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Published April 29, 2013, 11:40 PM

Tangled web: Online parenting forums can be blessing, curse in quest for info

FARGO - Melissa Kindelspire used to spend at least a few hours each day on her computer, researching and corresponding in online parenting forums. Shortly after her second child was born, she’d had enough of the negativity and misinformation.

By: Charly Haley , INFORUM

FARGO - Melissa Kindelspire used to spend at least a few hours each day on her computer, researching and corresponding in online parenting forums.

Shortly after her second child was born, she’d had enough of the negativity and misinformation.

“I kind of just had to say, ‘I’m not going to go on these anymore,’ ” Kindelspire said.

The 28-year-old Page, N.D., resident is now a mother of three. Based on the experiences she had with parenting forums when her now 7-year-old son was just born, she compared some of the discussions in online parenting forums to “a battleground” and described one website as “vicious.”

“There were these debates (between the website users) … and it was all just so black-and-white,” she said. “You had to pick a side.”

The forums on sites such as www.mothering.com and www.parenting.com also held a guilt factor for Kindelspire. She’d see people posting about being “perfect” with their children, and it wasn’t helping her.

“I kept comparing myself to all these people writing these fantastic things,” she said.

Kindelspire isn’t the only parent with warnings against these sites. A few local moms agree that parenting forums are a good place to start with questions, but parents should make sure they’re seeking out reliable sources and using common sense for advice.

Fargo mother Abby Carlson was shocked when she saw a baby teething gel still on store shelves after she read online that it had been recalled.

After seeing the product on store shelves, she researched the issue further and went to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website, where she learned that her original information from online forums was inaccurate.

“You have to be careful,” Carlson said. She usually checks everything with her doctor, she said.

A Google search of “baby Orajel recall” yields a few search results claiming the product shouldn’t be sold, but according to the FDA website, there was only a warning put out about an active ingredient of the drug in 2011.

Kelly Olson, regional program director at The Village Family Service Center, agrees online forums are useful to parents in some ways, but users should check their sources.

“It’s valuable in a small dose, and it depends on the person,” Olson said. Some parents may experience more anxiety than others over what they find online, she said.

It also depends on the situation, she said. Serious situations should always be addressed by a professional, Olson said.

Although the sites can be misleading or have polarized debates, Kindelspire said one of the positives about them is that they can help parents connect.

“Being a stay-at-home mom is so isolating sometimes,” Kindelspire said.

And despite the difficulties, Kindelspire made some good friends online.

She said she became very close with a group of 12 people, and when they all were fed up with the parenting forums, they set-up their own online private chat space.

It was easy to connect with those 12 people because they were anonymous, Kindelspire said.

“It’s just easier to tell someone who’s anonymous,” she said. She’s Facebook friends with those people now, and said she’s met two of them in real life, which was “kind of fun but kind of weird at the same time.”

While consuming information from parenting forums was frustrating, Kindelspire enjoyed using the websites as a platform to teach others. As a certified car-seat technician, Kindelspire would post links about car-seat safety.

Jill Christianson, a 34-year-old mother of four from Fargo, also knows what it’s like to be on the answering end of an online parenting resource, but unlike the websites Kindelspire and Carlson exemplified, Christianson is part of a local effort.

She’s one of the leaders of Fargo-Moorhead’s La Leche League. The group of 10 to 15 moms meets twice a month, and serves many more parents through its Facebook group, which has 130 members.

Christianson said the La Leche Facebook page discusses many topics, like children’s sleep patterns, adjusting to work after maternity leave and breastfeeding.

Christianson is familiar with the anonymous parenting forums, and said that a benefit of La Leche League’s page is that it’s local.

“It can be used as a jump-off to meet other moms in real life,” she said.

Also, La Leche League’s Facebook is a closed group, so Christianson and the other leaders monitor who joins.

“A downside with anonymous websites is that if you’re looking for something specific you believe to be true (even if it’s not), you can find someone else who believes it to be true,” Christianson said.

With the debates and potentially misleading information, Kindelspire said she regrets much of the time she spent online after her first child was born.

“It’s such a waste of time arguing with someone online,” she said. “I look back and think, that time with my baby goes by so fast.”

She pointed out that for her own mother, turning to an online forum wasn’t even an option.

“She had to use her instincts … and do what worked for her,” Kindelspire said. “Now people go on the message boards or websites. You can’t just do what you feel is best.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311.

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