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D.C. Urban Moms

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Shannon Henry
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, May 3, 2005; 11:00 AM

Shannon Henry, Special to The Washington Post, was online Tuesday, May 3, at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions about the Web site, DC Urban Moms , that is featured in Tuesday's article, " The Family Channel (DC Urban Moms Online: Click for Support, Advice, Home Remedies, Gossip, Political Rants) (Post, May 3).

"At DC Moms you can pose a question -- about what to do when your child can't sleep, won't eat or simply has too much stuff -- and receive dozens of replies within the day. One member recently asked where she could find chocolate geckos and got half a dozen suggestions," Henry reports.

"DC Urban Moms List and Web site were created by moms for moms (and dads). One of the hardest things that new parents have to adjust to is a sudden isolation they face when they bring a new baby home. Parenthood can be challenging and scary at times. We hope new parents will find helpful advice, support and answers they might need through this site and the DC Urban Moms List . The DCUM List has helped to form play-groups, baby-sitting coops and just plain friendships between same-minded people," the official Web site of D.C. Urban Moms says.

The transcript follows.

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you for the great article. I am a DCUM subscriber and think you described the list and its subscribers perfectly. Maria and Jeff deserve a ton of praise for what they have created. I became a first time mom a year ago and cannot fathom how I would have survived this year without it! Do you know if they have any plans to expand -- to a comprehensive Web site perhaps that contains a lot of the info people ask for (e.g. consignment stores, schools, pediatricians, etc.) I know there is a site already but it is not updated often. Also, any plans to charge? I would be willing to pay!

Shannon Henry: Thanks for reading! DC Urban Moms has a huge following and much of what I heard is how much people want more, more, more of it. Clearly there is a need for support of each other, especially for the first time mom. That said, Jeff and Maria are two people with day jobs and kids and can only do so much. I want to also point out that Sharon Winick was a founder and instrumental in the creation of the site, although Jeff and Maria are doing the day-to-day moderating now. They've all been very receptive when members have volunteered to set up other parts of the site, such as the nanny forum. They have plans to update more often, and so far no plans to charge. They're not making any money from this. That's one of the things that interested me most about the concept--it's about what Internet community used to mean before commercialism.

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Washington, D.C.: Have you been approached by any corporate identity to acquire D.C. Urban Moms? If such a thing happened, do you think corporate ownership or a profit motive would negate the trust factor built up in the existing community?

Shannon Henry: The founders have indeed been approached by potential buyers, some of whom think DC Urban Moms is a big corporation.

If the site was bought I don't think it would be the same. It's got a kind of free-speech, communal atmosphere that makes it work. I have seen some commercial sites that seem to work, but in a very different way.

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Fairfax, Va.: I logged onto DCUrbanMoms.com this am after reading the article, but found it disappointing. Is the mail list much more interactive? The forums are full of questions with no replies.

Also what is the Web site for dc working moms? Something tells me that's more my speed. Thanks.

Shannon Henry: The list is by far the most fun, interactive, surprising and informative part of DC Urban Moms. Sign up and you might have more replies than you can handle! I agree the site tends to be a bit static, but again that's because the moderators just can't get to it all. What this is really about is the conversation among parents. The working moms group has attracted many women who were either overwhelmed with the amount of the DCUM postings or who wanted a more specific community. I'm posting below a list of online parenting sites (including the working moms one) that I compiled for this story but just couldn't fit in because of space.

DC Urban Moms: www.dcurbanmom.com

(Moms and Dads in the Washington area)

DC Working Moms: send e-mail to dcwm-subscribe@yahoo.com

(Moms who work outside the home)

DC Part-time working Moms: send e-mail to

dcptwm-subscribe@yahoo.com

(Moms who work part-time)

Moms on the Hill: www.momsonthehill.com

(Capitol Hill moms)

NoVa Moms: http://lists.topica.com/lists/novamoms (Northern

Virginia moms)

Moms Club: www.momsclub.org (Stay at

home moms)

Mocha Moms: www.mochamoms.org (Stay at

home moms of color)

