Though every generation has its own parenting experts, one has always remained constant in the eyes of mothers.
The Internet has only served to amplify that option, sometimes replacing the back fence or the neighborhood playground as the quickest and best place to find real-life advice. Mothers scattered across the globe can log in to these sites, freely sharing thoughts and fears about any motherhood-related topic imaginable.
The 24/7 availability of networking sites fits well into the frenzied schedule of new mothers, and many find comfort in the odd blend of intimacy and anonymity the Internet provides.
"There's so much competition in the mommy community," says Rosie Amodio, executive editor of TheNestBaby.com, a networking site that launched in May. "You have all these questions, and you don't always feel comfortable asking your friends. So you find this community that provides you with support, but there's also some anonymity."
Networking sites for mothers aren't new. Clubmom.com was founded in 1999 (by "Today" co-host Meredith Vieira, among others) and parenting conversation has been a central part of iVillage.com since its launch in 1995.
In March, iVillage added a new platform called Connect, where mothers form conversation groups to discuss anything from coping with pregnancy to serving dinners that teenagers will actually appreciate.
As online communities subtly elevate regular moms to the rank of expert, publishing houses appear to be picking up on the trend. Several new parenting-related books hitting stores last spring were written not by child psychologists, but by women whose only qualification is their personal experience as mothers.
Here are a few of the newest sources of mommy wisdom:
Mission: Helping new moms tackle motherhood. "You have questions, you want answers. You don't have time to weed through tons of information," says executive editor Rosie Amodio.
New moms will find more advice and shopping ideas here than they'll probably ever need, all packaged with the stylish design of TheKnot.com and TheNest.com, out of which NestBaby grew. It focuses on pregnancy and the first year of babyhood, with chat topics ranging from the simple ("Where can I find a hat for my baby?") to the serious ("My baby is sick and refuses to take his medicine"). The site, which is free to join, also links to LilaGuide.com, which offers product reviews done by moms.
Mission: Helping moms buy things.Although it includes a bit of personal networking and chat, this site mainly connects women with businesses in their geographic area that have been rated by other local moms.
It's free to join, and moms can earn money by requesting a part-time job selling advertising space on the site to local businesses in their area.
Mission: Helping moms talk with each other. The page conveys an accessible, all-inclusive vibe, suggesting a chatting-over-coffee sort of friendliness. But moms posting here still keep their anonymity intact — most employ ambiguous usernames and offer little or no personal information in their profiles. You can create your own group on this site or join an existing one. These are easily found using a basic search tool.
Mission: This new book's lengthy subtitle says it all: "A Practical Guide to Child Rearing Told in a Really Nice, Funny Way That Won't Make You Feel Like a Complete Idiot the Way All Those Other Parenting Books Do."
The writing is breezy, and at times funny, and is supplemented by useful bullet-point lists and comments from a variety of moms. It's main selling point is the underground know-how that veteran moms spend years developing ("There's one person even more powerful than the principal: the school secretary").
Cost: $12.95, Harper Paperbacks
Mission: An advertising and a public relations executive interviewed dozens of mothers to find out why women who should feel so happy about their lives instead focus on the negative and only put pressure on themselves to do more. Helpful checklists throughout the book make a great reality check for mothers who are always worried they aren't doing things right.
Cost: $18.95, Chronicle Books
Mission: Developed from notebooks shared by women using IBM's employee lactation room, this collection of advice focuses on the challenges of working mothers. It's a mix of basic instruction and beautifully unguarded prose written by women who ache to be with their children and yet need or want to be working outside the home.
Cost: $13.95, Tarcher