I’ve really debated with myself internally about touching upon this topic. My past with the Unicorn Moms (and mom groups in general) isn’t one filled with cupcakes and magical fairies. We didn’t all dance together and braid each other’s hair.
Now, it didn’t always start that way. Years ago, as I was busy learning my own lessons about the sort of content I wanted to write, and also in taking responsibility for what I shared on my page, the founder of the Unicorn Moms and I established a friendly acquaintance. Before Unicorn Moms was founded, I had come across posts of hers in another local mom group and we connected. She found my page funny. I found her light-hearted posts at the time refreshing.
I won't rehash everything that's been posted, but if you're looking for a recap about what has transpired over the last few days, which led to this post, you can get a pretty good idea of it via this blog.
It was during this time that I was also learning some big lessons about my own behavior online. (P.S. You’re never too old to learn and grow.) For about the first 4-5 months of my blog’s existence in 2015, it was not what it is now. It started not so seriously, and poked fun at “ridiculous” mom group posts. This was done without attributing names or pictures, but it was done, nevertheless. I had created a joke blog to poke fun at the drama that’s found in online mom groups. It doesn’t sound really nice when you write it out, but there it is. It’s part of my history. I’ve written about this before. And, I couldn’t be who I am today or where I’m at today, if I didn’t acknowledge what taught me the most.
On the whole, most people were down with it, usually asking to have posts roasted on my page. And while most of it was in good-natured fun — for me it was about not taking ourselves so seriously/learning to laugh at ourselves (at least that’s how I justified it to myself internally) — that meant ultimately, there were women whose feelings were hurt by posts I made. And, that is not something that fulfilled me. I recognized that even if people thought my posts were funny, or encouraged me because, “some people just don’t have a sense of humor,” that’s not the sense of humor I wanted to have. And that’s not the person I wanted to be. Whether I argue that it was the content, not the person, that I focused on (and trust me, I argued that) … that doesn’t really make a difference, does it? Intentions aside, you must take responsibility for how you made others feel. And undoubtedly, I’ve said things that did not make people feel good. I must take responsibility for that. It’s something I’m ashamed of, but not ashamed for, continuing to apologize for. Answering for your actions is important. So, I will say it again (if you've been following my blog, you'll know I've addressed this topic often in the past on my page and in other blogs): if you were a woman hurt by a post I made during that time in my life, I am truly sorry for how I made you feel.
And so, in taking stock of my blog and the energy I wanted to put out into the world, I drastically changed my approach to what I wrote about. When, as a new mom, I first judged or laughed, I later learned and recognized that many posts come from a place of vulnerability or loneliness, and regardless of whether or not I could relate, I wasn’t positively contributing to the support they needed through the original nature of my blog. And so I stopped. I left all mom groups, and haven’t been in any mom groups in years. Instead, I decided to become more engaged in my community and refocus my efforts on things I cared about, as opposed to just going for an easy laugh. The selfishness of my blog’s origins is something I find myself often embarrassed by now. But, I must own that part of it, and use that as a lesson that keeps teaching. And, I don’t have to be the only one who learns from it.
This was a lesson I was afforded the opportunity to learn. I said things that were not nice. I hurt people’s feelings. During this time, I received some harsh criticisms outside of my supportive bubble (and we’ll get to more on supportive bubbles shortly.) Sometimes harsh words from internet strangers are the most important because they’re objective. There’s no personal stake, just candid honesty. And I took those comments to heart because they were right.
During the beginning part of that journey of mine, Unicorn Moms was founded (which would ultimately become a 35,000-member group). It was supposed to be “different” than the other mom groups. A place where there was no judgment and everyone just supported each other. I wanted that to be true so badly. I watched it grow quickly. And with quick growth, came even faster drama. I observed instances of bullying and a group that soon began to enable and protect those who bullied others. When I expressed my concerns about the group’s direction, in retaliation, the group began an effort to ban anyone who commented on my page from their group.
