Online Parent Groups - Those Double Edged Devils
When I became a parent I thought I had a lot of experience with "parenting." I mean I was already an aunt to five, an auntie to about seven and for close to ten years I had done what I on occasion referred to as "clinical mommying" as a Clinical Social Worker working with children. I of course had some worries, but overall I thought I would have this parenting thing down . . . soooo, um, yeah. If you are a parent reading this you can just go ahead and have yourself a good long laugh at my delusion. I deserve it.
The transition to parenthood is a varied experience. For some it’s like slipping into a favorite pair of jeans. For others it’s more like squeezing, smushing, grunting, crying and finally zipping into freshly washed, slightly shrunken jeans that will eventually stretch out to a pretty comfortable fit. These days many parents find support online in various parent/dad/mom groups. Online groups are an easy and immediate way to connect with others. There are so many online groups these days -- Meetup groups, Google groups, Facebook groups, oh my! These groups very often can save a person’s sanity. They offer a sense of camaraderie, normalcy, connection and support that parents at times are desperate for and deeply need. But despite all the pros, parent groups also have some cons and carry potential harm. The harm of comparison, of judgment, of perceived rejection, of public shaming and FOMO (‘fear of missing out’). It's a strange thing when your island of salvation can also be a painful place to visit. With that thought in mind I’m sharing some ideas on how to focus on the pros while reframing and coping with the cons.
CON: Sharing online opens you up to others’ opinions and judgments. For the most part I think people truly have a desire to help others, to raise them up; but sometimes this can inadvertently veer off course into judgment and derision. So if you’ve posted online (be it to ask about feeding habits, or to share lost and disappointed feelings about your discipline strategies), and you’re reading some responses with a sinking feeling or a rising fury, I suggest staying focused on yourself and on your needs. Celebrate your boldness for reaching out and your bravery in asking for help. I guarantee that although there may be loud, hurtful voices in that thread there will be voices that are equally as loud noting your goodness and your effort. There will be voices sharing that they have the exact same feelings, the exact same worries. There will be a voice that recognizes and calls out the likely unintentional judging or shaming; a voice that shuts it down and may actually bring another to stop and think about the impact of their words. Hold on to those people, to those voices. They are the sound of salvation, the sound of the best parts of these groups – the support and the normalizing!
PRO: Finding out that it is normal to not love every aspect of parenthood is fabulous! Being a parent, while wonderful, can be extremely isolating. That isolation can make you believe you are the only one who thinks or feels a certain way. This is true for working and for stay at home parents. Life with children can be tedious. It can be exhausting (mentally and physically). It can be lonely. It can be boring. Seeing people in person and truly connecting can be hard as you are often (metaphorically and at times literally) pulled in other directions. That isolation can leave you wondering if the hard stuff happening in your home ever happens in other parent’s homes. Online parent groups are great for letting a person know that there are so many others out there dealing with the same or very similar issues. These groups allow for shared knowledge; they validate how negative and positive feelings and events are normal and pretty typical. This normalization is a powerful, reassuring, sustaining thing.
CON: While normalizing is important, it is not the same as comparison. I have come to love the quote often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Online parent groups sometimes breed comparison and comparing is dangerous. No matter the home parenthood generally involves lots of similar situations, and people may have many similar feelings that are all normal to have. But one person’s experience is just that – their experience. Everyone brings their own reaction and perspective to a situation. One person’s response and experience with their picky eater is not another’s. One person’s ability to stay calm in the face of a tantrum is not necessarily as easy for someone else. When one parent finds success with an intervention and it doesn’t work for you, it does not mean that you failed or that your child must be more challenging. One is not better or worse than the other. They are different. One parent or family is not better or worse than the other. They are different. This is important to remember when reading online threads. All parenting experiences are different despite their similarities, and they cannot be compared ounce for ounce or psyche for psyche.
The more I write the more it sounds like online parent groups are great places to visit, but not great places to live. This is metaphor of course, but there is truth in that. ‘Living in’ (i.e. being consumed by) our online communities can take a toll. You may see others spending time together while you are at work, or find out that you and your child were not invited to a birthday party. You may wonder how others find the time and energy for family activities. You may feel that making friends is hard, while pictures posted online seem to imply that others do it with ease. It would be great if all these moments had captions like, “The first minute of the day that wasn’t a tantrum,” or “Right after this the youngest puked,” or “No one knew how anxious I was sitting there.” Who knows what is happening outside of these moments, because they are just that – moments in time that when posted online project perfection. Sure, maybe you missed something. Maybe you weren’t invited. But, is it also possible that maybe the event happened without you because of something that had absolutely nothing to do with you? If trolling through groups at times leaves you feeling annoyed, sad, or bothered remember the power you have in the ‘unfollow’ button, or in your ability to request weekly rather than daily list serve updates. Another “PRO” is surprisingly the anonymity and privacy of being online. No one knows if you ‘unfollow’ or stop reading your emails, and there will always be the option to go back or even to simply be a silent observer for a bit if that feels better.
Ultimately, I think online parent groups, even with all their cons, can be enormously beneficial. There’s a reason they say it takes a village to raise a child – be it virtual or not. As a grown up it’s hard to connect and make friends. Making an online connection can make real life meetings go more smoothly and happen more quickly. They can lead to deep connections and friendships. And at the end of a long, hard day with your kids, having a good friend send you a funny text can really change a situation from
If you find yourself feeling isolated or hopeless about your social interactions or parenting skills contact me to see how I can help.