“I was submitting a report to my boss lying on the operating table, waiting for the doctor to perform a C section,” said Kim. This is how she welcomed her second child, and although it sounds unbelievable, her experience is not unique. She felt the need to share and see how other working women cope with motherhood in New York. The Working Moms of Manhattan blog is a community of mothers that helps each other deal with everyday mommy problems and even more serious issues.
Since Kim established the group in 2008, she has been an active online curator and offline event organizer. Her children are all grown up, but her involvement with the group and its 2845-members stays the same. Kim says there are two main reasons for that; First, New York is a tough city to raise a child in, and second- many moms are emotional at the beginning of their motherhood because they often don’t receive the support they need.
The Working Moms of Manhattan as a Subculture
The United States is the only developed country with no federal laws on paid maternity leave and no affordable childcare (for the first three years of child’s life) in big cities like New York (G. Livingston, 2013). Therefore, it’s not uncommon to have such groups immerging in metropolitan areas.
Kim was already in a Facebook group of moms before establishing hers. She decided that her first-hand experience raising two children in Manhattan as a working professional could help other women in her situation. Hence, she creates her own space on the Meetup platform. At the very beginning, members exchange information about cheaper daycare centers, trustworthy nanny services, and free family-friendly activities around the city. But with time, moms became friends and started commenting on serious topics like legal seminars for families, good pediatricians, and mental health.
Table A: A mental health support workshop
Additionally, according to R. Stremler study women are twice more likely than men to suffer from mood disorders, and nearly 25 percent of all women suffer from depression at some point in their lives. The same study also states that half of all new mothers’ experience Postpartum Blues during the first 2 postpartum weeks. This period is associated with excessive and unpredictable crying episodes, and sadness during a time that is expected to be joyful (R. Stremler and All, 2017). Kim says there is an offline stigma around this condition, but the group chat is full of discussions about how to deal with it. Moms support each other in a way their partners can’t, which creates real relationships and friendships among women.
As a result of this online communication, women developed an offline community, too. They try to meet in Central Park once a month and grow their relationships.
Working Moms of Manhattan in Relation to Digital Media Studies
L.S. Sessions’ research shows that offline gatherings have additional value for individual members like strengthening the relationships among them and creating new social ties. The same study suggests that the development of long-term online and offline relationships enhances members’ active involvement online. Offline active members are significantly less likely to abandon the community or to cease contributing to the online content. L.S. Sessions discovered that offline sub-communities did not consolidate in the same online sub-group but remained engaged with online-only members, too. “This suggests that while attendees strengthen ties with others who met offline, they do not choose to withhold these important forms of support from other members, perhaps evidence that increased commitment to the community resulting from face-to-face meetings led attendees to be more engaged in generalized reciprocity,” claims L.S. Sessions.
Kim’s dedication to the WMM is proof in favor of L.S. Sessions’ conclusion. Kim developed such strong ties to the online community that even now eleven years after the group creation she is involved online and offline with the members. She has an inner circle of close friend who help her curating the blog. One of the curators is Kim’s ex-colleague and a new mom who became a WMM member at a later stage, but now is Kim’s most valuable helper. A considerable weakness of this research is the lack of analysis of the group WhatsApp chat. The more involved members like Kim keep in touch in a shared chat where the constant flow of information about new family-friendly events in the city and topics are discussed and moderated. The Most popular topics in the WMM group are reviews of children’s community centers, nanny referrals and doctors.
Table B: A Dentist referral
My six-month observation of the Meetup group points that a lot of the marketing messages and inappropriate content disappear shortly after posting, and the senders get blocked. This shows administrators oversite and content filtering. It’s unclear how administrators choose what ads should stay or go, but the WMM’s about section on the Meetup platform reveals that they are very conservative in regards to content and members, especially men. The description of the group states: “Please note that this group is NOT A DATING SITE. If you are a man looking to date a working mom, go elsewhere. This group is not for you.”
However, some marketing messages stay visible to members who read and react to them. For instance, a free vision exam ad in Manhattan was trending in the community for weeks last year. Most common marketing messages are from nannies looking for a new job, parents referring nannies, events for children, and children’s goods trade between members (as shown in the examples below).
Table C: A nanny advertising her services
Table D: A parent referring a nanny to other group members
Table E: Daycare center ad
Additionally, another researcher, L.C. Lopez claims that mommy bloggers create online female groups and develop their own voice through these communities. These webpages serve as a safe place for discussing motherhood in a completely opposite way from the radiant image of the “good mother” that dominates mainstream media. Women who write about kids’ upbringing struggles and challenges transform a personal experience into a conversation with other mothers in a similar situation. Furthermore, the specific political concerns that mothers have, such as the lack of emotional guidance or the lack of affordable childcare, may be addressed by the growing online communities. Back in 2009, this researcher predicts that in the future, meetings between female bloggers at physical gatherings will turn into discussions about potential collaborations and actions on common issues.
In 2019 Working Moms of Manhattan is following that model creating an online community of women that expends offline.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture data in 2013, reported by the Gothamist, the cost for an NYC middle-class family to provide for a kid over the first 18 years of his/ her life is approximately $500,000. Having in mind that child upbringing in Manhattan is two times more expensive than in most parts of the country, it is not surprising that Manhattan mothers want to sell and exchange goods. This is just another way to help each other and build stronger bonds. The clothes market is something tangible that shows the support for other families’ needs and makes moms feel part of a big strong community.
The emotional aspect of sharing clothes is also crucial for parents, especially new-moms, with limited or no experience raising children. As Kim puts it, moms supporting moms is irreplaceable. As part of my research and as a member, I see how important it is to read other people’s comments and questions about things I wonder about and things I did not consider but are actually essential. Communicating with a similar minded audience makes moms’ struggles more comprehensive, and moms do not go into isolation. For instance, worried moms ask for affordable childcare in their area and receive relevant responses within a few hours. This help is highly appreciated both from the worried mom but also, from the responders because their experience helps others. Collaboration and reciprocity among the WMM are Kim’s most significant successes.
Table F: Children’s goods trade
Working Moms of Manhattan is a small community of mothers that helps each other to cope with motherhood in the big city. They exchange tips about good schools, doctors, food, and children’s events across Manhattan. Mothers also have an internal marketplace to exchange baby goods or trade them a lot cheap than in stores. The main finding of this research shows that online activities created an offline community for parent help where people share their experiences, difficulties, and questions about raising their children. Experience exchange online and trade of children’s goods and gatherings offline build a safe space for women to give and receive support. Members communicate mainly in on the Meetup platform and WhatsApp. But they also organize offline gatherings in Central Park and one-to-one meetups for children’s goods exchange. Their online communication expands offline, which provides an opportunity for mothers to create complex relationships, to share, and to collaborate efficiently. Further research could focus on WhatsApp communication as a tool of community building and a way of filtering content in the group.