If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you picked it up from Twitter or Facebook – it’s not news that we’re getting most of our, well, news, entertainment, information and of course blog posts, from social media. And this includes parenting information – who do parents talk to when they have questions? Maybe mothers or aunts or sisters, perhaps friends or neighbours, but more and more they are turning to Google and Facebook, Rollercoaster, Kellymom, eumom, and the myriad of parenting websites that are out there in the virtual universe.
In past generations, new mothers often lived very near to their own mothers, aunts and sisters, and relied on them for advice (good or bad) on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and parenting in general – childhood illnesses, behavioural questions and generally what to do with this wriggling little human.
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Today many people live further away from family and don’t necessarily know their neighbours very well. Or at least not well enough to seek parenting advice.
Coupled with two generations of lost breastfeeding experience, new mothers can find that they have no real-life support when they need it. Especially with a crying newborn at midnight and no idea what to try next.
So we turn to the internet.
And in a way, the internet has filled that void for this generation, in a (mostly) positive way.
On paper, the idea that something so cold and technical, something so soul-less – this non-breathing, impersonal, modern phenomenon that is the internet could replace family advice sounds quite sad, tragic really.
But the reality is that it’s an incredible support for thousands of parents, and often more practical than seeking help from family members, who are not living next door.
And in some instances our families can give only limited advice as they may have had a different parenting experience – it’s understandably difficult for the grandmother who fed her babies with bottles to now pass on breastfeeding advice to her daughter.
It’s not just about breastfeeding – many of our parent’s generation remember a time when there were no car-seats required for children, babies were put to sleep on their tummies, playpens and walkers were the standard fixtures in every family-home and jars of baby food were seen as a wonderful time-saver that negated the need to peel and chop and puree.
Now we have a resurgence of interest in breastfeeding; baby-led-weaning taking hold as an alternative to pureeing, and other than the obligatory tummy-time, nobody puts their baby face-down in a cot. And some don’t use a cot at all.
And it starts before motherhood: women discover that they’re pregnant and go straight online to join a birth club and find out what to do next – often they haven’t told real life friends yet as they’re waiting for a first scan, but can chat to virtual friends without worrying.
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It’s an outlet for voicing fears and worries, asking for advice, or just venting on a bad day.
It’s a support when things go wrong – there are pregnancy loss forums within most of the sites too. Sometimes it’s easier to share fears and sorrow online with people who have experienced something similar than it is to talk to real-life friends and family.
And this can be a way to compartmentalise too – talk online on some subjects, keep real life for others.
A first time mother may need an outlet to outline in detail every sleep time, wake time, feed duration and smile from her new babe, but if her friends don’t have kids yet, this is, let’s face it, excruciating for them.
So she can chat about the minutiae of her new baby-filled world online and rein it in a bit with friends. (OK, I know not everyone reins it in, but in theory …. )
There’s a certain irony: in many homes around the country, parenting methods are becoming simpler, with more than a nod towards ancient times.A time when mothers nursed their babies – there was no formula. Mothers carried their babies in slings – there were no prams. And mothers slept with their babies – there were no cots.
But the means of communicating about this type of parenting is the newest, most modern medium we have – the internet. No cave-wall scribbling here, it’s all in the electronic ether.
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It’s like an underground movement – women talking to women all over the country – about parenting predominantly, but about everything else that’s going on in the world too.
We are a tribal species, we love to talk, to interact, to give and receive advice, to connect.
And now we’re doing it on smartphones and laptops – it’s the new village pump.
Or if it’s a particularly good group, it’s like going to the pub.