Parenting is freaking hard....
To add to the challenge, you are the parent of a child born with some sort of medical complexity or developmental disability. The idea you would exist as parent and as someone with an unofficial PhD is something you never expected out of life. Yet here you are being all awesome and stuff keeping your head reasonably above water. Chances are if you're like me, you've had to be a rather stern advocate at times for your child. You've had to develop a rather thick skin over time given some of the conversations you've had to have. You learn the system and the science while in the trenches, who can better understand your child than you?
In a moment of pure golden joy, you've discovered that parents like yourself all flock to social media to connect with each other. Your heart is just a little bit lighter in knowing that you're not walking this path alone.
Like any other morning, you sit down with a cup of coffee and check out your Facebook news feed. Today is a little different in that you see... GASP!! Someone made a controversial post regarding something that extends beyond what you consider the norm in parental care.
In twelve years of parenting and connecting to a greater community of families online, I've seen this conversation take a few different directions.
"Let's not rock the boat...."
This stance can have multiple motivations really! In some cases, group admins have neither the energy or the willingness to facilitate controversial conversations that inevitably end up in drama. It's just easier to not talk about challenging subjects rather than allowing open space for them.
These are social media groups that are open and promote an air of "inclusivity" and no judgement. It appeals to the sensitivity we parents are all challenged by. "We're all just trying to do our best." "What's right for your family may not be right for mine." Any indication of being questioned isn't seen as challenge but more as "bashing" a fellow parent.
"What starts, never finishes well..."
This is a version that takes two unique directions. In one scenario, some parent starts right out of the gate stating that the opposing side is flat out stupid and should get their children taking away.
That's not a discussion, that's a match, gasoline and inviting others to watch the fire.
In other scenarios, the conversation starts off well but launches into hurt feelings because of course, we are always the right ones in the debate! Being challenged online does not sit well with some people even though many social media platforms were in effect created with the idea of creating social debate. Reading conversations in text lack nuance, things are misinterpreted... we don't know a fellow parents background and what brought them to this opinion. Someone leaves the group in some dramatic fashion. This inevitably brought us the social media term, "flouncing" which I think describes the dramatic flair of these exits to a T!
Recently I took an opportunity to take in Tim Caufield's series "A User's Guide To Cheating Death". Humanity's ability to tackle concepts like beauty, aging and death have created a culture of questionable treatments as we search to rationalize the things we don't have all the answers for.
In watching this series it began to give me pause to contemplate the complex diagnosis parenting culture we create. We are only now starting to acknowledge and research the caregiver experience. We see the statistics indicating higher mortality rates in moms of complex kids.
As I have no magic answer for a fix of the system, I do think we need to begin to consider how we can as a parenting community begin to help each other. How we acquire knowledge pertinent to caring for our kids is a deeply personal affair. In some cases, we as parents are just so taxed and want to see an end to a particular challenge in our kids. Our online support communities have made impact for so many with far-reaching effects. I myself am not sure where my mental health would be without being able to connect with a much larger online community. At the same time, I do wonder how a largely scientific parenting profession gets away without having an ability to have healthy scientific discussions. Our ability to be mentors to one another is cut unfairly short when we aren't able to make space for discussing all the angles and in some cases dark corners of the overall parenting experience. In a world surrounded by some of the strongest advocates in the business, this seems to be that dusty corner filled with boxes that nobody wants to acknowledge.
In a world that is increasingly resistant to science seeks answers in the natural or the alternative, we have an entrenched divide between families that we seem to either walk on eggshells over or reign fire and fury over the opposing side.
Can we have successful conversations in the parenting community about topics we may disagree on?
I would argue that in fact we can have successful conversations. We just aren't well set up to have them or we just don't know how.
Nobody enjoys being wrong, it's not exactly something one goes out of their way to do.
So when posed with my example at the beginning of this post, I ask you what understanding of healthy discussion are you bringing to the table? Are you willing to create a compassionate culture of learning from one another? Are you cool with the possibility of being wrong on a particular subject?
At the same time, parents have the capability to be such incredible innovators in the science of raising our kids. We are given the space to do so even more now with the advent of patient-oriented research. We owe it to our kids to be able to talk in a healthy fashion about all of the angles of our role. Sometimes that hits on some tough topics. It's time to dust off those dusty boxes in the corner and unpack some stuff. Even acknowledging those boxes exist is a step in the right direction.
Learn about a few concepts below on habits we often have in online discussions. Have you been guilty of any online? I know I have!
The Strawman Fallacy, Ad Hominem Attacks, Black and White Fallacy, Authority Fallacy, No True Scotsman Fallacy
This isn't your green light to just start bugging people at every opportunity now on social media. The key here is to start listening to each other. To speak to those your fellow parents in the trenches with compassion and an attempt to understand what brought them to their decision. And in kind, to genuinely listen to the concerns a fellow parent brings to you. In the end we can then encourage each other to take new information to our care teams and decide together what to do with this information. With that last effort, everybody wins.