Online support groups have become a powerful influence on parents


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I don’t want to make you feel bad about yourself. But. There are a whole lot of women online doing life a lot better than you. Some of them have abs. Some of them cook wholesome, organic meals for their families every night. Some of them do baby yoga. With actual babies. That one went to Paris. This one has moved to a farm in the hinterland. And her, over there, she got a promotion. She’s on the board. And she’s got three kids under six.

If your Instagram could talk, that’s what it would say.

If comparison truly is the thief of joy, then we all now carry our worst enemies around in the palms of our hands, 24/7. Because over on Facebook, we’re gasping under a landslide of humble brags. Sandra is so exhausted today because Little Ben got into Special Extreme Superstar Soccer, and now she has to drive him to the other side of town 14 times a week to be trained by a former Olympian (with police clearance! Don’t worry! #goodmum).

Jenene wishes her handsome husband would stop surprising her with special date nights because she’s so busy with all that school volunteering she barely has time to change out of her active wear and into her Scanlan before the babysitter arrives.

Amber’s daughter Lucerne has started leaving “I love you Mummy” notes in places she knows her mother will find them. Like next to the almond milk in the fridge door. And in the coils of her Pilates mat. And on her iPhone screen.

Grotesque stereotypes? Maybe, but these kinds of moments lurk in all our feeds, waiting to hijack us at a low moment. Like when you’ve forgotten to buy bread for the school lunches and you’re trying to make sandwiches out of tacos unearthed at the back of the cupboard. Or when you just got made redundant. Or when your child didn’t get into Special Extreme Superstar Soccer. Enter the antidotes. The bloggers who are keeping it real, telling it like it is, offering up their belly folds and their C-section scars and their marriage messes and their meds.

I have just spent several months immersed in the world of a particularly maligned online beast – the mummy blogger – while writing a novel about the chaotic, combative lives of three imaginary internet diarists. And for the most part, living in mother-writer world has been affirming.

Affirming because those twitching digital curtains come with a silver lining: connection, community, camaraderie.

There is a mummy blogger for you if you are a single parent, a parent with cancer, if you’ve got twins, all boys, all girls, are obese or are a cross-fit devotee. There are blogs for paleo parents and vegan parents and parents who like to drink wine at lunch. There’s a community for you if your child is gifted, has autism, is trans, gay or a dead-set musical prodigy.

Whatever your family looks like, somewhere online there’s a place for you inhabited by a whole lot of other parents talking about all the things you have no one to talk to about, and they have invented their own language, their own acronyms, a space that’s yours.

What draws people to their favourite blogger is common ground. “You could be writing about my life.” “I struggle with that all the time, too.” “Thank God you said that.” 

Of course, this is the internet, so for every blog post that makes a woman feel a little less alone, there will be a troll, salivating over ripping it to shreds. I write online myself and am more than familiar with the people who like to throw stones rather than build bridges. But I was profoundly uncomfortable to find myself lurking, in the name of research, among the groups set up specifically to troll and abuse certain bloggers for their crimes against parenthood.

The perceived infractions were small. This writer isn’t grateful enough for her children (doesn’t she know how hard we fought to have ours?), that one is too smug. This one is so privileged she has no idea what real people deal with, while her … well, she’s just a bogan. Frequently, the administrators of these groups would do a sweep to cast out any members who weren’t actively commenting (read: bitching) or posting, like gang bosses forcing members into petty crimes to prove their allegiance. We are tribal creatures, after all.

But while it might be tempting to tease and dismiss women writing about the small events of their “ordinary” lives online, that ignores a powerful truth. Once, mothers had to shut up and smile. The only acceptable dialogue about parenthood was that it was the best job in the world and we were all born to do it.

That ship has sailed. And left in its wake are a trillion characters spelling out the enormous complexities of how women really feel about motherhood. And there are few things more radical than that.

Holly Wainwright’s The Mummy Bloggers (Allen & Unwin) is out on Wednesday.

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