In light of Mother’s Day this weekend, I thought I’d interview Cooper Munroe, one of the coolest moms out there in cyberspace who, with her friend Emily McKhann, started a website called themotherhood.com, one of the most comprehensive resources out there for moms. And trust me, I’ve been to a few.
So I’m going to ask Cooper and Emily what they do to stay sane. Because, let’s face it, motherhood can drive you mad (even if you’re not, you know, mentally ill to begin with), and pick their brains a little about the site they started.
1) Cooper and Emily: I’m so impressed by everything you have going on with the site. Let me try to present the Readers’ Digest version to my readers: 1) You have “link list” which is sort of like “Digg.com,” where you can post and discuss anything online that has you laughing or crying or thinking. 2) The “blog ticker,” where you can find the most recent posts for blogs like Dooce. Com. 3) Conversations much like those we have on our discussion threads in Group Beyond Blue (except that they might not include the word “crazy” so much). 4) Groups, like our Beliefnet groups, except all geared to moms, each having their own link list. Where is a good place to start?
Therese, we are so happy to be here on Beyond Blue today! We are big fans of yours and always find something fantastic on your blog to link to, think about or share.
You did such a good job describing the site – can we use the copy? : )
The Link List is a good place to start because it is a collection of “news of the day” plus some of the hot topics on the web. Also interesting are the conversations and groups. In “Conversations” a couple days ago one of our members wrote to ask for prayers because she found a lump on the back of her neck and was headed to the doctors. All ended up being fine, but the support she found in a couple of the women on our site really helped her through a scary moment. I love when that happens in our little “neighborhood” on the web.
2) I love these guidelines: ” Don’t judge or be mean. If you don’t have anything productive to say, don’t say it. We embrace different opinions, and we do not tolerate nastiness of any kind. We are all on our own life path, and we ask you not to criticize others until you have walked a mile in their shoes.”
I love that so much. I wish every civic association, support group, parent-teacher association, and so forth would live by that. Man, do I ever. Do you find that your members abide by that and respect each other, or do things get nasty, like they so often do on the web?
Knock on wood — we’ve never had any nastiness at all. Far from it. In fact I am constantly moved by how kind and helpful people are to each other. Our hope was that if we set the tone from the beginning with our philosophy — there is no “right” way of mothering, we can all learn from each other, and DON”T JUDGE — that the community would respect each other and keep it nice. So far that has worked.
3) Tell me more about why you decided, with Emily, to build this website. I loved the three thoughts that you present as leading up to the big decision:
1 That the most authentic, caring, smart, funny, moving, inspiring voices on the web belonged to the mothers;
2 That mothers needed a safe place online to find good conversation and useful information, to have fun and build strong connections;
3 And with all that, mothers could make things a little better, in their own lives, in their communities and in their world…our world…a little at a time, day by day.
A couple things went into the “journey to The Motherhood!” It’s a long, winding path, so I’ll try to keep it as short as I can. Emily and I (we’ve known each other for 20 years) were researching a book on parenting in the “big picture” (meaning, looking at how parents can keep in mind what they want in the long term for their families while somehow living in the moment too). One of the interesting things about the research, we found that when we were talking with groups and a mom shared a unique ritual, tradition, or way of connecting with her kids, every woman in the room took a mental note and many of them ended up trying it out for themselves.
We also created a blog, “Been There” as part of the process of research and writing (www.beenthere.typepad.com). The day after the levees broke in New Orleans Emily and I were working together virtually as we always do (she’s in Larchmont, NY and I’m in Pittsburgh, PA) and we were both screaming at our TVs – “Why isn’t anyone helping!”
A lot of the blogs at the time were doing fundraisers but we wanted to do more – we knew we had to do more. So, remembering how after 9/11 tons and tons of donated goods sat rotting in New York warehouses because there was no distribution system in place, and also noticing how good people across the country were opening up their homes to the Gulf Coast evacuees, we realized “The evacuees will have addresses!”
So in a flash we wrote a blog post – not really thinking about the possible outcome – asking our readers to donate any used goods (clothes, furniture etc.) and we would try to figure out a way to get the goods to the people in need. Well, what do you know – tens of thousands of people came to our site in just a few hours offering everything you can imagine – used cars, housing, phone minutes, handmade quilts, resume writing services and of course clothing and supplies.
We were able to go to the housing organizations and convince them to send the evacuees they placed directly to us. And then, one by one the people (mostly women and mothers) connected on our site, like a community cork board, and it worked like magic.
The Been There Clearinghouse experience, coupled with working on our book (which we still hope to publish someday!) made us realize — mothers need a place to work on things productively together. And, so, The Motherhood was born. There’s a little bit more of explanation of the foundation of where we’re coming from in our charter: http://www.themotherhood.com/charter.
4) How can a mom best keep her sanity? What has worked well in your life?
Good question! I’d love to know!
Hmmm. For me a big part of keeping the sanity comes from the fact that I have Emily. We job share (when I have a play or event I can’t miss at the kids’ school, she goes on the business trip, and vice versa) and we provide that all important cheering section and support system for each other. I also have a very supportive husband (my high school sweetheart) and so does Emily. With four kids, my house is usually mayhem, but working from home and trying to use lots of humor helps. However, that is not to say it is always sane. Chaos seems to be the default state of modern motherhood.
It’s interesting, though, Emily is a part of a spirituality group in her town, and a few years back one of the moms in the group said, “The greatest gift I can give my children is my own mental health.” We’ve talked about that a lot because it’s not a sentiment one hears often. If we as moms can do the day-to-day things to take care of ourselves and stay on an even keel, think of the benefits to our kids.
Not long ago, we heard from a woman who had wished that her own mother had faced up to and handled her addictions earlier in her life – what a difference it would have made to the woman’s upbringing and their relationship. Certainly all of us who are juggling so many balls could benefit from taking a breather, even for 15 minutes a day, to lighten the load and take better care of ourselves, mentally, physically and spiritually. Of course that is often easier said than done.
5) A year later. Is your website where you expected it to be? Better than expected? And where do you and Emily want to take it from here?
Well, no, it is not all we wanted it to be! It is about 15 percent of the way there. We’re building in lots of exciting advancements and improvements that will allow women to connect more effectively. In late summer it is going to look a whole lot different and a whole lot better! We’d love to give you and your readers a sneak peek in a couple months!
You know, the site as it is is great and we are really proud of how much has been done, but there is so much more that we want to do. Em and I are both completely compulsive and take the mantra “leave everthing a little better than you found it” to an extreme so, I am sure we’ll always find something that needs to be fixed or updated or improved. Hopefully that just keeps The Motherhood alive and real and useful and fun for moms everywhere.
6) How has this experience changed your life?
A few days ago, Emily and I were talking about how, when she wrote the book “Living with the End in Mind” with her friend Erin Kramp who was dying of breast cancer, Emily and Erin both felt and believed they were on a path that God chose for them.
The way the book came together, and how events lined up – from Oprah taking a huge interest, to Erin living to see the book printed and everything in between – Emily and Erin felt the presence of a larger force ushering them along. In the process she learned so much from Erin who had a deep and rich faith. Now, as Emily and I have found ourselves on this completely unexpected journey, participating firsthand in the many ways that moms coming together online can improve their lives and the world, it feels like we’re on the right path too. And that I suppose is what this life journey is all about – what we learn along the way!
Happy Mother’s Day Therese! Thanks for having us on Beyond Blue today!
To read more Beyond Blue, go to www.beliefnet.com/beyondblue, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.