This is why we can’t have nice things: the siren song of negative parenting talk

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Did you hear about what that bitch said on Facebook?! gossip_bench © by ercwttmn, used under Creative Commons license.

The most common question I receive about Offbeat Families is WHERE IS THE FORUM!? We get the question every once and a while on Offbeat Home, but with Offbeat Families it’s a weekly issue — a parenting website without a forum!? HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?!

I’ve addressed the issue on the site’s FAQ, but I’m not sure many people see it, so I’ll reproduce it here:

Where’s the forum!?
One of the most frequent questions about Offbeat Families why there isn’t a forum/online community like the Offbeat Bride Tribe. Unfortunately, in my many years online, I’ve yet to see a parenting forum that didn’t eventually devolve into angry debates, bullshit, and flame wars. We simply don’t have the resources to moderate a forum — we’re too busy producing this website, and mamas ain’t got no time for drama! So, there are no plans to start an Offbeat Families forum (ever) but you are welcome to submit a question to us for our “I’ve Got A Question!” advice posts.

When we relaunched the new Offbeat Bride Tribe last year, I did stop to wonder for a couple minutes — maybe we could maybe have a non-Ning forum on Offbeat Families! The new Tribe tools allow us to have monetized options, so we could charge for access to certain parts of a Families Tribe, to help cover the enormous moderation resources that the site would devour.

But then a couple conversation threads happened on Offbeat Families’ Facebook page that reminded me, NOPE: NEVER. NEVER EVER.

1. Rubbernecking the DRAMAZ
We recently syndicated a blog post from a mommyblogger who, it turned out, is infamous for high drama and values that don’t fit with Offbeat Families’ mission. Stephanie and I had no idea because, well, we don’t follow mommyblogger drama, but as soon as we were aware of the situation, the post was quietly taken down.

Well, “quietly” wasn’t going to cut it, apparently. The outrage continued (tweets about how we’d “sold out” and “gone to the darkside”) so I felt the need to post on Facebook acknowledging that yes, a post had been removed. Immediately, a chorus of “OOH DRAMA!? WHAT HAPPENED?! WHAT DID THE AUTHOR DO!? TELL ME MORE!!!” came up, and I had to get all public relations and say “Sorry, guys: we’re not commenting on the issue any further. The writer wasn’t a good fit with our values, so the post was removed. Nothing to see here; move along!” You could practically hear the disappointment as everyone reluctantly put down their pitchforks and wandered off to find something else to do.

2. Every discussion turns to bitching about other people
Stephanie recently posted a Facebook question, asking parents to chime in with the silly things they say to other parents and immediately regret. Within a couple comments, the discussion turned from “I said this stupid thing” to “Someone else said this stupid thing and it pissed me off!” I watched Stephanie try to refocus the conversation on silly things YOU’D said (not shit other people said) but it’s less interesting to talk about that — it’s more fun to document grievances with others.

This negativity is something I see on all three sites, but nowhere is the siren song of bitching as sweet as it is for Offbeat Families readers. Parenting’s inherent combination of hard work + sleep dep + life-and-death decisions = MAJOR NEGATORY ACTIVITY.

Now, I don’t want to indict anyone who participated in either of these discussions — there’s nothing wrong with the responses that came up. I don’t mean for this to sound like anyone did anything that they shouldn’t. The responses we got on Facebook were perfectly understandable and predictable: Everyone likes gossip and drama, and everyone likes commiserating. That’s just human nature (or at least, internet nature).

The issue isn’t that the conversation shouldn’t have gone that way — but rather that, since I know as publisher that conversations about parenting always DO go that way, I can choose to not to host or participate in those conversations.

From a business perspective, I’m shooting myself in the foot here: if my business model for a Families forum was based on CPM ads (which pay per pageview), then drama would be actually really good for my bottom line. This is a cynical business model that MANY blogs and forums profit from: lots of drama = lots of pageviews = lots of money. But I’m more focused on community tone, and I don’t care about how many pageviews or profits I’m losing. I don’t simply want to deal with hosting the negativity.

I don’t know why the internet transforms mama-bear fierceness into internet bitchery, gossip, and drama, but I know it does. I wish it wasn’t the case, but (despite the Empire) I’m just one woman and I’m not going to be able to turn that entire boat around. I’ve seen it happen so consistently, so many times, in so many places, on so many communities, about so many topics, in so many different ways, that despite how much I love the Offbeat Families community, I’m confident that a forum will never, ever, EVER happen.

Fighting parenting drama and internet bitchery is a losing battle. I’m opting out of the war.

