Online parenting connections

| June 4, 2013

Being a parent is sometimes lonely and confusing. Dr Julie Green, Executive Director of the Raising Children Network, explains how online parent forums can be good place to get information and support.

As part of my job working on the Raising Children Network, I often peruse the parent forums. I’ve noticed how common it is for a post to begin with: “Hey there, this is the first time I have ever used a forum”,Hi, I have not ever done this before, so extremely new at this”, “Hello. This is my first time posting here”, “Hi I have only just joined this website (seconds ago) and saw your post”.

Parents crave reliable information and contact with other parents. And parent-to-parent learning is powerful. While the local neighbourhood, extended family and professionals are, thankfully, still important sources of information, the evidence I see day to day illustrates that parents continue to share online in growing numbers. Whether they are digital novices or natives, parents are increasingly having and valuing online conversations with one another.

What motivates parents to get online to look for information or support? As far as Raising Children’s parent forums go, mothers, fathers, grandparents and carers jump online to share stories, questions and concerns about raising children of all ages and abilities. They’re looking for markers along the way that let them know they are on track, doing the right thing. Sometime it’s the need to know how to immediately manage age-old issues such as fever, chickenpox, tantrums or infant sleep. For others, it’s about looking for pointers to know how to respond to issues as specific as sexuality for teenagers with autism, or for answers to modern parenting issues such as cyber bullying.

I’m particularly struck by the exchanges on the ‘Parents Like Me’ forums which enable parents to make contact with other parents in similar circumstances. Whether it’s the Step-Parent forum, the Grandparent/carer forum, the Single Parents forum, or Parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder forum (which has the highest traffic of all), parents experience common needs, pressures, aspirations. And a consistent theme in wanting to touch base with others dealing with the same kind of issues is to ask: ‘What do you do in this situation?’

It’s great to see the warm welcome that first-time forum visitors receive. The fundamental bond that parents share is evident in online comments that reflect goodwill, mutual support and generosity. Parents make practical suggestions from what’s worked for them. They congratulate one another, offer positive words of encouragement and empathise with each another.

Parents have told Raising Children Network that they love hearing other parents’ experiences, that they ‘cheer’ for each other and that by visiting the site they feel they share a bond with other parents and enjoy feeling a part of a network.

Grandparents who are full-time carers of children are also online in growing numbers, seeking support and resources. Browsing Raising Children Network’s ‘Parents Like Me’ grandparents forum, I read posts from carers who were feeling alone that were met with encouraging responses from other grandparents, information on locations of grandparent-as-carer support groups, and warm words of support.

The humility in a parent forum comment such as “Forgive my complete lack of information but I’ve been learning as I go along” reminds me that parenting is a work-in-progress with a constant need to keep informed. Having the ability to draw on networks can help facilitate the transfer of learning and assist parents to achieve their goals in doing the best job they can at raising their children.

Parents have always found ways to connect with one another that bring benefits and rewards and enable them to share their successes and failures. That deep desire is prompting ongoing opportunities for parents to be part of strong online communities and share a sense of belonging in their parenting journeys that I find exciting. The half million visitors to Raising Children Network every month could be onto something!