Raising Richmond: Parenting with the Internet

Today’s Moms and Dads no longer just have What to Expect When You’re Expecting or good ol’ Grandma to turn to for parenting guidance. Thanks to the Internet, we’ve got everything we would (and wouldn’t) ever want to know about raising kids right at our fingertips. So today we ask: how has the Internet affected your parenting experience?

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the latest installment of our parenting column written by two Richmond mothers: Patience Salgado (veteran mother of four gorgeous children), and Valerie Catrow (newish mother to a giant toddler). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s Moms and Dads no longer just have What to Expect When You’re Expecting or good ol’ Grandma to turn to for parenting guidance. Thanks to the Internet, we’ve got everything we would (and wouldn’t) ever want to know about raising kids right at our fingertips. So today we ask:

How has the Internet (and social media) affected your parenting experience?

Patience Salgado

It was 2001, the blog stone ages if you will, a time before the great rise of mommy blogs when forums reigned supreme. I had just had my first son a year prior and moved to a new city 1,000 miles away from my family. My dear friend was getting married and kept an online journal on the Wedding Channel to keep friends and family in the loop. When women had finished planning these crazy amazing weddings, it was natural to peek in the let’s-have-a-baby room…just to see, you know.

So there I was, one of the few with a baby already, somehow part of the community forum; I guess I was bridesmaided in. These women were smart, media/Internet savvy, and boy could they talk. I found myself starting my own online journal, telling stories of parenthood, explaining and sometimes defending my choices as a parent, creating this online reflection of my entire journey. They asked so many insightful questions, brought research to the table, argued, gave each other online baby showers, birthed and lost babies together, cared for each other through infant reflux and even rare disease, held therapy sessions for impending divorce, traded millions of pictures of growing children. They were a force.

Even 10 years and so many kids later, many remain friends today, carrying the community to the next Internet platform of the moment. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these women helped shaped who I am as a mother. They taught me to befriend and claim my intuition, to articulate and stand in my values, to allow my strengths as a person to be seen. Somewhere along the way, I became a writer and–dare I say?–one of those online geeks. New writing opportunities unfolded and pretty soon my family life and parenting became public in a new way. There have been times when I wished I lived under a rock far from a WiFi hot spot, but mostly it feels like there are a gaggle of people helping to raise my crazy clan. A host of nosey aunties, doting grandfathers, opinionated sisters, good-time-Charlie brothers, all rooting for my kids to turn out all right.

When I screw up, have played too much Dr. Google, or feel totally lost in this parenting thing, I look back and read over years and years of entries and feel so grateful to Al Gore or whoever created the Internets.

Valerie Catrow

As of this moment, I have six good friends expecting babies at the end of this year. SIX. There are many baby showers in my future.

Within our circle of friends, my husband and I tend to be the first to tackle life’s major milestones. We were the first to get married, the first to get a dog, the first to buy a house, and the first to have a baby. While we were happy to sort of “test the waters” for everyone else, I must admit that my pregnancy with our son was a bit lonely. Ok, a lot lonely.

Don’t get me wrong: our friends were ecstatic, joining us in on the countdown to our little one’s arrival back in 2008. But the closer I got to being responsible for 1) participating in the eviction of this child from my person and 2) keeping said child safe, happy, and alive, I became more and more aware that no one I knew personally (other than my mother and mother-in-law) had any idea what I was going through. I was scared out of my mind.

Thankfully, I had the Internet.

Wait. Hear me out.

Believe me, I know the Internet and the social media communities it hosts can be toxic; the two years I spent running RVANews and the almost six years I’ve been maintaining my personal blog have shown me that. I also should caution all soon-to-be parents to avoid Google as much as possible, lest you be bombarded with blog comments and message boards proclaiming “OMG YOUR BAYBEE IS GONNA HAVE FOUR EYES GO TO THE ER NOW :(”

But! When used wisely, the Internet and social media can also serve as sources of comfort and empowerment for expectant parents trying to figure just what they hell they’re doing. I’ll even go so far to say that they were absolutely essential in making me feel prepared for pregnancy, birth, and raising a child.

The online pregnancy and infant-care guides were amazingly helpful once I figured out which ones felt trustworthy to me (specifically this one, this one, and this one), but it was really the relationships I have developed through the Internet and social media that have made all the difference in my life as parent. Posting about life as a expectant and new mother on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter (as obnoxious as some people might think that is) helped me make connections with women going through the same experiences — connections that aren’t any less real or valuable to me than those established “in real life.”

A couple weeks prior to giving birth to my son, I sent an email to Patience (who I wouldn’t meet in person until about six months later) seeking out encouragement and wisdom because the connection we had nurtured in a purely online setting felt safe to me. When I was up feeding my baby at 1am (and 3am, and 5am…) I was blessed by conversation and camaraderie with other mothers who were also posting on Twitter as they nursed their little ones in those wee hours of the morning — little ones who my son now calls his friends. These days I’m able to reach out to fellow parents about everything from potty training tips to book recommendations to tricks for getting a toddler to eat something other than bread. Do I listen to everything this online posse tells me? No. But the fact that they even care to answer is comforting. I feel like I’ve got a tribe at the ready who I can turn to when I need them, particularly during those moments (and there are many) when I look at my child and think “I….have no idea what to do here.”

Sure, I realize my insight into this matter might not carry much weight because I’ve never not had the Internet and social media during my life as a parent; I have no basis of comparison. But I think I’d be accurate in saying that their influence has likely spared me from the isolation and loneliness often experienced by new mothers. They helped fill a role that, at the time, my friends just couldn’t. I felt heard, supported, and (yep, I’m going to say it) loved in a very real way… even if it was through just 140 characters a pop.

Ok, it’s your turn

How have the Internet and social media affected your parenting experience? Are they a blessing or a curse? Maybe both?

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Patience Salgado

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