Comments on This is why we can’t have nice things: the siren song of negative parenting talk

  1. When OffbeatMama launched, I would have been so excited to have a forum. Now, I can barely bring myself to attend playgroups or engage in parent chatter outside of my son’s pre-k class… it has all started to feel so flammable. I’ve slowly accumulated a small group of people I feel I can talk to about parenting choices and issues. My older dude is going on 6 and I’ve *justnow* found enough experience and companionship that I don’t feel the pull toward online parenting debates, so I do feel for all the mothers sitting in front of their computer trying to find someone to talk to about these things and getting trapped in the mud.

    And I will admit: I still track some mud around here and there. But I’m recovering.

  2. Oh, damn. Not following Offbeat Mama on facebook, my immediate reaction to your first anecdote was, “Oooooo I want to know what was said and what happened!!!” Then I hit my head on my desk, realizing I was guilty of exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Le sigh.

    Sounds like a good response to a potentially caustic situation, so good one on you for trying to stay above the “drama”!

    • …and like I said, there’s nothing WRONG with that. Hell, I like drama, too! I just don’t like HOSTING it. As a publisher, it’s really really draining to deal with … as a consumer, it can be totally entertaining!

      • And honestly, who would expect anything less when dealing with the matters of the heart?

        This site does a wonderful job of remaining unbiased in a passionate world of emotions, health, and baby cubs. Truly, I get an offbeat message every day and it’s always the highlight of my inbox. 🙂

        Thank you, ladies for all your hard work.

  3. I think you are doing a great job with offbeat mama in terms of a forum. The questions asked mostly result in a nice conversation in the comments. In my opinion, a perfect fix for the forum. Plus, if people are commenting, they probably feel the commenting policy lingering in the back of their minds and you never get negative forum topics from the start (**** this what happened to me today), ’cause Stephanie would never post them. Win-win, me thinks :).

  4. I’m one of those people who would love an Offbeat Mama forum because I trust OBM readers more than I trust the general internet public. However, I’d rather have my well-run Offbeat sites than Offbeat sites and forums that get bogged down with drama. I appreciate the dedication to the mission of the Offbeat Empire. Thanks for saving us from ourselves!

    • I trust OBM readers more than I trust the general internet public

      This is a really sweet sentiment and I hate to be the bubble-burster, but there’s a reason that our readers seem so nice and trustworthy: Stephanie moderates comments 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

      I love our readers, but they can be just as vitriolic, misinformed, hateful, and rude as the rest of the internet. Stephanie’s just REALLY fast about removing that kind of stuff from the blog’s comments. Or as someone said recently on Twitter:

      Just so y’all know, @offbeatfamilies mods are like NINJAS! “What was that comment?” “NOTHING. You saw nothing.” *fades into the mist…*

      • I think that’s true of all of the OBE. It feels like a cozy little safespace, but the reality is… it’s STILL a public place, it’s STILL full of human beings who aren’t perfect. Tending towards open-mindedness doesn’t mean that our arms are wide open for everything that comes our way. I try pretty hard to word my comments in such a way that no one here is offended, and I’ve had comments deleted. And I know that if it had been a forum situation and my comments had stayed long enough for anyone to read them, it would’ve been a shitstorm. In spite of my attempts to play nice, in spite of working to phrase things in a fair way, in spite of a general spirit of friendliness… someone would have lost their ever-loving shit over it.
        There’s a special magic in the format of these sites. Even in a thread of comments in which people reply to each other, they’re usually aware that they’re participating in a much larger conversation. As @hannnah1cestmoi put it, the commenting policy is always sort of THERE.
        Forums have a very different mentality that I think lends itself to each person feeling like an owner of their corner. This is true I think of Facebook, as well. Personal ownership is a good thing, but it turns easily into a territorial thing. There’s a slight us vs them mentality in the Offbeat world, and a forum would strongly reinforce that. It’s not a competition, it’s not a war–we’re celebrating eachother, not forming a united front against Babies R Us.

        • This comment actually made me emotional. SO GOOD!

          And thank you for recognizing this:
          “In spite of my attempts to play nice, in spite of working to phrase things in a fair way, in spite of a general spirit of friendliness… someone would have lost their ever-loving shit over it.”

          Most of the time if a comment is iffy, THIS is why it gets deleted — the potential for MEGA MELTDOWN DRAMAAAAAAAAA, even if it’s not the intention of the original poster.

          • Thanks Stephanie for making OBM a field of warm fuzzy happiness so I can be blissfully ignorant of any meanies posting to the site.

  5. I think one reason people want a forum is that initially it seems like forum = community. And that’s just not the case. OBM has a great community of readers. I know I love reading comments and clicking through to folks’ blogs. Thank you for a choice that ultimately protects everyone’s civility. I find myself thinking that I would like to hang out in real life with the other mamas I see often here, which almost never happens in forum situations for me.

