Parenting SOS, in search of support, part 4: Facebook parenting groups

by Julie A Cajigas

If you are anything like me (and maybe it’s best if you aren’t in this case), you spend too much time tethered to social media. 

In addition to typical parent social behaviors like over-posting photos of my children, while guiltily worrying about their right to privacy, I also study and teach social media. Combine that with my thirst for the 24-hour news cycle, and maybe I’m headed for a social intervention.

That said, sometimes social media can help. There are two groups that I regularly interact with that have offered serious support for my parenting journey. The first is the private page for my mom’s group, and the second is called Lives of Doctor’s Wives (spouses).

Read archived Hell Raisers content here.

The LDW page has strict entry standards. You have to give your physician spouse’s medical license number. The rules are also strict. No kids talk in the main group; there’s a side group for that. No swearing (except on the swearing Saturday post). And, during COVID-19, the page is archived after 11 p.m. to give everyone (moderators especially) a break.

Why is it such a great group for me? The strict moderation means that things don’t devolve the way they do in other corners of the internet. Also, because of our shared experiences of being married to physicians, we have conversations with great empathy and connection.

During COVID-19, LDW has given me a window into how the coronavirus is unfolding in other parts of the country in a way that I can’t get from the news.

We have candid conversations about how our families are handling our spouse’s exposure to patients (some docs are sleeping in RVs and treehouses around the country – really.)

We are supporting each other through living with essential workers, who are sometimes in significant danger.

Because all of us are, in general, more isolated than we have been, finding a Facebook group or other online forum where we can connect is more important than ever.

But are all groups equal? 

Far from the facilitated LDW group that I get so much support from, some Facebook groups have moderators who don’t guide the conversation or protect members.

When pages aren’t well-moderated, conversations can devolve into frustration, anger, threatening behaviors, harassment and more. With that in mind, there is a place for parents looking for extra support during the pandemic to turn.

One group that’s open to everyone, and is being moderated by parenting pros is the “Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic” group.

The page is run by ParentsTogether, an organization that, according to its website, believes that parents can be an unstoppable force for good.

“We show up for parents with inspiring and actionable journalism, so parents can show up for their families and communities,” the site says.

Why did a journalism-based parent organization create a Facebook group about COVID-19 parenting?

“The pandemic has presented countless problems for parents to untangle and stresses for families to deal with, and online groups are a quick, accessible way to get feedback, ideas or reassurance,” said Robyn Welling, digital content director for ParentsTogether.

“In our group, Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic, we’ve seen parents get support for issues ranging from trouble getting a printer hooked up for virtual school to deeply personal relationship questions stemming from disagreements about social distancing,” she said.

As in any group, some topics get more play than others. 

While some things come up many times in different ways (kids’ behavior issues, I’m looking at you!), the group is dynamic, so the resources and questions people bring up change as the crisis changes,” Welling said. 

The group is open to any parent or caregiver in need of support around the coronavirus, and the group clearly outlines: “As an organization, ParentsTogether has a clear point of view: We fight on behalf of all families, with a commitment to equity and justice. No matter what your point of view, all parents are welcome in this group.”

One of the great things about joining a group like the Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic group is that the conversation keeps up with changes happening in the world.

“An online group can support you as your needs change,” Welling said. “Back in March, parents were desperate for homeschool resources. In the summer, parents were sharing fun ways for kids to safely see friends again, and closer to fall, members were discussing virtual and in-person school options, whereas now more people are grappling with mental health strains and safe Halloween plans.”

Whereas Facebook has become a battleground in some corners with the election and coronavirus itself, Welling sees parents having a positive, beneficial experience in the group.

“I’m always touched by how supportive the parents in our group are toward each other,” she said. “Parent communities are such a rich source of advice and reassurance — sometimes it’s something another parent has been through before, but especially right now we’re all going through something brand new, together.

“Hearing how other parents are dealing with things is enormously helpful,” Welling continued. “And since the group is run by our nonprofit, ParentsTogether, we’re able to bring additional value and resources to the group, like Q&A sessions with doctors around subjects important to families, like school health and safety or supporting our kids’ mental health, as well as educational content to support virtual learning and fun events.”

Parents in Akron can join the Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic group or look for another group that can offer them the support that fits their lives.

If you want to find support from a Facebook group, it’s crucial to find a group that is well-moderated and its members are, for the most part, kind and helpful.

How can you find the right group for you? Here are some tips and questions to consider:

  1. Search groups on Facebook using keywords that reflect your interests and support needs. If you want to connect with local individuals, try searching with a location.
  1. Is the group private or public? While a public group can still meet your needs, private groups often foster more vulnerable and candid conversations.
  1. Look at the group’s “About” section. Well-moderated groups will have visible descriptions that let anyone who is interested know what the group is about and who should join.
  1. Does the group have questions you must answer to enter? Group entry questions are often a good indication that moderators are active.
  1. Look at the group rules. How specific are the rules? Do they explain what happens if rules are broken? Groups that are well-moderated have articulated, clear rules.

Once you find a group that meets all of your criteria, dive in and start participating. Just today I sent a message to a mom whose daughter has shark teeth and needs two pulled. My daughter just went through that, and I had some ideas to share.

Parents on social media have helped me cope with being married to a doctor, solve potty training problems, figure out how to clean all manner of substances from my walls, decide how to protect my family from COVID-19, use time-outs to best effect, and find the best cake decorator for my daughter’s 7th birthday. 

Let’s go out there and help one another during this pandemic and beyond. What are your favorite Facebook parent groups?

Julie is a mother of three and Professor of Practice at The University of Akron. Her hobbies include singing in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Instagramming her kids and sleeping standing up.