Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Supermoms and mom empowerment

Back in December, blogger friend Jess Wilson asked if I’d donate a few signed books for a raffle. Now, Jess is a mom with two grade school kids in Newton, Massachusetts. Ten years ago, I’d have figured she was doing a raffle for some event at her local elementary school. That’s how it was when parents asked for donations when I was young.

Moms like her volunteered locally, to support the causes her kids were involved in. Mom power supported all manner of things in town, like soccer team bake sales, haunted house fundraisers for Scouts, and silent auctions for the Band.

The amounts of money were relatively small, but collectively they had a powerful impact in their local communities.

Boy, has that changed!

Thanks to the connectivity and community of the Internet, the power of moms like Jess has been multiplied many times over. Instead of raising fifty bucks, Jess led a group that raised twenty times that sum to benefit a kid almost a thousand miles away. And most remarkably, she raised the money from people who have never met in person. The whole thing was virtual, but the money and its effect was real.

And the impact was more powerful, too. Instead of financing a trip for the band, her group helped buy a $12,000 service dog for a kid with autism in Cleveland. Instead of making life a bit more fun for a group of kids, she helped acquire a service dog that can truly change the life of a single kid. That’s amazing on several levels.

I was proud to play a small part, but that’s not the point of this story. Today, I’d like to ponder the larger meaning of mom empowerment and the Internet.

At first glance, you might think that moms like Jess have simply refocused their volunteer efforts nationally instead of locally, thanks to the power in the Internet. But conversations with Jess and other moms like her suggest that’s not the case. Many if not most of the “Internet moms” are also very active in their schools and local groups.

That continuing local involvement is obvious if you read their blogs.

In some cases, the Internet has also driven a reorganization of family roles. For example, using Jess as an example, her husband has assumed some of the “local mom” responsibilities, thereby allowing Jess to expand her “Internet mom” presence.

However it breaks down, the parenting power of Jess’s family unit has been greatly magnified, thanks to the Internet.

If the “Internet mom” activity is more productive than the “local mom” activity, wouldn’t you think that would empower the moms, thereby changing their lives in other ways? I think it would.

One example would be the way moms share treatment strategies for illness, or teaching strategy for kids who struggle in school. Moms even discuss getting the kids to bed and other aspects of parenting that might previously have been discussed only with their own mom or a best friend.

Somehow, the Internet created an environment that fosters all that discussion. That seems to me like a good thing, but are there downsides?

I hear people speak of today’s supermoms, and all the things they do that moms of yesteryear did not do. When I first heard that talk I dismissed it as another “grass is greener” kind of story, but I now see that it’s real. Some of today’s moms – thanks to tools like the Internet – truly are doing far more.

That leads to some interesting questions, which I throw out to you readers for comment.

I have written and spoken before about our diminished sense of local community. Today’s families are isolated as never before in their homes. In many places, kid packs are a thing of the past. Yet these Internet supermoms are building a strong virtual community, and kids have their own communities online. But they are not the same. Over on my Psychology Today blog, I asked if the internet was actually making kids a bit autistic in a December essay.

How does a shift from “in person” to virtual friendship and community participation affect grownups like the moms? Perhaps it’s not a shift; perhaps it’s an expansion. I don’t know.

Does this Internet empowerment for moms foster or perpetrate that physical isolation, or is it merely an outgrowth of a larger trend?

How does the empowerment of a mom change the family dynamic? Surely the balance of power between husband and wife is altered. Is that good or bad?

It’s natural to think a person would focus their efforts where they derived the greatest result. If I were Jess, I might well spend my time on $10,000 online fundraisers rather than $500 local ones. But is that good? Is the local community suffering for that?

Has the empowerment simply sped the pace of life for the moms even further? Will we just burn ourselves out as a result?

Or does everybody benefit from this mom empowerment?

As moms, are you happier with your life thanks to these changes?

How about your kids – are their lives better now?

And finally, how about your mates?

27 comments:

Lisa said...

