“Pull up your big girl panties and suck it up … you are being unreasonable … selfish. You need to buck up … like most people do on a daily basis.”
I’d expect harsh word like this with no discernible filter from a secular forum … maybe. The last place I thought I’d encounter them was a mom’s group, much less a Catholic mom’s group.
Yet here I was, after posting a fairly neutral “what would you do while so pregnant and tired” advice post this week in a group of solid Catholic mothers, reading a full on attack directed at me for my apparent selfishness. My intent was just to hear out what other moms would do, maybe share an anecdotal story of their own lives, and offer a prayer or two for strength. However, I was given a different clear message: you are selfish and weak.
Not exactly the kind of support I was seeking.
As I reflected on these various groups I’ve been in, I started to see this comment isn’t an isolated event. I’ve seen it before, and every time it’s sad. Because women have the power to build each other up in such glorious ways, and when comments like this come, we are doing just the opposite.
A DIGNITY ALL HER OWN
In his letter, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Mulieris Dignitatem) (You can also buy it here using my affiliate link), St. Pope John Paul II speaks beautifully about the inherent dignity and role of women in society and throughout human history. One line that I particularly love is when he states that “a woman’s dignity is closely connected with the love which she receives by the very reason of her femininity; it is likewise connected with the love which she gives in return (MD 30).” In other words, we affirm or deny our inherent worth by how we give and receive love.
This includes how we respond to each other in online communities.
The world is filled with women who tear down, who destroy, who are filled with pride and hide behind computer screens. We are called to be more than that. We are called to live out the vocation to womanhood boldly, even if we don’t agree with the person we are speaking with or feel frustrated. And even if they are just a name and profile picture on a screen to us.
THE POWER OF A WORD
Mom groups, especially Catholic ones, have the capacity to be wells of life giving community. They also have the capacity to bring death if we choose to use that gift in the negative.
We are the crown of creation, formed not to replace or one up man, but to complement him in such a way that no other creature could. There is a real spiritual strength that is ours simply by being woman.
It’s also a strength the evil one wants to destroy. In the Garden, he targeted the woman with words. He got to her heart. In turn, she got to man’s heart with her words. Satan tricked humanity by twisting words. “You can be like God!” But we already were like God.
It happens again in our modern world in a similar way. The evil one tempts women to twist words and intentions in order to disrupt God’s plan. And when we fall for it, we have the power to destroy each other.
I’ve seen this played out too many times in these mom groups – we fall for the lie. “You can be like God!” We believe we know the person’s heart and lives, we believe we are the ones who need to put people in line through our blunt comments.
But we already have that power through our womanly sensitivity and intuition, which helps us live compassion. We already have the power to change lives through intense prayer as daughters of the King. What other creature on this planet has the spiritual strength of a women in love with God? Why are we stooping below this in groups meant to serve one another?
In the Garden, God’s first response to His lost children was hope. Before anything, God had a plan to get us back. That plan was also centered on a word: a freely given word from the heart of a woman. The woman was Mary. And the heartfelt word was fiat.
We are given that same hope. We are called to give our own fiat and to be bearers of light and life in the world by our freely given words of encouragement and love. To live like Our Lady, even when it’s difficult.
Mulieris Dignitatem goes on further to say “the moral and spiritual strength of women is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way” (MD 30). My sisters, we belong to each other.
The lady in my group this week had no way of knowing her words would send me into a spiral of tears for the rest of the night. She had no way of knowing I’d had one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in a long time or that what I shared was only one small portion of a much bigger picture. She only saw one side, and she forgot we belong to each other before she commented.
Every single person we encounter has a story. A story that isn’t owed to us. We don’t need all the details to prove they worthy of our love, patience, and gentleness.
And it’s a lesson I’ll take with me for the rest of my life. Humanity is entrusted to my heart as a woman – and like Mary, I pray to God I magnify Him in all my personal interactions with people.
For now, I’ve left all my mom groups for my own sake – to pray, ponder, and grow (because God knows I’m not even close to perfect and have likely wounded others in similar ways by posting flippantly or harshly). The support I’ve received in the past in these groups and the lovely women I’ve learned from will always be with me, but I want to be as St. Pope John Paul II says, “an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people”.
I’m okay being on the outside of these online groups for a season to give myself space to reflect on this calling.
