My toddler swallowed half a centipede, do I need to go to the emergency room? How can I help my two-month-old baby, who hasn’t had a bowel movement in a few days? What should I give my babysitter as a Passover gift? Parents seek answers to these questions and more in one of dozens of English-language groups for Israeli parents on Facebook. Groups might center around an age group, a location, or a specific topic.Immigrants often have questions about social norms or local parenting behaviors, and the groups provide a way for them to meet like-minded parents who speak the same language.“I joined several Facebook groups after making aliya,” explains Tel Aviv resident Linda d’Angelo, a mother of two small children. “But the groups only became really important to me after I had my first child. I had questions about maternity leave, day care, how much to pay a babysitter.”She likes the Tel Aviv Parents Support Group, La Leche League Israel Breastfeeding Support, Ima Kadima for Career-Minded Mamas, and Yeladoctor, a group staffed by medical professionals.D’Angelo acknowledges the downside of the groups: “I’ve seen discussions that got carried away, but I wouldn’t discount a group over individuals. I like the La Leche group because the people who are there want to breastfeed. They won’t say just to give formula.” She also learns by “lurking,” reading discussions without participating.“I was very apprehensive about the privacy of Facebook groups for parents,” admits Jessica Cohen of Tel Aviv, mother of nine-month-old Roi and a member of TAPSG. “But I had a thousand questions on medical issues, and no friends with children the same age.” Cohen has learned to filter out some group discussions. “When Roi was a newborn, the discussions about vaccines, and breastfeeding and formula, made me second-guess myself and question whether I was a good mother. When I went to vaccinate, I thought about all the bad things that people had said about them. Now, I don’t feel as intimidated by what people think.”Facebook privacy settings help determine the level of comfort. The content of “public” groups is visible to all. In “closed” groups, anyone can view the group and its member list, but only members can view content. “Secret” groups, invisible to non-members, offer the highest level of privacy, with smaller, secret groups providing the most intimacy.Virtually every closed or secret parenting group over a certain size has experienced privacy violations. For example, a member might complain about a babysitter or sister-in-law, then find out that a member told the person in question. A culprit who is found will usually be asked to leave.Communication issues abound in online groups. “Moms react and judge in a way they would never allow themselves in a face-to-face conversation,” cautions Debra Kamin, a mother of 11-month-old twins from Tel Aviv who likes the small, secret Twins in Israel group. “But when groups are too big,” she continues, “they get out of hand. They give women who are insecure about their own parenting a platform for preaching their beliefs.“A lot of modern community life has moved online,” acknowledges Kamin. “But the groups are preventing new moms from learning to feel confident in their decisions. I never ask for parenting advice from women whom I don’t know as mothers in real life.”Facebook groups allow parents to compare their children to large numbers of other children the same age, even though children develop at individual rates. This can lead to reassurance, unnecessary concern, or feelings of inadequacy.Shara Ellenbogen, a mother of two from Tel Aviv, became co-moderator of the Tel Aviv Parents Support Group about four years ago. The group has since grown from 200 to 5,000 members.TAPSG allows ads, unlike some other groups. Careful moderation of new members prevents spam. “I feel it’s a huge service to allow advertising of small businesses. People post about cooking and CPR classes, and finding kindergartens.” She notes that the number of medical questions has decreased since the founding of Yeladoctor. Ellenbogen regularly updates a babysitter database. TAPSG has sprouted in-person meet-ups and spin-off groups. It also led to the formation of Mothers Make a Difference, now active in several cities. The organization provides essential aid to Israel’s mothers and children in need, by redistributing donations of new and used baby equipment and supplies via existing non-profits. “It’s one of the most rewarding and wonderful things that has happened,” says Ellenbogen, “all from a Facebook group and moms getting together.”Rachel Schreter, a mother of two small children from Givatayim, belongs to “a ton of groups.” “Good groups are supportive of members,” she explains, “while acknowledging that there is no right or wrong on some issues. Sleep training or introducing solids is a personal decision, while vaccination or treatment for a broken leg is not.” Frustrated with the amount of pseudoscience, she started her own English-language group to provide scientific information about vaccination.
