Online forums provide parenting advice in digital age

WASHINGTON – Approximately two years ago, Elizabeth Gemoets was getting ready to have twins. Having never had multiples before, Gemoets wanted to connect with other parents and parents-to-be in the same situation.

“I didn’t know what the heck I was doing,” she says.

A few months before delivery, Gemoets joined Montgomery County Parents of Multiples (MCPOM), a volunteer-based group that provides online and in-person support for parents of multiples.

Gemoets’ twins are now 20 months old, and she says she still relies on the MCPOM listserv for a variety of resources, including advice for finding a babysitter and family-friendly restaurants in the area.

Online parenting blogs, support groups and listservs, similar to MCPOM, are popping up all over the country, and more parents are relying on these platforms for support and advice from other parents who share similar experiences. Some charge minimal membership fees, while others are free for users.

DC Urban Moms and Dads

In 2001, D.C. resident Jeff Steele and his wife, Maria Sokurashvili, started DC Urban Moms and Dads, a locally focused, but nationally utilized, online forum for parents.

For Steele and his wife, the site started after the couple had their first child. They set-up a mailing list for a play group with a few other families and quickly discovered that other parents shared similar trials and experiences. Now, DC Urban Moms and Dads has around 8,000 subscribers.

Steele says without having family in town, he and his wife quickly came to depend on other parents for their advice and tips — especially when it came to parenting in a major city.

“Even simple questions like which stroller is the best to take on the bus,” Steele says, when describing the types of advice exchanged within the group.

Steele says the benefit of having a parenting listserv or online forum is that information can be easily exchanged.

“Most parents are working now and can’t exchange information at the park. That kind of stuff gets exchanged electronically now,” says Steele, who adds that he’s seen every different type of topic asked and discussed on his site.

Northern Virginia resident and mother of two Micaela Williamson turned to DC Urban Moms and Dads’ listserv members when her son exhibited some concerning behavior.

According to Williamson, her 18 month-old son woke up from a nap one day and wouldn’t walk.

“He just stopped,” Williamson says. “He refused to stand up and I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was very bizarre that a walking toddler all of the sudden woke up from a nap and is not walking… I thought he was injured, but he wasn’t crying about it.”

After speaking to the doctor — who told her it was likely nothing about which to worry — Williamson found parents on DC Urban Moms and Dads who went through the same experience.

When Williamson’s son woke up the next morning, he was walking again.

“Sometimes very strange things will happen with kids and babies — where of course, they can’t communicate — and the Internet is a source where people can share advice,” she says.

Maintaining DC Urban Moms and Dads is something Sokurashvili spends approximately four-to-five hours on each day; Steele helps out in addition to his full-time job.

Steele says when he and his wife started the online forum, there were three other major national parenting websites. Now, he says he’s seeing a huge number of small, neighborhood-focused parenting sites pop-up all over the D.C. area and the county.

One such site is Moms on the Hill.

Moms on the Hill

Moms on the Hill co-founder Jen DeMayo says the group, which now has more than 4,000 members, began the same way DC Urban Moms and Dads started: with a few parents, a few babies and a play group.

The group decided to keep the listserv local, for parents just in the neighborhood.

“Capitol Hill has grown and there are tons and tons of babies walking around — or being pushed around, I should say,” says DeMayo, who still acts as one of the listserv’s moderators. “At the beginning, we all knew each other in real life so it was a very personal back-and-forth. It grew slowly over these years.”

According to DeMayo, some of the original personal closeness of the group is no longer there, but it still retains a quality of neighborliness.

DeMayo says the neighbor-like behavior on the listserv is evident in some of the posts, from borrowing books to organizing meals for new parents. Other popular topics on the site include nursing, sleeping, eating, playground etiquette and D.C.’s school system.

In fact, the schooling aspect has become such a popular topic on MOTH that the site organizes a school information night each fall, where the founders invite schools from all over Capitol Hill and the city to join.

DeMayo says while some listserv members use MOTH for questions and advice online, only, others have met in person and have become friends over the years.

“It’s really a place for people to share information and meet each other in real life. We let it be what you want it to be. Some people use it as a place to off- load their baby gear and some people use it to create a deeper connection to other parents in this community,” DeMayo says.

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