Group Warfare.

I’ve started and erased this post 4 times so far, and I have no more witty hooks to reel you in. I wanted to be funny, say something sarcastic with a virtual toss of my hair and intimate to you all that nothing bothers me and I laugh it all off because by this time I’ve seen it all.

And make no mistake about it, I’ve seen it all. I’ve been in hundreds of mom groups on the internet. When people find out I’m the sanctimommy they add me to everything. “Can you believe these weirdos?!” Raw foods, vegan cooking, doll making, dress sewing, stay at home mom crafts, babywearing, formula feeding, antivax, provax, natural cures, Ferber mamas, AP, silky… if there’s a group for it, I’ve been there. In fact, in one of my groups someone recently posted the question “how many groups are you in?” and then the additional challenge of screenshotting your groups list, and after the 5th or 6th screenshot it occurred to me that people might be weirded out that I’m in so many groups. So I never answered the question.

I remember the very first group I joined, it was a babycenter group called Actively Trying to Get Pregnant and so of course the very first thing I did was make a post describing my vague pms symptoms and asking them if it meant I was pregnant. They handed me my ass, and for good reason. It taught me to read the group info before posting in any group,  and hey, that’s valuable information I use again and again that might not have stuck with me if those bitches hadn’t been so ruthless.

Today I got banned from a group. I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t fight anyone or put anyone on blast on the Sanctimommy facebook page; I got banned because I wanted to stay friends with everyone and be in all the groups, which is the highest form of treason in the mommy world. The admins made a post demanding that everyone in all the spinoff groups leave them, and choose a side, or be banned. I wasn’t online and didn’t see the notice, so that was that, the choice was made for me.

I wanted to write a blog post about the formulaic downfall of mom groups, because they all seem to follow a similar trajectory. Quiet and easy at first, then more busy and chatty, then everyone gets comfortable and you do a gift exchange or raise money for a sick member, and then when everyone is nice and comfortable,  things start unraveling. People start speaking freely, because we all know each other and can be “real” without censoring ourselves. And then tiny little schisms start happening. No one calls each other out, but you can bet they’re PMing about that picture of your kid in his carseat. We’re all just speaking freely, but by doing so we’re also choosing sides. Something happens when we lose that initial politeness. We stop giving people the benefit of the doubt.

It never ends the way you think it will. There’s never a big huge issue or blowup that coalesces into a mess. Someone posts something innocuous like “I don’t like these before and after weight loss posts. We’re all moms and we should be positive about our bodies.” And that’s it. That’s the opinion that is so controversial it splits the group. People take sides, create spinoff groups, there are so many PMs flying around that people forget what they talked about before this issue. Lots of people in the group have no idea what’s going on because they’re only in there every few days and aren’t avid facebookers. Those people are shuffled around from group to new group like currency desperately trying to figure out what happened and where their friends went…

You know, I remember when I was a new mom, and my son would be up for hours in the night, and I’d nurse him in the crook of my left arm and talk to other moms on message boards on my phone in my right hand. I remember just marveling at the wonder of technology. What did moms do in the middle of the night before the internet? They must have been so lonely. But I was wrong,  the internet didn’t cure our loneliness.

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I asked my friends in the Sanctimommy group, where we work on blog posts and page posts together,  what was the worst thing someone has done to you in a mom group? The answers were horrifying. Forget name calling and bad gossip, people are routinely reported to Child Protection Services as revenge for some internet transgression. Memes are made and spread calling people fat and ugly and mocking their children. The desire is not to distance ones self from the people we don’t like, but to “punish” them. For what? Disagreeing with you on the internet?

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I always think that next time, I’m going to be immune to the mom group fallout, but you know what? It hurts every time. I think about my friend from 4 or 5 groups ago whose adopted childrens’ birth mother was trying to regain custody of them. What ended up happened with that? I have a friend from babycenter that I met in a loss group who made the decision after 3 miscarriages to not attempt pregnancy any longer. What did she do after our chat group fell apart? One of my friends from a group a few years ago sent me an enormous box of maternity clothes and a bag of red jolly ranchers for my morning sickness. Did she know I was grateful even after the group fell apart and we blocked each other? I ordered bonnets for my daughter from the etsy shop she recommended two years after we stopped speaking.

