Mommie Dearest: It Sometimes Takes A (Virtual) Village

I’m not going to sugar coat it: Sometimes, this whole parenting gig can be pretty damn hard. Yes, parenting is rewarding and wonderful and absolutely special. But it can also be completely terrifying and difficult and frustrating. And, despite all the parenting books that line the shelves of bookstores, there’s truly no one manual to tell you exactly how to successfully raise your children without going completely batty.

It also doesn’t help that parents — new ones especially — are surrounded by images, advertisements, articles, books, television shows, “experts,” movies, news media, and more that basically dictate to them what it (supposedly) takes to be a good parent. It can be doubly overwhelming in a society that pushes Tiger Moms at you while also promoting the benefits of French Parenting in the same breath that both encourages and disparages Attachment Parenting. It’s enough to drive anyone to drink. (Or smoke).

So it doesn’t surprise me one bit when parents turn to the Internet to find some answers or relief. Even if that relief is in the form of mild complaining or slightly neurotic questioning of everything that’s being thrown at you. But of course, as with everything on the Internet, everyone has an opinion. Enter Jezebel’s Tracy Moore, who earlier this week tore apart a private online Facebook group for L.A. parents. Moore listed a handful of topics that various mothers posted about and then proceeded to mock and snark on each one.

I get it. I understand the desire to snark on seemingly rookie parenting questions. You’ve been there, done that, and it’s so easy to roll your eyes at the new mom who’s buying into all the commercialized nonsense that can accompany babies. I also get that it’s hip or whatever to rag on super anxious or hyper-worried parents — after all, I’m no fan of helicopter parenting myself. But most of the things Moore got on them for don’t actually sound all that bad to me, to be honest. And ironically, once you make it into the comments section of the Jezebel article, you’ll find that many readers brush past the snark and end up asking parenting questions of their own on issues they’re struggling with.

The Jezebel piece made me a little sad. We push the idea that it “takes a village” to raise our children, and sometimes, for some people, that village is virtual. Motherhood can be extremely isolating for some, especially if you’re the only mother among your friends. We turn to the Internet for dating advice, fashion advice, job advice … why wouldn’t folks also head to the web for parenting advice?

Within my own group of friends, I frequently ask similar questions to the ones Moore tore apart. I’ve been known to post on Facebook asking local friends what the going rate for babysitters in our area is: I want to make sure I’m paying my sitter fairly, and crowdsourcing to see what other folks pay is helpful. Sometimes, when I get together with a group of my mama friends, we don’t talk about anything related to parenting at all. Other times we rally together in solidarity, sharing sangria and silly stories about our children. We may even toss out a question or two for someone with an older child who might be able to offer up a suggestion we haven’t tried yet.

It feels freeing to be able to have a support network that will either offer a listening ear, advice if I ask for it, or just one more drink or slice of chocolate cake to help me deal with whatever parenting issue I’m trying to figure out. For some people, these online groups are a way to access that support when nothing local or in person is available — especially if your child has special needs, allergies, or some other specialized issue a parent may want to talk with like minds.

Our society as a whole props motherhood up as this venerable and special ideal‚ and for sure it has its moments. At the same time, it doesn’t provide much in the way of actual, tangible support. If a new mother — or even one with some experience under her belt — can find some space online that provides that support? More power to her. Maybe you see a bunch of mothers whining about their crying baby, but if one mother can crowdsource some solutions, that may be one more mother who doesn’t resort to something dangerous because she feels overwhelmed.

And the best part about crowdsourcing support and advice on the internet? If it doesn’t appeal to you, you’re always free to click that little “x” in the corner and show yourself out the door.

Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamafesto.

[Photo of crazy family via Shutterstock]