There’s no shortage of Mommy groups on Facebook. Mommy groups based on town, based on age (the parents’ or the child’s), based on likes or dislikes or satire or anything in between. The one thing these groups have in common is that they are filled with, in large part, moms who are parenting their kids.
I’m in a few of these mom groups on Facebook. The discussions range from the best stroller for city living to the best wrinkle cream to a recommendation for the best new date night spot. The discussions are usually calm and light-hearted, until they’re not, and then the comment sections explode within minutes and it often feels like watching a real-time version of Real Housewives of (fill in town name). That’s when the moderators step in and choose whether to delete the original post, shut down comments, or even kick members out of the group. It’s a thankless job for the moderators, which requires many unpaid hours.
Recently, against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter protests, all of the mom groups I’m in tackled the subject of race and parenting. In all the groups, the conversations became heated—beyond heated, actually—and the conversations racked up hundreds of comments. Which wasn’t unexpected. It’s happened before.
What was unexpected was how the groups handled the topic. One of the groups I’m in shut down amid calls for a black moderator (and eventually re-opened with additional moderators added). Another group split into factions. A third group deleted the posts, determining they were political, and political posts aren’t permitted in the group.
In all the groups, the underlying argument for deleting the posts regarding race was that race has nothing to do with parenting, and thus has no place in a mommy group.
The problem with that argument is: it’s wrong. For a number of reasons.
For starters, racism isn’t a political issue; it’s a human rights issue. Second, arguing that race has no place in mommy groups requires defining parenting in a way so unimaginably narrow that most other posts should also be reconsidered and disallowed. Facebook mom groups frequently allow posts that are not directly related to the act of raising children. The groups I’m in are filled with posts asking about the best wrinkle cream or looking for recommendations for a good dishwasher. Those topics inspire less heated debate than race, but they’re also arguably less related to parenting than race. You don’t need wrinkle cream to parent. You don’t need a dishwasher to parent (although, it’s a nice luxury to have.) But you do need to talk to your children about race and racism—and yes, choosing not to talk about race with your children is a choice and a privilege people of color don’t have. Race is intertwined with parenting in a way that wrinkle cream is not.
Keeping race out of mommy groups denies, minimizes, and ignores the experience of parents of color, for whom race plays a daily role in their parenting. We all want what’s best for our kids. We all want to figure out how to get ten minutes of quiet so we can check our social media in peace while drinking our re-heated cup of coffee. And we all want to know that we can get thoughtful and honest acknowledgment and conversation from other women about all the topics that are relevant to us—even (especially) those topics that might make others uncomfortable. It’s 2020, it’s past time to stop pretending parenting looks the same across every race, culture, and religion.
And speaking of 2020… We’re moms, living in 2020, and that means we aren’t limited to just chatting about the best diaper creams and seeking recommendations for the best chapter book series for our new reader. We can discuss diaper rash and also the state of our justice system. We can, and should be able to, give each other recommendations on the best umbrella stroller and also the best books and resources available to talk to our children about race. And we deserve meaningful and deep conversations about the things that matter, because as women we fought long and hard to have a voice—let’s use it.
Regarding the argument that the groups are voluntary and anyone who doesn’t like the rules regarding avoiding posts about race can leave—that’s true, but mom groups are powerful. The amount of information shared in those groups can take down a business or grow an empire. People of color should not have to choose between being a part of a group that is sharing vital community information or being in a group that creates a safe space for them to share their concerns and lives and hopes.
We’re moms. We’re raising the next generation and we all want the next generation to be greater than the last. It’s the nature of humanity, to strive to be better than we were. If we can’t have these discussions amongst ourselves, how can we expect our children to have these discussions, and to do better than we did?
Words matter. Words inflame. And words can hurt and leave scars that never fully heal. There are some words in these groups that are meant to hurt—and those should never be allowed—some that are taken out of context, and some that are said and regretted once education catches up to reality. I don’t envy the moderators of these groups, who have to field the complaints when things get heated between two members, who have to make choices. Adding moderators of different races and cultures will help ensure the conversation remains thoughtful and productive, and doesn’t become a real time Real Housewives virtual brawl. Obviously not every race, religion, and culture can be represented in every moderator panel, but including a few different voices from a few different backgrounds is better, and making conscious choices is better than censoring the conversation.
It’s 2020. Protestors are pounding the streets demanding change, debate as to how that change will look is raging in the national conversation. We parent in a world where kids are exposed to a million different messages a day and we parse through those messages for them. Our kids are hearing conversations about race everywhere. Discussions about race are a part of parenting. To pretend otherwise is to deny the experience of parents of color and to deny the strength, intelligence, and ability of moms to change the world for the better.