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Isolation, exhaustion and depression. That's how two older moms described their first weeks of motherhood to me years ago.

Both of these women had their children before the age of the Internet. And they hadn't a clue about how to find other new moms. One described a neighbor knocking on her door and introducing herself. She felt excited and relieved. Finally, someone to connect with and chat about babies and life over coffee. Both had young children -- and it was enough to spark an idea of forming a neighborhood playgroup for new babies.

Fast forward to today's generation of moms. We've got DC Urban Moms and DC Working Moms. We've got neighborhood mom groups on yahoo and meetup. There's Indymoms.com for moms in Indianapolis and Cincymoms.com in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Mochamoms connects stay-at-home moms of color. Then, add the more national Thenestbaby.com and iVillage to the mix. Not to be left out, dads have a few homes of their own, such as DC Metro Dads and AtHomeDad.org.

So, where does this leave us now? Are we over-connected or is this just what parents needed -- but didn't know it -- all along? What do you hope the Internet can provide to your parenting lives that it doesn't yet offer? How else do you connect with other families?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  August 30, 2007; 7:45 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
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Comments


honestly? I was too overwhelmed, stressed, tired, and depressed to think about foisting my joyous personality on a social group. I suffered through it alone despite the Internet and group availability.

My advice in hindsight would be to form these connections BEFORE having the child. A depressed person (especially post partum) needs to be reached out TO, they likely won't do it themselves.

Posted by: overwhelmed mom | August 30, 2007 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Parenting groups/play groups aren't a new concept...my parents belonged to one before I was born back in the mid-70's...all the women in it were pregnant, and then when their babies were born they could not only have people to connect with, but also help, babysitting exchanges, etc. Some of this "kids" (now all nearly 30) whose parents were in that group I still stay in touch with. Maybe this was unusual? It's not the idea that's new, just the internet.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 30, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I've been at home with a sick 6 year old and a stir crazy 2 year old for days now. My computer screen glow is permanently etched into my retina. All I want is a little *real* human contact with my friends who have abandoned me because they don't want to have sick children and be in my place in three or four days. We mamas try to stay connected...but isolation always seems like it kicks in.

Posted by: KR | August 30, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I look back now on the weeks and months following the birth of my first child and think I should probably have been medicated. I was so depressed because breastfeeding was going horribly, and I felt like I couldn't take my eyes off my child for a nanosecond for fear he'd expire, and I had given up a job I loved and was really very good at to stay home. It was a very surreal time. The internet helped because it allowed me to stay in touch with friends and coworkers, and going to the La Leche League meetings helped, and my understanding neighbor (Nurse Wonderful) helped me realize my son was tougher than I first thought, and my fantastic husband helped because he was so supportive. But it was still a lonely, lonely time.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 30, 2007 9:07 AM | Report abuse

The internet has good sides and bad sides. It is easy to get in contact, but the contact is just as easy to be poor quality. Information is quickly and easily disseminated, but rumors and false information is spread faster and influences more than ever before.

It's not so much about the tool as what you do with the tool. Take for example the mother and/or father that uses the internet to find a playgroup or support group. Hanging out in the forums might work, but it is much more likely that going to one of their meet-ups is more likely to be beneficial.

Posted by: David S | August 30, 2007 9:16 AM | Report abuse

I'm an American married to an Indian man. I like how things tend to happen with new moms in India. First, there are family houses, for the most part. Yes, entire families are crammed into one living space. (Let's ignore the downside of that for one moment).

Sons bring their wives to live with their families (so women must leave their own families when they get married and go live with their husband's -- this is why Indian families consider the whole family when arranging marriages -- which is also a free-choice type thing, btw.)

Next, new moms may go stay with their own families just before the birth of their child, and after. Women are given a 40-day rest period after birth. There are lots of women around (usually) to help with the new baby.

This continues when the new mom returns home to her husband's house (admittedly, going to the mom's family is an older custom and not always happening in the more modern middle class now).

However, the many Indian women who have moved to the U.S. decry the isolation and difficulty in raising children. "Everyone's so lonely here!" is a constant refrain.

On the other hand, many women enjoy the simultaneous independence and freedom from their families (and MILs!). Still, they ALWAYS miss having family around to help, whether young cousins in high school, grandmothers, moms and aunts.

