Thursday, August 4, 2011

Building Your Own Support System

This doesn't really fall under the "green" category, but bear with me. In Tuesday's post, I shared with you about how some parents on online forums can be very snarky and hurtful to one another. Around the time I wrote it, someone pointed out to me that the reason behind this is simple: anonymity. On an online parenting forum, particularly the really big popular ones, no one knows anyone. As much as the group's purpose may be about community and support, once the community becomes large enough, with hundreds or thousands of members who don't know one another personally, the rules of social graces fall to pieces. People become less concerned with what they say because, heck, if they say something hurtful, who are they hurting? Some faceless screenname who clearly doesn't share the same viewpoint and therefore must not have feelings?

When Jem was born, we had a rough first few months. Breastfeeding low supply issues, colic, reflux, sleep deprivation, probably a touch of PPD, so on and so forth. I needed a lot of support, but unfortunately my mom and my closest friends lived three states away, my sister worked full time and had kids of her own, and I really hadn't been living in the town we were in long enough to make other mama friends. Facebook became a godsend, because it helped me keep in close touch with my other mama friends who lived so far away. When I had a problem they couldn't help me with, I'd sometimes turn to one of those online forums, and was often horrified by what I saw there.

Then, while chatting with two mama friends on Facebook about flavoring homemade yogurt (recipe to come!) an idea was born. It wasn't a big idea. It wasn't even a particularly novel idea, since I'm sure it's been done many, many times before. It was simply the idea for a private mom's support group on Facebook. The catch was that it would not be anonymous. Everyone in the group had to be invited by someone they knew personally who was already a member. We would have an honors system: only invite other moms you trust to be supportive and encouraging, not judgemental and critical.

I set the group up and went about inviting friends. They invited their friends. Now, nine months later, we have about 75 members with a small group of regular posters. Everyone knows someone else, everyone is "a friend of a friend," and that makes all the difference. And I have to tell you, these women are amazing! Even though I'm the "moderator," I've had to do very little in the way of actual moderating. Moms in the group post about all kinds of topics - problems, ideas, recipes, frustrations, happy and funny anecdotes - all with a great deal of compassion, respect and encouragement. I am so happy and proud to be a part of such a wonderful group of women and to have them as my support group!

We have since moved closer to my mother and many of my mom friends and live in a community with several other moms and babies in the area, and it is a joy to have that interaction. But I know what it's like to feel that loneliness, to wonder where to turn for support without having your decisions called into question at every turn. I would encourage other moms in this situation to reach out for support from people who can be trusted, who aren't faceless and nameless but who will respect you and recognize you are a person with feelings!

One place to start is by looking for moms' groups in your area. Maybe there is a group near you. Your community library may also have information about such groups in your area. Lactation consultants, pediatricians and ob/gyns sometimes will also have some info. Your local newspaper may have ads for such groups in the classified section. If not, you can make your own! Or, if you're like me and transportation can be an issue, you can start an online group. Facebook is a great way to do this, because so many of your friends probably already use it. If you go to your FB homepage, in the lefthand column you should see a "Create Group" link. You can then pick the friends you want to add to the group (I recommend messaging them first to find out if they'd like to join), pick a name for your group and set your privacy settings (our group, ShareMamas, is a "secret" group, meaning only the members can find it and see the posts). Have your friends invite their friends and voila! Your own private parenting forum. No trolls allowed! :-)

I wish you all a world of support, encouragement, and friendship.


  1. Facebook was a godsend for me as well, particularly during my pregnancy. I connected with women I only knew distantly who also happened to have babies due in August, and that common ground and the ability to keep in touch so easily was a great support for me. Now that we've got our feet under us and pretty much know what we're doing and who we are as parents, we don't call on that system of support as often or as urgently, but I am always grateful to know that it is there. We get the kids together every few months to see how we've all grown and to exchange stories and ideas. I just wanted to add to your list of possible ways to meet moms. We have the Watertown Family Network here, which is a great (FREE) resource for families in the area. Other towns have things like this too. They have a play-center with all sorts of donated toys that are kept clean and organized. The center has drop-in hours for different ages, and each playdate has a snack and circle time. They also schedule playdates out in the community (such as kids' music at the local nursing home, which brings joy to the residents and kids alike) and network with other communities that host playdates (like local churches - of which you do not have to be a member to attend playdates). I went for the first time yesterday and it was great - I got to talk to other moms with kids of a similar age, my son got to play with toys that were completely new to him, and he experienced his first organized group activity for kids - circle time. He also just thrives being around other children, so I am planning to go every week until schedules change. The WFN also hosts classes for parents. Here's the link if you want to check it out. There may be something like it in your community!

  2. I agree having a support group helps alot. I do have a group of SAHMs I meet up with every now and then for playdates and just to catch up on things. Great post!