You can’t just cut people and never think of them again after years of talking almost daily. But you also can’t send them a baby gift when you find out they’re pregnant again months after you stop speaking, because they’ll probably mock it and even if they don’t,  it’s probably weird to still care after all the screenshots and blocking.

How do we raise money for someone’s sick dog’s surgery one day and then decided that because they’re pro-body positive posts and you’re anti-censorship that now you have to hate each other? Is it because it gives us something to do? Something to talk about? Because it makes us feel powerful when motherhood constantly renders us powerless?

After I got banned,  I got the full story. I asked in one of the spinoff groups “what happened?” and mentioned writing a blog post about it and I immediately had a dozen messages in my inbox. People I had never spoken to before wanted to share their passionate opinions about the split and make me see that they were right. I regretted asking almost instantly. What difference does it make? An admin in one group called CPS for a wellness check on a baby in the uncensored group, and there were lots of hurt feelings about lack of transparency and violations of privacy. Was the call justified? I don’t know. When I asked the admin what happened, she and a dozen of her friends cussed me out and questioned my “loyalty” to the group. “Grow the fuck up” “I wish I could be on the sidelines” “stop asking what happened” “are you fucking stupid? Sit down and shut up”

On the one hand they ask for sensitivity and understanding,  but on the other they refuse to share even the barest details. And that’s the part that alienates the most members. Because everyone wants to be one of the “cool” commenters and know the inside scoop. Information becomes currency and those who have it get a say in what happens next.

I have to say, when I started writing the sanctimommy page, I was worried people would make fun of my kids or steal my pictures,  but now, I find myself totally paranoid every time I post anything that someone is going to try and ruin my real life. In the past, people have talked in groups about contacting my employers and sending screenshots to my real life friends, it never even occurred to me that someone would waste the time of Child Protective Services because of an internet vendetta. So thanks for giving me that new worry.

Is this behavior baffling to anyone else? When I don’t like someone online, I stop speaking to them. Maybe I vent about the perceived wrong to my other friends. But never, have I ever, stolen someone’s pictures or made tribute art or threatened their kids. This new tendency to default into “real life” is frightening to me. Can we stop it now?

I don’t know how to end this one, because I usually try to close on a high note, a little humor, a little solidarity,  but I’m not feeling like I can find anything funny about mom groups anymore. I will say, that there are always caveats to the shitty virtual world. A big one is the admin team. If a group has a good sensible admin team steering the ship they can and do weather dozens of blowups without imploding. One of my favorite groups has seen more upsets than you can imagine, (scammers, deaths, births, lies, coup attempts) and always bounces back from them because the admins limit the drama and keep everyone moving forward. Another big indication that a group will be successful is that it’s local or many of the members have met in real life. We tend to be less likely to pick fights and more likely to give people the benefit of the doubt if there’s a possibility that we’ll run into them at the grocery store. There’s something about knowing someone in the flesh that gives you insight into their personality and that creates common ground, even when you disagree online.

One of my friends created a very small group of 20 or so moms that she met online and made every single one a group admin and limited the group size. Knock on wood, they’ve lasted a year.

12829175_518602410299_8151438037445951793_oIs the benefit of talking to other moms any time day or night worth the risk of feeling genuinely hurt if it all goes south? What ways do you protect yourself and your kids from people you feel close to, but don’t know, online? Do you feel as free and open talking to your in-person friends as you do when you talk to your virtual friends?

