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A few days back I defied conventional wisdom and did something reasonable people are never supposed to do: I engaged with an Internet troll. Trolls are folks who get their jollies being nasty, abusive and just plain unpleasant online to strangers, generally while hiding under the veil of anonymity. By definition, they are less interested in honest, intelligent debate than in broadcasting their opinions as loudly, profanely and abusively as possible.
In this case, a man was so enraged by an L.A Times article I had written about Bill Maher and Jerry Seinfeld's public statements on the scourge of political correctness that he felt the need to send an enraged, profane message to me on Facebook calling me a derogatory term for the mentally challenged and boasting that he could destroy me and my argument in a heartbeat but that it wouldn't be worth his time. And just before declaring himself the winner of our online skirmish, and a dude with the most awesome life ever, he told me that my one-year-old son was even uglier than I was.
This marked the first time in the 14 months my son has been alive that anyone has ever insulted my son's appearance for two simple reasons. First of all, objectively speaking, my son is cuteness and beauty personified. Secondly, you have to be a pretty deplorable creep if insulting a baby's appearance is one of the chief weapons in your debating arsenal.
The insult didn't really bother me because the source was clearly so crazy but it did briefly make me feel self-conscious about the very public nature of my baby's life and my early experiences as a dad. Was it a mistake to make pictures of my son publicly available , where any creep could see them?
There are certainly people who find posting pictures of babies and children and anecdotes online in great quantitates to be in poor taste, an act of exhibitionism practiced by people willing to use their babies and children to get the attention and validation they desperately seek.
There's probably an element of truth in that, but, at the risk of being controversial and making a statement that is particularly incendiary appearing on this particular site, I love babies and children. I love to see my friend's babies. I love to see their children change and grow and evolve from wiggling little lumps of pink flesh to little human beings with minds and wills of their own.
In the end, I think the good of living your life online far outweighs the bad. I want to believe the best about people. I want to live in hope and not fear...
I started writing for this site because I wanted to share my experience of being Declan's dad with the world. It was, and is, and will always be the most important thing in my life and my way of understanding the world has always been to write about it, and that certainly didn't change when I became a father.
The dangers of living your life publicly, whether by publishing multiple memoirs and writing extensively about your struggles with mental illness, as I have, or just by publishing pictures of you and your children and honest stories about your life on Facebook, is very real. Heaven knows the Internet can be a Pandora's Box that brings out the worst in people, and if the original television movies produced by Lifetime are any indication, an army of sickos are using the internet at this very moment in an elaborate scheme to lure your precious teenager daughter into a torture dungeon of some sort using Twitter, Snapchat, hashtags and Internet acronyms.
But if the Internet's potential for bad is great, so is its capacity for good. I reconnected with my wife over Facebook and my online friends have historically been much better and more loyal than the ones I actually saw in my day to day life. I know that my day has been brightened at various points in my life by seeing the cherubic smile of a friend's baby so when people tell me that my baby's infectious grin has the same effect on them, I'm inclined to believe them.
In the end, I think the good of living your life online far outweighs the bad. I want to believe the best about people. I want to live in hope and not fear, and if I was seized with doubt and uncertainty every time I thought about posting a picture of my son online, I'd be letting people like the man who insulted my son affect how I conduct my life and how I parent.
Yes, the world, online and off, can be a mean and ugly place, but the number of adorable baby photographs alone illustrate that it can also be a beautiful and pure and transcendent place as well, and that alone is reason enough to keep them up, haters and psychotic online trolls be damned.