6/3/10

Everyone's a Critic

I’ve realized parenting and writing have something in common: at some point, you’re going to encounter critics. Whether you want their opinions or not, people are going to tell you what they think. Often inappropriately, rudely, or even anonymously, if we’re talking about the Internet.

It’s a fact that if people like something they will keep it to themselves or tell only a few people, whereas if they’re unhappy they’ll shout it from the rooftops. That’s just human nature. Unfortunately, this means that parents and writers are often the targets of unsolicited, unconstructive -- if not downright mean -- feedback. Really, what part of “Can’t you do that somewhere else?” is helpful or supportive to a nursing mother? And what lesson might a writer or blogger glean from someone who comments, “Are you trying to be funny or are you really that dumb?” Um...

Let’s say, HYPOTHETICALLY, that you were to publish what you thought was a glaringly obvious satire of “inappropriate” themes in children’s books – say, cannibalism (Hansel & Gretel) and the glorification of eating disorders (The Very Hungry Caterpillar). Let’s say this essay was published in a prominent, respected national magazine with an educated readership. And let’s say you were especially proud of this accomplishment, since your professional life has all but fizzled out like a dying campfire due to the demands of raising 2 small children.

Now let’s imagine you received not 1, not 2, but perhaps a dozen or more rude e-mails or mentions in blog posts that basically boil down to “I read this completely literally and you are what’s wrong with America. And your article sucks, too.” Your first reaction as a writer might be to question whether, if these people cannot recognize GLARINGLY OBVIOUS humor, published in a known HUMOR COLUMN, they have any business reading this prominent, respected national magazine, or whether they might be better off sticking to Us Weekly, where the most taxing intellectual challenge they will encounter is to determine “Who wore it better?”

But your next reaction might be, “This sucks. People suck. I suck.” And that’s pretty much the exact same reaction I have when some holier-than-thou parent responds to my jokes about “Wow, Wow, Wubbsy” by saying they wouldn’t DREAM of allowing their child to watch TV since TV has been proven to kill children’s imaginations, strangle their souls, and make them fat and antisocial to boot. Or when someone gives me crap about wandering 3 feet from my cart down a grocery aisle while my poor, abandoned baby risks being kidnapped on the other side of the avocado display.

GIVE ME A BREAK, PEOPLE!! Consider the power of your words and actions. I do, every day. Every time I sit down at my computer to write an article, a blog post, or a comment on someone else’s work, I think of the person on the other end. I really do. And every time I say something to another mom I don’t know, I think of their feelings. That’s why I usually say, “Oh, mine does that, too” while rolling my eyes instead of, “What the hell’s the matter with you and your damn kid that he won’t stop throwing sand at everybody?!”

I’ll leave you with this: perception is often very different than reality. One of the people who reacted negatively to my essay actually wrote back to apologize when I explained that the piece was published in a humor section (and therefore MEANT TO BE FUNNY). She didn’t know, because she didn’t read the magazine regularly; she’d read the piece online. Well, how about them apples?

In thinking about the themes in this post, I collected some of my favorite writings on these topics. All of these people are both parents and writers. Funny. :)

Scary Mommy: “A**hole Comments: A Collection of the Best
Alisa Bowman: “My I Don’t Suck List
Finslippy: “In the Locker Room
Connie Schultz: “A Connecting Flight

16 comments:

Neena said...

Preach on, sister! Don't let the critics ever hold you back!

Kathlynal said...

I rarely comment on anything, but I wanted to say that I appreciated your article. Think of the percentage of nice normal folks you know compared to the crazies. That's proportional to how large your readership is compared to the loonys who must share their offence.

Jo said...

I'm sorry I never commented before, I started reading your blog a while ago and my head practically falls off from all the nodding and agreeing with everything you say! My husband often walks in to ask why I'm giggling out loud. It is true, all the complaining and negativity drowns out the light, so I thought I'd put some happiness out there. You are a beacon of sanity, I absolutely love how you write, what you have to say and how much it fits with everything I go through on a daily basis. Thank you so much for writing and I hope the negative crap and clueless, sad, or just plain weird people don't bring you down too much. It must be so difficult to open yourself up to the world and I really respect what you do. Thanks!

Jeni said...

First off: You go girl!

I have been a silent admirer/avid reader of your blog for the last 6 months. Diary of a New Mom happens to be my favorite widget on my Google dashboard!

Secondly, you GO girl! Smithsonian Magazine? Are you kidding me? Congrats on that! (spoken from a new mommy who used to work there in the Natl. Museum of Natural History).

I had to go read your article, and of course all the comments - it boggled my mind how many readers made such "authoritative" comments - take it with a grain of salt: many people lack a sense of humor.

I enjoy your anecdotes on a daily basis, and I enjoyed your witty article.

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

Hear, Hear! Great post! This is a topic I find fascinating. I discuss it on my own blog, and am exploring the issue in my book. I think the anonymity of the Internet has given some people carte blanche to be critical and obnoxious. And I never cease to be amazed by it. But it is not always anonymous. What drives people to act that way, I cannot say. But I'm hearing more and more from the people who are their targets, and it saddens me.