With the education of women and their increasing desire to go out and work, however, we may see a change in the family life there. They will struggle with many of the issues we face here, but family is MUCH closer in India -- and I say that with strong confidence. It's a cultural thing and Americans just exhibit more independence.

Posted by: goodhome631 | August 30, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

My hospital runs a program for new parents with kids from 6 weeks-3 months. While it's billed as a class, it's really mostly a way for new parents to meet others in the same boat. It was such a lifesaver in those early weeks and months, especially as we'd moved to a new city shortly before DD was born. In fact, I'm still friends with most of these moms and kids, almost two years later. They form a large part of our social lives down here.

I haven't found the web as useful in finding IRL friends, but it can be a great resource when you're dealing with something a little less common. There are so many blogs and websites out there that it's nearly impossible not to find someone who's going through the same thing you are. That fact alone can be pretty comforting.

Posted by: NewSAHM | August 30, 2007 10:03 AM | Report abuse

I see a lot of pros and cons. The pros are the obvious - connecting with people, getting moral support and of course the necessary good laugh.
The pros on teh other hand are a bit more esoteric, and unfortunately painful. With the anonymity of the internet, a lot of discussions I have read tend to become quite opinionated, rude and downright mean at times. (Anyone who has been to On Balance knows this.) Sometimes I feel I need to have a tougher skin to face the discussions of the Bugaboo vs. Graco on DCUM than ever before. So I think a lot of this has to be taken with a few grains of salt, and a good sense of humor - all of which can be hard to come by when you are in the throws of new motherhood...

Posted by: mama | August 30, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

The problem I found with playgroups and mom's groups was that they were made up of parents staying at home permanently. I was on a 16-week maternity leave, and for about the first 12 of that I was too exhausted to even consider social outlets. I felt very isolated, but at the same time I felt like my only option was "crashing" an existing group for three weeks before I went back to work, which wasn't enough time to build a network. What did others who were on maternity leave but going back to work do?

Posted by: Arlington | August 30, 2007 10:48 AM | Report abuse

When it comes to personal connections made via internet, it's too easy-come-easy-go. It's the simplest thing to "meet" someone online who sounds like a kindred spirit, exchange a few fun and insightful emails. And it can be heartbreaking when this new friend simply stops emailing, especially if it happens at a time when you really needed a friend to rely on. I'll stick with my established relationships, I think, and hope to build new ones the old-fashioned way: walks around the neighborhood, lingering shopping excursions, and friend-of-friend introductions.

Posted by: WDC | August 30, 2007 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I have never understood this problem. I had many friends before I had children, and they remained my friends - whether or not they ever had babies. They still called me, dropped by, went to lunch with me, etc. In fact, I was like that with my friends who became moms before I did.

I understand if you move to a new area, you are isolated. But if you haven't moved - what happened to all your friends?

Is it that the friendships - prior to the baby - weren't based on anything deeper than you happen to work in the same office?

True friends remain friends even when they aren't sharing the same life experiences at the same moment.

I think you need to call up people who were your friends before the baby - you'll still like them! They'll still like you! They'll probably be interested in some baby stuff, as long as you are still interrested in their lives, careers, etc, and not just so wrapped up in mommy-hood that you become a self-centered bore.

My mom lived nearby - I could talk to her all day long about baby stuff when I wanted, so I know I was lucky in that I didn't need it so much from other new moms.

Plus, my baby was so much fun, we had some more! I'm never lonely anymore!

Posted by: Amelia | August 30, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Back when I had my kids, pre-internet, I was isolated before I had them so it was not that different. I was kind of a pioneer in a mostly male field (science) so I had few female peers in school or at work, and among the women I did know at work extremely few had had children. Plus I was kind of a nerd and workaholic so didn't have female friends outside of work. The weeks at home drove me crazy, both from lack of adult contact and fear that I wouldn't be accepted or that work wouldn't go that well when I went back (when I told people I was pregnant some told me they didn't think I was "that kind" and seemed to take me less seriously, at least I thought). But having had a life of partial social isolation made it not that difficult to take. I was OK mostly.

The internet might have helped but like others have said, sometimes the contact you get online is kind of mean and not that supportive. So - I don't know.

