When joint families were a norm and instant communication with peers wasn’t always easy, parenting-related advice only came through elders in the family or visiting relatives. But now with online forums allowing immediate assistance, parenting advice even from strangers, is just a click away.
Social media has its flaws undoubtedly, ranging from distraction and addiction to cyber-bullying and inter-personal issues. But like any other tool or platform, the power of its impact lies in how we use it. For those who have understood its power and utilized it well, social media has enabled new and meaningful connections, even if only in the online world.
Sneha Chawla Talreja joined several groups on Facebook and WhatsApp when she became a mom to Dhairya, six months ago. She finds these groups helpful as “when doctors are not available, a group of moms is.” So, in difficult situations, she seeks advice from these peers who share their experiences in similar circumstances.
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There is another reason why Talreja reaches out to the online community instead of family or friends. “Times have changed. Earlier, it was normal to give water, salt, sugar and gripe water to babies. Now, we don’t. The knowledge of new-age moms helps in such cases,” she adds. Talreja credits the non-judgemental nature of these groups as well, for their popularity. “You can ask about anything ranging from pee counts to diaper changing duration,” she gushes.
The non-judgemental environment, is what Moya Caddy, an educator and a British-born mother, believes makes such communities a safe space to discuss personal issues. Caddy started ‘Super Mums of India’ in 2010 as a pioneering online parenting community, after welcoming her first child into the world. Originally a small group of five mothers, today it is home to several thousand members across various cities, on Facebook.
“The anonymity of our platform encourages women to open up about their challenges, and the community is always there to support each other through the highs and lows of motherhood. We have witnessed heartwarming instances of mothers helping one another, offering guidance, emotional support, and even practical assistance, without any reservations,” she adds.
Besides general parenting, social media platforms have become a host for several communities with specific purposes too. These include breastfeeding, baby-led weaning, recipes for toddlers, single parenting, autism, attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and more. Many groups have also been created to help new parents buy or rehome gently used items. Depending on the nature of the group, many are private, to maintain anonymity in terms of posting.
Gentle Baby Sleep India, with over 60k members, is one such private group. Started by Himani Dalmia, a certified infant and toddler sleep specialist, along with Neha Bhatt, a journalist, it focuses on a vital topic. “Babies sleep very differently from how society tells us they should sleep. Some amount of sleep deprivation for parents is inevitable. But unrealistic expectations and lack of knowledge on baby sleep biology can lead to exhaustion and desperation,” Dalmia explains, elucidating the example of a Bengaluru-based mother who found a solution to her baby sleep problems in the group, only after understanding key sleep concepts like overtiredness, sleep cycles, the importance of age-appropriate routines and more. “Nobody had any solutions for her, including her paediatrician and family elders,” she adds. Dalmia and Bhatt have also encapsulated their philosophy in a book, Sleeping Like A Baby: the Art & Science of Gentle Baby Sleep.
Bhatt believes that the offline "village" has been replaced by online communities on social media as you can choose what works for you without fearing judgement from friends and family. “Parenting has become a lot more individualised. Many modern parents like to go with scientifically accurate information. Social media parenting groups like ours, that are heavily moderated and meticulously curated, offer exactly that,” she adds.
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Besides information, social media groups have also been utilised by parents to tide through emotionally-challenging times. When Amrita Suresh, an author and former faculty at IIIT-Hyderabad, became a single parent, she instinctively joined support groups on social media. She found one on Facebook, where single parents with sons, shared their life stories, asked questions from peers and gave advice. “I wasn’t very active in this group. However, just reading people’s posts made me realize that I was not alone,” she says.
Suresh used her life experiences and her writing skills to share posts on Instagram and Facebook. “Unknowingly, Instagram became a life raft for me when I was thrown into the choppy sea. I received immense support from my family. But Instagram became a community I could reach out to, when I felt alone. When you realize that everyone is going through their own crazy journey, it helps you make peace with your own situation in life,” she explains.
Now reading, writing and posting on social media has become so therapeutic to Suresh, that she has made it a part of her daily routine. As she says, it’s cathartic.
Barkha Shah is a Bengaluru-based writer and digital marketing strategist