  6. OBM (and the OBE) is doing a phantasmagorically amazeballs job. Heck, I read OBM and I don’t even HAVE kids. (Unless you plan to branch out into Offbeat Pet Parenting, in which case I might fit in.) I cut out the “other” forum-based sites that cater to weddings, marriage and kids (you put 2 and 2 together) because of the snipey crap. My life is WAYYYY too short for snipey crap, online and offline. So thank you and always, always stick to your guns.

  7. I came to the OBE from the tribe but have no time to read it or interest now I’m no longer a bride. I love that I feel like I’m able to keep up with the entire Empire in 2 or 3 pages once a week or so, I get my fill of the community, when I want it, from Facebook and even pinterest. On the other hand I am a member of a paid forum which is heavily moderated, 10 basic rules (no cussing,no politics…no that’s it I’m leaving I h8 u all Dramaz )

    And I hate it, posts get pulled for no reason, it all comes down to what a mod sees as bad language, politics etc. One can’t post about god but can sign a comment off with “may god bless you”. What it does is drives users off to other places but often leaves you wondering what you, or the poster in question has done wrong.

    Keep it up. I love the empire.

  8. Good lord, Ariel. Every so often, you say something that is so crystal-clear and brilliant it’s like a perfect diamond dropped from the sky. “Parenting’s inherent combination of hard work + sleep dep + life-and-death decisions = MAJOR NEGATORY ACTIVITY” is one of those diamond moments. One simple formula that explains succinctly WHY so many mamas go *there* – not just in forums and comments but in real life too. Thank you for that. It actually makes me feel a little less hard on myself for those moments where I slip into judgey thoughts, and a little more empathetic towards others who aim theirs at me. We’re all tired and working hard here – whaddya say we just shut up and parent?

    Hmmm…”Shut up and parent!” Is it just me or does anyone else see a tee-shirt/bumper sticker op here?

  9. I am so happy to have finished the parenting thing (if you ever really do).Whatever mistakes I made are now hard wired into my lovely daughter.A forum for parenting…oh my…no good could ever come of that.

    Good call!

    But pet parenting…hmmm

    • OMG, I bet pet parenting would be the same or worse. I belong to a yahoo group about cat clicker training and I have avoided asking questions that would reveal that (gasp) I allow my cat to go outside, where she could totally get murderized by raccoons and cars at any moment and DON’T YOU KNOW THAT’S NOT SAFE!? Opinions and emotions run high in the pet parenting world too, just maybe a little less sleep dep.

      • ahahahhaha or “OMG YOU MEAN YOU DON’T FEED YOUR CATS A RAW DIET???? you must not love them really.” nope, sorry, i don’t have that kind of budget or time. i’d rather give them daily snuggles. lol

        • Now, that can’t be true. Cat owners arguing about outdoor vs. indoor cats? That surely can’t turn into a debate even more heated than circumcision. NEVER. 😛

          I kinda like the idea that cat owners can get so very crazy, whilst cats themselves are all, “I do what I want.” THE CAT ALWAYS WINS.

  10. i think you made a good choice. i mean, weddings tend to strike hot buttons, but few things make people more defensive than children. i don’t have children, but pretty much all of my friends have recently given birth & quickly were attacked w/ “good advice” & people taking offense at their parenting choices. & you don’t even need to be offbeat! people just freak out. i suppose parenting is one of those things where, if you choose something different than another, that other person often tends to see your choice as an insult to their choice. like somehow if you dress your kid in green you’re saying that people who dress their kid in color other than green are horrible monsters. it’s really shocking to see what my friends have had to deal with just coming from friends & family … i can’t imagine what anonymous people online would hurl. *shudders*

    good choice

  11. I’m just going to say how thrilled I am that you do NOT have an Off Beat Mama Forum. Don’t get me wrong, I love the community that I feel within the site and comments, but for some reason a forum tends to bring out the drama-beast in normally awesome people.

  12. I totally get it. I do. I just wish that unicorns existed and so did an Offbeat Home forum. Alas, it is not meant to be. Maybe more active commenting on the blog will lead to me feeling like more of a part of a community. I just can’t get enough offbeat empire! I actually am loving the offbeat empire blog, as someone currently looking into starting a small business, I am really loving the opportunity to read about your business. 🙂

    • Hey, wait a minute: when did I say there would never be an Offbeat Home forum? This post is about Offbeat Mama. 😉

        Haha, I only use Offbeat Home as an example because I don’t have kids and am not planning to for some time (although I do read Offbeat Mama). And it’s all about me, OBVIOUSLY. And the FAQ says there are no plans to make one. UNLESS THERE ARE! Be still, my heart.

