In the last month I have received via Mumsnet*: an offer of a free holiday home for a week, some dried lavender, Estée Lauder Night Repair serum (that was a MN giveaway). Some ebooks and resources to improve my writing, some yarn to make so more blanket squares, and volunteers to try out a pattern I designed. That is just in the last month. From complete strangers.
When the above Mumsnetter recently offered my family the chance to stay in her house abroad she said “Not sure what I will tell my husband, probably that you are from university” because who would believe that people who have never met in real life could feel the need to do such a thing? It is testament to the generosity of Mumsnetters over the years (and the things that I have done in return) that my own husband didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him that a person from Mumsnet who I knew only by user name had made such an offer.
But my love for Mumsnet is not just cupboard love. It’s about more than the material things I have received. It is about the advice and support I have received in spades.
When I have been up at 3 in the morning crying because breastfeeding was going so badly, Mumsnetters have been there. When I had a home birth, not only did Mumnetters give me loads of advice in making the decision in the lead up, they were there cheering me on and doing virtual knitting in support while I posted between contractions.
I’ve cyber stalked Mumnetters and found them at my workplace, at my knitting group, and conversely I have converted my friends to the Cult of Mumsnet. Some people are very coy about their affiliation with the site in real life, partly to preserve their anonymity, and possibly partly because of the bad press it often gets.
Some of the criticisms are deserved. Mumsnet has gone through periods of turmoil where certain groups of posters have ruled the virtual playground. But these criticisms are true for many online forums, and as with every forum it has evolved, and grown.
A lot of the bad press it gets stems from bitterness and jealously. Liz Jones takes a crack or two at it on occasion, but her dazzling wit and astute observations (sorry, it’s hard to convey sarcasm in the written word) continues to be outpaced by the shrewd and scintillating posters who chose to put their brains and words to good use on Mumsnet rather than waste it on the misogynistic heap of shite that is the Daily Mail.
During the last general election, the media hailed it as the Mumsnet election, and politicians and politicos flocked to the site to woo the votes of its posters. It was mostly media hype, but a nod to the rise to prominence of the female story in the slightly more egalitarian world of the Internet (unless you count the Guardian Forums). But in the same way that the media and government used Mumsnet as a symbol of all women, so too is Mumsnet used as a way to beat all women down. When journalists and comedians mock Mumsnet, what they are really mocking is women’s freedom of speech. Ho ho ho, let’s laugh at the women who think their lives are meaningful and who think they have something important to say. God forbid that mums engage in anything but tending to their children and husbands. It shows complete ignorance and, at the very least, lack of proper research. For you don’t have to look very far on Mumsnet to find women (some men, but it is mostly women) making a real difference in the world, whether it is advising another mum how she can continue to breastfeed her baby, making blankets for the recently bereaved, or taking part in numerous campaigns to bust rape myths, improve miscarriage care, and improve reproductive choices in third world countries.
On a personal note, I truly believe Mumsnet has made me a better parent, you know, apart from all the time I’ve spent neglecting them. If it wasn’t for Mumsnet I wouldn’t have stuck with breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have done Baby Led Weaning with my children, I wouldn’t have worn my second child in a sling for so many months. That’s not to say that those choices themselves make me a better parent, but knowing about these choices, finding that there is more out there than Gina Ford and naughty steps, has given me the confidence to make the right choices for me and my children. And that’s not to say that all Mumsnetters are the sling wearing, lentil-weaving type; far from it. There are many Mumsnetters who would rather poke themselves in the eye with a blunt pencil than wap their baps out to feed their children, or who would rather spend an evening at a Peter Andre autobiography book launch than even to discuss parenting online. There are even people on Mumsnet who don’t have children. And that’s the thing about Mumsnetters, they are so diverse that it is impossible to even try and levy any sort of criticism against them as a community.
If this post sounds familiar, it’s because I have written a paean to Mumsnet before, when I started contributing to the Mumsnet Woolly Hugs Blankets (if you are bored by my writing yet another sycophantic blog post, then tough, it’s my blog!) Once again I find myself with another couple of balls of yarn, donated by yet another stranger, to make squares for a blanket of someone I don’t know. But I don’t need to know her. I just know she has lost a child and needs support. God forbid it should ever happen to me, but I know that Mumsnet would be the place I would turn to in my time of need.
*Warning: do not confuse Mumsnet with Netmums. It’s like confusing Father Jack from “Father Ted” with the Pope. You know, if the Pope said “hun” a lot and used smileys.