Litwack’s online community goes ‘nextGen’ for moms of kids age 10+

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Jessica Litwack created mamaSpace in 2011.

ELLEN FUTTERMAN, Editor-in-Chief

Social media is often criticized for its dangers, including harassment, cyberbullying and promoting false narratives. On the flip side, it can provide connections like no other medium, linking us to thousands of people from all over the world experiencing similar situations.

That’s precisely what appealed to Jessica Litwack. After giving birth to her first child 11 years ago, she wanted to talk to other moms about the joys and hardships of life with her newborn daughter. Sure, she had friends and family to talk to, but they weren’t exactly in the same place as her at the same time.

So in 2011, she created mamaSpace, an online community and support network that wants its members to feel heard, empowered and validated.

“One of the most valuable resources as a mother is having other moms to confide in, look to for guidance and to build a community with,” Litwack, a Temple Israel congregant, says in the private group’s mission statement. “There will be no judgments or criticism of others’ choices, opinions, etc. Parenting is a personal experience, and no one should feel judged for making decisions for their family based on their best interest.”

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“I really created it to talk to the moms of other girls,” said Litwack, a pediatric sleep coach whose business is Haven Sleep Solutions. “The first response I heard back was: Why not do it for moms of boys and girls? I said the issues are different but ultimately I decided to make it for everyone.”

Now that her daughter is a preteen and her second child (a boy) is 8½, Litwack recently created mamaSpace nextGen, for mothers with children ages 10 and older.

“This is a spinoff group of mamaSpace and will only focus on issues of parenting children who are 10 years and older,” she said Litwack. “Just because our babies aren’t actual babies anymore, doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges with parenting. We still have questions, and one of the most valuable resources as a mother is having other moms to confide in, look to for guidance and to build a community with.”

Litwack says that as soon as she started the spinoff site in January, she had many moms reach out to thank her.

“They’ve said, ‘This is such a hard age,’ and ‘There is nothing else like this,’ and ‘I am so glad you did this,’ that all I can say is, ‘You’re welcome,’ ” she said. “Part of me did this selfishly, because I want the support. But the other part of me was right. There isn’t anything like this that is very targeted for this age.

“While there are issue-specific groups and all these little kid mom groups, I haven’t found any groups that are just like this (for moms of preteens and teens). I had 300 moms join the first day.”

NextGen has 482 members. Recent online conversations within the group ranged from how to manage extracurricular activities,  limiting screen time and helping tweens deal with acne to handling preteen attitude.

That last one garnered comments from moms wondering whether preteen attitude is the result of hormones, a mood disorder, attention seeking or just a product of being a preteen.

“Have you tried art therapy?” one mom on mamaSpace nextGen offered. “My girl is almost 12 and has done art therapy for about 4 yrs. It’s so helpful. Kids have a hard time putting their emotions into words, which can cause more stress and anxiety for them. Art therapy was perfect because she could draw her feelings.”

Litwack expects that nextGen will grow in much the same way mamaSpace has: organically, by word of mouth. She says it took a few years for mamaSpace to get to 5,000 members and then “it just exploded.” Today, it has more than 28,000 members.

Members in both sites need to be “accepted” by an administrator, of which there are five, including Litwack. There are a few questions to answer and “you’re supposed to be a mom, so we don’t admit men,” added Litwack, also explaining a few of the things that mamaSpace nextGen is not.

“It’s not a place to promote or get referrals for services or ask, ‘Where is the best place to have a birthday party,’ or ‘Which doctor is best’ — there are plenty of groups for those kinds of things,” she said. “It’s not a local group.

“It’s also not a group for bashing people’s opinions. We have deleted posts that are judgmental or berated people. We welcome a diversity of opinions, but the idea is to listen to one another and be respectful, supportive.”

Litwack knows it will take time to build nextGen into the online community that the original mamaSpace has become. She hopes it will reach 5,000 members within the next couple of years because, she says, when you build members, you also build conversations among them. Engagement statistics for mamaSpace during the third week of January, for example, showed 350 posts and 5,750 comments.

“From my experience as a mom with an 11-year-old, there are just as many issues that we need to flirt with,” she said. “I want (nextGen) to be as fruitful a place for conversations as mamasSpace has become.

“Sometimes it’s a lot easier to turn to a group of people that you don’t know. You can ask what you want, and chances are at least one other person will say, ‘Me, too.’ Just having one other person say they have had the exact experience is so validating.”