I'll admit that I'm easily suckered by clever advertising. A Publix commercial or a Cheerios spot easily does me in, and my heartstrings are easily tugged. That's why when I saw the new Similac spot, which features seven women talking tearfully about the judgments and struggles they face each day, I was instantly reaching for the tissues. It's a sweet little film, for sure:
Video: Similac US/YouTube
Once I splashed a little cold water on my face and got a hold of myself, though, one thought occurred to me before all others: a strong sense of gratitude to the benevolent Browser Gods up on Mount Gigabyte that I didn't have a whole lot of Internet access when I was both pregnant with and subsequently struggling to parent my infant daughter. Because good God, does it look like an awful experience. Moms everywhere who can afford Wi-Fi while you gestate, you have my complete and utter sympathy. Hang in there.
There are a lot of downsides to being a pregnant, unmarried college sophomore, and one huge upside: No money for an Internet connection means no access to what is frankly an awful and unceasing hellscape of judgment and garbage, people.
See, it's not that people didn't judge me. I'm sure they did, and there was lots of fodder: my tattoos, my piercings, my naked ring finger. Once in a blue moon, someone would actually approach me and comment on one of those things (usually my clear and apparent unmarried sluttitude), and that sucked. In a grocery store, a woman once asked me, without preamble, "Are you even married?" I joked, "No, but the father is," (not true) which shut her up quick.
It hurt my feelings, sure, but I had the benefit of perspective. Between my lecture classes, my two jobs and living in a busy tourist town, I easily interacted with hundreds of people a day, however briefly. So if one weird old lady with an unclear understanding of how boundaries work had something nasty to say, well, that was one person. I was being judged by one person, not "everyone."
Not true on the Internet. There, where parents are interacting on baby boards and Facebook groups and parenting blogs, that could be the bulk of the folks they talk to that day. And if they don't like what you're doing with your nipples or your vagina or your whatever, then yeah, that can feel like everyone is judging you. Something else that makes it feel like everyone is judging you? When you spend all your time judging other people and just assume everyone is following suit.
I think what struck me the most about this video was that it opened with every single woman admitting the nasty things they thought about other women before they themselves got a heavy dose of reality. And OK, judging people is normal — we're evolved to do it — and if you don't have a keen sense of judgment, you'd make an excellent patsy. You meet someone; you make a judgment. You can't help it. You know what you can help, though?
Being a dick.
The thing about empathy is that it's really empathy only if it isn't selective. You shouldn't need someone to sob out their heart-wrenching story about multiple miscarriages before you allow them permission to feed their baby any way they want to. You shouldn't have to hear about someone's struggle to keep their premature twins alive before you wave your empathy wand around and say, "Oh, yeah. I mean, I guess that's OK." And you shouldn't have to have something crappy happen to you before you can entertain the idea that crappy things regularly happen to other people. And then there's the possibility that people just do things differently than you and maybe mind your own business sometimes.
This is Sesame Street shit here, folks.
Nowadays, we all parent in this weird vacuum where you can find a million reasons in handy listicle form to judge the crap out of someone for co-sleeping/not co-sleeping/breastfeeding/bottlefeeding/whatever and never have to consider that maybe parenting isn't universal, until you find that — gasp! — parenting isn't universal. Then, suddenly, it's all tears and viral pleas to take it easy on one another.
No. Just start there.
I'm not hating on the video. It's lovely, and I'll probably watch it a few more times or ambush a more emotional friend with it when I know she has a big meeting later. All I'm saying is, judge not with opinions formed in gross echo chamber baby boards, lest ye be judged with opinions formed in gross echo chamber baby boards.
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