Thanks for this, John! While I do have supportive flesh-and-blood connections, my life (and the life of my son) has been enriched so greatly by the on-line presence of "supermoms" like Kyra Anderson and all those like her whose ideas and opinions open up new windows! The internet has given all of us who are would-be "supermoms" the chance to create our own community, something that simply would not exist without it! Because of those that are willing to share their experiences, we don't ever have to feel like we are alone!

John Elder Robison said...

It's interesting that you'd mention Kyra, Lisa, because she has complained on her own blog of having "no friends" in real life, despite having many friends online.

Niksmom said...

I think the very fractured nature of society today has made our online connections critical. Gone is the day when you knew your neighbors well or when you had the luxury of only one spouse in the work force. The time in which non-working mothers once gathered for coffee or quilting (or whatever shared activity they did during school hours) is long gone.

Throw in to the mix the fact that having a child with *any* sort of disability can be incredibly isolating. It is empowering to find "our own" in numbers such as exist online. Compassion and understanding are empowering. I think, in the end, that's all good.

In addition to very practical support about raising my child, what I get from moms like Jess, Kyra, Drama Mama, and so many others is real-life support That support helps me make my entire family stronger and my marriage successful. It certaily helps that I have a highly supportive spouse; he understands the feelings of isolation we've both experienced in our "real" lives and is glad I have such a strong network.

Niksmom said...

I wanted to add this:
Face-to-face friendships are almost always built upon some commonality; where I live there aren't many people who have any understanding of what our lives are like and who don't understand some of the limitations we have because of our son's needs. It's difficult to coordinate schedules or be highly spontaneous at thispoint in our lives. My internet friends understand and don't judge or have expectations I cannot possibly meet.

scotthaber said...

I read your December essay discussing the possibility that the internet is making our kids ‘a bit autistic.’ I suppose this could be true… if I allowed my son (or myself, for that matter) to completely limit my interaction with others to the computer, never allowing time for face-to-face contact. But the truth is that we get up each morning and go to work, school, maybe the grocery store, or perhaps the local Target. We still talk to people and attend the occasional social outing. Speaking for my family, I do not think we’ve limited our traditional interaction just because we’ve added the internet to the mix. It’s just a bonus. When I was a kid, my mom would put me and my two sisters to bed and go downstairs to join my father in the living room. He would watch T.V. while she would suck down one Dr. Pepper after another while chain smoking and reading one of her enormous romance novels. When I put my son to bed and go downstairs, I have considerably more options. I can sit down with whatever novel or memoir I happen to be reading at the time, I can do my statistics homework, I can watch mindless T.V. dribble, or I can sit on the couch with my laptop. If laptop/couch time is my activity of choice, the possibilities are endless. I could see what friends are up to on Facebook, I could peruse the world news on CNN, I could read and reply to work emails because I have an indescribable passion for my job (definitely sarcasm)… and the list does not end there (nor does the sarcasm).

I remember when my family members first started hinting around that there was something different about my son. Those were the days when I would put my Snuggly Wuggly Boy to bed, sit down in front of the computer, and read everything I could find on autism spectrum disorders and sensory issues until the wee hours of the morning. My husband would say, “You have got to stop your incessant research, you’re just freaking yourself out.” He would tell friends and family that I was obsessed. I had to explain (to him and everyone else that thought I had lost my mind) that I needed information desperately. It was the not knowing that filled me with fear and anxiety and the urge to pull my son into my lap, hold him tightly and cry. My husband never mentioned my online research obsession again after the day our son was diagnosed. He watched as I talked calmly and intelligently with the specialists while he appeared to be confused, full of uncertainty and fear.