A secret group helping children at a later stage is run by Paula Stern, the author of the blog A Soldier’s Mother, which brings together English-speaking parents of IDF soldiers. Stern vets every request for membership, maintaining strict rules about posting soldiers’ locations, operations or units.The group of nearly 1,000 serves both local parents and overseas parents of lone soldiers. “It’s non-political, a-religious, and an amazing reflection of Israel as a whole,” says Stern proudly.Members’ children fill combat and “jobnik” (non-combat) roles in every division, including tanks, artillery, infantry, intelligence, engineering, border guards, air force and the navy. Parents write about practical issues like helping their children with bureaucracy, as well as dealing with the tension and fear inherent in the child’s military service.Sharon (a pseudonym) learned about the group two years ago at a meeting in her US town for parents of lone soldiers. Her youngest son has planned to serve in an elite unit ever since his bar mitzva in Israel, following in the path of family friends, a father and son.
“It’s become my base, my emotional connection, my anchor,” says Sharon. Moderators steer everyone and keep them focused, she adds.“When parents in the group talk about seeing their children on Shabbat,” continues Sharon, “I wrote about feeling disconnected. Some parents in the group offered to bake cookies for my son and sent them to him.”The group provided a reality check for Sharon, when her son failed to get into a course he wanted. “They told me to stay calm and it will work out; it’s the army,” she recalls. “They helped me get to a place where I could help him.”While only two years old, the 78,000-member Hebrew group Yeladoctor, and its more recent English counterpart Yeladoctor EN with 5,500 members, have had enormous influence.“My wife belonged to a local group for Rehovot parents,” says group founder Dr. Gili Goldblatt. “She saw a lot of medical questions, as is typical in parent groups. Group mothers gave their own answers, and some were dangerous.“I started answering the questions myself, but I couldn’t do anything about the wrong answers,” complains Goldblatt. “So I decided to open my own group.”
Joined by fellow pediatric resident Dr. Maor Leibson, Goldblatt recruited a pharmacist, a physical therapist and additional pediatricians. As Yeladoctor grew, Goldblatt instituted “taggers,” who reply to questions with the name of a relevant professional. The 120 staff members, from a wide range of medical and paramedical disciplines, try to reply within 24 hours.“What makes Yeladoctor different from other groups,” emphasizes Goldblatt, “is that only medical professionals on our staff are allowed to answer. We are careful to give information and not a diagnosis. All of the information that we provide can be found by parents on their own, like how long to wait between giving Advil and Acamol. But parents searching the Internet can have a hard time finding reliable information.”Taggers refer parents asking urgent questions to a clinic or an emergency room.The Yeladoctor group has had many successes, including two cases of early detection of retinal blastoma. The parents noticed one red and one white eye in a flash picture of a child. Left untreated, the condition can lead to loss of the eye.Goldblatt, who recently opened a private practice, actively recruits professionals from abroad and hopes that the English group will become truly global. “I want it to have a positive effect across the world,” says Goldblatt. “But it’s hard to do it from here, as I don’t know guidelines in other places. The big challenge is finding local people to help.”As for the centipede in question, it turned out not to be poisonous, with the toddler suffering no ill effects.The writer answers questions as a breastfeeding expert in the La Leche League and Yeladoctor EN groups.Selected Israeli parenting groups and number of members: Yeladoctor EN, 5,400.Anglo Parents of Israeli Teens (12-20), 800.Tel Aviv Parents Support Group, 5,000.La Leche League Israel Breastfeeding Support, 1,800 Ima Kadima: Working and Career Minded Mamas, 6,300 Babywearing Israel, 2,300 Vaccinated Israeli Little Ones, 193 Secret groups: For IDF parents: contact Paula Stern at paula@ writepoint.com Twins in Israel: Text or WhatsApp Miriam Gluck Greenman at 054-942-8474