Andrea Mara finds that first-time mothers are increasingly clicking on to websites to look for the support they need to help them cope.
FOR generations, new mothers lived near their own mothers, aunts and grandmothers, and it was to these wise women they turned to find out how to soothe a crying baby and when to start feeding solid food.
This generation however has lost that village — many mothers now live some distance from extended family, and very often, there’s nobody next door to help with parenting questions.
But more and more parents, particularly mothers, are turning to a replacement village — the virtual world of parenting forums.
So what exactly is a parenting forum, and why are they so popular?
“It’s like a room, but online, where you can chat to other people in similar situations,” explains mum of three Lucy O’Connor (39), whose children range in age from four to nine.
Some of Ireland’s most well-known parenting forums include www.MagicMum.com , www.Rollercoaster.ie , www.Mummypages.ie , www.Mumstown.ie , and the largest — www.eumome.ie — with 300,000 registered members.
Indeed, it was through forums that I first got a taste for online writing, which in turn led me to start my own parenting blog ( www.OfficeMum.ie ) — something I would never have done without support from an online network.
O’Connor, who also blogs ( www.LearnerMama.com ), discovered forums when she was expecting her first baby, and found them to be a lifeline for pregnancy and parenting questions.
“You feel like you’re not alone,” says O’Connor, who is from Donabate, Co. Dublin.
“I was able to chat to someone who had a baby two days before me, so she was going through the exact same issues. You feel a sense of camaraderie, and even if you’re sitting on your own — you don’t feel so isolated.”
Dublin-based Counselling Psychologist Sinéad Benn (35) had a similar experience.
“I’ve used parenting forums myself and I found them really good. When you’re a first-time parent, you might just have a short window at naptime when you can grab some social interaction, or perhaps you have a particular question and you can log on for that one thing.
“And it doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of face-to-face interaction. When you’re a first-time parent, you’re second-guessing yourself, and anyone who can provide additional support is very helpful.
"Even being able to write it down helps you reflect on the problem. For parents, wherever they find help and support — sometimes advice, but usually just the common humanity and sense of common struggle — will benefit them.”
And online parenting forums can lead to real-life meet-ups too — something our parents’ generation could perhaps not have imagined.
When Lucy spotted that there was a “local mum group” area within the parenting forum she used, she decided to set up her own group for new mothers in her locality.
“I set up North County Dublin mums nine years ago because I felt I needed to get out of the house and meet people,” says Lucy.
“None of my friends had babies at the time, so I felt this was my way to get out and about. Otherwise, you can feel trapped.”
Interestingly, one of the mums O’Connor ‘met’ in her new online group turned out to be a neighbour who lived just eight doors away.
“Until I took maternity leave, I didn’t really know people locally. So, yes, that was how I met one of my neighbours – on a parenting forum!”
Facilitating online and offline friendships, and saving the sanity of new mums everywhere — parenting forums sound like a lifeline. But are there any downsides?
“I think the biggest downside is that some people are anonymous, so there can be trolling,” says O’Connor.
“But also, you can forget that there’s a real world out there. You need to walk out the front door, go for a walk, meet people face-to-face and talk, as opposed to doing it all behind a screen.”
Indeed, there are many good reasons to build a real-life network along with an online life, not in the least in order to teach your children social skills, explains Benn, who has three children, age three, five and seven.
“If your community is all online, your children don’t get the benefit of seeing you interact with other people, or of meeting adults who are interested in their lives like the neighbour who will ask them how school was today.
"These kind of interactions provide a huge learning for children — how to build community, how to have give and take, how to see things from other people’s point of view.”
But as with everything in life, with using parenting forums, it’s all about moderation.
“If you’re a heavy internet user, where it’s taking you away from face-to-face interaction, then it has negative consequences,” says Benn.
“But if you’re not a heavy user, it’s just another way of connecting with people. It’s all about that balance.”
5 top parenting apps
If you’ve made the leap onto online parenting forums, you may also be ready to try parenting apps — here we round up five of the best:
Baby Monitor & Alarm: A baby monitor app that calls a second number if your baby cries.
Feed Baby — Baby Tracker: Records feeds, nappy changes, and naps, so you track how much your baby eats and sleeps.
White Noise Baby: Soothing noises to calm babies and toddlers — particularly good on long car journeys.
Shieldbully & Selfiecop: Two great apps for supervising children who have their own phones.
Canvsly: Stores your children’s artwork online (not that you’d ever discard the originals of course…!)
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