In my opinion, the internet has not caused a shift away from “in person” relationships. It is simply an expansion, as you put it. The internet allows us to communicate or obtain information in a way that our parents could not. My son is about to turn 6. He often sits in my lap while we look at images of the moon, the planets, racecars, trains, or fish… whatever his fascination is at the time. He has his own ‘Fun Stuff’ folder that he can access to get to the Disney Pixar Cars website or the Thomas the Tank Engine website. I can easily picture him at 10 years of age, sitting on the couch with the laptop studying atmospheric railways or the Train à Grande Vitesse. It is my job to make sure that he still gets outside to get dirty, go swimming at the YMCA with Dad, go to birthday parties and to engage in some genuine person-to-person contact.

jess said...

As always, there is so much here to chew on. Let me do my best to address your questions as you posed them:

We still volunteer locally, perhaps more than ever before, but, thanks to the internet, we also have the ability to cast an extraordinarily large net geographically to support our efforts.

We were but a small part of the greater effort for the service dog. I'm thrilled that we (thanks in no small part to your generosity!) were able to make an impact and help to make it happen, but I don't want to overstate my role in all of that.

As you mentioned, my husband and I are definitely still pretty unique in terms of our roles. Matt is the PTO president of the girls' elementary school, doing the lion's share of the volunteer work that is so vital to keeping the school running. His ability (as a stay at home dad) to take up that mantle puts me in the enviable position of being able to do a lot of the other things that are so important to me. Since I work full time, I can't imagine how else I would be able to sit on the board of our local special education advisory council or manage to attend (no less speak at or organize or host) as many functions as I do. I can't imagine that I'd have the energy to write nearly every day if I had to manage to run errands after work, make it to the grocery store and put dinner on the table every night. Indeed, our partnership enables me to do what I do. I am incredibly grateful for it.

And yes, this community that we moms have created online has empowered us each within our own spheres. Much of that for me is intangible but incredibly valuable. I came from a place of feeling all together alone, desperate for connection..Many parents of kids with autism around me do everything they can to protect their anonymity. Makes it difficult to connect with one another, to say the least.

But now? Now I know, deep down I know, that I have a host of friends (faceless though they may in many cases be) who GET what I experience. They are a cheerleading squad for my baby's every leap forward. They understand the darkest moments of fear and doubt. They know at their core what it's like to love a child that you can't always understand. These women lift me on their shoulders when I struggle. The ones with older kids (like my dear, beloved friend, Drama Mama) illuminate the path that lies ahead. They offer HOPE. They show us where we can be - where love and persistence can lead. The ones with younger kids - the ones in the dark, early days of diagnosis - they remind us not only how far we've come, but they make us better parents. They shine a light on the progress, recognize the miracles. They show us were we were just a short time ago.

All of it - all the love, the shared struggles and triumphs, the unwavering support - it makes us stronger. It allows us to walk into birthday parties and school plays and make small talk at fundraisers with typical parents who don't get it - who may never get it - because we know that we have people who DO get it -who will ALWAYS get it. People who don't need an explanation for why small victories mean so much or why we may well up just because our kid approached another one on the playground to ask to ask if they wanted to play or told us they were hungry.

If there's a downside, I haven't found it yet. It was once suggested to me that someday our children will read what we wrote and be stung by the fact that there was pain. I hope to God that the only message that comes through is that the pain that there may have been was only EVER borne of the frustration of not being able to do enough because I loved my little girl so very much.. I hope she will see the love. I'm pretty convinced she won't be able to miss it.

Yes, the pace can be frenetic. But even there, my bloggy mamas come through with reminders to take it down a little. To breathe. To take time for ourselves.

And all of that - stronger, more empowered moms, moms who take the time for themselves who feel supported and loved and NOT ALONE? No way that doesn't translate into being BETTER moms with happier kids.

Hopefully, that's a start.

Thanks for opening the topic. You certainly don't understate its impact.

(And let me tell you how relieved I am that when you told me to check out today's post about me it wasn't actually the one that originally came up from yesterday on 'The World of High End Prostitutes. Heaven only knows what I might have come up with in response to that! LOL)

Crazy Momma said...

Great post, as always.

For me, there are many benefits and downfalls to being a "mommy blogger" and connecting with other moms via the internet...