DC Metro Dads: www.dcmetrodads.com

(Stay at home dads)

Maryland Dads: www.marylanddads.com

(Maryland stay at home dads)

Urban Baby: www.urbanbaby.com

(Nationwide parenting site)

Babycenter: www.babycenter.com

(Nationwide parenting site)

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washingtonpost.com: Thank you for joining us today to talk about your article, " The Family Channel " (Post, May 3). Do you think that parenting sites such as " DCUrbanmom.com " could become a growing trend across the country? If so, why? Based on your research, why do you think this site has grown in popularity in the D.C. area since it was launched in 2001?

Shannon Henry: One of the most popular postings is "Do you know of a site like this in Denver/Phoenix/Fill in the Blank?" I know of many people who have stayed on the list after they've moved and some who have launched their own in new cities. The success of DC Urban Moms speaks to a real issue--new moms feel isolated and need support. It's definitely a growing trend. Why a virtual village works is because as the community grows it becomes stronger, smarter and more diverse. And this generation lives on technology and uses it in ways we couldn't imagine even five years ago.

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Washington, D.C.: I signed on to the Urban Mom's list briefly, and found the discussion (as opposed to volume) overwhelming. From your description of the topics, probably about the same time you did. As you mentioned in the article some people could be dogmatic about their choices. I wonder if anyone you interviewed commented on the economic dynamics of the list. In the stay-at-home vs. work discussions it seemed to be the assumption that everyone could make a choice. There were also requests for assistance in locating resources for one year old and toddler birthday parties that seemed rather extravagant for an event the child probably won't even remember. In theory at least, I could probably afford any of the things people were discussing, but it all started to seem very over the top. I'm sure for most members though it's a very valuable resource.

Shannon Henry: You're right, I think many of the topics reflect that Washington has a number of well-off parents. The recent discussion of what to do about the "problem" of having "too much stuff" is an example that comes to mind. It came from a good intention and brought up many suggestions about charities, etc. but of course having too much is not a problem for many families. Some of the issue here goes back to the "Digital Divide" -- the lower-income parents may not have Internet access, or the luxury to check out the list on their lunch hour. And they may be the people who need the list most of all. The fights between the at home moms and working moms are legendary on the list, and part of the friction involves economics. Fascinating information comes from both sides. Bottom line is everyone's invited to weigh in, and some of the over the top posts are reminders of how we might rethink our priorities.

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McLean, Va.: Your article didn't go into much detail about the conflicts that arise on DCUM. The Judith Warner piece in Newsweek back in March painted a somewhat unflattering picture (moms immediately chastising other moms for parenting decisions), and I was wondering if Jeff and Maria said anything about that (or if that subject was raised at all).

Shannon Henry: The conflicts are a huge part of how the site works. Many are predictable--at home vs. working moms, breastfeeding vs. formula--but some are different, like the irate postings about inhumane animal treatment after one woman sent an fyi about a local circus coming to town. Another parent was chastised for giving up on cloth diapers after posting that he'd like to sell some because it wasn't working out for his family. I am often surprised and saddened about some of the mean responses, especially when! en the original writer just needed some help. Some come from the respondent not reading the posting closely, I think, or from forgetting that these are real people, even though to paraphrase a woman quoted in the story, you aren't seeing their face. About 90 percent of the time these women are great to each other, like virtual sisters. But that last 10 percent...This is what happens in real-life communities too--you see personalities come out.

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Washington, D.C.: Shannon,

I am a list member and am always amused (and somewhat alarmed!) by the spats that go on. They are a good microcosm of all of the issues parents face. You could write an article a week about each controversial issue!

Shannon Henry: You are so right. This is a parenting reality show. This is what moms and dads think and talk and obsess and anguish about every day. It hits to the core of family life.

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Washington, D.C.: As a member of the listserv, I want to also point out that the site also includes D.C. Urban Dads. The name does not imply that, but there are efforts to include issues that relate to Dads as well as Moms. Many of these are clearly one in the same.

