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Open Source Parenting

My mother remembers driving home from the hospital with my newborn older sister on her lap. She says that she and my dad looked at each other and just started laughing.

“We asked, ‘So what do we do now?’,” she remembers.

In the intervening years, a lot has changed. But the biggest changes have come about because of the Web. There’s no way to overestimate how much this mass, uncontrolled communication has affected our parenting choices.

My mother knew the women she knew largely because their husbands were employed at the same company. She formed lifelong relationships with these women, who were all smart, creative people who had been thrown into a job (stay-at-home-mom) they were largely unprepared for. College-educated, they ended up following their husbands to a small town in the Midwest, raising babies, and seeking out other women to ease the boredom and frustration of being housebound with small children.

My mother was lucky. Fast-forward a generation, when I had my babies there was nothing to throw me in with a group of mothers who had anything in common with me. I tried moms groups and hanging at the park, but nothing seemed to click. Until I started homeschooling and found other parents to bond with, my conversations with other parents were quick and unsatisfying.

So it was on the Web where I first found a conversation that I was eager to join.

I love that when I have a question, I no longer have to find the right book, get the pediatrician on the phone, or find a friend who’d gone through it before in order to get the answer. I love that I don’t get one person’s biased point of view—I can get thousands of people’s biased points of view! And I love supporting other parents who haven’t found what they need in their physical lives.

The voices are sometimes plaintive: “I haven’t found anyone in this new town I can talk to.”

Sometimes they’re angry: “Our physician says our son has ADHD! I totally disagree. What should I do?”

Sometimes they have funny anecdotes to share: “I can’t believe what my kid said to his teacher today.”

And sometimes they just say what I need to hear that day: “You’re doing fine. One bad day isn’t going to ruin your daughter’s life.”

Of course, semi-anonymous communication with strangers doesn’t replace good friendships. But it does ease the urgent need to get support in your local community. You can focus on having real-life friends who are fun to be with, even if they can’t answer your questions about diaper rash.

One of the problems that open source software has is quality control: When anyone can add their own code, things get a little wild. And certainly open source parenting has the same problem. We all have to seek out the parents who speak the same language, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes you might find yourself in the wrong place, and you might not know it until the advice takes a turn for the ridiculous (at least from your point of view). Then off you go again, hunting for like-minded parents whose advice feels right to you.

I’m glad to be part of this pioneering generation of parents who are empowering themselves to become more informed about parenting choices and more thoughtful as a result. I remember the feeling of desperation I would have in the middle of the night, wondering if my son would ever sleep more than 2 hours in a stretch. Nowadays, I can imagine I’d be sitting up in bed, nursing him and doing one-handed Web surfing on my phone. Google search: “How can I get my son to sleep through the night?”

The answers might not work, but at least I’d feel like there were others out there with me, searching together.

Posted in Parenting.

2 Responses

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  1. Sarah says

    I belong to a few parenting groups, and they are formed because our EDDs were in the same months. This is great as we were experiencing similar things during our pregnancies, and post-pregnancies.
    However, when my elder son started showing signs of precociousness, I found it hard to continue talking about him in that group. Almost everyone was very competitive in comparing progress, and I could not use the ‘g’ word. I did not want them to think I was boasting about my child. With asynchronous development, he was behind in other areas, and when I talked about the problems, some were quite judgmental.
    That is when I discovered your blog, and I realised that I had simply outgrown that group, and there are other groups out there.
    WIsh I am more disciplined in updating my blog.

    • Suki says

      It’s funny how something very important at the beginning – age – becomes less important as our kids grow and our needs change. I knew a number of moms who had children around the same time as me, but none of them are people I have lasting relationships with. We all have to go out there and find what we need. Frankly, I’m jealous of those parents whose kids are so much “on the curve” and whose kids’ needs are so typical that they don’t need much more than birth year to connect with other parents. Those of us who have kids who are different in some way, and who may have our own special needs on top of that, have to work harder to find a community.

      As to the blog, well, sometimes I want to write every day and other times I feel like I have nothing to say for weeks. One secret is to write when you are feeling inspired and save drafts until you’re in a period when you’re not writing something. I recently traveled in Greece for a few weeks, and though I wasn’t writing at all, magically, my blog kept publishing pieces while I was gone! 🙂

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