I don't have many close personal friends that I connect with on a regular basis. Part of that reason is that most of them do not have children, much less a child on the autism spectrum. Therefore, it is hard to connect.

Having fellow mommy bloggers helps me to have a connection - but I wouldn't know these people if I ran into them on the streets.

All I need now, however, is someone to tell me how to potty train my 6 year old on the spectrum and life would be perfect...or close to it :)

Michelle O'Neil said...

The internet for me has been a link to like minded people and has helped me feel less isolated as I go down the special needs path with my daughter. It is hard to find people in my everyday life who truly understand our challenges. I get tons of emotional support from the on-line community, but I am still astounded that we were able to raise 11 K for Riley's dog in just two months, at least half of which came through on line donations.

Thank you so much to Jess for her efforts on our behalf and to you John for being so generous.

Looking forward to Feb. when I can thank you in person!

Woof!

And long live the internet!!!

kristen said...

I love this post and the dialogue that follows. There is so much I want to say, to contribute, I could fill books with words about this very subject. But, honestly, Jess's response is so well-stated. As I read what she wrote, I just kept saying to myself, "Yes, exactly. What she said." So, yes, exactly, what Jess said.

This amazing community has given me the tools I need to be a better mother for my son and a stronger advocate within my own community. In the real-life world, I stand with maybe a handful of other parents, some who "don't want to get involved" or don't want anyone to know their child has even been diagnosed. But online, I stand strong with an army of parents who are not afraid to stand up and be counted, to make a difference.

I've been lucky enough to meet a lot of these moms in real life, and I have to say, I cannot imagine my life without them in it. They complete me.

Laura said...

ha, you avoided the "warrior mom" label. Smart man.

Indeed, the internet has enabled me to connect with other autism mamas. But that connection has shifted from virtual to real, thanks to the life force that is Judith at Autismville, who kind of took me under her wing offline, g-d bless her. So my online connection is not to the detriment of social connections or community - on the contrary, Judith organized an autism blog mama night out including none other than Jess. (Hi Jess!)

Could it work the other way? Can the internet ultimately cause us to isolate ourselves? Maybe, and I worry about that for my kids. But that's not my personal experience.

John Elder Robison said...

This has certainly elicited a lot of good thought.

Laura, what is the significance of warrior mom to you?

I did not use warrior mom in my title because I did not perceive combat to be a part of today's story.

The idea of Internet empowerment of moms is, to me, not a warrior tale.

goodfountain said...

I think about this topic a lot. Even before I was a Mom of a special needs kid, back when I thought she was, you know, "regular," (ha), I thought about this topic. Do I spend too much time on the Internet as opposed to out in the "real world"? Have my online friends replaced 'real' friends. The answer for me is definitely no. I just have to work harder at the real life friendships ... harder to make them happen.

For me, like everyone else has stated, blogging about my daughter has made me feel less alone and given me support and camaraderie that I so desperately need.

I am not active in the local autism community. Sometimes I think about it. I don't think my lack of activism has anything to with my internet family but has more to do with just me and my personality. However, my internet family is inspiring me to consider trying out the whole activism thing. Emily (a life less ordinary) posted about the Family Action Network she started at her sons' school and that idea is very much appealing to me. I'm terrified to try to lead something, or get something started, but if others can do it, why not me?

So maybe the Internet is having the reverse effect that you wondering about. Maybe for some of us, we are drawn to being more active than we otherwise might have naturally considered.

Either way, I have enjoyed this post and the ensuing dialogue because, as I said, I think about this a LOT.

kyra said...

great post, john, and wonderful comments!

it's funny, but i sort of blanch at the word 'supermom' even though i get what you're saying and referring to. 'warrior mom' doesn't work at all for me since i'm not actually FIGHTING AGAINST but more working to ADVOCATE FOR a number of things: my son, my self, more willingness for the wider world to really see and hear.

but supermom? hardly. for me, that is. i can certainly see MANY a supermom out there in the blogosphere...

