Online parenting groups can be a source of support but can also prompt competition between mums, writes Kat Arksey
This is a guest post by Kat Arksey. Kat is a Family Support Practitioner and mama to a bouncy toddler. When she’s not singing nursery rhymes and covered in Weetabix she’s working with families in need to help them make positive changes. She has a BA in Sociology and a MA in social work and is a qualified social worker. Kat’s reading interests are motherhood, feminism and gentle parenting.
They say that it takes a whole village to raise a child. If you live in 2017, it takes a couple of Facebook mummy groups.
I had my first baby in April 2016. When I was pregnant I would read parenting forums almost daily to answer each and every question on my mind. I wanted to read what other pregnant women had experienced. I was fascinated by the changes that were happening to my body and the tiny person I was growing inside it. I wanted to talk about it to someone who understood.
Little did I know that these communities would become part of my life as a mother. I have joined a number of Facebook groups for parents, breastfeeding mums and those that give advice on baby-led weaning. You name it, there is a group for it.
I find this shift in how parents, mostly women, gain access to information and advice fascinating.
While some of these groups feel like an agony aunt page, women’s questions can be answered instantly by thousands of other parents who have lived through a similar experience. It is quite powerful when you think about it.
Many of the things my mum’s generation were told seem outdated now. They had advice available in the form of parenting books, many of which set strict feeding and sleeping schedules for the baby. It was once widely accepted knowledge that babies should feed every four hours which we now know can have a detrimental effect on the breastfeeding relationship. Women had little advice and support especially when it came to breastfeeding. That is why I like these groups.
Mums today can access support at the click of a button. Not only can they tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience from perfect strangers in parenting groups but they can use the internet to access studies and articles that give them new information about child development. If our parents followed the lead from their parents, this generation are following their own lead by taking the bits they want from information they seek out online.
The flip side of this is that we can become oversaturated in information which can feed into anxiety. I know how anxious being a mum can make someone and can imagine why some parents may feel they need confirmation from others to settle these worries. Some might argue that this is counterintuitive to us trusting our ‘motherly instincts’.
Or perhaps this online world encourages a culture of oversharing. I have seen pictures of a baby’s rash, baby poo and mucus plugs (yup!). Some posts dish out intimate details of relationship breakdowns and dysfunctional sex lives. Some ask for advice on things they probably already know the answer to or could have used Dr Google for. Maybe some of these women are simply craving interaction. Is the stereotype of the lonely stay-at-home mother still relevant today, or do these online hubs mean that we are finding new ways to connect with our peers?
I know that being a mother can be very lonely. Looking into the lives of strangers and comparing them to our own family can be satisfying and seeing ‘real’ posts can make us breathe a sigh of relief because they make us feel ‘normal’ (blogs like The Unmumsy Mum seem to have this effect).
However, these groups naturally create a channel for mums to judge each other. Some mums may feel inadequate alongside their online peers and strive for parenting perfection (whatever that is). I have felt like a failure in comparison to the so-called ‘perfect mums’ who appear to be providing a wonderfully natural and organic upbringing for their little ones.
I laughed when I read a post on a Facebook discussion group about breastfeeding that started with “wise ladies that live in my phone.” But to me, it really summed up this new era of online parenting advice. Technological advances and the social changes that come with them seem to have crept up on us without us realising how very different our experiences are to those of our own mothers.
These groups can validate our parenting choices and give us confidence and the feeling that we’ve got the back up we need, especially when our choices might be questioned by others. Let’s hope we can use them as an outlet for expression rather than allowing them to feed anxiety about how we parent our children.
Image by Alexander Dummer, from Unsplash.
Image is of a mother sitting on a sofa with her two young children. She is holding an iPad that she and both her children are looking at. She looks as if she is about to smile.