Breastfeeding? Circumcision? Religion? Brett Ortler says it’s none of his business—and his family’s choices are none of yours, either.
Whether it takes place via a passive-aggressive comment, a hushed whisper, or an outright confrontation, parents always judge other parents. Unfortunately, when it comes to civility and decorum, the advent of the Internet has led to a golden age of bad behavior, and nowhere is the vitriol more intense than among parents online.
To be sure, online discussions about even the most commonplace parenting choices—circumcision, for instance—quickly become a kangaroo court. Once a controversial topic is broached, then manners, compassion, empathy, and even basic decency are swept away thanks to the camouflage of anonymity and the cover of distance.
In this respect, parenting flame wars are similar to those found following political articles (see also, Yahoo!), but when it comes to mommy/daddy blogging, invective becomes much more personal because it deals with something that we all take very seriously: being good parents. It is easy to shrug off being called “a libtard” or a commie; it is hard not to take being called a bad parent personally.
Perversely, I think this is why some commenters are so vitriolic. Not only are they pretentious enough to think that their parenting style is “correct,” they also know how much it hurts to be called a bad parent. (This is just a hunch, but I’m guessing that this digital sadism probably gives some of them a rush.)
Ironically, online “discussions” often become the most debased when parenting choices that don’t actually affect others are discussed. To wit, what other parents choose regarding circumcision, breastfeeding, dietary choices, homeschooling, and matters of faith have precisely zero bearing on my child¹. While I have very strong feelings on many of these issues, those are my personal convictions and how my wife and I choose to raise our kid. While I may grouse about issues (the gluten-free fad, for instance), I’m certainly not going to tell you whether you should raise your child in your faith or whether you should eat organic or conventional food products. Similarly, you have exactly zero say in the decisions my wife and I make. That’s how it should be.
Even if the subject were up for debate, vitriolic attacks are wholly unconvincing. The first rule of argument is simple: If you want to convince someone of something, consider your audience and treat them accordingly. It should be noted that yelling and insults are rather ineffective argument techniques. They are also wildly unethical. If you treat people poorly online (or in person), you are being a bad person, and you are doing what you probably tell your children not to do when dealing with others.
Next time: Have some compassion. Even the parents you disagree with the most are going through the same (often literal) shit that you are.
¹I get feisty about an issue if it directly affects my child. I therefore take public health issues seriously, especially vaccination and consuming unpasteurized foods, as they can affect my kid. Unvaccinated kids act as carriers and can transmit a disease (like whooping cough, for example) to my kid, even though he is vaccinated. After all, vaccines are aren’t perfect, which makes this “herd immunity” even more important. Similarly, if you are serving unpasteurized ice cream at your kid’s birthday party, you are forcing your choice upon me—and a dangerous one at that.