Posted by: catherine | August 30, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I love the internet for connecting with other parents. When I was 7 months pregnant with my first child, my husband and I moved to a new area where we knew no one and into a neighborhood with no nearby young families, so connecting with people in our situation was nearly impossible in real life. On the internet, however, I had already "made friends" with a large group of women all due with babies around the same time and they helped support me through the rest of my pregnancy, the early difficult months of parenting, and now through many years of raising children. While I've met some of those women in real life and developed those friendships, the connection is still stronger with the larger internet group because it's just so much easier to communicate with someone through the internet--you can check in and maintain contact easily no matter how busy the rest of your life is.

I also think the internet is a fabulous resource for connecting with people when you are dealing with specific parenting issues--messageboards devoted to sleep problems, nursing problems, and even rarer things like medical issues that your IRL friends may never have heard of. When my son was diagnosed with a rare immune system disorder, I went directly to the internet and found a few people raising kids with the same disorder and they were able to help guide me through the time immediately after his diagnosis, through treatment issues, ongoing illnesses, etc. I would have been completely alone and at a loss if I had only IRL friends to rely on at that point!

Posted by: Sarah | August 30, 2007 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I think the Internet is helpful as an information source (when you know where to go for actual information), but real connections happen face-to-face, and frankly, we should be examples of that to our kids as well. Online connections generally don't materialize into real relationships that can rescue you from a babysitter who ditches, give you a respite from your kid when your afternoon goes crazy, or listen patiently as you describe the strange rash that has seized your baby's little toe.

I connected with other new moms through a new mom's group at a nearby hosptial, which I considered essential after visiting some online fora during my pregnancy and in the initial weeks after birth. Meeting with ordinary moms and dads going through the same things you are is incredibly reassuring. You can also tailor those relationships by getting together with folks who share the same values and parenting styles--rather than weeding through the crazy morass of the online discussion groups where every opinion is suddenly elevated to professional diagnosis.

Posted by: SS Working Mom | August 30, 2007 11:14 AM | Report abuse

"Online connections generally don't materialize into real relationships that can rescue you from a babysitter who ditches, give you a respite from your kid when your afternoon goes crazy, or listen patiently as you describe the strange rash that has seized your baby's little toe."

It may be true that online connections can't rescue you from your child but they most certainly can be real. I have been friends with a group of women on the Internet for 10 years, and have had several in person meet-ups with people from the group. People in our group have vacationed together, visited each other's homes, visited each other in the hospital, and supported each other through a myriad of joys and sorrows, and they are from all over the continent.

Relationships take work, no matter whether they're online or people who live in your area. You can't drop into a huge parenting board and expect to come away the first day with a best friend - you have to find a smaller, more specialized board and keep going back. Often I hear women whining about being isolated when they first have a baby and not knowing any other new moms, but they're not doing anything to remedy the situation. You have to leave your house to find IRL friends. If you're not comfortable knocking on a neighbor's door (I'm not), take a parenting class (I did.) It's easier to form playgroups and babysitting co-ops and moms groups when you're all in one place and nobody has to be the one to make the first move.


Posted by: oldmom | August 30, 2007 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I am a member of a couple different on line Mom's groups all of which have broken off from more established groups. The previous poster who mentioned that people can be opinionated and mean spirited is right. But that's why the groups I belong to broke off. Now the groups are made up of very supportive women always willing to cheer you on. Frankly, that's refreshing.

I like the online support because it allows you to cast a broad net. When I would post a question about how to get through the day with infant twins, there were at least ten moms of multiples who would respond. That was a huge help to me. Also, being a new mom in the throws of 24 hour schedules and sleep deprivation - being able to connect to others at any hour or the day or night is priceless.

When my boys were newborn I was supported by my groups to go out with them alone, got tips on how to get the grocery shopping done and how to sidestep the gawkers that are inevitable when out and about with multiples. Those first few weeks were extrememly hard but being connected through the internet helped me get through it.

I'm all for getting the support you need wherever you can find it!

Posted by: Cindy | August 30, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Response to Amelia: I didn't lose friends when I had a baby, but when I was at home 24 hours a day (12 of them alone while my husband worked), I needed new friends. My existing circle of friends was wonderful and supportive, but they all still had jobs and enjoyed evening plans that didn't involve being home by 7:30. I didn't need new friends -- I just needed somebody, ANYBODY who was free to take a walk with strollers in tow at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning.

