I have a group of friends who know almost everything about me. They are my go-to in times of worry and anxiety. I’ve poured out my heart to them in hopes, fears and dreams. We’ve been there through amazing times and terrible times. I talk to them most days. Yet I very rarely tell anyone about them.
You see, these are my online mum friends.
They are the very best of women. In fact, I have two groups of online mum friends friends: a group who I’ve known for 5 years, and a group who I’ve known for just over a year. And both groups are brilliant.
Nearly 5 years ago, I signed up to Mumsnet. I was in the early stages of pregnancy, hadn’t told anyone except Tim, and really didn’t know what to expect. I quickly found my way to the antenatal clubs, and joined one for August 2012.
On those boards, you’re pretty much anonymous. You can ask questions about pretty much anything you like, safe in the knowledge that someone else is probably going through it. When you put a certain number of women together – even online – who are at the same stage of pregnancy, there’s always someone else going through the same as you.
Around the time of the babies births, that group progressed on to Facebook.
That shifted things. All of a sudden, these anonymous women had profile photos, partners, husbands, existing children. They were posting photos of their newborn babies. It became easier to remember who was going through what.
One by one, each of the babies were born, and all the friendships deepened a little.
This group was like no other group of women I had ever really met. There was such openness and honesty. They have been a huge part of my parenting journey, and I know I am a better mum because of these groups.
Why You Need Online Mum-Friends
I’m a part of two online mum groups: one for each of my children. Here’s why they are brilliant:
They are going through exactly the same thing as you
In real life, it’s very unusual to find several mums whose babies are exactly the same age as yours. Even within an NCT group, there can be 2-3 months between babies. So when you join a group of mums whose babies are born within a month of yours, there will always be someone going through exactly the same thing. You will be able to share your hormonal ups and downs, your weaning struggles and your naptime dilemmas with other mums who are in exactly the same situation.
Their support is incredible
I have seen these women support each other beyond anything I’ve seen in real life, to be honest. Yes, we’ve asked for and given advice about the usual parenting milestones: breastfeeding, weaning, potty training, sleeping, napping, childcare and so on.
But actually, it’s gone much deeper than that. We’ve dealt with premature babies, miscarriages, IVF, babies born with long-term medical conditions, fears about our relationships and marriages, worries about our health and our families health. We’ve talked about finances, and the fulfilment of work, and fidelity. Nothing is taboo.
They go far beyond the expected
There have been collective mercy-missions: a whip-round to send an online shop of luxuries to a family who were going through a tough time; flowers for those who have experienced loss; and the anonymous donation of an extra-large pizza to someone who was in dire straits. This week alone, the group managed to get a Hatchimal from one end of the country to the other – no mean feat, I can assure you.
There have also been the real-life visits, meeting up with someone who is lonely and isolated. Visiting the new mum hours after the birth of her baby when her partner has had to go in to work. Even meeting up for a birthday party and seeing all these long-for children playing together.
Their knowledge and experience is both diverse and wise
The mums in my groups come from a really wide range of backgrounds. They are from different parts of the country and the world. They are trained in different jobs and professions. This has been both fascinating and really helpful so many times.
This is particularly helpful when they have older children, especially if you’re a first time mum. Sometimes, just knowing how long a phase will end, or what to expect, is really valuable.
They allow you to express things you can’t in real life
Those frustrations that seem so insignificant? The worries that your husband just laughed off? The actual pain you are in because your baby just grabbed your nose? You can tell your online mum friends. They’ll get it.
They’ll challenge you when you need it
It might just be me (perhaps my real-life friends are all too polite), but if there’s something controversial that comes up, it’s very rarely openly challenged. In my online mum friends groups, there has been a bit of challenge, and it promotes interesting discussion. Challenge and disagreement aren’t always a bad thing, but perhaps they are somehow less intimidating online.
They might just save your life
Without going in to too much detail, one of my online friends posted a few worries she had about her husband. After a few members of the group said, “I think he needs to see the GP, just to be sure,” she took the advice. Now he’s recovering from the removal of a benign brain tumour which may not have been found if she hadn’t posted. While that’s very unusual, the fact is, it happened.
Very often, mums online groups can be seen as cruel, nasty or spiteful. They don’t have the best reputation.
But actually, that’s not my experience at all. These two online groups have become a significant part of my support network. They have really enriched my experience of motherhood. We know that it takes a village to raise a child; they are part of my village. My online village.
So this is the advice I would now give to new mums, or newly-pregnant women, would be to find one of these groups. Yes, you have to be patient. It takes time to build up these relationships (although women discussing their experiences of childbirth and morning sickness tends to do that). You get out what you put in, like with most relationships. But their support will be invaluable.
There is nothing quite like being able to reach out to 30 other mums of babies the same age as yours at any time of the day or night, and being able to get support and advice. In both groups, no question is too stupid – someone else will almost certainly be thinking of it. No nagging suspicion is too little. In the same way, it’s probably one of the few places I can genuinely share my children’s achievements (or mine) without feeling like I’m at risk of unpleasant comments or seeming like I’m showing off.
So here’s to my online mum-friends. I’m very, very lucky to be part of such a brilliant community. If you can find your online mum friends, good on you. I’m going to celebrate mine.