the issue of community is one that i've thought of A LOT over the past 8 years. of course, isolation isn't limited to those of us with special needs kids. it's something many moms experience. motherhood is very often isolating and maybe something that dads (forgive me all the wonderful dads out there!) can't quite understand.

my husband does his best but, for many reasons, our experiences have been different.

and the isolation is much more extreme with special needs kids and, as niksmom says, other moms in similar situations are hard to find in real life. our lives have become more fractured.

i started writing to 'keep the bitterness at bay' at the time completely unaware that there was one other blog out there by a mom of an ASD child. i no longer feel the tide of bitterness at my toes but i've kept writing because of solace, the friendship, the support, the release, and the community i've found.

and, i'm with goodfountain. i think the connection i've found on the internet has been empowering which has allowed for greater activism and involvement in every part of my life. it was through blogging that i found my voice and the voices of many many powerful funny fascinating women with their wonderful children, out there in the sometimes tall grass with their scythes and their binoculars and their big beating hearts.

Laura said...

John - it's a figure of speech made popular by a book ( http://www.amazon.com/Mother-Warriors-Parents-Healing-Against/dp/0452295602/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1232548149&sr=1-1 )

John Elder Robison said...

I can certainly see how the Internet helps all of you find like-minded moms.

If your kid is different from the other kids in the neighborhood I guess it does set you apart as a mom, so associating with similar moms online is no doubt comforting.

It's interesting for me to observe that as a grownup because I was totally oblivious to it all as a kid. Would my own mother have joined a group like this? Who knows . . .

It's clear to me that you are all empowered to varying degrees by this online collaboration, but I still wonder if there's something to be done to build more sense of community in the real (local) worlds for each of you.

Because that's ultimately the world where our kids have to exist. So while there is an obvious benefit to the online group, there is also a large potential benefits for the kids if there is a corresponding local group.

My concern is (as I alloded in my PT story) that a satisfying online experience may cause withdrawal from the less satisfying (but still vital to our kids) local community.

At least, that's how it seems to me. What do you think?

kyra said...

i would ask you the same question: does the satisfaction of your online community detract from what you bring/offer/contribute to your local community? or enhance? don't you find it's part of the conversation? each places affecting the other?

as i said in my comment, it feels to me that the on line community contributes to what i can and do bring to my in-person community: when i get what i need, i give what i have.

the online community feels like a bunch of people passing supplies down the line, like when there's a difficulty and everyone comes from far and wide to get the goods from here to there. you reach in, pick up the box or the food or the water and pass it to the person next to you and they pass it down to the next person. and in this way, it goes from the virtual to the real, round and round, and then back again.

Kanani said...

It can open up new relationships and deepen understanding.
Since you asked about downsides, I'll toss out a few. Connectivity --internet, texting, cell phones, ipods, costs money. A family of four with four cell phones, a landline, internet connection can easily spend $350.00 per month.

There's a fairly broad portion of our society that isn't able to do this, hence we have to understand that there's a swath who aren't being included in some of the advantages we hold having instantaneous communications. So the bigger issue is, how do we ensure that we're helping a broader audience, how do we make sure our understanding is as rich as it can possibly be?

There's no easy answers to any of this. But it's something I'm aware of as I go out to the community. We all have different levels of "connectedness" --one not being better than the other.

The other downside is that it can lead to isolation. Human relationships take a lot of back and forth, they're far more difficult than ones forged on the internet. When you establish a relationship in person, you accept even the quirks. Online, it's a bit different. You can click off their page, and you only have to accept what they choose to share.

Like I said, there are no pat answers. There are those who have a natural ability toward this online stuff, and others --regardless of their ability to pay, who don't. One system is not better than the other, it's just different.

John Elder Robison said...

Kyra, I don't know that I can answer your question with respect to me. My world expanded so fast with the release of LMITE; it's very hard to associate so many of the changes with causes.

kyra said...

i see what you mean, john. it was a wild, sudden ride for you! and a much-deserved one, too!

Mary Paine said...

