How quickly the tide can turn. Just days after Victoria Beckham was hauled over the digital coals for kissing her daughter on the lips on her fifth birthday, it was nigh impossible to find a person to say what she had done was wrong.
Her initial post on Instagram, showing her kissing daughter Harper, along with the caption “Happy Birthday, baby girl. We all love you so much. Kisses from mummy”, sparked a shrill debate about the rights and wrongs of kissing a child on the lips.
Was it inappropriate, ambiguous, unhygienic, heaven forbid, even sexual? The phone-wielding parenting experts had a field day in an outburst that reflects a sad new reality: The rise of the modern blood sport of parent-shaming.
Psychotherapist and mother of two Stella O’Malley says we have become like the Stasi, the former East German police force known for its spy-and-report tactics.
“We are eyeing each other up and judging each other constantly,” says O’Malley, author of Cotton Wool Kids.
If a child is having a tantrum in a supermarket, rather than think ‘Oh, we’ve all been there’, an onlooker is now much more likely to whip out their phone and post it on Facebook with a judgmental comment, she says.
And we’ve all become parenting ‘experts’. “Thirty years ago, there was only one book, Dr Spock, but now there are lots of baby books. If you are following, say, Gina Ford you can’t agree with someone following the Baby Whisperer. They are like different religions. They do that to sell books, but they are pitting parents against each other.
“There was a time when you could say that it took a village to raise a child, but that is gone. Now, we are all mini-republics ourselves,” she says.
The advent of programmes such as Supernanny — though helpful — has also turned parenting into a form of entertainment, the psychotherapist tells us.
Though, there is an upside. If someone takes a stand against an online bully, they often back down. The staunch and the vehemently self-righteous will often go silent if they think the public mood is turning against them.
That’s exactly what appears to have happened in Victoriagate. Almost as soon as the vitriol started, support for the former Spice Girl poured in from mothers everywhere, who posted pictures of themselves kissing their children on the lips.
At last count, her post had more than 600,000 ‘likes’ and almost 10,000 comments. You’d be hard-pressed now to find a negative remark among them.
One of the few still available online is from social etiquette expert Liz Brewer who told the BBC that she would be uncomfortable kissing a child on the lips. “I wouldn’t say it sets a particularly good example.” Though she did add: “If she [Beckham] feels it’s appropriate, so be it.”
The overwhelming response, however, has been one of support. The photograph has prompted mothers — and it’s mostly mothers — to articulate the special bond between parent and child and highlight the folly of the online row.
“What a load of nonsense,” says broadcaster and journalist Lorraine Keane.
“We need to be over-affectionate rather than feel we need to hold back just because some in society are looking for things to give out about,” she said.
She kisses both her daughters — Romy, 9, and Emelia, 12 — on the lips and she won’t be stopping any time soon: “We are a very kissy family. All children need is love and time.”
Laura Haugh, mum-in-residence at the biggest website for mums, MummyPages.ie, says sharing a peck on the lips with your children is a special privilege that parents have earned by bringing their offspring into the world.
“Anyone who finds a brief kiss on the lips, such as that pictured between Victoria Beckham and her daughter Harper, as in any way a sexual act has a distorted view of relationships and societal moral values,” she said.
The feedback from the website’s online community has been overwhelmingly in support of Victoria Beckham. What’s been heartening is that the controversy has given ordinary mothers a platform to say what motherhood is about for them.
Full-time mum Lisa Sheridan Dolan from Banagher, Offaly, said she thought the picture beautiful, and added, “frankly anyone who sees it as anything else should seek professional help, asap”.
Margaret Keenan, “Boss at Supermum”, says: “Are you kidding me? My middle son grabs me round the head and gives me big smooches on the lips all the time!! It’s what kids do! Get a grip”
Meanwhile, Barbara Tabarelli, a mother of one, put the kiss into perspective with withering incisiveness: “Yep. Cause that’s what’s wrong in the world today.
“Not the order-of-the-day shootings in the US, ISIS terrorist threats, unsuitable presidency candidates of many a country in the world.
“Nope. A mother’s display of love, that’s what’s wrong.”