To the sister in Christ who commented on my post, thank you for telling me to suck it up and pull up my big girl panties. I’m doing just that by calling on Catholic moms that incite drama and hurt to instead lean on the spiritual strength we have as women. I’m learning from my own failings so I can do that, and praying for you. Please pray for me, too.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Practically, I wanted to end by sharing a few conversation lines that may help maintain the sisterly charity needed in these groups. It’s a short list of response-starters that can hopefully bring about a more Christian attitude. Next time you’re tempted to post something rash, or possibly hurtful, consider these phrases instead…
- “I know I can’t fully know your situation since we are just online, but here is a time I felt similar and what I did/helped me. Perhaps it will help you…”
- “Could you clarify this part for me? I don’t feel like I understand where you’re coming from and want to be as helpful as possible when I comment.”
- “I’m not sure I understand since we seem to have different personalities. May I offer you up during my nightly Rosary and let this conversation end for now?”
- “I’m sure I’m missing the full picture, so I’m ok to agree to disagree for now. Thanks for sharing your perspective.”
- “I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that before, but God makes each heart unique so I will pray He gives you the grace for this situation based on your needs.”
- “What has your husband/sister/mother/etc said about this situation?”
- “It sounds very hard for you and even though I don’t understand, I can pray for you.”
- “I can tell this is a very sensitive topic for you, so know I’m sharing my thoughts as if I were in your situation – if it’s not helpful, please forgive me.”
If you’re interested in praying more about the online community you’re a part of, you might find this primer for discerning your online activity and interactions helpful. (If you pray well with questions like this, you might also enjoy my Examen for Husbands/Wives and my Examen for Parents):
- Is what I’m reading and saying good, true, and beautiful?
- Have I taken part in detraction or slander of another person? (Sharing faults that aren’t necessary, giving someone a bad name whether information is true or not, or spreading false information or speculation about the character of someone influencing their good name.)
- Have I considered most of what I see online is one dimensional?
- Do I remember there is a complex and valuable human being on the other side of the screen reading what I’m saying?
- Have I considered the person posting may be having a bad day before engaging in debate?
- Do I give the benefit of the doubt, or am I quick to judge?
- Do I share information not mine to share?
- Have I formed a bad opinion of someone based on idle chatter and gossip in groups?
- Do I close out of conversations that are base or degrading in nature, or do I linger out of curiosity?
- Do I seek to word things in a non-combative manner or am I a drama-seeker?
- Am I proud of gaining multiple likes and comments? Or do I stay humble?
- Have I considered St. Mother Teresa’s example, seeking to be a presence that people walk away from more joyful?
- Do I forgive those who misunderstand me?
- Have I treated others as sisters in Christ, or do I find enjoyment in being at odds or arguing with certain people?
- Do I point out the negative in others and complain?
- Have I shared personal information about my spouse without his knowledge?
- Would I be ashamed to post my words and comments publicly?
- Am I reflecting the virtues of Our Lady (ardent charity, heroic patience, divine wisdom, continual mental prayer, surpassing purity, angelic sweetness, lively faith, blind obedience, universal mortification, profound humility)?
- Would I be proud of how I am treating others online if it were in person and in front of my children/family?
- Do I hide behind the facade of a “prayer request” to share personal information about others that doesn’t need to be shared?
- Do I seek out sensational stories out of curiosity behind the facade of “wanting to pray for them”?
- Am I using online groups for my own advantage, seeking to make business connections with those suffering or lacking financial status?
- Are my actions online bringing me closer to heaven, or do I feel the need to justify my behavior?
Finally, I want to point out that there are far more good things in most Catholic mom groups than I speak of in this post. There are wonderful communities to be found through groups like Blessed Is She. I don’t for a second downplay the amazing women out there already living this out or discredit all mom groups because of this isolated experience. My own motherhood and faith journey is forever better because of friendships I’ve made in groups such as these.
I also don’t blame the lady who commented on my post – I know it’s also my job to give her the benefit of the doubt and forgive. This post is simply to shed light on a common problem I’ve seen in several Catholic mom groups online and a spiritual challenge for us all to take into our dealings with one another as women. Together, we can root out the hurtful parts and make these groups an oasis of hope for all moms in a world that often makes us feel so alone.