Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
From scathing message-board posts to heated debates over childbirth choices, parenting websites have become much more than forums for helpful tips. We explore what the thousands of websites devoted to parenthood say about our society’s attitudes toward raising children today.
- Lara Schwartz Author of the blog "Adequate Parenting"
- Jeff Steele Co-owner and Administrator, DC Urban Moms and Dads Website and Mailing list
- Kathryn Masterson D.C. based journalist
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. If you happen not to be a parent in this Internet age, you may never have visited a parenting blog or signed up for a kid-oriented listserv. There are -- these are the places parents go to, to discuss preschools, discipline and how to get a colicky baby to sleep. There are detailed recommendations from other parents on everything from baby bottles to car seats, but beyond the advice and support, some of the most contentious battles of modern parenting are being fought on these sites. Natural or medicated childbirth? Should you stay home or return to work? Bottle versus breastfeeding? And here's where it can get ugly. They're known as the mommy wars, where hot-button issues are played out through message board bombs and snarky comments. Here today to discuss the world of parenting blogs is Kathryn Masterson. She is a freelance journalist who wrote a piece for the City Paper recently on this precise issue. Kathryn Masterson, thank you very much for joining us.
MS. KATHRYN MASTERSONOh, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Jeff Steele, co-owner and administrator of the DC Urban Moms and Dads website and mailing list. He helped found the site, or he -- did -- you do not actual found the site, did you, Jeff?
MR. JEFF STEELENo. My wife did and a friend of hers but...
NNAMDIBut you are now running the site with your wife, Maria Sokurashvili, correct?
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us.
STEELEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Lara Schwartz, the author of the blog "Adequate Parenting." Laura -- Lara, thank you for joining us.
MS. LARA SCHWARTZThanks, Kojo. I'm glad to be here.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. If you visit parenting websites, what kinds of information or advice are you looking for? Do you find them helpful? 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. Kathryn, let's start with the positive. There are thousands of parenting websites and blogs. What were you looking for when you first visited some of the websites out there?
MASTERSONWhen I first visited, I'm expecting my first child and...
MASTERSONIn March. So little less than eight weeks away. And I -- you know, I've lived in Washington for about four years, and, you know, I've often wondered what it's like to raise a child here. It's different than other places. It's certainly an expensive place to live. It's competitive. There's -- it's just crowded. You know, you go to a movie theater, and it's always sold out. You just feel like -- in some ways, you have to fight for some space, and so I was wondering what it would be like to raise a child here in Washington and how people afforded to have families. And so when I went there, that's initially what I was looking for.
MASTERSONI mean, I'll say the first time that I ever saw DC Urban Moms and Dads, I actually was looking up my medical practice and came there through Google, which I understand is how a lot of people come to the site. I didn't originally go to that site. I had Googled the name of this practice, and there was a lot of back and forth about this practice is great. You know, this practice isn't. And left feeling still ambivalent. I wasn't sure what I thought because there was so much argument on either side, so I, you know, I think that's what I started -- looking for...
NNAMDIWhat did you find that was helpful on the sites that you visited?
MASTERSONI found -- I guess, any question...
MASTERSON...it's not that it wasn't helpful. It's just overwhelming. There's so many topics there. I mean, things that I had never thought about, and so one thing I did find helpful is you did hear -- you hear voices that sounds similar to your own. If you go onto a discussion thread, you might disagree with how -- what some people are saying, and then, you'll hear people saying sort of what you think maybe how you feel about trying to work out the work, stay-at-home question or...
NNAMDIBut it helped you to make decisions about natural or medicated childbirth, bottle versus breastfeeding, that kind of thing?
MASTERSONYou know, I got that more from friends than from the listserv because it's hard to know who is saying these things.
NNAMDIWho to trust on these websites?
MASTERSONAnd I think it's my personality that, you know, I overthink things. So whenever there would be a question that we feel especially relevant to me, you know, natural or medicated childbirth or stay-at-home, you know, go back to work full time...
NNAMDIIn eight weeks, your overthinking days will soon be over. Don't worry about it at all. Lara, as a parent, do you turn to any listservs or visit parenting websites when you need information about local music classes or a new playground opening for that matter?
SCHWARTZWell, I think what Kathryn said resonates. There are times when just knowing somebody is a helpful way to get information. I go to parenting listservs. I originally went to the DC Urban Moms listserv when it was sort of an e-mail thing, you know, for some basic, you know, I found my child's dentist there. Since then, I've really gone to the websites for sociological interests and bit of amusement, get a sense of what's going on around me, and I became -- I don't want to say an addict, but I look at train wrecks maybe a little more closely than is healthy.
NNAMDIShe's an addict. Jeff, what was -- was that the idea behind the forum DC Urban Moms and Dads?
