Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Writers: know your comment-bully

A writer-friend of mine recently published an essay in a well known parenting forum. In it, she considered the challenges her non-competitive child might face in the big wide world as he faces off with kids who have been groomed to "win."

I'll come back to that. But first, a word of support for parents of all children, new or grown:

Nothing makes parents fret like the big, wide world.

Our tiny people come into our little worlds and we fret. We fret about fretting. We fret about not fretting.We fret about projecting our fret. 

Then, they go to the elementary school world and we contain our fret. Maybe we stop fretting altogether. 

Then, they go to the high school world and we fret anew. Nails get bitten, faces get lined, tempers get tried, a good night's sleep is so elusive, we talk about it when it happens. 
But then...
Remember how masterfully you coped with labor, and how you felt when it was over and you discovered that in fact, you hadn't split in half? So too, will your children leave for the big wide college world and handle it so deftly you won't know if you fretted them into their successful transition or just fretted them away from disaster. Either way, you won't care because you'll be sleeping again and your face will look better. 
In the meantime, we have online parenting communities.
As published writers hope will happen, my writer-friend's thoughtful piece generated discussion, up and down.

And then... 
One called her a "navel-gazer," referred to her concerns as "comical" and  promised she'd screw up her child for life with her constant insecurity.  Another called her article a "fake mommy fail column" full of paragraphs of "meta-parenting self-righteousness." 
Not all comment-bullies are angry morons with limited vocabularies.  
The first time I was called out  by commenters like these, I had just published an agreeable little piece called "It's their nest too," discussing the differences in how men and women react to a last child's exit. It was not a divisive, provocative piece. It was as controversial as a weather report.
And then... 
In a couple of impressively worded, perfectly punctuated comments, I was accused of overstating the difficulty of the empty nest transition on purpose – for attention. It was suggested that I probably wasn't sensitive to my husband's experience at all, but resented him for not joining me in my "phony suffering." And, I was accused of wrongly speaking for the universe.That part was true.

Snarky as they were, these comments were polite compared to what many parent-writers experience. 
But these days, when it's not horrifying, I find the comment-think in these threads intriguing. I don't mean among  readers who disagree with a point,  or even those who get kind of hot when they make their own.  And I don't mean trolls who misspell their insults (which, trolls, game over). 
I mean the same, chronically fed-up readers who  appear in the same space, every day, as if by bus, who seem geographically mixed but advanced intellectually, and who revel in taking swings at the pinata-writer.
What do they want, I wonder, these articulate, often informed and mean-spirited people?  They don't want  normal intellectual discourse because they don't engage, they alienate. They aren't civil, they're hostile. They aren't  angry morons with the limited vocabularies, but they are troll-esque in their penchant for lobbing insults from behind obscure online identities that  in a million years, they wouldn't say to another parent IRL.
Some writers have learned not to take comments personally ( if they ever did), but it's counter-intuitive because they're meant to be personal.  And telling a writer, whose wish is to stimulate discussion, not to read the comments or be stung by a well-phrased insult is like telling a cook who has produced a grand meal not to be hurt when one guest says to another, "Well, that  really sucked."
Discussion is discussion. You want to be worth arguing with, even. But it's tiring to tease comment-bullies from the earnest, thoughtful ones. Much the way it was tiring to remember that your mother thought you were lovely when the mean kids were telling you that you were actually, well, other things. I feel for parent-writers in particular who are new to a national forum. They're harder on themselves than anyone and it's easier to believe wrong things before we choose not to.

Parent-writer friends, newly or oft-published, I offer this: when you get nicked, remember that we write because we have to and always will.  Comment-bullies don't care if we do or don't write, and never will.  They may not even read all the way through. What they want is a chance to push you from the swing, while their friends watch.
As my own comment-bully might suggest, they do it for attention. 
But whatever they do, and whatever you do, do not abandon that swing. Get right back on.

And then...stay in the write. 


  1. Bully is a great word. Those who don't have the talent to put thought to pen, or the courage to expose themselves in the light think they are invisible...much like the guy who picks his nose in his car while driving. You be encouraged too. Your pros are like a wonderful garden to walk through. It is always surprising the senses.

  2. Oh, thank you for those nice words, Dale and for the guy in the car visual. Didn't see that coming and laughed right out loud.

  3. We've had relatively few comment bullies, but you're right, when it happens it's hard not to take it personally. I've devised a few strategies for dealing with them, but that would take a whole post in itself. Meanwhile, thanks for this food for thought.

  4. Excellent advice, Susan! That will be my new mantra now: "Stay on the swing...stay on the swing". You're absolutely correct that comment-bullies probably just want attention. I've been bullied this way before (though not as extreme as what you cited) and at that point, it became clear to me that the bully's intention is not to discuss or change other's minds. It's to hurt or have some sort of effect. So I think the best way is to ignore them, though hard as it may be. Well, thanks so much for your advice! :-)))

    1. Thank you, Joy and that will be my mantra as well! Although some days it's more like "get on the swing, already."

  5. Your're so right on this Susan. There are some people that just "have" to spew hatred. I know you have seen the pics and comments that I have had about my new grandbabies everyone has. I'd get a billboard if they weren't so expensive but my daughter had posted something that was in a parenting group and was actually told to get off of Facebook and take care of her "oxygen-deprived" kid. It was a horrifying experience. She isn't a blogger or writer but was just talking about things that were going on with the twins. I just don't get why people get behind a screen and turn into animals.

  6. Rena, that story just makes me cringe. I'm so sorry, I can imagine how it hurt you and your daughter. And like you, I don't know where the satisfaction is for anyone in that, but I know it has something to do with empathy at least, and cruel nature at worst. I appreciate your comment, thank you.

  7. The sad part is that it's usually more about the commenter's insecurities about how they're parenting than it is what's going on with the writer. There's offering advice, disagreeing abmiably and trying to control everyone and everthing around. Fortunately, I haven't gotten this kind of comment. Yet.

  8. I think you're right Anne, and in the hostile comments aimed at other parents, I see some reach for camaraderie that does seem sad. Thank you for visiting and commenting.