Illustration by Dustin Harbin
No one ever called me diplomatic before I had The Boy. I've always been the know-it-all and the activist. I had strong opinions about every issue you could name, and making sure that everybody knew them was my full-time job. If there was a protest, I was there. A petition? I'd sign it. Op/ed page? Regular contributor. I was all about letting everybody know what I thought.
During my pregnancy, I had the added global soapbox of the Internet. I was all over pregnancy discussion boards, parenting sites and "snark" communities. "Snark" is short for "snide remark," and I had, over a lifetime of snarking, become a pro. The snark communities rip mothers to shreds for parenting sins like using formula, or disposable diapers, or having C-sections. The mothers being snarked about never know, because the communities are private, and invitation only. You have to pass muster before you can join the party. I always got admitted. I could snark with the best of them.
Even within the snark communities, I caused dissent. I quickly discovered that mentioning my medically necessary scheduled C-section would get me frozen out by the home-birth advocates. There was probably plenty of meta-snarking going on behind my back. That only made me mention it more often. It was almost a relief, since I was party line on the rest of the issues they touted. I wasn't used to being part of the majority, and it was a little uncomfortable.
I should have enjoyed it while it lasted. The tricky thing about babies is that eventually they exist IRL and not just online. Once The Boy was here, an actual breathing baby and not a concept, it became harder to be the perfect parent. Some things I stayed idealistic about, and some I let slide. Suddenly the snark boards seemed less amusing — not just because I saw how hard it was to be an actual parent, but because it dawned on me that, even when the snark was deserved, those were real parents raising little humans. It wasn't just entertainment fodder for a bunch of judgy know-it-alls on the Internet.
Fast-forward to now. Some of my choices wouldn't fly in the snark communities, but on other topics, I have snarking rights like whoa. But these days, I play my cards close to my chest — which was, until alarmingly recently, used for nursing. Not that I'm bragging or anything.
Why the shift? There are a lot of other parents in my life, and nothing puts a damper on a play date faster than a game of Parent Choice Challenge. It's a game I never consciously initiate but sometimes find myself trapped in all the same. I've endured lengthy polemics on everything from McDonald's to public schools when I would have much preferred talking about the weather, or how well our kids were getting along on the monkey bars, or really anything else. It's always a simple question that starts the game. And outside of being curt and refusing to answer, I don't know how else to opt out.
Some parents I know avoid debate by only associating with people who parent exactly like they do. Which makes me sad, and it's awfully limiting — especially when you've employed our unique brand of platypus parenting. It's hard enough to find playmates for The Boy without pulling out a survey. And some of the people whose company I enjoy the most are the ones with whom I have the least in common, parenting-wise. I wouldn't want to lose out on their friendship just because our parenting philosophies differ.
Sometimes, when certain topics come up, I feel like we are doing an awkward, courtly dance, where we go in circles while trying not to step on each other's toes. It's tiring, and it's nerve-wracking, and it's not how I want to spend the already limited time I have with people I like. So do me a favor, the next time you see me — let's talk about your vacation, or your pets, or your new shoes, I don't care. Just let's not talk about parenting. I'm sure we're all doing the best we can. Let's leave it at that.