It's good to blog


In an age of social networking, more mothers are taking to the keyboard to express their parental preoccupations, writes ALANA KIRK GILHAM

IT SEEMS everyone is at it these days: baring all to the barely known, clandestine connections, furtive friendships, global gossip. As soon as spouses slam the front door on their way to work in the morning, wives, girlfriends and house husbands are scrambling for their secret salvation.

Desperate parents have always found ways to help themselves through the days, but now, in this age of social networking and Facebook friendships, increasing numbers of parents, and mums in particular, are taking to the keyboard and expressing their parental preoccupations through blogging and posting personal accounts, worries, questions and diaries online. It seems they are finding camaraderie in anonymity.

Since blogging became mainstream in 1994 it is estimated that one is now created every second with approximately 60 million blogs currently filling the cyberspace. Blogs offer opinions, diaries, commentaries and information on every conceivable topic – from the political to the humorous, from every type of career (teachers and call girls being the most famous) to every type of hobby.

From the milieu of groups that find writing a creative source for espousing their particular genre, few can be more prolific than that of parenting and, in particular, mums. And blogging is just one outlet in the network of online socialising.

In the UK, Mumsnet, a platform for women to congregate online, has turned into a force to be reckoned with, and Rollercoaster, Ireland’s largest pregnancy and parenting website, which began in 2000, now receives more than 500,000 visitors a month. Parents from all over the country post and connect with each other on topics ranging from tips on getting pregnant to dealing with swollen ankles to nipple confusion to how to cope with toddler tantrums.

So is this growing phenomenon indicative of the network of motherhood slowly changing from community-based to online community-based? Or is it just a modern version of an age-old tradition whereby women self-medicate by sharing their experiences and talking through their issues together? And if so, is it beneficial?

Consultant psychiatrist at the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Andrew McCarthy, puts it in context. “There really is a need for most women at this time in their lives of transition, demand, change of role, addition of role, loss of sense of self or certainly challenge to that sense of identity to have a sense of connection to others who can support them through this time.” The internet, it seems, is providing just that connection.

Award-winning “mummy blogger” Hazel Gaynor began her blog Hot Cross Mum after finding herself a stay-at-home mum following redundancy. “I think for many people, blogging and social networking provide a social outlet which they may not otherwise have.

“After leaving the world of paid employment I found I really missed the day-to-day interactions with my work colleagues. In a way, my blog and online networks have replaced those office ‘water-cooler’ moments.”

At a time when Ireland has seen a sharp rise in birth rates, we are also living away from our original communities and so connecting is often down to friends and now strangers. Blogging and online posting is a remote way of getting close.

“Yes, I think it’s helpful,” says McCarthy, “and certainly that is what I hear most.

“The sense of others who understand, can advise, support even sometimes in the middle of the night, when someone is not sleeping but knowing ‘I am not alone’ is really helpful.”

McCarthy warns, however, that social networking and information exchange sites can also do the opposite, and create more isolation. Seeing other people cope or reading happy blogs can make a mum who is neither of those things feel even more low.

“One mother told me how, in despair, she asked in a post, ‘Does anyone else ever feel that they hate their baby?’, and when 24 hours later there was no reply she ‘knew’ she was a really bad mother.”

He also queries whether it really is new. “Women in general love to talk, to communicate, to link. So yes, blogs are a new way of doing this and I think valuable for many. Is blogging a new form of therapy, of self-medicating? Yes. So too is talking, exercising, laughing, sometimes crying, expressing in whatever way helps you.”

The anonymity of online venting, rejoicing or simply communicating via a hidden identity allows a certain freedom. Anonymity allows honesty in a way close relationships sometimes cannot. McCarthy agrees. “Blogs are just ways of talking to strangers, a way of actually working out what it is we are thinking but without really involving another.”

Gaynor warns of the pitfalls however. “Putting your personal thoughts and details of your personal life out there in cyberspace obviously opens the door to invite others into your world. For some bloggers, their opinions have invited unwelcome comments and I guess there is always that risk.”

However, she adds: “My own experience of online communities is that they are generally very supportive. I really enjoy reading the comments I receive on my blog posts and Twitter; they give me a sense of reaching out to people and of having a shared experience.”