Thanks for this post, John. I never thought of myself as a 'supermom', but I think I mentioned when I met you at last summer's Backspace Conference that my daughter is highly gifted (a number of labels have been tossed around) with a social skills delay & I spent three years working with her to help her. Now she's a very happy, well-adjusted kindergartener. The school wants to put her in the gifted program, but her favorite subject is P.E. and she loves being in her regular classroom with her friends, so whatever super effort it took over the past three years, I see the rewards for every day now.

I'm involved in her elementary school's PTO and we're having a silent auction to raise funds for library materials, smart boards, new computers, etc. I was wondering if I sent you a copy of LMITE if you could autograph it for me? I can be reached at mary@marypaine.com.

Thanks again for the wonderful post. Perhaps I'll see you at this summer's Backspace Conference.

Cheers,
Mary

AudraE said...

John, regarding your remark, "My concern is that a satisfying online experience may cause withdrawal from the less satisfying local community"... I'm not sure that's possible given how much we, as so-called "superparents," are required to keep up the face to face contact on a local basis all the time -- talking to teachers, therapists, counselors, coaches, etc. And the satisfying personal connections (i.e.with other parents) just seem to naturally follow from there. What's more, my son was first diagnosed about 8 years ago, when these amazing blog communities were virtually non-existent. So the only contact I had with like-minded parents was locally, in person. I had work hard to seek it out but I did find it -- at clinics, at preschools, through therapists. At first that contact was frustratingly minimal and I did feel alone and overwhelmed but over the years we have managed to cobble together an ever-growing local community for ourselves. Because even though I live in a big city (Chicago), the ASD/sp ed world is much smaller. We are constantly introducing ourselves to each other and bringing new people into the fold. Maybe I'm an exception but I feel incredibly fortunate to have have numerous opportunities for support -- both formal support groups and informal groups that have evolved over the years. We share ideas, resources and shoulders to cry on. We organize, volunteer and just hang out. And obviously the local aspect is especially important when it comes to finding resources like schools, doctors and therapsists. For me, the blog community is a relatively new aspect of my journey as an ASD parent. While I feel like it's added much in the way of my own personal enlightenment, and I have tremendous admiration for these parents willing to share their stories so eloquently, it has in no way replaced the local community that has definitely not been diminished by the internet and continues to grow and flourish.

AudraE said...

Adding to my comment above, I should clarify that the blog community would have been a godsend in the early, often dark, days of initial diagnosis. Because finding local connections takes time and often it is hard to know where to turn, where to begin. And the internet means instant connections, often when you need a comforting word, a sympathetic ear or a plan of action the most.

ShaniaGirl said...

To answer some of your questions...

I grew up with a Leave it to Beaver neighbor, the neighbors new one another, families bought homes and stayed put for a long time, all the kids were in the same schools, we had parties together, were babysat by one another, we played outside till it got dark. We had a pack on my block and Im still friends in my 30s with these families a lot of them today.

Now I have kids, I am not in a neighborhood full of kids, we know one set of neighbors and their kids, I dont trust most of my neighborhood, I have my kids in a different school district then the one where I live. Im not in a neighborhood where they can take off for fear theyd fall into the wrong crowd. Yet I also dont have my kids making friends online (I have two teens) I limit their computer time to play to 1 hr a day in a supervised room, same with video game time. I dont have cable tv, we watched movies or dvds and get some of tv shows past to watch an episode together as a family (like I did as a kid)

You mentioned "Are we making kids autistic?" and Ive felt that more about ADHD. Kids are born and all these toys are made to promote stimulating your childs brain. Everything lights up, makes sounds, is meant to improve your childs intelligence, on and on, a baby with contraptions strapped to its crib with lights and sounds, and then stuck in front of videos and tvs, and on and on. Then society and everybody used to everything immediatly(the fast food nation thing) Everything is fast paced, now, gimmie gimmie, and then we are bombarding young minds with all this info, I mean what do we expect to happen to kids like this? My kids entertained themselves on the floor playing with tupperware bowls and wooden spoons.