Posted by: Arlington | August 30, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Interestingly, I became part of a moms group before giving birth, as part of a birth preparedness class. We all became very close we went went through childbirth and the first few months together. Sadly, as some of us went back to work and our children grew a bit, it became impossible to find enough common ground to continue getting together. Between differences in lifestyle, opinion on chid-rearing practices, and plain-old exhaustion I drifted away from the group. So now my husband and I are back to spending time with our old friends when we can find it, and mostly trying to get some sleep. I think it would be great to have a parenting group to connect with, but the internet, while a wonderful resource, doesn't create free time.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 30, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Old Mom, it's so true that we need to take time for our friendships. I have three best friends (one from high school, two from college) and I see each of them at least once a year. I would be so sad without any of them.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 30, 2007 1:29 PM | Report abuse

My experience of internet support was very specific. I'd had fertility issues, and my first child was an emergency cesarian delivery, with a lot of issues. The support was when I found out I was pregnant the second time, and I desperately wanted to avoid another cesarian. The International Cesarian Awareness Network (ICAN) was my lifeboat in a vast ocean of "what's wrong with just scheduling another cesarian?" and other commenters that just didn't understand me.

Later, when our older child's autism was finally diagnosed, I went searching on-line for other parents facing the same challenges, and found lots of information but no email lists of parents supporting each other. That support finally came from our school district starting a program specifically for kids with Aspergers Syndrome and high-functioning autism. The parents of kids in the program started talking to each other, carpooling to social skills groups, having picnics, and sharing the load.

When I *really* needed to find support, it was there, somewhere. Sometimes on the internet, and sometimes not.

Posted by: Sue | August 30, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I think it's great that there are internet sites out there for moms who do not otherwise have soical outlet but if I had to do it over again, I'd be the one to knock on my neighbor's door with a pot of coffee and bag of cookies. My experience however was similar to Amelia's. My friends before I became a mom remained my friends and I did not feel any sense of isolation, etc. I am an older mom of three kids who returned to work after the usual 8-12 weeks leave after each. Maybe because it was such a concentratd time with each baby that I failed to need or recognize a social outlet. I was consumed and happily so, being with each baby during leave. And the evening and weekends were so jam packed , who thought about anything beyond the immediate?? They are older now (grade school to high school) and do not require round the clock care or observation but they are still lots of fun and I cherish any time I can spend with them. Oh, and my new best friends now include othe moms and dads rom school.

Posted by: Eliana | August 30, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

True, the internet is better than nothing. And the internet is really great for finding resources or looking up data. But I really am glad I made friends with another woman in my neighborhood, who was also a first-time mother when I had my first child. Even though this "Mommy friend" and I didn't have much else in common...we met at least once a week to go for a short health walk. It forced me to get out and talk to another adult which did help my mood.

Posted by: Rock Creek | August 30, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

"What did others who were on maternity leave but going back to work do?"

We had several moms in our group (the one born in the hospital's new mom class) go back to work in the first year of our kids' lives. Although these moms don't tend to make it to playgroup, they're still on our email group and still come to get-togethers we do on the weekends or evenings. I think the key there is making an effort to remain in the group without the easy connection of a weekly playgroup to keep you going.

Posted by: NewSAHM | August 30, 2007 5:28 PM | Report abuse

I found a couple of internet sites very helpful, particularly when I was a new mom. I didn't use them as a way to meet people though - merely as a way to seek information. I am a member of a discussion board that deals specifically with issues of conception, pregnancy, birth, and parenting young children. It was formed around the time we were thinking of starting a family so it's been fun to see the group evolve as children are born (and siblings) and watch families grown and change.

I also learned about an organization that sponsored playgroups via the internet. I learned it existed and then sought it out when we moved to a new city. Of course then you actually had to show up to attend and make it all work, but I never would have known about it if not for the internet.

Before we moved, however, I found the best way to meet parents of children my daughter's age was to simply be a presence in our neighborhood - in our yard, on our street, meet our neighbors and hang out at the local parks.

Posted by: viennamom | September 3, 2007 8:07 AM | Report abuse

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