I don’t know any of the answers, but I do want to try something radical in the comments here. I want to open the door for forgiveness and absolution. I want to start a conversation about keeping our humanity first and foremost; we aren’t just names on a screen, we’re parents, we’re people. If you’ve ever wronged anyone else in a group, this is your opportunity to come clean. You can be as vague or as specific as you like. You can ask forgiveness or simply attempt to clear up the misinformation. This is your chance to be a real friend, a real group member, and clean up so you can move on. Good luck!11535843_10206890499525614_1922599062457826269_n

31 thoughts on “Group Warfare.

  1. I was in a mom group with about 35 other women that I counted among my closest friends. One day, not too long ago, I got into it with another group member that disagreed with me. She used an alternate account for privacy reasons, but I knew her real name. So, in a fit of anger, I disclosed her real name to someone that I knew would put it on blast.

    Do I regret it? Absolutely. There is no excuse for what I did. I apologized to her, but the consequences were harsh and swift: I was booted from the group, and the members that didn’t block me have made a point of giving me the cold shoulder.

    I will always miss that mom group, though. It’s rare to find a group of people that understand your sense of humor, that celebrate with you, or grieve with you. Finding people that GET you is a rare thing. Don’t squander it because you get your panties in a twist one day and decide to teach someone a lesson. It never ends well.

  2. what did women do before the internet?

    Yes, it was indeed lonely at times with a baby! And the sancti was terribly painful because it WAS right in your face, from your MIL, your sister, your SIL, a “friend”.

    In some ways, I think the internet makes it easier AND harder–the fact that someone is right there, day or night, is a blessing in many ways, but as you note, unless you also have a connection to the real world, then it can be easy to get too invested to people who aren’t “real”. Or too unfiltered, or too power-hungry.

    Enjoying learning a closed group I just joined not long ago ( 😉 ) and the dynamics of how it is policed by the admins.

    They are generally pretty ruthless, and that may be best in a group with thousands of members, that has been shut down before by exactly some of the dynamics you detail in your post.

    But you know what? Those same dynamics seem to apply to the admins, who are sometimes a bit sancti themselves.

    And the alphas have a little group of betas trailing them, who get into the pack-mean-girl behavior, for social signalling or whatever within the group, and another name goes dark in a post, and then disappears.

    Very interesting, and really no different than woman behavior pre-internet: it is just constant, unfiltered, seductively as near as a button, all-consuming, and ultimately unreal.

    I would say, use as needed, but know the boundaries, which can come up pretty quickly, and be all too easily blown right on through–with the touch of a button.

    And I bet for every name that goes dark, 3:00 a.m. is lonely again, in a whole new way

  3. I was in the groups you mentioned. I am now in neither. I was kicked out of one for being part of the other, and I needed a break from it all. I was disgusted by the way things blew up to be honest.
    I miss them., the women in them and what it once was.
    I’m glad I’m not alone in wondering what happened. In wondering if I’ll ever talk to some of these people again, and if they wonder the same about me.
    It was good when it was good…

  4. I made a vague political rant on my page and offended many people in the process. I tried apologizing but couldn’t make it right. I wound up leaving my favorite “mom” group as a result.

  5. I was a member of a group within a like-minded community. We were a bunch of crafty irreverent women who called tongue-in-cheek called their kids “Crotch fruits” and who generally made fun of everything and were very inclusive. Well, soon a “[groupname]Parents” group spun off, and since I was pregnant with my son, I joined.

    It was great for a while, and fun and no one was stuffy and I was like “THESE are the Moms i need to be around”. I’d found my people!

    Well, one day I happened to find the most ridiculous pumping bra while browsing online. Now, I get the concept of needing a pumping bra for hands-free pumping (though I do not know how the heck it could ever work), but this particular bra was on a mannequin wearing pearls, and was COW PRINT. Cow print pumping bra? I laughed so hard.