STEELEWe never really had an idea. We started the mailing list five years ago, no more than that, probably eight years ago, and never expected things to go the way that they did. The mailing list and the website have grown organically without much of a plan, and I think if I could diverge a bit from your question, the -- I think we have good representatives of our audience here. I divide our audience into two types of people -- information seekers that -- like Katy. They have a question. They want an answer. And people that I call communicators, like Lara. They don't come with a question. They come to join the conversation. They might have something to talk about, or they're looking for something to talk about. And a lot of the conflict on our website is when those two groups interact.
NNAMDIHow about the local aspects of your website? Because of its locality, if you will, does it fill a particular role for parents in this area, you think?
STEELEOh, yeah. Local events, local things like local school closings and the local schools are a huge topic of discussion, so all of that is particular to this area.
NNAMDIOn the other hand, the Internet allows people to connect with others who might have some of the same issues. People say that those on the special needs section of your site are extremely supportive and a real lifeline for parents with special needs kids.
STEELEThat's right. The -- I think maybe two years into the website, someone contacted me and made almost a plea for something to address special needs topics and was very clear that there was a lack of such information. There weren't a place -- places that people could turn to for support, and I was really moved by the e-mail, and I created the special needs forum. And I read it periodically because I'm really moved by what happens there.
SCHWARTZWell -- and I would say, you know, having been someone who hasn't posted on special needs and watched it, I think it is actually special. It's a great resource, and a lot of people owe a debt of (laugh) a debt of gratitude to Jeff. At the same time, if you look on some of the less cozy parts of DC Urban Moms and Dads, you really see the need because you see people saying things like, you know, your child doesn't have ADHD. You're just a horrible parent with a misbehaved child, or you, mommy, daddy, whoever, are off your meds, or, you know, people don't understand the difference between brat and disabled. And I think the worst thing I've ever seen ever in my entire life on the Internet, including my new stalker, is someone who said she was worried that a child with Down's syndrome was gonna take attention away from her preschooler in that class so -- and there, you see, I think, the two sides of the coin that Jeff described.
NNAMDIYour new stalker?
SCHWARTZOh. Yeah. She was Jeff's old stalker.
STEELEYeah. She's -- if I...
SCHWARTZBut I guess she outgrew him??
STEELEShe has moved on. Yeah.
NNAMDIShe's now stalking you.
SCHWARTZWhat restaurants does she...
NNAMDIFeel free to stalk us at 800-433-8850. Or stalk us at our website, kojoshow.org. In other words, join this conversation about websites for new parents and the kind of support they can provide and the arguments they start. Kathryn, in the article you wrote for City Paper, you talked about the flame wars taking place on the site over everything from stroller choices to, well, is there any topic that doesn't launch a debate on this site?
MASTERSONI don't think so. That was the thing that -- that's surprised me the most, is things that you think would be so innocuous, you know, what kind of stroller are you using? And you could see how people could go to that thinking I just walked into the Babies "R" Us, and there's 25 different strollers. And they all look the same to me, which one should I pick? That that -- you know, people take offense if you have a certain kind of stroller, if you've either paid too little for it, or you paid too much. I mean, it doesn't actually seem like there's a point you can hit that you haven't either sort of shown -- you've flaunted your wealth or, you know, shown how poor you are.
NNAMDIAnd, Lara, it's not just debate. It gets personal with name-calling and some really unpleasant exchanges.
SCHWARTZIt does. And I think, you know, there are words used, and the first thing I did when I set up my site is I set up a rule that it was a, you know, we had a female dog free rule of all posts. Unless you're using the adjectival form to describe yourself or your child, their mood, but it is incredibly personal. There are references to people's, you know, professional, sex-worker lives. There are references to people being horrible parents, being lame, being stupid, being mentally ill, and it's in strange places. I mean, there was a panda flame recently. There was a thing about people who didn't like panda fans, like pandas. And I actually have written several months ago that there were certain things that were sacred that you could never make fun of. And one of them was pandas, and now, I have to go back and edit it. But it's remarkable the kind of ad hominem thing that people do, and I do wonder whether it's a release. I mean, there are so many people every day. We just wanna, you know, you know who you are, person on the Metro, you know, elevator that we wanna just holler at. And do you do it when you're alone at your desk?
NNAMDILara Schwartz is the author of the blog "Adequate Parenting." She joined us in studio, along with Kathryn Masterson, who is a freelance journalist. Jeff Steele is the co-owner and administrator of the DC Urban Moms and Dads website and mailing list. We’re inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think the debates on parenting websites get unnecessarily nasty? 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or an e-mail you can send to email@example.com. Jeff, there's been a great deal of discussion about the tone on the message boards and comment posts on your website. Kathryn seemed to hit a nerve with the article that she wrote on it.