How does a shift from “in person” to virtual friendship and community participation affect grownups like the moms?

It does affect community participation. I find a lot more moms who are in online groups are LESS involved in community Mom groups. Its not the same. An online group you pop in when you want to and when you feel like it and to get a need met or discuss something or vent when you need to, its instant! Its not the same in real life.

Does this Internet empowerment for moms foster or perpetrate that physical isolation? Im not sure how to reply on this one because when I had small children I was isolated due to a husband who expected me to be at home and not out around others, the internet was my outlet and my escape. I dont think it fostered isolation, it opened my mind, but I see the internet aspect is moms have a place to vent and talk about anything in any forum now. If a mom is having a bad day? She can run to any forum and seek validation, support, a listening ear right away.

How does the empowerment of a mom change the family dynamic? Surely the balance of power between husband and wife is altered. Is that good or bad?

Im not sure about the choice of the word "Empowerment" I felt empowered by the internet because I had a outlet, exposure to the outside world, but it wasnt so much for me as a parent but me as a woman that I was seeking the help.

I do use the internet for research on child issues but Im not one to ask advice much on my children because Im one to use the internet research tools to read up for myself rather then ask another persons opinion, I try to find the experts and info behind topics to read for myself. But the crappy marriage and mistreatment I was in was shared and I was encouraged not to tolerate that on the internet by others, I was empowered in that way.

I think we all could stand to spend less time on our computers, sit with our kids more, eat dinner together, talk, turn the tv, computer, etc off. Just hang out. I took away my kids hour of video games and tv for some poor grades, my 13 yr old wasnt into reading ever, all the sudden he was forced to find something to do and has taken up reading books, series of books, spending hours reading, its changed him, and for the good!

Im more sad that kids arent out exploring and being creative and playing, getting exercise. But the internet, well its easy for us Moms to go play there ourselves and try and get our needs met and not spend the time with our kids, Im guilty there. I see some benefits of course, but in moderation. Real life is important and our community, I prefer to have both. Community in real life and online.

ShaniaGirl said...

PS. And by the way. I did have a church group when my kids were small, I went weekly and us Moms talked and our kids played. I then moved onto a domestic violence group that had a group for children to attend also. So my kids could go with me while I was dealing with my way of getting help they had a group for the kids. Online groups are great for adults I think in many ways, but I really dont see the same benefit of kids connecting this way. Just my thoughts and I prefer my kids not engage in that. I keep mine away from using the net that way. But I know its not the norm, a lot of their friends have computers in their rooms and unlimited time on them. I dont personally think its a good idea.

nici said...

This gave me an awful lot to ponder. I am a bipolar mom raising 3 sons: one with Asperger's, one bipolar ADHD, and one neruotypical. So I am thinking maybe I am not the best candidate for a baseline reading on this topic, but I will chime in with my experiences. Real world connections for us have been tough. We are unable to effectively participate in most typical kid-parent-community activites since their individual quirks/behaviors are not compatible with things like group sports (which is the most important thing in my town...and we are SO not a sports family!)

My real life interactions now revolve primarily around support group meetings with other moms at my son's therapeutic dayschool, and a rare cup of coffee or manicure date with one of my local friends, of which I am blessed to have 4 of. Even though we have next door neighbors who have children, (as those who read my blog may remember), they are not comfortable with interacting with my family, to put it nicely.

The internet has given me many things that I believe have directly impacted not only my parenting skills, my my personal growth. Access to information, support, debate, conversation with other parents, even other bipolar parents, has helped me feel less alone. I grew up moving around the world, so Facebook let me find all the friends I thought I had to "give up" as a kid. A friend I made through the magic of the internet sent me a call for writers; since then I have been published twice and have a third story due out in the spring. As an artist, it has allowed me to connect with other artists, find a place to sell my work online so that I can create at home (my own form of therapy.) and to be featured in online art blogs and magazines. A portion of the proceeds in my ETsy shop go to bpkids.org.

