March 18, 2010

Mommy Communities – Online and Off

I’ve been collaborating with a woman I met last year who had been the visionary behind a local group for women who were all moms (and often working professionals) and were looking for a community of their own within which they could seek to engage in dialogue and discussion with each other around topics of interest, issues of interest, events, and projects that they wanted to undertake. The group had evolved into something slightly different after she moved out of town, and we are, together, hoping to restart the group with the original flavour and some new takes on the implementation.

It’s been exciting and interesting to hear how the group has grown where she is now living in the eastern US, and I look forward to meeting some motivated and intelligent women as we kick off the group at the end of this month.

(If you are a mom in the Vancouver area, and are interested in coming out to see what this is all about, please leave me a comment and I’ll contact you directly.)

I’m curious to see what kind of turnout we get, and who becomes engaged with the group. It will be largely participant-driven with sessions facilitated by the group leaders, based on demand from the participants. I used to run a group for youth that followed a similar format – facilitators that brought together resources and speakers and activities and projects based on the interests and desires of the participants – and it was a very successful and rewarding model.

I also participate in a few other communities, online, such as Babycenter Canada where I’ve been able to find excellent sources of information, resources, and perspective from other moms who have either been through it all already, or who were going through it at the same time as me. While the articles and resources provided throughout Babycenter are great, it was the knowledge from “the horses’ mouths”, so to speak, that was the most valuable to me.

I guess this is why person-to-person communities exist and flourish. We have access to bajillions of bajillions of advice and practice documents and articles and texts and whatever else is published on the intertubes, but we know there is always either a bias, or careful advisory literature is often skewed to make sure it is as safe as possible and doesn’t leave the author vulnerable to litigation should things not work out as described.

But when we can ask questions of real people who have been there, or who have experienced things we are experiencing, and there is no reason for those individuals to misrepresent themselves, that honest and personal experience can do wonders for making us feel more comfortable, less alone, more accepted, less fearful than we would be if we didn’t have that camaraderie. Women are extremely good at supporting their peers unconditionally in affairs of the heart and in traditionally women-centric domains such as motherhood.

(We’re also very, very good at alienation, being judgmental and inducing fear, but that’s for another post.)

The other interesting thing about being part of a community is that the value one gets from that community is directly related to how much one contributes. I can lurk on boards and watch dynamic conversation unfold until my eyes turn red, but the moment I engage with the group, and start to get responses or discourse that is more directly related to my own perspective, the more I become invested in that community and my interest in and willingness to participate increases.

I will be interested to watch and see how my online and offline communities reflect or oppose each other. Will we see similar levels of engagement in the offline group? Is it easier to participate if you’re behind a screen, than in front of a group, thinking and speaking in real time? How do we create an environment offline that encourages participation and contribution as much as we get online? How do we keep personalities and all the non-verbal communication from influencing the character of the group?

What are your thoughts on the value (or not) of offline and online communities? Are they strong? Artificial? Is the representation in the groups always skewed? Do they encourage us to be ourselves, or do they force us to be something different? Does everyone find them supportive or are there groups or personalities at risk of being abused by them, or abusing them?

I’m looking forward to my experience as a group leader and facilitator, and encourage feedback to help us grow and provide an a resource that helps moms find tools for development, personally and professionally, through dialogue and exposure to new peers and experts.


Stephanie said...

Hey, I'd be totally interested in a group like this! Keep me posted!


I LOVE your writing! :)

Wendy Cooper said...

Can you please let me know when the group starts up again! :) You have me on facebook - I'm in Alberta for now but will be coming back to Vancouver soon. My email:


Phat Girl said...

Hey, thanks guys. We're starting up on Monday with our first evening session, which will be a learning experience for all of us, see where we get to. Wendy, you might be familiar with the model. :)

Send me an email if you'd like more info: stephaniedhayes at gmail.

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