Perhaps what bothered me more than anything was the false claim of “women empowerment.” The group was started for the sole purpose of making money off of the women who joined. This was transparent. The founder was always upfront about it being a business, so I really don’t have beef about that aspect. But, it wasn’t about making women feel good. It wasn’t about supporting all women. I wanted to believe differently. I wanted to give it a chance. But ultimately it was designed to be exclusive, and then to profit off those women desperate to feel included in something special. T-Shirts and bumper stickers were sold. Unicorn Events and cruises were planned. Unicorn tattoos were inked. It was a club for the "cool moms."
I became very vocal about my reservations with the group. After all, it started here locally, and with a boost from my blog, which made me feel somewhat responsible. But my complaining grew tiresome, not just for myself, but blog readers as well. And, my husband wasn’t down with it either. It just felt like non-productive gossip, to which I was contributing to. With each effort to highlight the group’s harm, my page was drowned in comments from angry Unicorn Moms. It brought a lot of negativity to my life, and a lot of drama. Posts started to turn really ugly. We were all trading blows. I honestly just looked like a petty, bitter Betty about something, that on its public-facing persona, appeared so positive and pro-women.
And I stopped and asked myself: What am I doing? Why am I bringing this here to my page? At what point do I just move on and focus my efforts on more productive things? And I did. From that day on, I don’t think I made another comment about Unicorn Moms, and it’s been like that for nearly two years now. During this time, I was also on that journey of transforming my page, which really was a transformation of me. I think my early blog days reflected the inner turmoil and chaos I felt as a new parent. I needed an outlet, and fair or not, mom group posts were that outlet for me. My blog started at a time where my anxiety and stress were at their highest, and I can take full responsibly for not putting out into the world, good and productive energy or posts. I can look back now and embrace learning those hard lessons to have gotten to where I am today.
There was also something else at work. And it’s something I’ve observed a lot. And it’s something that is central to the current fiasco the Unicorn Mom admins find themselves embroiled in. And we need to talk about it. All of us need to talk about it. Because, it’s not just these admins that behave recklessly and carelessly in private PMs (granted, there’s certainly a line, right?)
Raise your hand if you want every PM message you’ve ever sent exposed. Every time you vented to a friend, or made fun of a post online to your friends in a chat. Lots of takers, amirite?
And, more to that point, we all know how our friends encourage us, even egg us on at times to say something. We act on our friend’s suggestions. I have before. We get caught up in shared laughter. We feel bold behind the keyboard. We have all done this. In chats. In text messages. In small groups with friends. I guarantee you we would ALL look like assholes if the world judged us by our PMs — me included. How many times have you been in a group with friends and either encouraged someone to post something because it would be "funny," or vice versa? We feel "right" in our friend groups. We convince each other that it's the others who are wrong or mean. And certainly, sometimes that's true, of course. But places that we consider safe are often where we can be at our worst. And we've truly seen some of the worst behavior from these screenshots.
Which is why, it really took me a lot of time to think about how I felt about these PMs that were initially released from the Unicorn Moms admin chats. I had to consider context (is it that controversial that friends bitch to friends and say some mean things privately? Not really.) But, I think where the UM admins lost their way is that these PMs were related specifically to an environment they created and controlled. And while they had no intent of any of these exchanges becoming public, they do educate and inform as to how the group was really run, why decisions were made, and ultimately painted a picture resembling a group of mean girls using their own group for private entertainment, fodder and profit. And to that end, it’s more the betrayal that has caused the outrage, than even the comments themselves (which have their own shock value), I think. Because every woman in that group who once worshipped those women is now wondering: Did they write about me? Did they secretly make fun of me?
When PMs were shared with me regarding comments made about me, most of the PM exchanges I didn’t find too much to be aggravated by. Look, I was a vocal “opponent” of the group. Of course the admins were not going to like me. I’ve said things in PM about Unicorn Moms equally. But, what did surprise me and did cause a reaction in me, were the comments about my children, the suggestion that I should be a recipient of death threats, and beyond. It was the screenshots of private conversations in which they mocked a suicidal woman and showed lack of empathy for a local family whose mother was murdered in the Vegas shootings. These exchanges are really hard to read. These are comments, private or not, that I'll never understand — and there's just so many of them.
