When Rachel Teo became a mum in 2007, she started a blog to express her feelings about her new role. “Blogging on www.catch-fortywinks.com was a therapeutic way for me to handle life’s bottlenecks as a new mum. But it evolved into a space where I could keep a record of my life and other creative pursuits, such as photography.”
To better document raising her now 6-year-old son Kyle, she even started using online services like Instagram and editing tools like Filterstorm for her photos. Nor does the 36-year-old tech-savvy mum stop there. Teo, who runs her own social media brand management company, Right Click Communications, spun her blog into Singapore Mom Bloggers, one of the country’s biggest virtual communities, which sees more than 100 mums blog on a daily basis.
This work-from-home mum and self-professed tech addict relies heavily on high tech tools to ease her way. “Technology keeps me organised... I shudder to think of the day where technology fails us and we’re thrown back to the ‘Stone Age’!”
Welcome to the world of the plugged-in parent.
Why mums go online
Most of us are online at any time of the day, thanks to smartphones and tablet computers that run on high-speed Internet access. According to global marketing research firm AC Nielsen, Singaporeans are South-east Asia’s heaviest Internet users — spending an average of 25 hours online per week. And mothers in their 20s to 40s are part of this IT-savvy demographic.
Terrence Tang, regional director (Digital Marketing and Consumer Business) at Trend Micro, points out that in recent times, cyberspace has seen a mushrooming of Facebook support groups, parenting blogs, and websites that provide advice, tips and product reviews to busy mums.
He adds, “Couple this with mobile devices, and almost everything a mum needs can be obtained on-demand and on the go.”
Regional marketing executive Shivani Priyadarshini, 31, is one such mother. She turned to the World Wide Web for information the minute she found out she was pregnant. “I went online to check forums and read parenting blogs to prep myself for when my baby arrived — I still do.”
Now that her son Alexander is 19 months, Shivani heads to www.mummysg.com for parenting insights, and also scans its classifieds section for deals on pre-loved baby goods and toys. Still, while she uses technology to ease her way as a mother, Shivani is careful to take everything she reads with a pinch of salt, well aware that not every parenting method will apply to her son.
Do what other mums do
For Marilyn Ann Nathan, 31, an internal auditor and mum to Jacob, 14 months, she decided to plug herself into the virtual mummy world because she wants to suss out what other parents are up to here.
Says Nathan, who regularly checks out www.kiasuparents.com, “I fear that if I don’t use technology I will ‘lose out’ because parenting in Singapore, like it or not, comes with a load of kiasuisum.”
Because of her hectic work schedule, she prefers using her iPhone’s WhatsApp messenger to fire off any parenting queries to her circle of young mum contacts. And while she goes online, she sticks to a few reliable sites and never uses the Internet to make a medical diagnosis about her child. This is because she reckons that online information can be a double-edged sword, “It can reinforce your beliefs or make you feel like the worst mother ever. It can also be information overload or give you conflicting reports.”
Sharing experience with other parents
Information gathering aside, more and more mums today also seek solace and support in the virtual world, and have no qualms placing their thoughts online for everyone to see. On Singapore Mom Bloggers, posts can range from light-hearted topics like top things to do in Legoland Malaysia, to more hard-hitting pieces. This includes ways to manage your anger and depression when you’re sleep-deprived, or dealing with difficult kids.
Teo explains, “We blog not only as form of expression, but also in the hope that a fellow mum, a friend or ad hoc reader who’s struggling with motherhood, finds some encouragement from the experiences shared.”
Indeed, new mothers like Regina Tan, 36, a graphic designer and mum to Darien, 8 months, loves being part of a by-invitation only Facebook forum for mums. “Whatever we discuss is kept private, and I don’t have to worry about friends or family members stumbling upon it. So, I can vent my frustrations about motherhood or even my in-laws!”
Tan, who has posted queries and received sound advice from her virtual friends, looks forward to visiting this forum daily. “Once I was struggling to get Darien, who’s very picky with food, to eat his porridge. I had so many replies after posting my frustrations online, I ended up trying some of the methods. I always feel better after talking to these mums.”
