The first time a story about explosive baby poop showed up in my Facebook news feed, I was alarmed.
The culprit was an old acquaintance I haven’t spoken to in real life for years. I always thought of her as brilliant, practical, and rather private—which is why the status worried me. Were all of my brilliant, practical, and private friends—female and male—about to morph, one by one, into tedious child-obsessed ninnies? Would photos of trips to Peru and homebrew be replaced with Instagram snapshots of drool and breast pumps?
In her new book, STFU Parents: The Jaw-Dropping, Self-Indulgent, and Occasionally Rage-Inducing World of Parent Overshare, Blair Koenig documents this very phenomenon. Based on her popular blog by the same name, the quick-read book shows dozens of alarming Facebook posts submitted to Koenig by her readers. The offending parents detail everything from labor to potty training to tween girls starting their periods. They give strict instructions as to what Christmas presents are acceptable and guilt-trip friends about baby showers. They brag about their breast-feeding superiority, share their placenta art, and say that doctors don’t know as much as a mommy with Google. (“I mean, c’mon, I have the internet, I am not a total idiot,” says one mother who is unhappy with her pediatrician’s advice about combating constipation. Given that she also writes that “he doesn’t really care for my ideas on the vaccine schedule,” I wouldn’t be so quick to acquit her of the “total idiot” charge.) Some of my favorite STFU Parents blog posts—like a gift-grubber and a woman with very, very specific post-delivery expectations for her friends—don’t even make the book.
When I first started reading STFU Parents a couple of years ago, I thought: If this is what parenthood today entails, I might want to stick with my cats. Certainly lots of commenters on the blog agree, posting remarks like, “This is why I am never, ever having kids!” Parents have come back complaining that since Koenig isn’t a mother herself, she’s the one who “should STFU,” prompting the Daily Mail, where one can always get a balanced, nuanced look at social issues, to portray the blog as a battleground in the digital wars between the childless and the child proud. But I’ve come to think of the STFU blog and book as a public service to both people with kids and without, teaching both camps important lessons about how to be less offensive and clueless.
Koenig told the Atlantic Wire recently that the book is “a totally cohesive manual, an organized little etiquette guide and “a great baby shower gift.” Reading it can be a great reality check for sleep-deprived, anxious, and emotional parents: Before you hit submit on a Facebook post about an explosive diaper at 3 in the morning, ask yourself, “Would any of my friends submit this to STFU Parents? Would they be right if they did?” If so, then change the status to a message or email to a close friend who has been there or has a strong stomach. Save the bulk of the bragging for the kid’s grandparents, and try to refrain from posting “Wait until you’re a parent!” on every Facebook status in which someone complains about being tired. It can also serve as a corrective for parents who have gone over the obnoxious edge: Koenig once shared an email from a reader whose friend reformed after having read and absorbed the lessons of the blog.
But it’s a two-way street. The blog and book don’t just offer cautionary tales to parents in danger of falling into the baby hole. It can help childless folks like me understand just how hard parenting can be. Over the last several years, we’ve seen an explosion in warts-and-all blogs, books, and articles about conceiving, pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing, like Confessions of a Scary Mommy and Bad Mother. But a well crafted book—especially one written specifically for mothers—can’t quite capture the horrifying parenting moments the way a poorly thought-out Facebook status can. Though I mock them, I’m a little grateful for the parents who have hit “post” on a really disgusting diaper story, or the smug whine about people who don’t smile at their baby. Not very grateful—just a little. Because those unpolished slices of life can let someone considering a child in on the kinds of things people normally don’t tell you.
Not every STFU Parents blog post has some hidden value—I can’t say anything good about the woman who has to post that she is holding a paternity-test “open house,” and the “mama drama” entries in which mothers battle it out are for entertainment purposes only. But much as I hate to read them, the completely uncensored, unabashed gross-out stories and the breast-thumping “mama bear” entries have made me a little more understanding of the indignities and stresses of being a parent. More importantly, they have really made me appreciative of the friends and family members who limit their parenting content on social media to the occasional photo or genuinely funny story.
Koenig is right, then: This should be a baby shower gift—and also a favor for shower guests. Now I regret my initial irritation with the smart friend who posted about her baby’s explosive poop. Maybe she shouldn’t have published it, but having enjoyed STFU Parents for so long, and having heard more war stories in the interim, I have a lot more sympathy for her. For someone as brilliant, practical, and private as her to publish that one, it must have been bad.