I can’t pretend to know how these women are handling the exposure that has been granted to them as a result. There is a lot of anger, resentment and shock being expressed online currently. What I think people want more than anything, is an apology — a genuine one. A genuine apology, an acknowledgement and a plan of how this is going to be addressed/fixed in the group.
And the reason I write this is not because I have a personal opinion now on what happens to that particular group. It’s because I truly believe this conversation extends far past just The Unicorn Moms. We’d be naïve to suggest that this particular group is the only group guilty of this behavior. We’d be naïve and we’d be lying. For me, this isn’t so much about just what’s wrong with the Unicorn Moms. It’s about having — and forcing — a broader conversation, one in which we all take responsibility for whatever level of complicity we played or have played in online behavior. I think all of us need to examine how we interact online. I think we need to truly remember that we don’t know people’s vulnerabilities and stories, and as much as I hate the cliché-ness of it … we all need to extend more grace. And that doesn’t mean some posts aren’t ridiculous. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t stand up for yourself or challenge comments or disagree with one another. But don’t we have a responsibility to everyone to do better?
We are at a place where we don’t know how to disagree with one another online. The things we all say online are things we would never ever, ever say in person. This, I can pretty much guarantee. There is a “safe” mentality when you’re typing behind a screen and we’ve all experienced that. It’s easier to be careless and reckless in an instant online, often typing without thought. Don’t you measure and weigh your words with more care in person? Then, more often than not, we pretend that we can just erase it with a quick delete and/or block. And, because we don’t know how to argue or disagree online, productive conversations don’t happen. Instead, heated jabs and angry posts quickly spar back and forth, with each person’s friend’s chanting: Write it! Say it back! And so we do. Because our friends agree with us. And because we’re caught up in the moment. And everybody likes to feel like they’re “in.”
Can a line be crossed in PMs? I guess we’ll all have our own opinions about that. Maybe we each draw our own lines. I bet in our safe spaces, those lines are pretty damn flexible.
I’m not much for grudge-holding and I’m a very true believer that people can change and can become better. I find little value in defining someone’s character for life based on a year in their life, or even some really awful PMs … if they make the genuine effort to be better. Perhaps that’s because I think people have allowed me the opportunity to grow past poor behavior years ago and I believe in granting that second chance. Some things are indefensible and some comments and behavior will always be associated with you. It’s our load to bear when we participate in poor behavior. But, I believe these things are important:
1) Offering a genuine apology when you’re genuinely sorry
2) Holding yourself accountable and taking responsibility for your actions
3) Pledging to be better (and actually doing it) — don’t chain yourself to a downward spiral of vicious or negative behavior because you feel you’re in too deep. You can always get out. You can always make that choice to leave. I repeat: you can always get off the train.
4) Challenging yourself to be more graceful in your reactions, when appropriate
5) Working on disagreeing with someone … it’s something you have to practice, and if you haven’t before, it can be difficult
A lot of hurt is being exposed as a result of this group and comments made in private. I won't say these reactions and feelings aren't justified. Reading these, is a lot to take in. It's sparked my own outrage at times. I weighed heavily responding, and chose to because I think we can learn from this.
It's not my job to weigh others' emotions and responses to these screenshots and how they make people feel. My hope would be that everyone finds something to learn from about it. It doesn’t just need to be a gossip-fest that produces no real change. Because, at the end of the day, if the only result is that posts about these private conversations generate thousands of comments that lead to zero positive change, none of it really matters.
Let's all just be better and let's all support things that make us all better.
And, most importantly, please know that you are worthy. Please know that you are valued. Please know that, if you are reading this and you are going through a hard time, you are not alone. Message me. I'll listen.
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