STEELEI don't think this is really anything new for any of the parenting websites. When you -- you can have a nice civil discussion as long as you have a small number of people who basically agree. As the numbers grow, you either have to moderate like crazy to keep the tone under control, or this happens, it's not something that is special for our website. It happens on all the other major parenting websites as well.
NNAMDIKathryn, you seemed to have hit a nerve with that article, though, tell us about the kinds of responses you've gotten.
MASTERSONIt's really run the gamut. I've had people who said, you know, thanks, I felt the same way. I've had people, you know, experienced parents who have said, you know, actually, my one word of advice I give for parents is stay off the Internet. And then, I've had people who are so nasty in different ways. Though one thing that kind of surprised me maybe it shouldn't is people saying, you know, this is why I would never have children, or you people shouldn't have children, which...
INTERVIEWERA choice that's too late for you to make, that's for sure.
MASTERSONThat's -- exactly.
INTERVIEWERJeff, you and your wife run the site now, as we mentioned earlier. Some commenters have complained that the site could be managed to control some of the uglier debates. Can you?
STEELEYeah, of course, they could. That's not our philosophy. I think you'll -- there's an inherent conflict between civility and freedom of expression. Even if you have people who are, more or less, saying what's on their mind but trying to be civil, there will be a self-censorship involved. People aren't saying things that they know will upset other people. . And when we have to face the choice between free expression and civility, we try to err towards free expression. That's the philosophy of our website, and not everyone will like it. But that's the way we choose to do it.
NNAMDIGonna take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on parenting websites. You can still call. If the lines are busy, however, you may wanna go to our website to make your comment or ask your question. That's kojoshow.org. Or you can send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
INTERVIEWERWe're discussing parenting websites with Jeff Steele, co-owner and administrator of the DC Urban Moms and Dads website and mailing list. Kathryn Masterson is a freelance journalist who has written on this issue for the DC City Paper. And Lara Schwartz is the author of the blog, "Adequate Parenting." Lara, you visited a lot of parenting websites, and it inspired you to start your own blog. How come?
SCHWARTZWell, in part, it was to have some fun. I'm a ghost writer of serious things by trade, and it is good to have fun. And I think parenting should be more fun. You know, on the serious side, I felt like I was very surprised at the degree of, you know, contentious conversation and also opinion passed off as real solid fact that I saw going on on parenting sites. And what I wanted to do was create a space for me and anybody else who was interested to say, you know what, I'm trying hard enough. I'm doing well enough. I've read the brochures in the OB's waiting room, and leave me alone, and I'm gonna go laugh my way to McDonald's with my kid. And it's been really fun.
NNAMDIYour site is called "Adequate Parenting." Clearly, you felt the urge to poke fun at some of the overly serious parenting sites out there.
SCHWARTZYeah, I did.
NNAMDIYou mentioned, for example, that it's an often overlooked fact that, quoting here, "regardless of which method of childbirth is used, the hospital would still release the baby into the mother's care."
SCHWARTZIt's an overlooked and terrifying fact. I mean, all you need is a car seat. That's just wrong.
NNAMDIAll you need is a car seat?
SCHWARTZYeah. If you have a car seat, that's it. That's all you need. They're like, do you have a car seat? Bye.
NNAMDIYou can go.
SCHWARTZYou have to put the child in it.
NNAMDILet's talk about somebody else -- with somebody else who I think started a parenting website. Here is Stephanie. Stephanie, you're on the air. Tell us what you did and who you are.
NNAMDIHi, Stephanie. It's your turn. Go ahead, please.
STEPHANIEYes. Hi. How are you?
STEPHANIEI've been listening with interest. I started the website beccastone.com as a -- it's a place for -- so that mothers of black children actually could have a safe place to support each other and exchange tips and advice on parenting. Parenting is a very hard thing to do in any event and, race, I think, adds another dimension. So our main goal was to a really -- is not only to have a place where they could get information from experts and -- in various issue groups -- subject matters like education and health and culture and history, but also so that we could support each other.
NNAMDIHave you found your website to be, in addition to being supportive, sometimes contentious at all?
STEPHANIEWell, we're just -- you know, we are just recently launched. And -- but I was concerned about that particular issue, and our website is moderated and monitored. We have a -- some community rules that we ask people to agree to and, thus far, people have been quite civil and provided very supportive and helpful advice to each other as well as, you know, raising questions about things that they wanted information about and others have provided answers.
NNAMDIHow about the class issues? You heard here about people being judged on the basis of what kind of stroller they had. Given the extent of poverty in the African-American community, have those kinds of class issues come up?
