Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Farewell Forums! : or How to Post a Question for a Forum

Consider it a parting gift. Really.

Over the last weeks, I've taken a hiatus from MomForumLand. No, the site's not called that, but I think this will make a nice pseudonym. I like helping other parents, but not when they just don't want to be helped. And while I haven't posted for a while, I occasionally read the digest updates that arrive in the email.

Yesterday, one mother's post caught my attention. It wasn't for the exemplary spelling or grammar--both were a train wreck. No, it was the nasty, abusive way the woman described her in-laws, her husband, just about everyone. And the bejeweled crown on the dungheap? Her insistence on "positive responses only". Oh, my.

Human curiosity is a silly thing, and I had to check her post again today. Up at the top, her comment to the folks kind enough to respond: "Enough crap answers".

Wow! What a positive person! Don'tcha just want to get to know this lady?!

(Now, if for some weird reason you are that lady, I just have to say that honey, you did all this to yourself.)

I scrolled down to find that everyone gave her concrete, solution-oriented suggestions. Every person was very positive, even the one who joked that "if I couldn't trust my husband with my kid, I'd get a divorce". Although I think that maybe she wasn't joking, and it's still good advice. I know that some of these ladies are nice, gray-haired grannies who are a tad too decent to call this gal out. But I had no problem politely giving her my two cents, one last "crap answer" for her to disregard. And she will.

Forums have their place. Let's all be clear on this. Here's a quick and dirty guide to using forums effectively:

Forums should not be about getting medical advice on whatever weird substance is gushing forth from your whatever. That, my friend, is an ER visit or a doctor's office call. Even the reference desk at the library will probably be more helpful. And no, don't call them. Call the county clinic, or the advice nurse. Chances are, if you've never seen it come out of your body, they're going to want to see it under a microscope.

Forums have indexes. That is, you can go back to the subject which is of concern to you and see what other people have suggested. This is a great resource and I hate to say it, but unless it's one of those mystery diseases (see above), another parent has probably gone through it before. You are not unique, your child isn't the first to struggle with toileting, be a picky eater, wake up in the middle of the night repeatedly, put weird stuff in their mouth, be rude, have friends you wish they didn't have, hate baths, get a diaper rash, etc, etc, etc. Use the index. That's what it's there for.

Forums are an audience. This can be helpful when you are genuinely seeking support and have a concrete question which doesn't involve making everyone else the villain and yourself the victim. Actively seeking out resources is great, like, say, asking which dentist in your area is great with kids. Other issues, well, consider the index. Or consider if you need an audience for your problems. Then get off the virtual couch and pay for your therapy like the rest of us.

Forums only know what you tell us. I mean this very simply. We only know what you describe to us, and we read your tone. If you get mad because people are concerned by your negative tone in regard to your child or spouse, well, it might be worth re-reading your post. A lot of people post questions when they are angry and this hostility is very readable.

Forums are just that: forums. When you throw your question into the ring, take into account that Everyone In The World can read it and that we all have an opinion. That said, also take into account that The World is filled with a huge spectrum of people with differing degrees of education and levels of function. I've regularly seen acts of child abuse suggested as suitable discipline by people who just didn't know, or care, better. Forums are free advice and one generally gets what one pays for.

Posting on Forums to your Best Advantage isn't all that hard. Here are some easy tips:
Keep it simple. State the question as if you are submitting it to a "Most Concise Question" contest and give the facts. Fact: "My son keeps messing his pants every day after preschool. Does anyone have any experience with this, and what worked for you?"

Keep it real. By this, I mean keep your opinions (which are not facts) about the people involved to yourself. "My mother is so mean, she has all this time in the world and she won't watch my kid" is only going to get you a lot of "Well, she had her kids and now you have yours. Don't expect it." Instead of a whiny post, trying something more along the lines of "I'd like to help my child develop a good relationship with my mom, but she seems uninterested in watching the kiddo. Does anyone have any suggestions for making some meaningful connections?" This gives your audience a great jumping off point and clearly describes what grandma's abilities and limitations are. This way, you don't get a stack of answers suggesting overnights with popcorn and a movie at grandma's house.

Keep yourself likable. That is, we only know you from what you tell us. If you are like Crap Answer Woman and post a diatribe on why everyone in your world sucks, we are just going to think that you suck. If you get holier-than-thou about how great a parent you are and how you've tried everything but your child/spouse/friend/friend's daughter/daughter's friend/daughter's friend's mom is just the devil incarnate and it's all their fault, well---no one's going to like you very much. If instead you ask a reasonable question: "I've noticed my daughter coming home from her friend's house with lots of makeup on. We don't allow makeup on our kids until they are 65 years old here at our place. Does anyone have experience with approaching another parent on a similar situation?" Yes, people will know you are joking when you say 65, and by not talking trash about that other mom, even if she does look like a streetwalker, you are going to get posts that reflect your query, not your attitude.

Keep yourself intelligible. I can't emphasize this enough. If I can't read it, if it has ellipses all over the place in lieu of punctuation, if you are using the 'young language' of texting (no, "U" is not a replacement for "you"), you won't be catching the people you want answering your question: intelligent, educated people. If you are rambling in a circular fashion and don't understand the importance of the paragraph, my friend, all might be lost. If you need to, type it as a Word document and use your spelling/grammar check and then paste it in. I'm an idiot on the computer and even I can do this. So can you, too. And trust those little red lines. They aren't out to get you: they're there to correct you.


And here's my question to all of you: what else makes a good question? I welcome comments. Except from Crap Answer Woman. I already got yours.

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