Warning… this may sting a little.
Bullying in the cloth diaper groups (and between mom groups in general) really needs to stop.
Before you nod your head and agree, it’s important to acknowledge that you likely have unwittingly bullied another mom under the guise of offering advice or trying to help. I know I have, not intentionally, and still sometimes do if I’m not careful with my words, which I’ve grown to be more aware of over the years.
Once upon a time, I had a baby. She was cooperative, nursing came easy, recovery was a breeze, and as she grew, I was sure I had a handle on being a mom… and therefore a totally valid opinion on, well, pretty much everything child-related. While I did have valuable experiential input, having a second child showed me how much I didn’t actually know. Having a third child really revealed just how different children learn. Having a fourth further educated me on just how wildly different the behaviors and needs of children can be, even within the same home. My fourth also taught me that some of those things I thought should just generally be easy… might suddenly be difficult. By my fifth child, I realized…
“I really don’t know much about children”.
Well, I do, but not enough to be a final authority on anything.
Don’t get me wrong, the experience of having a child and caring for them, navigating through this thing called motherhood, offers some incredibly valid advice and help to those who may be in strikingly similar situations. It’s too easy, though, to fall into this idea that we have the facts or that there are no exceptions to the rules, and we tend to place this degree of authority on ourselves, feeling entitled to that authority based on our experiences. Seems legit, right?
Even in my own blog posts, I may come across as authoritative, and I am allowed to be when speaking into my own experiences. I mean, it’s my life. You’re allowed speak authoritatively about your own experiences, too! You may notice, though, here and there, speckled in my advice, bits that say “reach out to someone who knows better than me”, “take what I say with a grain of salt”, “this is just my experience”, or even “if I got something wrong, feel free to correct me in the comments” and “what’s been your experience?”.
It’s important to humble ourselves in our interactions with other parents.
We don’t always know what another mom or dad is going through, the behaviors of their child, health histories, any past traumas… everyone is so, so different and there are so many variables in life. Nothing’s clear cut.
Shouldn’t this be obvious? Perhaps it’s just too forgettable.
Specifically related to cloth diapering, I can’t just tell a mom with any authority that the basic “rules” of cloth diaper washing will always apply to them. I don’t know what detergent they use, their water hardness or pH, their baby’s urine pungency, how large their load is, what type of machine they have, or what the mineral content of their water is. I could go on and on with all the variables. .
I can’t always tell, even with photos, what diaper brand will fit their child best. I find myself taken aback by things that I was “sure” would or wouldn’t work for even my own children that worked really well or was a total flop!
I don’t know the lifestyles of other parents to say with any certainty that certain style(s) will fit their needs best. It changes constantly for us as a child grows and our needs change.
I certainly have experience with MANY brands and both hand and machine washing to be able to offer clues on possible solutions or suggestions.
But that’s all I am (or anybody is) able to offer: suggestions.
I have personally witnessed a mom attack another mom who hung her diaper covers by the backs for a picture, even after the mom who posted the picture had already explained in the captioning that she was well aware that it wasn’t the “recommended” way to hang diapers. Why the verbal attack? The attacking mom declared that she felt obligated to say something for those viewing the post who may be oblivious, because she wished someone told her that hanging diapers wrong would wear the elastics, and she felt she was doing other moms a favor by (obnoxiously) pointing out how wrong that was. We can see the problem(s) here: first of all, it was already addressed that it isn’t proper protocol to hang diapers in a way that stresses the elastics. Secondly, there was an entire lack of respect from the “attacking mom”, as she treated the mom who created the post as if she was purposefully misleading people into destroying their diapers. Even the greatest intentions and most valid advice can be totally drown out by a disrespectful tone. Third, if the commenting mom was truly interested in helping others, she would have been open-minded to the fact that “proper protocol” does not apply to everybody. I know from my own personal experience that hanging diapers by the backs or even just the tabs (to save on line space) will have absolutely no detrimental impact on the elastics in covers and pocket shells specifically. Will I advise moms to hang that way? Usually not, because it’s simply good practice to hang diapers in a way that best preserves the elastics. But I will not throw a mom under the bus and treat her like her diapers will spontaneously combust just because she doesn’t hang them “by protocol”. There wasn’t even a reason to comment so negatively. Your anger about what you believe to be misleading advice or information does not justify treating other moms like trash. This is just one of many examples of moms justifying the bullying of other moms, purposefully or not, under the guise of “good intention”.
Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there, either. Entire groups that are supposed to be designed to help moms with cloth diapering will bully or even censor other moms who have experience they want to share simply because it doesn’t fit the narrative of what they deem “appropriate care”… aka “proper protocol”. I have left a couple groups because the admins were deleting over half of my wash advice comments due to the “questionable nature of the advice that contradicts what their platform recommends”… some of that advice was direct from manufacturers! *facepalm*. The irony is that the admins then complained that they were the ones having to answer all these questions in a group that was supposed to be designed to allow moms to collaborate. Well, duh. When you shut down the narrative of other moms because you don’t agree with it, it becomes solely your responsibility to answer nearly all the questions. Why even be part of a group that won’t allow moms to share their experiences freely? That’s literally the point of the group… or supposed to be.