STEPHANIENo. That's not to say that they won't, and perhaps they will in the future, but, you know, the goal of the site is really, as I said, to provide a safe place to talk and exchange tips and advice. It hasn't devolved into, you know, acrimony about things like which stroller to use.
NNAMDIWell, we can always hope. But go ahead. (laugh) Go ahead.
STEPHANIEThe tone is much more serious, and the issues that the people tend to talk about are -- even though sometimes they cut across race, but they also seem to, you know, focus on questions where, you know, race becomes an issue, whether it's a play date and the fact that perhaps some parents are not as willing to have -- to let their children go over to other houses, but they're happy to have you come to theirs but they don't want their child to go to yours or whether it's dating because that's -- the dating issue comes up a lot. Whether it's issues like the -- you know, one of our current articles that was recently put up involves the issue of whether the use of the N word should be -- the N word should be taken out of the text "Huckleberry Finn," and...
NNAMDIWell, you know, it's funny because all of those issues I have dealt with as a parent, as a mediocre parent, during my days before my kids became adults. But Stephanie, could you give us the spelling of your website again please?
STEPHANIEYes. The name of it is beccastone. B as in boy, E-C-C-A and then the word stone, so it's all one word, dot com.
NNAMDIWe'll try to make sure we provide a link to that website. Here's Kathryn Masterson.
MASTERSONI wanted to comment on what Stephanie was saying about her website being a safe space for people to talk about issues that come up in parenting because one of the things that really struck me -- you know, I talked to a local psychologist for the story. You know, she didn't make it into the story, but it really shaped some of my kind of thinking about it. She said one of the reasons -- you know, you can go there and feel people -- the judgment feels so harsh, you know, when parents stand in judgment of each other is there just isn't -- there aren't many safe spaces in our society to admit that parenting is hard, or that you don't have all the answers or that, you know, your toddler has power over you when you're the adult and you're supposed to be in control. And that really struck me. This idea of -- there aren't very many safe spaces where it's okay to say, today, I don't like my kid.
NNAMDIYeah, indeed. And Stephanie, again, thank you very much for your call. Lara, you wanted to say?
SCHWARTZWell, I would say that, in addition to the, you know, how you do things, you know, one of the things that I saw that I wanted to create a safe space for is that parenting seem to be the only job that some people thought required an oath of loyalty. Like, you didn't just have to throw yourself under a bus for your child which any of us would do. You have to throw yourself under a bus for your child's favorite toy, and then you have to say you loved it. And we're privileged to do it. And I think the ability to say, you know, either, you know, I don't like my child today or I didn't frankly enjoy, you know, breastfeeding, the infant stage, being awaken at 3 a.m. to be sprayed with diarrhea, like, that is a controversial set of ideas for some people. So being able to come and laugh at it and say, you know, that frankly stunk, (laugh) and hear a few hundred other people I happen to know who, say, yeah, it did, even under as pseudonyms (word?) attacked. I think it's important.
NNAMDIJeff, you're a parent also. What's your feeling on why parenting choices seem to be so fraught with controversy?
STEELEThere's a number of reasons. But in terms of the strollers -- competition about strollers, I think our society is materialistic. And people will compete about everything as to what car do you drive, the -- where your house is. So it just gets extended to baby gear. It's -- but as far as the mommy wars, which is, really, the root of all of this, is -- the role of women in our society is not yet settled. So women have different -- things pulling them in different directions, whether they should be a nurturing figure and stay home with their child or whether they should reach their potential in the work force and so on and so forth, and these are contradictions that have been around for a long time and aren't gonna go away, you know, anytime soon. And that's pulling mothers in various directions and creating a lot of conflict zones and people are fighting about all those issues.
NNAMDII can testify. Because as a former single male parent, I found that I got all kinds of praise and support for things that women were doing routinely and often got criticized for not doing well enough. The mere fact that I was undertaking it made me some kind of hero to a number of people, when I was stumbling through like everybody else. And I was frankly surprised that my kids grew up to be normal. (laugh) Here's...
SCHWARTZYeah. And you see that a lot. I mean, there was a New York Times' article that made me crazy, that said, you know, we need a mom on the Supreme Court, because otherwise, no one will relate to coming home to pick lice out of their kids' hair, because, certainly Chief Justice John Roberts, you know, couldn't do that. But, when I first came on these fora, and I saw that, you know, there are all these little -- they're these little acronyms for things. And husband is DH, which I've learned as either dear husband or darling husband. But I spent a while thinking that it was designated hitter. (laugh) And I actually thought that. Because I was like, oh, yeah, you know, they sit down half the time, but then they still got a World Series ring, kind of overpaid. It makes total sense. And then you find out, oh, it's darling. Okay, well. And then people are, like, you know, my DH was out, drunk all night. You know, like, yeah, that's dear.
