Among the many conversations about behavioural problems seen among teenage children and the benefits of organic foods, there is one that raves about a baby-sitter who takes care of pets too, and one that reviews newly opened art classes in the city.
These are not the usual face-to-face discussions among women at a gathering, but threads that run on parenting websites and ‘mommy' blogs that have captured the imagination of many mothers in Chennai.
Many parenting forums register more than a thousand threads of interaction each every day from the city alone, with a variety of localised pages on Yahoo, Facebook, and netlog dedicated to facilitate communication between mothers.
Baby growth charts, immunisation schedules, home-made remedies, reviews of schools, summer camps, information on doctors and a collection of articles from the mothers themselves — these forums have it all.
Many mothers feel that going through related threads on various parenting sites before attending the PTA meetings helps to know what rest of the parents feel about issues.
“My daughter does not like me talking to her classmates' parents at meetings; discussing online helps to talk to parents without the interference of children,” says Shobana Mahadevan, a blogger and a mother.
Discussing concerns, especially those regarding increase in fees, change in examination patterns, homework, and school announcements with hundreds of other mothers on the internet helps them understand matters at hand and form opinions, she says.
Many of these forums have threads on car-pooling in selected areas where parents decide on turns to drop children at schools.
Subbiah Arunachalam, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society, says that with the computer finding its way into many urban households, an increasing number of mothers are focussing more on their children's performance in school.
The social network they form on the net provides the mothers a platform to be “collectively enlightened” about everything from culinary innovations to popular music and fashion trends, he says.
On “Babycentre”, a forum that monitors child's growth and gives regular inputs on expected child behaviour, Sangeetha Vijay (38), mother of a two-year-old says,
“It is like an elderly person helping you get prepared for everything from teething problems to allergies in children.”
Many mothers say that though communication on parenting forums starts out as a medium to interact with those who share similar concerns, it soon goes beyond the confines of the internet. “We have groups of ‘internet mothers' who often meet, hold competitions and spend time together,” says Penithia Selvi (32), mother of a five year old girl.
“These sites and blogs give mothers a platform to write, discuss their interests and talk openly, which is a priceless experience,” she adds.
“It is very much an urban phenomenon,” says Savithri. J., child counsellor with schools, “Since many working mothers have access to the internet for more hours, they try tracking their children's activities, and also explore the net in their own way,” she says. Many concerns such as addiction to gaming seen among children, are better discussed with mothers who experience similar problems, says Ranjitha Kumaran (32).
“Since mothers as young as 23 to those in their sixties share their experiences on these sites, the issues are approached with a lot of sensitivity and understanding,” she says.