Kathleen@so much to say, so little time said...

Just think about that check. You can laugh all the way to the bank.

Mom2Miles said...

Thank you guys so much, especially you former lurkers! Your comments really mean so much to me. Actually, thinking of my regular blog readers/commenters is what helped me to not take the haters too seriously. You can't please everyone, but as long as I know my target audience appreciates and relates to what I do, that's all I really care about. :)

Alisa Bowman said...

I've put a lot of thought into criticism--and why we all feel the need to do it at all. (Note: I am not talking about the kind of criticism that we search for in order to grow; I'm talking about the back seat parents etc). I think people do this to feel helpful and important. For me, if I can figure out what drives them, it helps me to find a tad of compassion. Not always, though. Sorry people missed out on your humor! It happens. But if you only got a dozen or so of those comments, then it means that LOTS MORE people got it and laughed.

Sarah said...

Hang in there! I (non-important me but still!) did write about how much I loved your blog. :) Some of us out there try to be positive. I think people who make these comments don't have the ability to empathize. You obviously do and more power to you. I wish everyone could put themselves in someone else's shoes.

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to recover from an essay of mine that was published in Yahoo Shine. I think people actually stood in line to tell me I was the scum of the earth. The experience has challenged me "own" my writing voice. One of my friends told me that when you get haters, you have officially "arrived!" So congratulations, Abby. You really suck. (jokes)

angie said...

ps-- I wasn't trying to be anonymous.. the last comment was from me!

Mom2Miles said...

Of course you're important, Sarah! Thanks for the support. And Angie, I remember you mentioning that situation. Guess it happens to all of us sooner or later. :(

Terry said...

I thought it was very funny and witty. I laughed and laughed! (ask your father).....

tineroche said...

I can only tell you that I LOVE your article. They make me laugh so much and I feel so much more normal when I read about your problems with the kids etc. They really make my day and sometimes I even go back to older posts to read them again to remind me I'm not the only one feeling totally crazy and inadequate. The "haters" and bad critics out there are only jealous because they can't write faboulus blogs like you. It's totally fine to have a different opinion but it is also very important how you voice your opinion. Besides the once that are just plain out dumb, some just thrive on putting other people down. So Abby, don't let them get to you, you are doing a marvelous job and I truly, truly enjoy every post! Keep on writing. You have more admirer than you know.

Erin said...

Great Post !!! I've experienced this kind of criticism/judgement on occasion about my parenting face to face. Sometimes by strangers in a store when one of my kids is acting up, sometimes by family who (I guess) means well. It is refreshing to me when someone doesn't try to act like the perfect parent and is honest !! Please keep it up !

Anonymous said...

I'll begin with saying that I proposed this letter to the Smithsonian magazine:

"Dear Smithsonian,

In reading your June issue, I was quite taken aback by the contents of your infamous "The Last Page."

As Abigail Green said herself, "Let's start with 'Goodnight Moon.'" Children love to look at things. If they didn't, pictures wouldn't exist in books. How is a child too young or uneducated going to understand the story of the book and relate to the kind simplicity of a grandmother? There is but one picture in the beginning of the book where a ball of yarn and knitting needles lay unattended across a rocking chair. In every other page, the grandmother bunny is knitting. What harm is there in an old woman preparing her hobby to keep her grandchild company as he falls asleep? If you ask me, the child rabbit looks around the age of five or six. One might assume that he's clearly past the stage of bed rails. If he's old enough to lay precisely in the middle of the bed on his back, he should also be old enough to leave the fireplace alone. I believe having tongs and such items for the fireplace is an ingenius idea considering such tools are meant to control the fire. Amazingly enough, in the last page of the book, the knitting items and Grandmother are replaced with two kittens curled up in the rocking chair. Clearly the only thing to be worried about it the awful pest infestation- that mouse is in every picture. How dare any form of wildlife get into a house inhabited by bunnies wearing clothes.

In "Blueberries for Sal," there's a child sitting in the middle of a hill eating blueberries. The complaint here is that the blueberries are unwashed and contain pesticides. All I have to say about that is who's paying the crop duster to dust the wild blueberries? On the subject matter of a child following the bear cub's mother, what harm is in the creative outlook of nature and humans living in peace? I'll say first and foremost I was an infant in Canada sat in a patch of wild blueberries and left to eat to my heart's content. The worst things I had to worry about were bog spiders and bees.


Now, I don't have the book "Make Way for Ducklings," but it seems as though the father abandoned the mother to do his own thing. There's a wonderful relation in this to traditional families. How does one explain to a young, innocent child that Daddy needs to go to work every day and cannot stay home? After all, what is work? A wonderful response: relate him to a real animal that also leaves the family. Nature is astounding.I also haven't read the "Good Dog, Carl" series, but I happen to own a Rottweiler mix. Her name is Pollybubbles and she's smarter than many humans I know. Anybody remember "Nanna" from "Peter Pan?" She was a Saint Bernard with a nanny bonnet. Is someone trying to tell me that my dog is not suited for nanny life because she doesn't slobber all over the clean laundry? Any child babysat by a dog is going to create mischief. Hmm...no wonder there's been entertainment written about it!

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