Virtual mom tribes are parenting gold when done right. Unfortunately, this essential parenting tool that is supposed to cultivate a strong sense of community and friendships can degenerate into a mom-bashing awkward space.
You know how algorithms tend to toy with your feed and put you in a tiny bubble to the point that you only see posts that mirror your life? That’s how I landed on a pregnancy support group on Facebook when I was pregnant at 8 weeks. I would spend huge swaths of time on Google researching on the dire effects of sub-chorionic bleeding.
In my head, my unborn child and I would not make it despite my familiarity towards the condition. I ignored all the literature my gynecology lecturer had empowered me with and settled for doom. To be fair, as a new mom-to-be in panic, all the wealth of knowledge at your fingertips goes out the window. The only thing you assume in these situations is the worst.
The absolute worst.
Fueled by my horror, I decided to try out for a virtual mom tribe because there is comfort in numbers. Also, I wanted to put the saying “it takes a village…” into rigorous testing. If there were a couple of Kilimani mum groups floating around, then pregnancy and post-delivery support groups had to exist no? The hunt for regular mums doing regular things began.
I found the tribe I needed in all its glory. I would just type search any keyword on the page and find ALL the answers to my troubling questions. I got hooked. Someone launched a WhatsApp group for our expected delivery month and asked whoever wanted to join to post their number. A few rebels including myself opposed. We were of the idea that Telegram would serve us better but got massively outvoted by the WhatsApp team.
My dislike for WhatsApp is also well documented. So in my necessary rebellious mood, I joined the group five months later. I was able to navigate the Facebook groups (I found three more) and the WhatsApp group seamlessly. I equipped myself with exclusive motherhood content that for sure Google would never.
I went for hacks and I got that by over ten folds. It was soothing and rewarding. Women rallying around other women. Women being their authentic selves’ taking turns to share their most personal stories in safe spaces. It was beautiful to watch. The coconut and breastmilk advisory committees worked round the clock. Got burnt? Squirt some breast milk on it, it’s all-purpose. Want silky hair? Rub some coconut oil and breathe. The support when seeking advice or affirmation was incredible.
However, fairytales exist in movies, not in mom groups.
The potential pitfalls that come from engaging in hot button topics like Exclusive Breastfeeding vs Formula, Natural Birth vs C-section, Co-sleeping, Cry It Out, Early Weaning, Weight Gain or Potty Training are immense. When the body snapback was real and mothers were more than ready to get back in the game, the cattiness was on full display.
The mommy wars raged; the know-it-alls against everyone else. Nasty comments towards mothers who chose to circumcise their kids early on. Judgmental tailspins over mothers who don’t exclusively breastfeed, those who choose baby friendly vaccines or those who stay at home to raise their children. The vicious debates about mothers who’d rather seek medical advice from an online group than queue at the doctor’s office. Shit got real. A platform to rant and complain while judging others would seem like the kind of place my drama free self would pitch tent. This was not it. The entertaining rifts became scenes.
Do not post your home. I repeat do not post your home, the classist fangs are ready. You post a picture of your child and two minutes later somebody is laughing at the shitty flooring in your rental home. When you post a burning issue, that’s cue for another person’s moment to shine. The ‘look at me I went through worse’ moms are triggering.
With time, battle lines were drawn between supportive and combative mothers. The you-can’t-sit-with-us moms vs stop-ignoring-my-question moms took centre stage. It became a competition over whose child hit their milestones earlier. A judge fest when your parenting styles do not align. Proponents of sleep training and co-sleeping would at least fight once a day. Everyone was on edge and struggling to not get sucked in.
One of the highlights for me would be when somebody was unceremoniously kicked out of the group by admin or exited group in the middle of the drama. You just knew the passive aggressive comments will follow shortly and her darkest secrets would be turned into a public spectacle.
I joined other groups (for breastfeeding, weaning & post-delivery) which required serious lobbying to get into. Here I was, in countless mom groups on each platform serving different needs like I was some sort of hero. The more the groups, the more it felt like an obligation to stay on and respond to messages I would normally deal with later. The reality of reading through thousands of notifications I may have missed out on the previous night while I was hassling to get the baby asleep worsened my anxiousness.
You thought the occasional scammer wouldn’t feature? Well, you thought wrong. Somebody faked her child’s death and clueless mothers contributed to the last drop. Only to find out they got duped with the treasurer being in on it as well. It’s a scammer’s world out here. Even as you block them from the group, they rebrand and move to the next unsuspecting group.
This may come off as selfish but you outgrow these groups believe it or not. Raising your child does not stop though. You put in the work every single day of your life. Somehow you feel equipped enough… until you get pregnant again.
These groups turned into meme territory with the occasional WhatsApp forwards and small talk that can only get you so far. Somebody suggested I look into advisory committees instead – the kind that makes sense to me. Peers help each other with a topic and go. Until the next issue comes up. Centred around one person in need at that moment. Devoid of Oppression Olympics and definitely objective. Utopia?
As the only normal one (sic) with read-only attributes that occasionally divulge free medical advice (go to the damn hospital) and surface information about my experiences, I landed on notorious admin lists that issued ultimatums – engage or we remove you.
Completely disengaged but with information overload from accumulated stories, I left.