes on in these communities that make you shake your head in disbelief. So if you are a part of such communities, do keep the following in mind:
There is no substitute for a doctor
A lot of times I see mothers asking about symptoms and medicines in groups. Asking a fellow mom for a nuskha for cold is different but asking about situations that are clearly an emergency, is just not done. Even grandma’s remedies need to be used with caution. I was once advised to grate nutmeg into baby food to soothe them. Of, course the child will sleep! Nutmeg is a natural sedative. So please research well.
Nothing can replace doctors. Not google. Not any other mum who went through it. I have made the mistake of checking my child’s symptoms once, years back. Not only did I end up with severe anxiety, I got a solid dressing down from his paediatrician. At best, the group can be a resource for finding specific specialists or hospitals, not cure.
Motherhood is not a competition
You are a good mom. A higher number of likes or reactions will not give you a medal that screams ‘world’s best mom’. Oversharing each accomplishment as a mom not only puts pressure on you to outdo self and others, but also compromises the child’s privacy. Fun fact: An 18-year-old sued his parents for sharing baby pictures online. Now that could be one extreme. But think about it. When was the last time you took your child’s picture with his medal for simply your memories? How many seconds did you wait before posting it online?
Do not take everything you read very seriously
Every day I read parenting suggestions that range from ludicrous to alarming. We need to take it all with a pinch of salt. There might be some that would be handy, sensible too. But at the end of the day, before following online solutions to any parenting issue, we need to remember that each child is unique and each situation different. Also, a lot of suggestions are not well-researched or thought out. So pause, analyse and then implement.
I think this can be said for internet as a whole! A mum recently asked a question related to rejoining work after her delivery. Rather than answering, a lot of mums gave ‘humble opinions’ on how it was not okay to leave the baby and go for work. From bad marriages to decisions about having another child, everything is cast into the ‘good wife/mother’ bracket and frowned upon. So before responding, it is essential that we read the original question and stick to answering it without getting judgemental. If it is impossible to leave our judgement aside, then it is best to stay silent and move on.
It’s just the internet!
In our bid to project a certain image as a mum in these groups, we eventually lose touch with our real selves. We pack the perfect lunch for the photo-op, we think of captions while clicking images, as soon as our child does something prize-worthy at school, we jump to first announce it to the world. In the process, we put a lot of stress on ourselves to maintain that persona. Sometimes, it is best to switch the net off, to move away from the online life and focus on the real one.
We spend too much time living in status updates, creating boomerang posts, updating our holiday locations and more. We end up living a life for others, when as a parent and as a person we need to focus on ourselves and the family in the real world. The mommy groups are an essential community for days when everything gets overwhelming. Reading about parents going through the same is reassuring. It is comforting to know that although everyone is on a solitary path, the bumps on the roads are the same, and all you have to do is to reach out and some help would arrive. But for heaven’s sake, stop fussing over the child’s poop colour online, or posting the picture of a random rash asking everyone what they think it is.
(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh’s podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)