NNAMDIYeah. My designated hitter was out, drunk. But here's a -- speaking of baby gear, here's a post we got on our website, "I love listservs because they served as a phenomenal underground economy for the selling, trading and giving away of baby gear. In the two years covering my pregnancy and my daughter's first year of life, my husband and I entered into a compact to buy nothing, not just for the baby, but for ourselves too. We found neighborhood parenting listservs and some of the larger ones, a treasure trove of baby gear. We had all top-of-the-line names and bottom-of-the-barrel prices. Honestly, you use this stuff for what seems like 10 minutes. Don't buy it new." Find a lot of trolling on your website for baby gear, Jeff?
STEELEOur mailing list, right -- we have a mailing list and a website. They're totally separate. The mailing list is dominated by people exchanging baby gear.
NNAMDIHere now is Gina in Rockville, Md. Gina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHi, Gina. It's your turn.
GINAHi. I just wanted to maybe give a little bit of a different of perspective...
GINA...because I have had very positive experiences with DC Urban Moms and have made or helped to learn about some of the more important decisions that I've made with my infant. And I feel like it's -- it feels good, because it is local. And it feels much more interesting to me and much more relevant. And I haven't had terrible experiences in terms of people being mean or rotten to me or any other folks on the threads that I've been on. So I just wanted to spread to folks who are listening, say that it has been a good resource and not to be afraid to, at least, you know, get want you can out of it.
NNAMDIKaty Masterson, you wanted to say?
MASTERSONI can see how -- I mean, there's tons of useful information there. The thing that had surprised me is that sometimes when I felt -- you know, saw that people were going there looking for support, you would get lots of support. And then a couple pages into the comments, there'd be just something so judgmental and nasty. I mean, one that really sticks out in my mind was a poster who had written about whether or not she should tell her -- she should have told her doctor about a previous abortion. I mean, that's such a sensitive subject. That's -- someone who's coming with a huge issue that's bigger than what kind of stroller should I buy. And people were saying, you know, this is a serious medical issue. Your doctor should know. And then someone jumped in and said, how -- you know, am I the only person that thinks that's terrible, you're bringing a child into a relationship, where your husband doesn't know you had an abortion.
NNAMDIYou know, do you think -- why is it so difficult for parents to say, you do it your way and I'll do it mine, and not take these comments personally, Lara?
SCHWARTZIt's not difficult. Most people you talk to don't know anybody, who behaves to them the way that people behave on the Internet. And it might be the case of you don't know that you know someone who is that horrible. But, you know, the truth is, is that if I look at my friends, who are the gamut of parenting choices -- and some of them had parenting choices thrust upon them by circumstances, health, everything, people get along. People like each other. There aren't very huge differences between us, especially the people fortunate enough to argue over the Internet during the day. And it's there. And, you know, who knows why you feel judged on the Internet. I mean, I didn't need to shave my underarms to be on the radio, (laugh) but we have these reflexes as humans. I don't know.
NNAMDIThey told me I have to shave my underarms to be on the radio...
SCHWARTZWell, you, yeah. Yeah. (laugh)
NNAMDI...I do it every day. Well, anonymous comments are a lot easier to post than saying something unpleasant in person. Is anonymous the problem? Jeff, should people be upfront on these sites about who they are, total transparency?
STEELEIt could contribute to the problem, but it's not the cause of the problem. People would find the ways to say equally mean things with their name -- names are required on the City Papers' website, and the comments there, as vicious if not worse, in what we see on our website.
NNAMDII'm familiar with those comments indeed. (laugh) Gina, thank you for your call. We move on to Kristen in Rockville, Md. Kristen, it is your turn. Go ahead, please.
KRISTENYeah, I'm here. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
KRISTENOh, I was just gonna say that, you know, I had to stop reading all of these blogs and things when I was pregnant, because so many of them just scared the bejeesus out of you, that if you do something wrong or if you happen to be taking this medication or whatever, your child's gonna come out with three heads and (unintelligible) toes...
NNAMDIShe read an article on the dangerous of pregnancy and decided to stop reading. I love that. Go ahead, please. (laugh)
KRISTENAnd it was just really scary so I just had to stop reading all together. And I made an agreement that I would just do things my way. And so far, my son is 16 months old and couldn't be happier.
NNAMDIWorking out for you so far?
NNAMDIKaty, your article in City Paper focused on one website, DC Urban Moms, which is represented here today. But the issue isn't really just about this one site, is it? One listens to Kristen and gets the impression that wherever you go, you're gonna find this contentious environment.