    And I posted it to the group. Because funny goes in the group! Well, I don’t know what the hell I said about this ridiculous mannequin wearing a cow-print bra and pearls that sparked them off, but holy moly, the whole thread jumped down my throat, berated me for being insensitive to working moms who pump at work etc. I was told just how much pumping hurt, and was painful and shameful and all the horrible things that they went thru to feed their babies and HOW DARE I LAUGH AT THAT? I tried explaining that it was the ridiculous presentation of the product that I was mocking, not nursing moms, but one user PMd me to tell me that trying to explain myself and telling people to have a sense of humor was self righteous and not an acceptable apology (i wasn’t apologizing.).

    Soon after, in the same group, I posted a serious question asking how working mothers handled the costs of daycare, and in my case, finding a new job once my term of employment was up(which happened to coincide with my due date, so win-win). But I was nervous about finding more work, this time with a child, and if I’d make enough money to pay for daycare and how do you all do it? The response was SO NEGATIVE!!! I was shocked. I was ridiculed for getting pregnant if I couldn’t afford daycare, and most people didn’t even post, they just hit the “thumbs down” button on my post! I was so sad. My awesome group of women and moms had been sucked into the Mommy Wars. I left soon after that since once again, I felt like an outcast from a community that was supposed to be inclusive and non-judgmental.

    I still feel bad about it and it was now 4 years ago.

  6. I was an “older” mom at 38 in a group of younger and teenaged moms. First mistake there! I overlooked most of their pettiness and jr high behavior because I liked to read their experiences, and share my experiences, etc. Then one mom had complained that her hubby lost his job and she wanted advice on how to bring in quick money. Having had that same experience when my son was 4 months old, I shared all my creative ways to bring in quick money, all of them legal. I got REAMED by the admin of the group (who I had been on friendly terms with) so much so that I just left the group. I am too old to deal with that kind of crap. On the plus side, I was part of a “Belly Buddy” group on some pregnancy website when I was pregnant. Now, 8 years later, she is one of my closest Facebook friends.

  7. Just for the record, this happens in all groups. I was in a planner lovers group (super nerdy, I know) and it had to disband. IRL, I’m on a hockey board and the same crap happens there. Unfortunately when it involves live people, you can’t unfollow, unfriend, or unsubscribe.

  8. I was part of a group of evangelical women that formed to encourage each other. I felt honored to be a part of it and helped create the name. Eventually, it came out that I’m a public school teacher. Oy vey. The fallout from that was unexpected and painful.

  9. Really Dallas?
    I don’t remember giving you the cold shoulder and we are in several groups together. I wasn’t even involved when you doxxed someone.
    Maybe if you want people to take your apology seriously, then you shouldn’t go three full pancakes on a quarterly basis.

    1. FFS, you’re bringing the issue (whatever it is) here too? She said she regretted it and she was wrong. Have you actually read the blog above?

  10. The thing is, women are amazing. They are also, on occasion, more awful than imaginable. For every Mother Theresa, there are 10 Regina George wannabes chomping at the bit to gather a group of folkowers and muck up a women’s group. It will happen. The reasonable women who are adult enough to allow each other different opinions and still like each other leave or are booted, because normal women have no desire to be perpetually in Jr. High or High School. Regina George will always try to ruin other people’s lives in a quest to be the queen bee. That’s how those women operate. Unfortunately, society at large is collateral damage. The internet allowed them to go global.

  11. Jenny Addison, I think I know exactly which group you are talking about, and while I was never on the receiving end, I was often shocked at how the group would pick one person to attack and then pick her to pieces for the littlest thing.

    My solution to all of it is to not really engage in online groups that aren’t an extension of real-life relationships. Don’t share anything that matters, unless you truly know whom you’re sharing it with. And just fading away is the only functional response to the dramz – explanations seem to make everything worse, even (especially?) when they are valid and make sense.

    I’ve always been troubled by the competitive/mean-girl phenomenon, but I think Grace nailed it with this comment:

    “Because it makes us feel powerful when motherhood constantly renders us powerless?”

    That’s the only explanation I’ve seen that gave me an “aha” moment. I have found parenting a great struggle at times, but I’ve never had a need to feel “powerful.” I know many do, though. Maybe that is the answer?

