Gone are the days we lend our neighbors a cup of sugar over the fence. Rebecca Foley surfed the web only to find Inner West families sharing their know-how online.
The digital age has been represented as a selfie obsessed, Kardashian coveting, cyber-bullying catastrophe, yet, in the past five years online communities have flourished. Local online groups have salvaged some humanity in new technology by using digital spaces to connect and support each other – all in the name of altruism.
Families in particular have proven incredibly adept at creating meaningful social networks. Blogging, Facebook groups (utilising secret, open and closed settings) and apps such as WhatsApp, are helping create niche fraternities, profiting from a knowledge bank of shared experiences.
According to The Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 28% of the population are born overseas, and over 300,000 Australians move interstate annually. This means for many, family can be thousands of miles away. Gentrification of Inner Sydney prevents younger generations from buying into the same areas their parents and grandparents live.
To help combat this problem (among others), new parents across the country have created hundreds of online groups to help with the issues they face.
Mums are utilising Facebook groups such as Inner West Mums in Sydney, and the Inner West garage sale group on virtual marketplace platform KIDsize Living. The first is a forum for advice and mentoring (and sometimes, just a big ol’ rant as seen recently in The Daily Mail), while the latter is a members-only space where mums can buy, sell or donate items to each other.
This means new families don’t have to buy brand new (and often expensive) items such as prams, change tables or bundles of clothing. It’s also environmentally sustainable: items are being recycled rather than new items being produced.
Items such as DVDs become redundant once children reach a certain age. On the KIDsize Living Inner West Garge Sale Facebook page, mums sell off quality items cheaply, recycling the merchandise.
Mums can also give away new or partially used personal items, some of which traditional online auction sites, like eBay, won’t allow as it violates their used goods policies.
Some items (like opened nappy rash lotion) that are banned from eBay are posted within the members-only group, often given away at no cost. New mums are often money conscious, suddenly surviving on a single income for the household. Free items ease this financial strain, whilst supplying mothers with critical items.
Smartphone apps have also proved to be very convenient for parents. New mum Alex Graham who lives in Marrickville says she wasn’t picky about the media she used in the first months of motherhood. “If I could access it with my phone using one free hand while I fed, held, rocked my baby, it was worthwhile for me!”
“Whats App is at the top of my list – to connect to my mothers group. Followed by Facebook’s Inner West Mums and various blogs like Pinky McKay,” Alex says.
Laura Harris has a two-year-old, and is 28 weeks pregnant. She uses home renovating, decorating, mothers groups and even pram groups on Facebook to share advice and information. “With the mother’s groups it’s just like you’ve got someone to talk to whenever!”
“You have heaps of responses really quickly from a whole bunch of women with different experiences and different insights. They give advice, help and general conversation. It would be difficult to gain access to this information [without social media], the right information, as quick and from people who are not just anybody,” Laura says.
Dads Online (www.dadsonline.com.au) is an Australian blog with integrated social media that acts as an important resource for dads doing it solo. Dads Online supplies information covering everything from crisis and support networks to conflict resolution tips to teaching your kids to be eco-friendly and kid-friendly recipes.
Peter, the site’s creator, says “There are about 4,250 dads who interact with Dads Online – and growing – they enjoy a range of topics around parenting, as well as coping with being a separated dad. I don’t believe you would get that volume in a face-to -face environment.”
“Dads can post comments both in public and private, to voice their concerns or ask for help – which they do often. We have a range of support resources that are offered to dads; depending on their needs at the time,” Peter says.
The website is incredibly successful, with approximately 34,000 pages a month read by approximately 7300 unique visitors, of which 98% are Australian men.
The success of online family groups has also extended to big name corporations, with brands like Vanish Napisan running a “tip exchange” campaign. The campaign promotes Vanish, a stain removal product by asking users to exchange their own stain removal tips in an online forum.
In old school advertising, it was the brand that delivered the “how to” message; but thanks to the good will of consumers, the model has been reversed. Users are doing the copywriting themselves!
All in all, despite the negative public backlash that social media sometimes falls prey to, there are tech-savvy families out there who are selflessly helping each other, sharing memories and experiences in this brave new digital world. And all without a selfie stick in sight.
How to link in
Not on Facebook? Not a problem. Have a gander at neighbourhood-focused sites like nabo.com.au. Nabo is a neighbourhood social network that connects residents and encourages neighbours to engage with each other.
On their website, you can find free goods and services, share your suburb pride by posting pictures of the area, or even keep a neighbourhood watch and see what crime is happening around your home.
If you’re on Facebook, search either your suburb or theme to find a community. But talk to other locals – sometimes groups have random names and only members will know about it!
Request’s to join user groups usually have to be approved: so expect a small wait.
Groups usually have a “closed” privacy settings so anything interaction you have with the group is hidden from your main feed.
There are a lot of groups out there, so think about what’s right for you. In groups like Marrickville – Pay it Forward, members give away free items or services to get a sense of “doing good” and collect karmic capital. Posted items range from lounges, to personal training, to cupcakes made specifically to give away on the site. However there are hundreds of online marketplace sites as well, where items can be picked up for a bargain.
Need advice, or just a shoulder to cry on? New mums, and those with the wisdom of experience, can share concerns and issues on pages like Inner West Mums. Single fathers can use resource site dadsonline.com.au, which is rich in information, family-fun ideas and legal advice.