Siti Noorimah, 29, mum to Nur Isabella, 18 months, also uses BabyCenter's forum to post her babycare queries, since it’s her go-to parenting site. Says the admissions coordinator, “Knowing that I can exchange thoughts and ideas with other mummy friends makes me feel more confident in times of uncertainly or emergencies.”
Ultimately, however, she still relies on her maternal instincts to handle her little one, although she freely makes use of the gamut of easily accessible online information.
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Comparing prices online
Needless to say, the Internet has also revolutionised the way time-deficient mothers shop. Notes Dr Lynda Wee, an expert in retail and merchandising, “Online shopping solves several obstacles mums face — it saves time, as you can do it anywhere. Mums can also compare prices, so they know they’re getting the best deals, and there are no bulky shopping bags to lug back home!”
Dr Wee notes that mums usually start with routine buys like baby supplies such as diapers, milk products and wet wipes. Once they get the hang of Internet shopping, they buy clothes, educational books and toys, as well as indulge in fashion goods for themselves. She adds, “As they become more confident, they are willing to increase the amount of time they spend shopping online.”
Tan, who has certainly reaped the rewards of online shopping, regularly organises bulk buys with her friends on websites for baby buys, such as skincare and books. Her preferred sites include www.agapebabies.com, “I save between 10 and 20 per cent off the price I would have had to pay if I shopped solo.”
Limiting your kid's time online
While technology seems largely to serve mothers well, its influence on children is a hotly debated topic. Dr Vanessa von Auer, clinical director of VA Psychology Centre, who has a keen interest in child psychology, says that children below age 4 can spend as much as three to five hours a day on tech toys.
“It’s completely unnecessary and some studies have suggested that being a computer drone can result in aggression, impulsivity and a sedentary lifestyle.” She suggests that parents don’t just monitor and limit tech time, they should also select age-appropriate games and apps carefully. Mythili Pandi, 31, a doctor and mum to Nikhita, 9 months, and Keshav, 2, reckons she would never resort to using gadgets as her main method of teaching, though they’re great distraction tools.
She only allows Keshav to play with the puzzles and flash-card apps on her iPad, and only after exhausting other options such as books, snacks and toys. “I find that when children get too engrossed onscreen, they miss out on other important learning opportunities.”
As for Nathan, she limits her son’s iPad and iPhone use to a maximum of 20 minutes a day to play nursery rhymes or educational songs. “Some think it’s a lazy parent’s way out of singing rhymes or reading to your child, but I feel it can enforce the time you spend with your child.”
She notes that parents should be alert to when junior is spending too much time on digital doodads. “You know you’ve crossed the line when technology becomes the parent instead of you and does the parenting for you.”
Concurring, Dr von Auer urges parents to take their child’s development offline. She stresses, “Nothing beats outdoor play — learning to be creative, socialising with other kids, burning energy, developing coordination and muscle tone, and preparing for a healthy future takes place outside of the house and not in front of a screen.”
Mums like you
“The Internet allows you to get information easily and you can constantly stay connected with others. When I’m unable to access it, I feel very handicapped.”
— Shivani Priyadarshini, 31, regional marketing executive and mum to Alexander, 19 months.
“I relish using my iPhone to snap photos of my son anywhere, anytime, and to share my pics and videos with my parents and in-laws. But I hate the possible side-effects radiation might have on me and my child, so I try to limit my usage.”
— Mariliyn Ann Nathan, 31, internal auditor and mum to Jacob, 14 months.
“I love that the world is getting so much smaller and fits in the palm of my hand, but I dislike how distracting and addictive it is.”
— Mythili Pandi, 31, doctor and mum to Nikhita, 9 monts and Keshav, 2.
“With technology, information is always at my fingertips and I can check out any of my doubts anytime. On the other hand, there’s always pressure to be permanently available to everyone, plus the credibility of online information is sometimes questionable, as we don’t know who the sources are or where they’re from.”
— Siti Noorimah, 29, admissions coordinator and mum to Nur Isabella, 18 months.