  12. The same thing happens in real-life mom groups too. I have been having babies for 17 years now, so have been through a few! The first one I was in wanted to ask just certain moms to be in a Bible study group (I know, Ironic huh?) and not include everyone. Well of course someone didn’t get the message about not telling certain people and it got ugly!

  13. I tried TheBump boards because I’m the only person in my friend group with kids (no one else is even considering them) but I eventually had to stop because of the *constant* nastiness. The majority of women said that the boards are their main entertainment and if you were pathetic enough to want to use them for actual support to go somewhere else because they wanted the meanness and drama. I literally cannot relate to this mindset… I am not shocked when 12 year olds act this way but 40 year old women who boast about being better parents because they are older? What the hell…

  14. I was in a bump group for ladies due the same month as I was. There was a group of 6 of us who started a group chat and all kept up with each other daily. One of the girls gave us a sad sob story about how she had so little money, ect. We sent her gifts for her wedding, we sent her card all over the country to get signed by each member! Come to find out, this poor girl who was so desperately hurting for money was buying brand new electronics, living in a home rent free and blowing all their money. We all were lied to and got jipped. Never again. I removed myself from all but two mommy groups. Blocked and deleted the offender and washed my hands of the situation. There always seem to be the one person looking to take advantage of others generosity.

  15. I find that mom groups are filled with hyenas that suck each other off for being “funny” by roasting new people. Pack mentality. It’s impossible to just jump in.

  16. I have found mom groups to be mostly lovely. I was in one that fell apart recently but only because the members cared about issues of social justice and the founder couldn’t handle the discussions if they derailed. A group of about 150 moms that were a spin off of this group have absolutely saved me while navigating birth trauma, PPD, a major health scare, and the anxiety of being a FTM. I love each of them with all my heart even if we may not always agree. I am shocked that someone would go after another person in real life and so grateful I landed where I did.

  17. Great post and I often feel the same, weary confusion as to why this happens. I think it is a similar sort of ‘pack effect’ that occurs when groups get together…some men turn in to animals and some women turn in to bitches
    I also think it is something that social media is encouraging by giving people anonymity. They can say what they want with no consequences to themselves, and, because they can’t see the suffering they cause, no obvious consequence to their victims.
    Unlike face to face encounters, the bitching and bullying becomes a victimless crime causing normal people to behave in crazy ways.
    My worst fear is that this is just going to get worse and worse, and people are going to get more and more cruel and ruthless and the bullying is going to get more extreme, and more people are going to get seriously hurt and even physically injured take their own lives.
    I see such wonderful kindness on social media, but I also see the evil and wonder where it will end
    Thank you for reaching deep and writing about it xx

  18. I’m late to the party, but this hit so close to home. I was in a wonderful group of amazing women who all had babies around the same time. Things were going great until a few of them turned on some for reasons that didn’t even really make sense. Anger over over the size of a tax return, bitterness over a member’s ill child surviving, even laughing at the death of a mom’s family member. Some members got this treatment only because they were friends of the main target. Cps was called on some moms, addresses were shared, one mom even got a notice that she’d been reported for falsifying a disability claim while another was notified that that she’d been reported for falsifying child support claims. it was nasty. These women were all living in different states and still went out if their way to make life miserable for other moms, one of which was caring for a very sick baby. I still don’t understand this mindset. I still feel bad about my own role in all of this, even years and years later. I’ve been extra cautious when joining new groups, and I feel like I’m constantly “looking over my shoulder” waiting for someone to pounce. These mom groups are vicious, and will scar you for life. There’s no doubt in my mind that at least a little of my diagnosed PTSD stems from this.

  19. Also late to the party on this one, but I got on the bad side of an admin on a homeschooling group that consists themselves hop because I would stand up for moms who had kids in public schools. The final straw that got me kicked out apparently was when I said I used proper names of sexual organs with my kids.

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