The importance of building an online community

Single mom Felicia Dewar on the bonds she has formed with other parents over the years

Photo by spxChrome/iStockphoto.com

Developing a community really isn’t a new concept. As a species, we have long developed clubs, associations, parties and more with the intent of bonding with like-minded individuals. Like-minded may include politics, gender or intellect level; however, the main commonality is that the individuals are together to support each other. This also holds true for parenting groups.

Whether the parenting group is connected by the age of their child(ren), abilities, work/life balance or other factors, these groups have become instrumental in supporting the theory that it takes a community or a village to raise a child. Never have I experienced this “village” of support so strongly as I have since the advent of online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and chats. This last week has been a rough one, yet I have been consoled, encouraged and honoured by the outpouring of support from my online networks. Ranging from Facebook messages and posts, tweets, emails and text messages, friends from across the country (some new, some old) have reached out to me. And this has left me both astonished and humbled.

Ten years ago when I had my first child there really weren’t communities, online or off, to help support a single parent. I spent much of my time alone, refusing to attend events and functions in lieu of taking care of my child. I really cut myself off from my friends and some family as I felt they really couldn’t — or worse, wouldn’t — relate. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this led to a very lonely and sad existence. As my son grew older, I became more confident in my parenting ability and was able to rejoin the land of the “normal parents”.

However, when I had my second son and found myself alone once more, it was very easy to fall back into solitary behaviors. Enter social media. Social media has been a tremendous source of support; a close-knit community of individuals, some parents, some grandparents, some neither. However, as a single parent who often lays awake at night tending to a sick child or fighting insomnia or worrying in silence, social media has provided immediate access to other humans in a similar state. Maneuvering a custody battle, sitting in the emergency department, changing a tire, all of these instances have been made easier with online friendships.

On the day that I felt I couldn’t fight anymore for what I feel is best for my youngest, I received an email from a stranger. A stranger that read my post here on Today’s Parent and then contacted me through my blog. About to head into the same battle that I am embroiled in, she reached out, relieved to find someone who was facing the same emotions, the same fears, the same hurts. In turn, I responded to her, relieved to hear my thoughts echoed, my hurts realized, my fears common. Having even just one person able to understand what I am experiencing truly makes the experience bearable. After this first email, came another, then another and then another.

Slowly, I am being surrounded by parents going through similar situations or parents having already gone through this stage of the battle. Each individual shares their story, their tips, their encouragement and motivation — this support enables me to keep going, keep fighting, keep believing and, yes, keep writing. We need each other and the online world has enabled us to access each other in a way never before possible.

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