In many ways I feel like we have, as a family unit, a disability, one that limits our access in a predominately able-family world. There are some places out there we can access and we do whenever possible. But the internet drops barriers and opens doors in a whole new way, and one that I cannot imagine not having. It offers me the flexibilty to communicate when I am able (no phone calls go uninterrupted here!), to find or offer support, to inspire and be inspired.

Thank you for all the thought provoking points you raise; I agree with so many others on so many points here, I cannot think to add anything else! :)

Matt said...

I consider myself pretty darned lucky being Jess' husband. I get to do things most men don't. I do get a lot of, "Wow! How do I get THAT job?" or "MAN, I could do that!". And the truth is it's a pretty good gig. Aside from the obvious (spending time with the kids before and after school), I get to do things that I really enjoy like cooking and volunteering at the kids' school (despite my occasional complaining about that...nothing's perfect!).

But that's not what your post was about was it. Your post was about the internet and the internet communities that have found their critical mass. These little villages that have formed and continue to grow, in my opinion, provide a little extra something that one's local communities sometimes lack.

Before finding her "Internet Village", Jess was struggling. As a spouse, there was only so much I could do. Yes, we are partners in life in the truest sense of the word, but sometimes it is hard for someone to take encouragement from someone who has already promised to encourage and support you for eternity. As hard as that was for me to take, I understand that. I had already told her, over ten years ago, that I'd always be there for her with positive words and a helpful hand and to get things off the top shelf(in part because she's 5'0" on a good day and I'm 6'0").

So when things were dark and uncertain, my words and support, though appreciated I'm sure, probably had a somewhat Polly-Annic quality to them. How do I know that things are going to be okay? How do I know that we will get through this together? The truth was I didn't....but I did!!! We are partners and I just knew.

The "how" came from an unexpected place for me (and for Jess too I'm sure). This internet community, this Village of Power Blogger Moms, has changed our lives. As Jess mentioned earlier, a lot of people keep their child's diagnosis in the closet and, well, that's their choice. I don't understand it, but it's their choice. The problem with that is that it leads to isolation, both of the child and the parents. At a recent meeting that Jess had organized of "Mom's of..." there was a mom who breathed a sigh of relief to see so many compatriots saying she had been all alone for seven years and didn't know anybody. She left that meeting with a playdate for her child and a smile on her face. This is an example of Jess' impact on a local level. But I digress...

The bottom line for me is that this Village has given Jess support and strength from an undeniable source...strangers, really. Yes, she has become friends with these sometimes faceless strangers, but in reality, these are people that have made no promise to be there through thick or thing, health or sickness, through the ups and down...yet, they are there. These moms are there.

Finally, at the local level, I have been fortunate enough to be able to pick up some of the “slack”, however, I would point out that Jess is still very active locally. Both last year and the year before that we hosted a silent auction to help raise funds that would help our little one’s pre-school. The first year we raised over $5,000. The next we far exceeded that. I would love to take the lion’s share of the credit for these, but if I am going to be honest, I just rode on Jess’ coattails. I still did a lot of the work, but it was Jess that got them started. This year, with our little one moving up to elementary school, Jess has been relentless in forming a group of “parents of” to be both a support group for each other AND an advocate for our children.

I know that each couple’s relationship is different. I am fortunate in being able to stay home (and darn it, Jess is fortunate that I get to stay home!) and do the things I do. It definitely allows Jess a little more freedom to do what she does. I do think that these power moms can do incredible work for people thousands of miles away, but I think that when you have the incredible hearts these women obviously have, I don’t doubt that they are doing just as much at home as for each other.

Strange Behaviour said...

To touch on a minor point:
an afternoon playing with the kids down the street has become a playdate. Chatty PTA moms are now Supermoms who run this joint we call "the world". Drive-in movies have gone the way of DVR's. Playing good ol' board games is old skool- now the kids are "gamers".

Try to embrace what we've now become, because one day we'll wistfully remember these times as the "wonderful way things used to be".