Leave My Inbox Alone: When Mommy List-Servs Attack

Modern-day mothering might not be quite as communal as it was for previous generations. When my mother was a little girl, there was an entire neighborhood ready to help out with an extra cup of sugar, meal ideas, child-watching and more. But I think that list-servs have done a good job of filling in the gap from those days. From my neighborhood parenting list-servs, I’ve gotten tips on what to feed infants as they transition to solid foods, where to purchase the best stroller for city streets and what activities for toddlers are open on rainy days. I love them.

But. (As Pee Wee Herman wisely said, “But what? Everyone I know has a big ‘But’…? C’mon, let’s talk about your big ‘But’.”)

As much as I love these list-servs, they also seem to attract people who don’t quite know how to use them. Here are a few examples of items that might not be appropriate for a parenting list-serv.

1) Unwanted political screeds.

My favorite example comes from last week. I live in Virginia and we had elections. The day before we were supposed to go vote, a father on the list-serv emailed everyone with the subject “Tom Blickensderfer Hates Dogs.” (Yes, I changed the name. You’ll see why when I post the note below)  Here it is:

Hey Neighbor,

Before you vote for Alexandria City Council tomorrow, I wanted to share my story on Tom Blickensderfer and why this guy is someone you should pass on for City Council.
My brief interaction with Blickensderfer at the Del Ray Dog Park is one I won’t forget. I took my dog to the park one morning a few years ago. My dog was a large dog that was well socialized and interacted well with the other dogs. A smaller dog (not well socialized) bit my dog in the side causing him a painful wound. When I voiced my objection to the owner, Tom Blickensderfer confronted me and went on a screaming tirade about me and my dog. Not sure why Tom felt like he needed to intervene as he wasn’t involved and I had never met the guy before. Once Tom was through with his rant I was able to sort the issue out with owner of the other dog. No one asked Tom to get involved and he certainly didn’t help resolve anything. In the end I wound up with a $500.00 vet bill from the dog bite and a strong conviction that I had met the biggest Ahole in Del Ray.

This was on the list-serv for the Del Ray Parents, obviously. Now, as much as we all love the neighborhood version of the “October Surprise,” and as much as we all love cartoonishly vicious negative campaign mail, this was a bit much, no? And what in the world would make you think that this was appropriate for a parenting list-serv? (Side note: have you ever met a dog owner who doesn’t claim their dog is well socialized?)

Whether it’s local, city, state or national issues or candidates, though, politics is best not handled on the list-serv. And it’s surprising how often parents try to sneak it on there.

2) Turning everything into a race issue.

Maybe this is just unique to my first list-serv — the one serving parents in a certain neighborhood of Washington, D.C., where we once lived — but usually it went something like this: “Hey friends, just wanted to report that I just saw two black youths, one over six-feet-tall, the other about six inches shorter, wearing black sweats and white tennis shoes run off with my GPS and head toward Connecticut and 14th. They had a big bag and look to be hunting for other items. I’ve called the police but let me know if you hear anything. Thanks, Tammy.” And then within about .14 seconds, another email would come in that went something like “Why did you have to make a huge deal about the fact that the youth were black? This city will never heal from our racial wounds when we focus on race.” And then you could just watch your inbox fill up with defenses of one party or the other. At some point the original poster might write “I was just trying to give the best description I could, I apologize for adding to the racial wounds.” For a couple of weeks, people would offer their crime reports in the cagiest, vaguest way imaginable. Then someone would forget and we’d repeat the cycle.

3) Bringing the playground fight home.

Here’s another specialty of my old list-serv. Basically what you’d have is some altercation on the playground, sort of between children but mostly between the parents of those children. Maybe it involved a child hitting another child. Maybe it involved someone’s dog being too friendly at the park. Maybe it was just different parenting styles regarding temper tantrums. But the parent would promptly come home, tattle (without names of course) about the situation and then pretend to make some broader point about park etiquette (e.g. “I think we need to enforce stricter boundaries between dogs and children”). What always seemed to happen, of course, was that the other party or other witnesses would read the initial note and reveal additional information that completely undermined the initial account. That’s when I enjoyed bringing out the popcorn and just watching the angry emails fly back and forth. But, as with all fun things, one of the moderators would usually chime in that playground fights were best handled at the playground and shouldn’t be litigated on the list-serv.

4) Mentioning your line of work two to three times a day.

I am not in the line of work where I’d pitch myself on the parenting list-serv. But some of my neighbors are. The way this works is that any time someone mentions a real estate issue or a legal issue, you’ll quickly get a few parents in the real estate and legal professions weighing in about how to handle the problem. Which is fine. It’s awesome even. But then there’s that realization that they do this every day, always complete with a pitch to visit their firm, and it gets a bit weird. Or it gets contentious. One time, a lawyer on my list-serv who did this all the time mentioned something about how his firm was the best to handle the given issue (same-sex divorce with children or some such thing). Another lawyer chimed in that his firm was actually the best firm for divorces of same-sex partners involving children, citing some award. Then the original lawyer chimed back in, suggesting that the award may have been given in exchange for a personal relationship one of the attorneys was having with a high-profile gay advocacy organization. Like I said, it’s popcorn time. But is it appropriate for a parenting list-serv?

5) The needy parents.

Every list-serv has them. On the one hand, it’s great to have a ton of updates about everything that’s going on in the neighborhood. On the other, a mother who posts or responds literally to every thread on the list-serv might have some boundary issues. One of my list-servs had a mother who couldn’t not respond, no matter the topic — D.C. schools, crime, nursing techniques, disciplining of children, traffic concerns, the hoax someone played about turning the historic theater into a Hooters, you name it. If you have a thought worth sharing on everything, those thoughts better be amazing. They weren’t, though. They were just shared regardless of their worth. I know this is something that happens on every list-serv, no matter the topic. But the air of desperation goes over much less well on mothers and fathers.

Anyway, those are my pet peeves on my otherwise awesome neighborhood parent list-servs. What are yours?

Photo: Andresr/Shutterstock

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