While there are dozens of articles and resources you can google on the internet to find out more information on any parenting topic you’re interested in – or be validated in any decision you’ve made – sometimes, you come across a specific situation where anecdotes and stories of others who have already gone through it will help you. Reading walls of clinical texts can be boring and time consuming, so many parents prefer to go right to the source and ask their questions to other parents.
There are many interactive sites catering to this need, in the form of forums often called communities. You can find a community for any specific label you apply to yourself, be it stay at home mom, working mom, young mom, older mom, potty-training mom, mom of toddlers, mom of twins and many more. No matter who you are, there are several groups with dozens of members just like you out there to help.
Or to hurt.
As the name indicates, communities are exactly that. They have rules and regulations. They have hierarchies and popularity. They have helpful people and people who are there to snark. They have running jokes and taboo topics. If you thought you left high school behind, let me introduce you to mommy communities on the internet.
If you are going to use them, here are some things I’ve learned that may give you a flame-free experience, although nothing on the internet is 100 percent snark proof.
1) Lurk first. Pick a community and watch it. You’ll get a feel for the types of questions people ask there, and how they ask them. How you ask a question is almost as important as what you’re asking because people often get tied up in semantics and forget to answer your question. Or they read a bigger debate into your particular situation and go off on that debate as a whole. Something like this can hijack your entire thread and prevent you from getting the specific stories you were looking for.
By lurking, you will also be able to assess the relationship different members have with each other. Many people stay with communities for years and know a lot more about each other than you would assume at first glance. Friendships start up, battle lines are drawn, and memories carry. So that someone may ask an innocent question and be flamed for something they posted months ago, as other members remember that they previously disagreed. It’s not always this way, but many new members of parenting communities find themselves turned off or intimidated when it is. Don’t be. They’re all just parents like the rest of us, and even if 80 of them decide to tell you you’re doing it wrong, that doesn’t mean it’s true.
2) Ask in the right place. A debate community is not the place for an advice question, and a question community is not the place for a cute story. Consider your audience. If you’re formula feeding, for instance, a breastfeeding community will not help you.
The answers, stories and judgement you’ll receive from the internet depends on where you post your question. For instance, I posted in a general question forum about the reaction of people to a toddler’s public tantrum. The answers there were exactly what I expected. They told me I needed to be a better parent and discipline my child more effectively. Had I asked in the parenting community I frequent, people would have commiserated with me. I would have been told similar stories and advised to keep on keeping on. Parents understand that babies cry and toddlers tantrum, other people might not.
3) Don’t be discouraged; there will always be people out there who think they are better than you. No matter which community you post to, if you’re asking a sensitive question, people are going to have mixed opinions, and some will not mince words in telling you about them. Whether or not you respond to these comments is up to you, but, remember – even if someone is personally attacking you – don’t take it to heart. They don’t know you, they don’t know your story, and they’ll never understand the choices you’re making or the reasons behind those choices. A personal attack is only as personal as you allow it to become.
4) Only take what’s helpful to you. Remember these people are not experts, they’re just other parents who have read other things who feel differently. They may have had similar experiences that may be helpful to you. They may have had similar experiences that help you in no way whatsoever. If you don’t cosleep and they tell you the only thing that worked for them is cosleeping, then that’s great for them. Their comment may be useful to someone else reading your post. That doesn’t mean you have to take it into consideration if you’ve already decided against it. On the other hand, if you were looking for the benefits of cosleeping to help you make that decision, their story may very well help you a lot.
5) Don’t post a follow up. Many of these sites will have a profile page for you. If people are curious as to how your situation played out, they will look there. A follow up is usually forgiven if new problems shoot up, and you think more advice could help you. The key here is that communities are about the topics at hand; they are not about you.
Parenting communities are the internet’s answer to the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child.” Not everyone in that village is going to approve of the choices you make, or even like you, but in the end, they aren’t the ones raising your child. You are.