        • I would be so ALL OVER THAT! Though without a momma forum to fill the “bitchin’ about how your family lives” void I am scared that an Offbeat Home forum would become that. It would have to be super detailed what would be included…. but then again, you gals are awesome at that shit!

  13. I just found this website…cool…started looking for the forums…found none, but luckily found the local meetop group. I do applaud your thoughts about the forum. I was a volunteer moderator for a local moms group and it lasted all of 2 months when i realized that there was even more drama and nastiness and reporting every post that fell under unconventional subforum as “controversial” and this person offend me and that person offended me, and a lot of it was from the other moderators! I haven’t visited another forum since then. Looking toward to meeting actual real moms at the meetup.

  14. A little late to comment, but THIS, this right here is why I refer almost anyone I hear is getting married or just got pregnant or just had a baby here. I don’t even remember how I myself found OBB, but I read it religiously throughout the planning phase. After the wedding, I started exploring the two other sites, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s fascinating how I don’t feel judged, even if I don’t comment much. Some posts are outside my comfort zone, but then again, they are always an interesting read and get me thinking and considering my values. The site has truly opened my eyes to not be so judgey myself and I make a much bigger effort in the way I comment on decisions my friends make in the non-web world. So thanks for being so awesome, thanks Stephanie for being such a good moderator and to have us all feeling fluffy and understood and not judged!

  15. Honestly, the atmosphere of ‘be good to each other’ is the reason this is the ONLY mom – oriented places that I look at anymore. I don’t always agree with everyone, but I feel so freed by the possibility of having a discussion with people in a civil way that doesn’t devolve into just.. crap. I love it, and treasure it.

    Perhaps, if you were to make that happen, you should get a monitor whose only job is monitoring, and keeping things civil.

    Either way, thank you.

    • Perhaps, if you were to make that happen, you should get a monitor whose only job is monitoring, and keeping things civil.

      This is a great idea… if Offbeat Families made enough money to pay someone to do such a thing. The site barely breaks even as it is, and so there’s definitely no budget to bring on a dedicated moderator in addition to an editor. :/ Such are the realities of a small business.

      • My name is Tory, I am one of those brides that wandered over to your other blogs looking for something like the tribe in hopes of finding a little support and other offbeat parents to talk to and advice on being a new step mom and somewhere to keep an online journal… I’m not sure if anyone will see this as I figure this had been posted a while ago but I wanted to know if volunteers could be found would you be willing to have a support net work or any sort? I have very little to occupy myself with except trying to figure out being a step mom once a week and while I don’t think I could do this entirely alone I’d be willing to do this for free part time if a team could be formed…

        • Hey, Tori! Unfortunately, I’ve learned that managing volunteer community moderators is hugely challenging, and in the long-run doesn’t save me any time and comes with its own collection of difficulties. My best suggestion would be to be an active participant in the comments on Offbeat Families, and to submit advice questions: We’ve seen lots of readers find a sense of community through the site in that way.

  16. I respect your choice to not have a forum. I feel like my personality tends to get sucked into negativity quickly so I try to avoid any kind of drama. This is why I avoid 99% of all “mommy” type groups in general!

  17. As a former Bride Tribe member and somebody who is eagerly awaiting an Offbeat Home forum and is totally poised to volunteer as a moderator (I fear potential OBH wars far, far less than OBF ones), I’m 100% in agreement with the no forum for Offbeat Families. And I honestly don’t think it needs one. Parenting is just too damn personal. The comment section works so well! When I submitted a really personal question about childbirth, I got tons of comment responses, but I knew I wouldn’t have to face any cruel flames, cause you guys are always on that shit, and you won’t let a conversation derail. It really, really helped.

    I stick to the Mothering forums, personally. I’m not sure what kind of dramarama goes on there in the parenting sections (it’s probably plenty), but the pregnancy ones have been super great so far – plenty of welcoming people and very civil discussions.

  18. Occasionally, typically after too much wine, I will actually read the comments on other parent-based posts that I find interesting. And I regret it 100% of the time (The reading, not the wine). I’ve even sent you fine ladies an e-mail thanking you for being my “safe place” on the internet. I think the decision to not add a forum here is a wise one.

    It’s easy to say “well, it’s not how I’d do it, but go nuts at your wedding, it’s about you two lovebirds!” And it’s easy to say “well, I’m not a fan of… (insert something from Offbeat Home here, I couldn’t think of anything because pretty much everything there inspires some portion of my creativity), but it’s your home and it’s great!” Kids and pets are touchy. On the subject of parenting, you feel you are doing right by your child. And your values, belief system, nutrition restraints, etc. But every child, every parent, every belief is different, even if it’s only slightly. So once again, I have to thank you for being my safe place place.

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