7.25.2006

The Snarky Community

The Snarky Community is actually an In joke between Tante Judy and me, it started over CSA produce splitting. But I think this is a fair term for the syndrome Meg describes: Why do otherwise rational women become unbearably snarky moms?

I am certainly guilty of thinking (and even declaring, to a choice few) I would never do that! This usually happens about six weeks before I do exactly That. But perhaps MZ is in too young a cohort for the soul-crippling judgements that Meg describes. There's not much you can tell about an 18-month old's personality, they're newly emerged from cocoons, after all.

Yet I hear this story often enough, and one only needs to peruse the comments of your favorite über-blogger to know that Snarky Mommy Syndrome (SMS, not to be confused with the messaging protocol) is a sad reality.

I do believe that SMS is closely related to another syndrome, one I'll call Scolding Stranger Syndrome (SSS), that I've personally experienced and that is wonderfully (if discouragingly) enumerated by Katy Read in the most recent issue of Brain, Child. In this syndrome, complete strangers reveal hisses and fangs at every perceived parental failing, whether it's a child in the back seat who's worked himself out of a seatbelt, or, as in our experience, a parent who chooses to wear their infant in a Bjorn rather than something more in line with the AP faithful.

In Boston last year over the 4th of July, we were taking an early morning stroll when a woman accosted Robert, who had MZ tucked into the Bjorn carrier, snarling that she would never develop properly if she couldn't hear his heartbeat. Never mind that MZ was grinning ear to ear, or that I own four different slings, or that MZ was hardly a newborn anymore, this woman was going to stage an intervention right then and there, and diplomacy was not part of her agenda. She was loaded for bear.

So what makes people go starkers over other people's children? Meg acknowledges that "the stakes of child-rearing are so much higher than anything else we do," and I agree. I also think that the lack of immediate results makes parents a little nutty. By the time most of us are parents, we're used to controlling our world. We're used to developing a plan, executing on the plan, and seeing results. Parenting doesn't work that way (and for some of us, neither does conception, but that's a story for a different post). With parenting, you can do everything right while you're pregnant, and still end up with a disorder diagnosable at birth. You can forego vaccinations, co-sleep and wear your infant and still have an autistic child. You can talk to your preschooler, read to them, teach them Synthetic Phonics, and still have them diagnosed as dyslexic once they hit school. You can eschew time outs, banish Bad from your vocabulary, and refuse to judge their friends and they can still turn into adults who are unable to maintain intimate relationships. You get the idea, there's a damn lot of uncertainty in parenting and in most cases the dreaded diagnoses come years after you've cemented your parenting philosphy. No matter that in most cases the philosophy has no causal relationship to the diagnosis, we're used to being agents of our own destiny and we'll find causality where we need to.

So that goes a bit towards SMS. What about SSS? Why can complete strangers get so worked up about our decisions as parents? I don't have the data points to be certain, but I suspect it's linked to same, these are parents who still live in fear that their decisions were the wrong ones, that there's still time for them to be proved wanting, or that they hate themselves so much for their own failings that they've got to hate you, too.

But I also think that the whole It takes a village thing has conned us into thinking we live in a community, when most patently lack community, and are damned pissed off about it, too. A recent study found that Americans have even fewer intimates than they did 20 years ago. If this is so, then people have fewer people to talk to, but it also stands that we are getting worse and worse at social niceties. There may be a causal relationship in either direction, either we alienate people because we're all a bunch of asshats, or we have fewer opportunities to practice kindness. Either way, alienated people can be insecure people, and we all know that there's nothing meaner than an insecure person. A mama bear protecting her cubs has nothin' on an insecure human. Lashing out with only words for weapons, a human can wreck havoc.

And so we do, on a stratum that can't easily respond, because we're tired and lacking in practice and we don't know jack about what's really going to happen with these kids anyway. We parents, and especially moms, are easy targets. We're raising your future neighbors, and more: if we're falling on the eating disorder/autism/ADHD grenade, then perhaps your kids will be protected. So blame we do.

That's my guess, anyway.

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