Woman to woman
A brief review of blogs and posts by new and experienced moms suggests that women’s predominant impulse for going online is to share personal stories and seek advice and information, not to climb up on a soapbox.
Liberty Worth, 34, an at-home blogger, entrepreneur and mother of two in Los Angeles, says the Internet has been a personal and professional lifeline. If a discussion starts going negative, she has a simple solution. “I just leave [the forum] and seek out examples of people who model what I want to know,” Worth says. “A lot of people make a living off of polarizing other people, so it’s imperative to use wisdom when searching online.” (See “Know What You’re Dealing With,” below.)
What most draws us to our computers are the kinds of questions that have always concerned rookie mothers: how much weight to gain during pregnancy, how to deal with labor pain, how to treat diaper rash.
That’s what motivated Los Angeles mom Mia Marano, 35, to hit the keyboard when her first son, now 2 1⁄2, was an infant. “You can’t contact your pediatrician for every little thing—that’s when you go online,” says Marano. “Then there are questions that you don’t want to ask about at all in person, but you will online, like one mom who asked, ‘Where do I get a double-F cup bra?’ ”
Jennifer Kalita, a communications consultant based in Washington, D.C., agrees, noting that the majority of blog talk and Internet chatter is middle ground. “The supportive aspect of the Internet is most important,” she says. “It’s been a great microphone for women, and we’ve needed that.” As the Internet becomes increasingly important to “caregiving” communities like mothers, Kalita adds, the dissent that defines so much online banter will matter less.
Despite the influence of the Internet, it is still just a tool—a well of information and a supplement to your common sense. Online debates are showy, but they’re not as valuable as the multitude of offerings that provide news and advice from neutral, evidence-based sources. “You’ve got to get a breadth of information and assess it,” says Worth. “But then you listen to your own barometer.”
Know what you’re dealing with
It’s easy to get carried away on the boundary-free Internet, which is why guidelines are important. Here are some basic rules of the game:
Distinguish fact from opinion
Don’t confuse opinionated blogs and message boards with websites that share reputable data. When you’re seeking information, look for reporting based on accurate and unbiased research.
Look before you commit
Do a search on the online community or blog and see what comes up. Communications consultant and author Jennifer Kalita says she once went to a blog recommended by friends but found the posts about some near-disasters with the blogger’s kids too flip for comfort.
Think before you write
The Internet never forgets. A statement like, “I felt like throwing my baby out of the window,” could come back to haunt you. “The Internet seems intimate, but it’s public,” says Kalita. Lurk on a site before you post. Track the conversations and see where they go.
Be wary of isolation
Supplement your time online by attending a networking group or making dates with other moms. “You’ve got to get out,” says Kalita. “There’s no substitute for living, breathing people.”