There’s a special place in my heart for parents and caregivers who experience difficult situations with their babies and children. I feel like these folks are more resilient, more appreciative of the miracle of nature and, ultimately, they are inspirational. I find them in like minded communities, offering support and sharing stories beyond life in the NICU, often using social media.
Sometimes, sadly, they attack each other.
We parents are passionate about our opinions; as survivors of the NICU seek information about early infant life from every source possible, including other parents. However, if one brings up a conversation about hot button topics such as vaccination, when to start solids, or whether or not to co-sleep, heated words may be exchanged and sometimes etiquette goes to pot. That saddens me greatly.
Social media is a wonder tool. There are more fantastic people using it than those who intentionally do harm. I don’t think, however, it benefits anyone if someone tries to help whilst being antagonistic or rude.
For example, I saw one mother write, “CALM YOUR TITS!” to a group of preemie parents, mostly women, as she expressed herself. Another mother found insult in the phrase, “Don’t worry,” which, although made with good intentions, may seem like a brush off.
How do we treat each other kindly while still expressing our own feelings and what we consider a valid opinion? Keep your preemie in mind. When you type an electronic response, you’re still talking to a human being. Treat that person like you’d want your child to be treated. After all, you’re a role model.
Name-calling or suggesting someone is an inadequate parent by making a different choice to yours is as good as throwing a punch. Avoid it. That’s all there is to it. Statements meant to incite a reaction and bait someone to respond have no place in a preemie or parenting support group.
Are you quick to rise to a fight? Consider waiting until you’re calm to respond. Write a polite post which isn’t full of exclamation marks and short forms (like OMG) which convey your anger. Find that boundless patience which helped you survive the NICU and use it to prevent bruising someone else’s feelings.
For myself, sometimes I don’t say anything at all. If a parent asks a question and has several responses that aren’t truly supportive, I don’t add mine to the mix. Really, it’s ganging up on that person and it will make them feel worse.
Understand that other parents need to share their feelings MORE than they need to hear your opinion. This includes their fear and their grief. It’s more important for you to say, “I hear you,” than, “Get over it.” Grief is especially tricky for parents who experience perinatal loss. They’re grieving more than a fetus; they’ve lost a lifetime of love with their baby.
If you’re offended by what someone says, send them a polite direct message explaining how the words affected you. Ask them to remove their post. If they don’t consider contacting the administrator of the group or walking away from the online conversation. Some social media settings allow the owner of the account to control and remove the comments attached to the original post.
For parents with wounded hearts, tenderness is the key! We all love our kids and want what is best for them. Wrap your opinions in gentleness, always.