How the Internet has changed parenting — and parents

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JULIA FIERRO

From online forums, message boards, and chat rooms, to blogs and social media, there is no question that the Internet has changed what it means to be a parent. Parents now have new access to information and online communities and support, though at the same time by participating in these communities they open themselves up to new judgments and self-doubts. Julia Fierro’s new novel, Cutting Teeth (St. Martin’s) incorporates online message boards into the plot of the book and the psyches of the characters. We recently sat down with Julia, and asked her some questions about parenting and the Internet.

BOOKTRIB: You launched a Tumblr called Parenting Confessional that was inspired by the book, which has become wildly popular. Have any of the confessions, or the larger response to the site, surprised you?

JULIA FIERRO: I am amazed by the response to the Parenting Confessional. Two days after it went live, it had over 10,000 Tumblr followers and was featured by Yahoo! Shine, HuffPost, Buzzfeed, and many more media outlets. Even the UK Daily Mail, which was fun because we received hundreds of confession submissions from British moms! What’s been most surprising is how emotional the confessions are and how emotional I feel when reading them. I know other readers of the Tumblr feel the same way. I knew there would be funny confessions like I tell my kids the ice cream truck plays music when it’s out of ice cream, but there are so many heart-warming, and heart-breaking, confessions. There is clearly a huge need for more support of young parents, especially mothers.

parentingconfessional-200BT: What confessions would your characters submit to the site?

Rip: “I’m desperate to have another baby so I can maintain my stay-at-home dad life. But my wife refuses.”

Tiffany: “I feel like all the other moms hate me and it makes me say and do things I don’t really mean. Flirting with danger is like exercising for me—if I don’t do it, I feel flabby and blah. Also, I’m an alcoholic.”

parenting_confession-200Nicole: “I’m trapped in an obsessive-compulsive episode and am worrying, relentlessly, about the end of the world. I have giant Go Bags I keep in the trunk of my car at all times. Just in case.”

Allie: “God, I HATE the ‘mommies’ and can’t believe I let my wife convince me into having another child.”

Susanna (Allie’s wife): “I have a secret savings account where I’m hiding money meant for a deposit on a house in the country. But my wife—elitist urban artist, and, in her own words, ‘part-time mommy’—refuses to move out of the city.”

Tenzin: “I often worry that I have not done my duty to God by leaving my children behind in India and coming to USA to get asylum. But, as the Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”

Leigh: “I stole money from my son’s preschool to fund my in vitro treatments.”

cutting-teeth_175BT: How do you think the Internet has changed being a parent?

JF: One of the elements of Cutting Teeth I am most proud of are the online message boards and chat forums I incorporated, which pop up every once in a while in the novel. Because the online experience is so central to our day-to-day lives, and the shaping of our consciousness and the way in which we see, make sense of and interact with the world, I knew I had to use the Internet in Cutting Teeth.

Those early years of parenting can be a lonely experience, especially if you are a stay-at-home parent at home all day with preverbal children. But it can also feel as if you are never alone and have lost all rights to privacy. The Internet is one of the biggest changes in parenting from the last generation to the current. Parents can feel less alone by logging on to one of many parenting sites, mostly dominated by mothers, but I’ve seen a few dads there. They can use the Internet to feel less alone, to commiserate, and to remind themselves that they are not the only parent who feels frustrated and isolated sometimes. They can share their children’s triumphs, as well as their own revelations of the experience. My mother quit her job as a teacher in the late ‘70s to stay home full time and raise my brother and I. It was an isolating time for her because the only way to have social interaction was to leave the house. Now we can log on, chat a bit, and logoff, and simply knowing that there is the presence of millions of other moms online is a comfort.

The fact that most of the online communities are anonymous is both a pro and a con. The positive side is that most parents wouldn’t be able to speak honestly with the anonymity, and this works so well for the Parenting Confessional. But on the Confessional, there are no comments so no one is writing negative reactions to parents’ heartfelt confessions. On the parenting forums and message boards, the tone can be quite cruel. This was a major theme for me as wrote Cutting Teeth—women judging and criticizing other women. There are mothers waging anonymous battles against each other every day online. But like I said above, with online anonymity comes the freedom to be honest about your emotions, so perhaps the negativity that comes with the anonymity is worth the haven it provides parents.

About the Author

JULIA FIERRO is the founder of The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, which has been a creative home to over 2000 writers since 2002. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow, her writing has appeared in GuernicaThe MillionsFlavorwire, and other publications, and she has been profiled in The L MagazineBrooklyn MagazineThe Observer and The Economist. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two children.

You launched a Tumblr called Parenting Confessional (http://parentingconfessional.tumblr.com/) that was inspired by the book, which has become wildly popular. Have any of the confessions, or the larger response to the site, surprised you?

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