Shannon Henry: Yes, defintely. Dads are on the list too and are regular contributors to the conversation.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm hesitant to use your Web site because I think me and my wife will be further isolated from our friends. We've made an effort to socialize with our friends, especially those who don't have children, since the birth of our daughter. Unfortunately, we've had a couple friends that have decided our friendship is over, as they refuse to socialize with "families". Does your organization offer support groups with tips to work through these issues?

Shannon Henry: I'm just the reporter here, it's not my site, but ... I would suggest you try it out anyway. That's a huge problem new parents face--what happens to your old relationships? I hope you try to maintain the old friends (maybe even going out for dinner and getting! a babysitter) while making new friends. It really helps to have friends who are also new parents because they get what you're going through. I would bet many list members would relate to you completely. One of the benefits of the list is that members have set up playgroups in real life. You might post a note saying you'd like to start a playgroup, mention neighborhood, age of child and days/times that work for you. The DC Working Moms group also hosts lunches without the kids around the city. I joined a playgroup when my now 2-year-old was just a couple of months old, and we still meet once a week. These moms have become great friends. Sometimes it's hard to make new friends, but this is a great time for it. Good luck.

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Arlington, Va.: Shouldn't people be a bit wary about posting their personal info in such a public forum? Your article noted that one woman's doctor's office retaliated when she posted something negative about them. Isn't there a downside to having such an open membership policy? How have the moderators addressed this?

Shannon Henry: Yes, as the list has grown and amassed more people power, more people care what is said. The moderators have a policy that no posting can be published without permission of the writer. Still, of course, lots of people are reading it. Everyone who posts should be aware of this. I hope it won't stem the free flow of conversation, but like in e-mail or many other electronic communication, you must think about what you write and who will see it.

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Arlington, Va.: I think an important resource provided by DCUM that's being overlooked is the archives. For people who aren't as interested in the day-to-day chats, if you sign up, you can still have access to the archives. They have lots of information about FAQs, such as what solid foods should I start with, how do I introduce a sippy cup, etc. It's also why some new subscribers may think there aren't a lot of "answers" to posts. Many people now send "offline" responses and the poster will send a compilation. It helps keeps the volume down.

Shannon Henry: Thanks, that's a great point. The archives are full of useful information.

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Washington, D.C.: One thing that's frustrating about the DCUM list is just the sheer number of daily posts, a lot of which are off-topic. I really like the working moms list, which focuses on issues a lot of us face in juggling work and family. The list owner doesn't allow a lot of off-topic posting so it manages to stay fairly focused. The lunches are also a great way to connect with other moms without taking even more time away from my daughter. I kind of think of DCWM as my community and DCUM as more of a bulletin board. DC Metro Mommies also has some wonderful groups -- a cooking club, book club, etc. It's too bad there wasn't room to include them.

Shannon Henry: These online communities serve different people differently, so I'm glad you're loving the working moms one. Thanks for mentioning DC Metro Mommies too, which I've heard good things about. It will be interesting to see how they all evolve and still try to keep the original missions. Our time is up today. Thanks to everyone for writing and check out the web sites we posted above. Goodbye...Shannon

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Washington, D.C.: In response to the posts questioning the usefulness of DCUMs, I think the site is what you make it. As a single mom of two kids under the age of two, with very little money and time to spare, I think DCUMs has been a lifesaver. I've gotten advice on everything from viruses, to installing babygates, to baby item comparisons, to divorce support groups. I can even sell and purchase products from other parents.

Yes, I agree that some moms are downright nasty, and the continuous posts attacking each other are annoying. But I don't read individual emails or the daily digest. I only use the archives, a fantastic resource for information. If I'm not interested in a post or it has the potential to offend/upset me. I don't read it.

My only complaint is that I didn't know about DCUMs when I was pregnant with my first child. It would have saved me a lot of money on useless baby supplies and poorly constructed products.

Keep up the great work!

Shannon Henry: One more from another mom. I heard the term "lifesaver" from quite a few parents. Pretty high praise.

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Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


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