A couple of days ago, my dear doula friend Maddie McMahon published a blog post entitled “When did we become so blooming close minded“. It prompted me to finally write the “twin” post on kindness that I’ve been meaning to write for the last year or so.
I have noticed rather a lot of unkind comments, directed towards parents, on social media recently. This isn’t new. I am reminded of my other dear friend and babywearing consultant trainer Lorette Michallon and her story of a couple walking with a donkey. In the first picture, the woman is riding the donkey and the man is leading it. Two observers comment on how stupid the man is, because he could be riding the donkey himself. In the second picture, the man is riding the donkey, and the two observers remark on how selfish he is, because he could be letting his wife ride it instead. In the third picture, both the man and the woman are riding on the donkey, whilst the two observers moan about how selfish they are hurting this poor donkey. In the fourth picture, neither the man nor the woman are riding the donkey and the two observers comment on how stupid they are, for they have a donkey and are not riding it.
The morale of the story is, I guess, that people will always judge one another, whatever their choices. This is especially true when it comes to parenting. I don’t like it much but I don’t think there is much I can do about it. Or is there?
The most recent social media criticism I witnessed bothered me more than usual, because it involved professional parenting supporters criticising one another in a rather uncalled for, and unkind fashion. A famous babywearing consultant posted a picture of herself wearing her newborn being carried in a new French ergonomical buckle carrier and she was vilified by a large number of babywearing consultants for wearing the “wrong” carrier. The most flabbergasting thing is that she was being criticised vehemently by the people who are supposed to be supporting parents in their journey through parenthood. This doesn’t model good behaviour, and it worries me that if they treat their peers like that, then they are likely to treat parents in the same way, i.e. in a disempowering way, by telling them what “not to do”.
As Sue Gerhard said in her book Why love matters :’There is nothing to be gained in criticising parents’. You simply cannot educate, support and help people by being aggressive and denigrating them. True support, and true education, only comes from a place of kindness. Whilst I find it annoying when parents criticise each other aggressively on social media, I can forgive their ignorance. I cannot however, accept the same behaviour from my peers – from people who work with parents on a daily basis. Whether we are babywearing consultants, doulas, birth workers, antenatal or postnatal teachers, or any other profession supporting the transition to parenthood, we are privileged to support parents at such a vulnerable time. Such a privilege should be treated with the respect, and – dare I say it – sacredness, it deserves. We simply cannot treat people unkindly.
Our role is to serve, to support them to find their own ways as they navigate the exhilarating and scary waters of new parenthood (and not so new parenthood too) and the maze of conflicting advice and judgment.
We have a duty of care, a duty of kindness and compassion, and if what they do seems misguided to us, we need to understand that they are operating from a place of love, and the guiding must be ever so gentle and soft, because just like babies are precious and helpless, new parents hearts too are tender and fragile and deserve the same soft touch as new babies.
I feel very strongly that we pregnancy, birth, and postnatal professionals need to model kindness with one another, especially in the public eye on social media. How on earth are parents going to expect us to treat them with kindness and respect, and trust us to do so, if they witness the fiery wars of opinions which explode daily amongst us online for all to see? Let us have healthy and open debates whilst modelling nurturing, non-judgemental, respectful and kind behaviour. If we are going to change the face of interactions between parents on social media-it needs to start with us.