MASTERSONIt's both. I think with DC Urban Moms and Dads, there is something uniquely Washington about it. I mean, where the most highly educated, highest income area, you know, according to census data, there's a lot there about pressure for who makes what and what do you do and who do you know. Well, actually, you didn't see too much of who do you know, but just what kind of job do you have or where do you live. There's a lot of pressure there. But, you're right. Just -- you go outside of this one listserv, and there's so much information when you look at those -- you know, I can really identify with what Kristen's saying, you were -- look at these "What To Expect When You're Expecting" books, and they tell you the worst case scenarios anyway.
NNAMDIOn now to -- and Kristen, thank you for your call. Here is Cathy in Rockville, Md. Cathy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CATHYThanks. Thank you, Kojo, for the show. So the most important job in the world, we, parents, need all the help and resources we can get. I'm -- my children are now 24 and 21. So -- whoo -- I finally made it to the stage, where I'm once again a cool and knowledgeable mom, according to my kids. (laugh) I want to alert your listeners to a local gem parenting resource, PEP, the Parent Encouragement Program, based in Kensington, Md. PEP has been offering excellent, respected parenting classes and workshops for some 25 years. I found PEP when my kids were preschool. And I would not have been such an effective parent without PEP, from family meetings, to allowance training, to parenting without punishment, and teen driving and everything in between, PEP is every parents' God send. Can I say their website?
NNAMDIPlease do. As matter of the fact, if anyone else...
CATHYGood. The website is...
CATHYThe website is pepparent.org.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Cathy. And if anyone else would like to recommend a website that can be helpful with parenting issues, you can call us at 800-433-8850, or simply go to our website to do so, kojoshow.org. We'll make sure we provide a link. Do parenting websites make you feel better or worse about your parenting choices? Call us at 800-433-8850. Lara, you think that a lot of people who visit these websites, or at least some people, do it as a guilty pleasure because reading the websites make them feel better about themselves.
SCHWARTZYeah. And I certainly do that, although for me it's a guilty pleasure of studying and seeing what buttons I push. I know a number of women who are sort of lurkers or started as DC Urban Mom and other parenting site, Urban Baby, which is New York refugees, and became kind of lookers and admirers and thinkers. And sometimes it makes you get a giggle just looking at your kids, they're happy, you know? You look at a kindergarten class, you can't tell who came out, what part of who, and who got fed what, and they're all, you know, annoying. (laugh) And I think people go to say a combination of wow, I must not be that crazy, but also, you know -- I mean, it's a weird way to lighten up, like a room full of people who are so ultra serious about everything can have the effect of helping you lighten up.
NNAMDIWe got a post on our website from Heidi who said, "I've been a member on a number of online mom's group since I had my 3-year-old. I find it sad that so often women cut others down or don't support them when they most need it. There was a study a few years ago about this and I found it intriguing as a concept. After trying many sites, I'm happy to say that I found one that doesn't have the mama-drama as often as others, northmetrodcmommies.com has been," says Heidi, "a sanity saver." We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on parenting websites and whether or not you find them useful. You can join us by calling 800-433-8850, by sending us a tweet @kojoshow or by going to our website kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking parenting websites with Lara Schwartz, Author of the blog: "Adequate Parenting." Kathryn Masterson is a freelance journalist who has written on this issue for D.C. City Paper. And Jeff Steele is the co-owner and administrator of the D.C. Urban Moms and Dads website and mailing list. Jeff, we got this e-mail from someone who prefer to remain anonymous or asked only to use her first name, so we'll say Alice says or Alice writes, "Please thank Jeff for me for adding the trying to conceive forum to D.C. Urban Mom. I'm a hopeful parent and infertility is the hardest thing I've ever experienced. The support and advice on this forum has been amazing and really helped me find the right doctors, get the right treatments and most importantly find others who can relate." What do you say besides thanks, Jeff?
STEELEYeah, well, thank you. People who feel that things aren't working for them someday should maybe visit that forum and read some of the stories. Nature has really played a cruel trick on those folks that, you know, just about, you see all kinds of people who are able to get pregnant, people are getting pregnant even when they're on birth control, and then you see the stories of these people who are struggling with and it really humbles you.
NNAMDIKathryn, you're not a parent yet, but ultimately do you think the local parenting sites, positive, negative, give you an idea of what parenting in Washington is likely to be like?
MASTERSONThat's an excellent question. I guess I truly feel like I will have to, you know, wait and see. I think if you are living a lot of your life online, especially if you feel really disconnected, you don't have a good support network, then that probably is you are living in this kind of battle all the time about did I make the right decision, did I make the wrong one. I mean, what...
NNAMDIIs she judging me by my stroller?
MASTERSONRight. I mean, what Lara says about that your friends aren't -- they don't act like that in real life. I mean, I think it really -- it reminds you of the importance of, you know -- and this is something people had told me when I first was telling people I was pregnant, you know, find a support network, you know, of people in real life who you can turn to and lean on when you have all these difficult issues.