Some advice is pretty solid, but even then, nothing is set in stone. I have seen some parents find solutions by doing what the majority claim is “detrimental” and “not recommended” for their cloth diapers… These parents may have tried all the conventional methods and still deal with serious complications that keep them from cloth diapering successfully… until they finally try something unconventional. Now, their diapers are coming clean without any more issues, their child’s bum is finally clear and rash-free, they finally don’t have leaks… and yet their experience is somehow invalid to others who refuse to admit that exceptions to conventional methods can exist.
Even worse, when these parents try to tell others who have tried it all and feel lost that “hey, my experience says that if all else fails, this solution may be for you” they are immediately silenced or even bullied. I have witnessed some moms go as far as to say moms who don’t follow proper wash protocols are abusing their children…. heck I’ve seen moms say that putting stained diapers on children is child abuse, too. Sadly, they don’t realize how much they diminish the seriousness of child abuse by such wild claims…
How are comments like that not bullying?
Why are such comments even tolerated?
This kind of treatment has been the death of many cloth diaper journeys.
This is why I often suggest moms reach out to manufacturers for fit and wash help when all else fails. The bullying is unreal in many groups, but companies are glad to help moms in a judgement-free way. They often have the best advice for their product that obviously won’t cause warranty issues, having already helped a diverse group of moms from all walks of life, and now having quite the arsenal of suggestions and sound advice at their disposal. In the end, they’ll have your back.
Cloth diapering is a learning curve. It’s been true for me that learning how to use and wash cloth diapers properly is 90% experience and 10% research (including “advice from others”).
I spent over 100 hours researching before making my first purchase into cloth diapers. I was terrified I’d get things wrong. Researching did help, I won’t discount that, but truly understanding how to cloth diaper only came by hands-on experience. I enjoy reading other’s experiences because I know mine isn’t cookie cutter, even child-to-child. Nobody’s is, really. Five months after I began my cloth diaper journey, learning to use my machine was a nightmare at first! (I handwashed initially which was incredibly easy to me compared to figuring out my machine!). I had followed Fluff Love University’s advice (since they seemed to be so authoritative regarding washing), and wound up with absolutely disgusting, very much unclean diapers.
Don’t get me wrong, FLU has a bad reputation with many because of experiences like my own, but those flops in their recommendations do not negate their own experiences, nor does it invalidate all their information. One (or even several) piece(s) of poor advice doesn’t mean that they are entirely clueless, but that’s all the more reason to maintain a humble standpoint when advising people: being quick to admit when you’re wrong, being okay with saying “this is just my experience, it may not be yours”, not censoring people who you believe may be wrong… protects your reputation because you’re admitting that you don’t know it all and are open to growth.
Join groups that won’t censor you or bully you. Don’t be ashamed in leaving a group that treats you poorly, either… be it by other moms or the admins, especially if you attempted to respectfully point out your mistreatment and you are either unheard or further abused. You don’t need that kind of stress, you don’t deserve that disrespect… and you don’t have to leave spewing disrespect everywhere, either. Many times these groups flourish because there are narcissistic moms who thrive off that behavior and drama. Don’t feed it. Leave it.
The perfect community doesn’t exist. We’re all vastly different, imperfect humans trying to get along. But you can still strive to find a group that will be quicker to listen than condemn, not shut down necessary conversations (even the painful ones), who will be willing to admit “hey, we were wrong” when applicable, and where ultimately you feel safe to be your genuine self.
Do you have a group you absolutely love? Share it in the comments section below! Remember, though, that groups are always changing as people come and go. The atmosphere evolves over time. The same group that was amazing 3 years ago could grow toxic, and the opposite could be true, too! Sometimes communities improve!
Do your part to make sure that your advice is humble, respectful, and open-minded.
And, please, remember that we often aren’t hurting other moms and dads purposefully (I say we because, yes, I do it mindlessly too sometimes), so shed grace even on those who are bullying others (even if you think they are doing it on purpose!). A kind word turns away wrath. They may not realize that what they are perceiving as helpful is actually hurtful! And just as their advice will be rendered useless through disrespect, so can your response if you don’t choose your words wisely. Be bold, but be humble. You can be both!
Stand up against autocratic behavior… but make sure you aren’t the one unintentionally being “that person”.
It’s easy to point accusing fingers at other groups and moms, but making places safe for everyone starts by assessing yourself honestly. It can hurt… because it can be difficult for us to see past our good intentions to the poor behavior we sometimes exhibit. I know it’s hard for me to admit my own shortcomings, but I’m always better for it. It stings, even more when we didn’t mean to cause the harm we have… but the growth is so worth it if we can choose to respond in humility rather than defensiveness.