Monday, 19 August 2013

Why I'm not on parenting forums

The Internet is a wonderful thing - I'm a huge fan. I spend a good portion of my day online; I wouldn't have completed university without Wikipedia and I maintain many relationships purely on Facebook and through email. However there is one thing online that I've decided not to be a part of: parenting forums. These can come in several different forms - online support groups, facebook groups, common interest groups. I'm sure we've all done it - find a group whose mission statement you completely agree with. You start to get excited - 'finally, I've found a group of like-minded women that I can get advice from and talk to!'. You read some posts and some comments and everything seems positive.

So, you start posting and commenting. Maybe you make friends and develop a support network. Maybe discussions all stay civil and you find a wonderful outlet for your needs. If this is the case (and I know in some cases it can be), that's great and I'm happy for you. We all know of situations where this doesn't happen though - things turn nasty, people's feelings are hurt and you end up feeling all together abandoned. I've seen both these things happen. Here are the reasons I've made the decision not to use forums:

I don't know these people
People can be or say anything online. I would hope I can tell who is genuine, just from the way they speak on certain topics. However, I don't know these people - they have their own lives, stories and - sometimes - agendas. I'm very easily manipulated by a sob-story and know I get drawn into other people's lives. I struggle with this enough in everyday life, never mind opening myself up to a whole world of people.

So-called 'expert' advice
Like I said, I don't know these people. And therefore I can't trust their sources, especially if it's about a medical issue. They might have read it off another blog, who did the same, who read a unpublished paper that's 10 years out of date. I worry that we're starting to trust these strangers more than our friends, family, health professionals, and most importantly ourselves. Other people's experiences are helpful and shouldn't be belittled; if they're giving the support and advice you need that's fine, as long as you're being careful with it. Read up for yourself, ask a friend, ask a doctor. There's no substitute for actual expertise.

Neglecting those around you
I get so drawn into forum that when my husband gets home I will relay a whole days worth of posts and comments. Or worse, I'll barely say two words to him so I can finish reading this post that's heating up. Now my husband does his very best to listen to me when I speak, but sometimes he has a hard enough time listening to me talk about my friends I met for coffee that day, never mind complete strangers whose real name I don't know. I also neglect my son during the day so I can read and respond. Strangers should never come before your family, and I've previously made this mistake.

When things turn nasty
There is no topic more controversial than parenting. I can understand why - these are our children we're talking about, and people want to raise them in exactly the right way. But there are plenty of people out there who believe only their way is the right way. These people get defensive and very angry when people disagree with them. And yes - I've been one of them. I've argued with people online about topics like breast-feeding, co-sleeping and going back to work. I get drawn into these debates and think 'well I'll add my tuppence-worth'. Why do I feel the need to do this? Maybe it's in an effort to defend my lifestyle, maybe I just want to be right. No matter what my reasoning, it's not a healthy one. I get addicted to the arguments that are going on (even when they have nothing to do with me) and I watch it like a soap opera. And that is no way to spend my day.

I know that the type of person I am - whose weaknesses include gossip, getting defensive and judging too quickly - doesn't make for a healthy relationship with online forums. So I've made the decision to stay away from them.

What are your experiences with forums (parenting and other)?

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