NNAMDIAnd Lara, part of the idea behind your site is that you also want parents to know that they're not alone and feeling insecure about this. I never knew what the heck I was doing.
SCHWARTZ(laugh) No, that's right. And a lot of us know that we're not, because we see the people around us and see what they're going through. A lot of people come to D.C., you know, kind of out of the blue, it's a career choice, they find themselves not yet immersed in community. You know, strangely, it's one of things that happens when your kids get older. If you look at some of the really contentious matters on some of the parent sites, whether it's D.C. Urban Moms and Dads or others, you'll actually see a trend for them being, you know, pregnant parents, parents of infants, parents of small toddlers, people who are trying to off each other to get into a pre-school for exceptionally qualified gifted, people who are just barely diaper trained, potty trained.
SCHWARTZIf you look at parents of older children, it sort of fades out with time -- and you obviously are more qualified to know this than me, but you see the product emerging and the process starts to seem less -- until they're 12 and they're all horrible and just vile, and they hate you anyway so why invest in so much pumping at work. But I also think the school aspect contributes to this. It's not just been there, done that, but when you're child walks into a kindergarten and there's a huge group of people invested in making it a great school and they get to know each other, and they have something that they're all invested in together and they see each other, I think the acrimony settles.
NNAMDIOne of things that's all that disturbed me is the obsession in Washington or maybe every place else with the best. Because the best is superlative and for me it always implies I want better than. And I say better than whom?
MASTERSONRight. There is definitely, it seems like, this obsession with perfection and that the idea of perfection can be achieved, and that...
NNAMDIHow about normalcy? I don't understand. But go ahead, Lara.
SCHWARTZWell, and I think that's one of the challenges is that there actually is a whole lot of daylight between the absolute optimal thing and not good enough. And there are also diminishing returns. You don't see the idea of diminishing returns much in these conversations, but again, I think it's because the baby time, the pregnancy time, the child birth, the infancy, all of this, there isn't a lot to distinguish these children. I mean, obviously most of them are exceptionally gifted and the others are worthy to be around them. But other than that, there's not much to distinguish, you know? Are they trained? Are they crying? Are they sleeping? You know, there is a binary in it and it dissolves.
NNAMDIIs there a happy medium that you find at D.C. Urban Moms and Dads, Jeff?
STEELEYou have to search for it (laugh) on our website. The...
NNAMDI(laugh) Because medium is very unhappy.
STEELEThe people on our website are high achievers. They spent a good part of their life trying to be the best and they are -- it's -- you can't expect them to turn that off.
NNAMDIOnto Tim in Virginia. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMThanks for taking my call, Kojo. It's interesting that we are coming off of a discussion about perfection and normalcy. I'm the parent of a child with Down's syndrome, and the listserv that I participate in is the Northern Virginia Down's Syndrome listserv. And I find that that listserv is an outstanding resource for information and support. Maybe when you strip away all the unnecessary aspects of parenting that are being discussed, this stuff about strollers and schools and competitions, you get down to the fundamentals of parenting. People have a tendency to be a little more civil, a little more concerned about what's at hand, and that's the caring of the child. So I wanted to put that out there just to make sure that that information is available to your listeners, Northern Virginia Down's Syndrome. And the listserv is an outstanding resource for those of us blessed with special children.
NNAMDITim, thank you so much for sharing that with us.
TIMThank you, sir.
NNAMDIOn to Alicia in Arlington, Va. Alicia, your turn. Hi, Alicia. Are you there?
ALICIAYes. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
ALICIAOkay. I was -- I just wanted to share, actually, a story in "Adequate Parenting."
ALICIAMy -- when I was pregnant with my first, who is now 20 years old, I was given a book by my obstetrician called "Talks with Young Mothers." It was the best advice on pregnancy and child rearing coming out of doctors at Johns Hopkins University.
ALICIAMy mother-in-law gave me the exact same book, but an edition that was 40 years earlier. And in the earlier edition, it said things like avoid sugar at all cost. Whenever possible, substitute saccharin. Butter was its own food group. And they had child rearing techniques that, today, will land you in jail for child abuse. One of the ones was that they recommended that you never allow your child to become accustomed to being in a dirty diaper. This was, of course, before the pervasive use of disposable. So they recommended that you place your infant child with their bare bottom in a bedpan whenever they were in their crib, and pin them down to the mat and leave them that way whenever they were...
NNAMDIAnd to think children live through that. But go ahead.
ALICIAI think -- well -- and exactly. So, to me, that was the absolute best gift I could have received because what it told me, the contrast between the best advice 40 years ago and the best advice today was that our children survive despite them. And as long as we love them and we do the best we can, you know, it's gonna be okay.
