Facebook Forums for Moms: Helpful or Hurtful?

Before I gave birth to my first child, a friend joined me to a Facebook group for mothers living in Jerusalem. It was really helpful before I gave birth – you know, first pregnancy, no shortage of things to worry about, and here I had a forum of experienced/going-through-it-at-the-same time mothers at my beck and call. I asked about stroller comparisons, doula recommendations, whatever worry was on my pregnant mind. While it was comforting to receive almost-immediate answers from a variety of different mothers, it’s only in hindsight that I realized that none of the answers ever made me feel definitively sure about anything.

 

A mundane example– I asked about the difference between two strollers. I got all sorts of responses – but the truth is, most of these women don’t live in my neighborhood, where the streets are narrow, some don’t have cars, some don’t care about the fold, some don’t care about the price, etc. So their answers were nice, but weren’t really relevant, and in the end, my husband and I decided by ourselves (we chose the Baby Jogger City Mini and love it. But I digress.)

The point is, I felt good knowing that there was a place I could turn to where all my questions could be answered, or at least acknowledged.

 

After birth, however, was a different story. At home on maternity leave, my laptop was my lifeline to the world. And because I hadn’t yet figured out that it’s possible to turn off FB notifications, I was receiving notifications from this group about every five minutes – it’s quite a popular group – and reading every question and comment because that was all I had to do. (Once I realized you could turn off notifications, I availed myself of this option. I’ve been much happier since.)

Some of the posts were interesting or good to know. I learned how to make homemade almond milk from one mother. I learned about a sale on diapers from another. But the majority of posts, I couldn’t care less about. Why did one mother post about Matisyahu shaving his beard? Why were there a few mothers who insisted on posting pictures of their babies – no offense, but we all have cute babies, and I much prefer to look at mine than yours. Besides, that’s what regular FB is for. The combination of irrelevant and off-topic posts started to get on my nerves.

But more than annoying, the group had morphed from a pre-natal comfort into a post-natal worry-creator! 

For example: my husband and I disagreed on sleep-training. He was all for Ferberizing – letting the baby cry in order to fall asleep on her own. I did not want this! So I posted for advice about sleep training on the group, got many responses, mostly falling into these categories: “You’re the mother, you get to decide.” “Crying is awful, don’t do it!” “We let our babies cry, I hated it but it worked.”

All very nice, supportive things to say – but how exactly does that help me resolve the conflict with my husband? My husband, who irritatingly enough, was more experienced than I in the beginning of our crazy parenthood trip from a slew of nieces and nephews, wasn’t pulling ideas from thin air. While my Baby Whisperer book advocated middle-of-the-road methods, he had a book that contradicted everything my book said! (It’s amazing that by chance, we both ended up with books that fit our personalities.)

In any event, the “support” I received from the mothers in the group didn’t make me feel better; it made me feel worse. So what that I had all these mothers agreeing with me, or telling me it’s okay? It only made me more mad at my husband – and the fact that some mothers did it and it worked didn’t make me feel any better hearing my baby’s cries in the middle of the night. (My husband and I ended up compromising, mostly because my hormones were no match for his arguments or experience, and yet, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open, we did let baby cry for a few minutes – but not full-fledged Ferberizing.)

In short, I quickly realized that my participation in this group was not productive. 

Not only was it unproductive, it was actually becoming harmful to me. I’m not talking about getting high blood pressure from annoying posts. I’m talking about jealousy-inducing posts, or FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, posts (for more on FOMO: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/business/10ping.html). Here are some examples:

 “I used to get up an hour before my baby so I could exercise. Now, my baby started waking up an hour earlier – when am I supposed to find the time to get back into shape?”

            

Maybe I’m just a bad person, or maybe you can understand me a little when I say that I spared no sympathy for this woman. Instead, I looked at myself with a critical eye and said, “This woman has been getting up early to exercise every morning to lose her pregnancy weight. If you would get up early, maybe you could lose the weight, fatass.”

            

Clearly not productive.

“My five week old slept for eight hours straight! I’m so well-rested!”

Good for you! I’m about to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks because I haven’t slept in weeks, but I’m SO happy for you!      

“My baby is so good to me. I flew with her when she was three months old and she only kvetched for about two minutes – I just had to brag!”

Seriously? I take my baby to the doctor’s office and in minutes the walls of the waiting room are resonating with her wails. I feel really good about myself right now.

Or, “We’re getting together in the park Wednesday morning. Who’s in?”

Okay, people are allowed to get together. But the fact is, I’ve been dying of boredom and would love to meet and hang out with other mothers, but I work in the mornings.

Not only are these posts jealousy-inducing, not only do they inflict upon me serious self-loathing, but they make me question the goodness of my character (since I feel like I want to smack the people posting)!

Still, I know that my feelings about this group are not shared by all. Clearly. Otherwise, the questions and comments that mothers post wouldn’t receive 10-100 comments. By mothers who are obviously nicer, more patient or more sympathetic than me.  

And all the mothers mean well, even when they post things that can cause jealousy and that I personally find insensitive, annoying or TMI. (“My four month old has had diarrhea for the past three days and has been puking up everything. What should I do???” Call your doctor, genius. “Found dead moth parts in my baby’s mouth yesterday. Eeeeeew. Just had to share.” I really wish you hadn’t. “I think my IUD might be infected!” I’m really sorry for you, but TMI, TMI!)

And I think that for most of the participating mothers, the group affords them a connection with others. After birth, I thought I was the only woman who experienced loneliness, since it’s not something that people really talk about. But belonging to this group and seeing the ridiculous amount of posts and comments has shown me that it’s not just me – motherhood can be lonely. And I shouldn’t blame these mothers for wanting to connect virtually with each other, since in real life, getting out of the house and meeting up can be difficult. I especially shouldn’t blame them for creating an online community that they seem to enjoy – it’s my own problem that it’s not my particular cup of tea.          

So why don’t I just leave the group? Since I’ve turned off my FB notifications, I don’t read half the posts – and when I do, I get annoyed, as you see. So instead of complaining about something that hundreds of mothers find useful, why don’t I just ship out?

Two reasons:

First of all, because there really are useful posts. And this is what the group is about! Lending support to mothers (“I have to go back to work and am dreading it. How have other mothers dealt with this?”) and providing useful and helpful information (“I think my five month old has bedbugs. What should I do?”).

The second reason I stay in the group is because: What if…?

What if my baby is pooping and puking and I can’t reach my doctor? (I’d probably call my mother-in-law.) What if I’m making a Shabbat meal and need a dessert recipe? (Not likely – I love kosher food blogs and trust the ones I know much more than I trust mothers I don’t know.) What if I need to decide on my next stroller (Amazon and Baby Gizmo reviews – love and trust.)

Okay, it seems like I mostly don’t need it. But what if I do at some point? What if I need moral support when I have a second baby? What if I need advice on how to divide attention between two children? I’m sure I will. What if my baby really does get bedbugs (please God, no!)? And while I have online and in-person resources, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that this group that has grown so irritating, so jealousy and worry-inducing, is there should I need it. And hopefully I will then appreciate it for all its worth. But until that time comes, I don’t plan on turning my FB notifications back on.

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