NNAMDIYup. I think that's good advice for just about everyone involved, and you're getting a lot of nodding at this end, Alicia. So thank you very much for sharing that story with us. (laugh) I love the bedpan. Here is Gao (sp?) in Fairfax, Va. Hi, Gao. Hi, Gao. Are you there? Oh, that was my fault, Gao. Gao, you are now on the air. Go ahead, please.
GAOHi. How are you?
GAOWell, what I wanted to say is that when my husband was in the military, we first moved to Chicago when my child was about a month old. And I had to rely on a lot of these parenting websites to get my information. And as I made friends, I also found that a lot of people would -- are willing to give you advice. But if you don't take their advice, they get very upset and mad at you. But the other thing I wanted to say, too, is that with the parenting websites, I found that you pick and choose what suits you and -- because there's so much advice out there. There are so many different ways to do everything that -- I just found that that was the best thing to do, was just to pick and choose.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We got a post on our website, anonymously from someone who said, "I participate in a very large and very active online bulletin board community centered around horses. While it's large -- about 1,000 posts a month -- and busy, its tone occasionally gets heated and contentious, its orders of magnitude less nasty than the DC Urban Moms & Dads' website. The critical difference: the other board does not allow anonymous participation. Users have to have a registered ID. That ID is not necessarily one's name, but it is constant. And this makes all the difference. People are far less provocative if they have to post under one name every time they visit the board. Why not make DCUM participation dependent on registering a username," Jeff?
STEELEThe difference is not the usernames. The difference is quantity. We have 2,500 posts per day. So 1,000 posts per month is not even close to what we have. If you have the level of participation that we have, you're gonna have people who are troublemakers. The issue of anonymous posting and usernames is one that we talk about all the time. People don't want to share personal information under any kind of identifying name, whether it's made up or not. If -- the example we use, someone posts one day that they live in Chevy Chase. They post next day they have two kids at Lafayette school. The third day, they post that their husband is a law partner at such and such firm.
STEELEYeah. Yeah, exactly. And no one is gonna share the kind of information they share in our website with -- yeah.
NNAMDIAnd I guess, Lara, a lot of people will do it in the name -- or be anonymous in the name of protecting their children.
SCHWARTZYou know, they might. And that's important, and I never give the name of my child or really anything but her age online. You know, I think the other thing -- and I've provocatively asked people on DC Urban Moms what they think about, you know, getting rid of anonymity. And the truth is, I'm not sold on it anyway. And I've been on one of these writing boards and I had, like, thousands a month and honestly like people can argue as much about horse training as diaper training, but -- potty training. But, you know, I post as adequate parent, which is how Katie, you know, I think, came across my site...
SCHWARTZ...on DC Urban Moms. Before that, I had posted just like everybody else. And I decided to give it a go, and then started the site, and then actually took a month or so hiatus and just posted, mostly to see if Jeff found me and called me out. I don't know if he found me, but he didn't call me out, you know, from my IP address. But the thing is, it's like, you know, every action actually causes a change and runs an experiment. And you -- I mostly don't, actually, post as a communicator. I post as a listener, like I wanna know what I get out of what I say from people. And it does change things. After a certain point, it reached a critical mass where people are like, I now hate you. And that was interesting, but it will happen. It will happen.
NNAMDIFinally, here is Ginny in Rockville, Md. Hi, Ginny. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GINNYHi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm a pediatric nurse in a pretty large practice of highly educated parents who all think they know more than we do. But I just wanted to say these listservs are wonderful, but they come to us going, I've got this information, that information. And we try to maybe condense it a little bit, give them some guidelines. And most importantly, use your common sense. It's the biggest part of parenting. It's the biggest part of nursing, for me, as a matter of fact. So I just feel like most people don't trust their common sense, or maybe they don't have so much of it as they used to. I don't know.
NNAMDIWell, I would assume that they have as much of it as they used to, and maybe they don't trust it as much as they used to because they feel there are so many resources available that can help them. Katie Masterson, you got the last comment. You got 30 seconds.
MASTERSONWith the common sense, one thing that I read that stuck with me the most, a psychoanalyst saying, you can't trust your instincts if you think about them too much. So the more we read -- the more we read these comments, the more we read books, the more we read other things on the Internet -- the less we even hear our commonsense voice or instincts.
NNAMDIKathryn Masterson is a freelance journalist who has written on this issue of parent websites. Thank you very much for your -- for joining us.
MASTERSONOh, thank you.
NNAMDIJeff Steele is co-owner and administrator of the DC Urban Moms & Dads' website and mailing list DCUM. He runs it with his wife, Maria Sokurashvili. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Lara Schwartz is the author of the blog "Adequate Parenting." Lara, thank you for joining us.
SCHWARTZThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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