It takes a village to raise a child (or so the saying goes), and as far as online villages go, the Inner West Mums Facebook group is a rather special one.
It’s an active community bursting with kindness and generosity. It’s one through which strong female connections are built, sometimes true friendships formed. It’s a community whose members understand and care about each other, and want to help one another – through sharing valuable information and offering support when there’s a member in need. Sometimes it’s just a great place for a laugh, and there is no shortage of wickedly funny women in the group. Numerous sub-groups, inspired by posts within the group, have formed, covering just about every conceivable need or interest, and offering an extra layer of support. And many, many local businesses – some owned by Inner West Mums themselves – have developed, thanks to business hour, the directory on the website and the personal recommendations provided within the group.
This week I reached out to the group in a post to ask what impact Inner West Mums had had on their lives. There were so many fantastic responses, and here I have incorporated just a few of them: a friendship that has blossomed, a family that benefited from advice within the group, a sub-group that has formed and a business that has grown – all thanks to IWM!
Within moments of my post appearing in Inner West Mums, members Kristen Gislason Callow and Jul Smith had nominated their own ‘incredible connection’, a friendship that formed about 1.5 years ago soon after Kristen joined the group.
Right away Kristen noticed she was ‘liking’ virtually every comment that Jul made. She explains: ‘We seemed to share similar interest in topics. I learnt that she was an occupational therapist who works with very complicated kids, which only heightened my respect.’
Soon thereafter, when a good friend was looking for an OT, Kristen asked their family’s developmental paediatrician and psychologist for a recommendation. She was floored to find both professionals recommended Jul. ‘I took this as a sign that we were meant to be friends, so I sent her a Facebook friend request. Thankfully, she was not put off by a 40-something-year-old American “Fan Girl.”’
After frequent communications online, Kristen and Jul finally met in person. They were both stunned when they discovered they lived just 500 metres from each other. ‘She has become a wonderful friend online and in real life, a trusted professional who continues to offer so many valuable insights (seriously, she is the very best OT I have encountered in all of our years of working with OTs), and she even has chickens! My kids adore her, and so do I.’
I speak to Jul about her friendship with Kristen, and the feeling is clearly mutual. She says: ‘Kristen’s passion and advocacy absolutely blow me away. Beyond that is her kindness and generosity. Even when she is dealing with a lot herself, she always has time to listen and advise. She’s bloody inspiring!’
Another member, Nicole Buffoni commented on my post that Kristen Gislason Callow’s autism advocacy within Inner West Mums had a profound impact on her family.
Last year, while reading one of Kristen’s posts in the group, in which Kristen shared her family’s journey and the strong message ‘If in doubt, check it out’, Nicole had a lightbulb moment: she realised she needed to act on her concerns about her twelve-month-old son’s development.
Nicole says: ‘I sensed there was something different about my son. So much of Kristen’s story rang true. I went to our GP, then to a general paediatrician, but both maintained my son was developing normally. But I knew I had to take it further. We went to a developmental paediatrician – known for her expertise in autism – who finally gave us a diagnosis of autism.
‘Our son was diagnosed at the very early age of 18 months. This was so important for us as a family – it answered many questions we had about our son and importantly got us started with early intervention. Our son’s intervention program includes intensive occupational and speech therapy, which has helped him so much.’
Nicole had mixed feelings when she received her son’s diagnosis: a certain degree of relief and worry about her son’s future. However, the positive messaging she has seen on Inner West Mums about neurodiversity – that autistic people are, in the words of Temple Grandin, ‘different, not ‘less’ – had a strong influence on Nicole’s acceptance of her son’s diagnosis.
Kristen’s frequent autism-related posts on Inner West Mums enabled Nicole to discover numerous resources that have helped her to understand her son’s differences and support him better – credible information about appropriate, evidence-based therapies, empowering blogs and a Facebook support group for parents of children on the autism spectrum, all of which have had a profound effect on Nicole.
She explains: ‘During Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month this April, I was inspired to share our son’s story to my friends and contacts on Facebook. My post had an amazing response. So many people reached out to me in support or to share their own stories. I now feel passionate about spreading the neurodiversity message too. We need to work harder to help autistic kids feel good about their differences.’
When Hanna Swaffield nominated her ‘totally wonderful’ fruit and vegetable co-op, which formed through Inner West Mums, as the most valuable thing to come of the group for her, I was intrigued. How ‘wonderful’ could a fruit and veg co-op really be?
Within minutes, however, numerous members of the co-op had jumped onto the thread, forming a ‘disorderly conga line’ in the words of Rachel Foster-Bailey and chattering away about – well, frankly, who knows what? What was evident amongst the banter was a very warm bond between the women.
‘Our co-op began in February last year,’ says Hanna. ‘There are 16 families involved. We are very light on the rules and I think that’s why it runs so seamlessly. It costs $25 per box. Families can opt in or out each week. We mostly shop in pairs, but a few shop solo. We usually head to the market around 4.30 am and are shopped and sorted by 8 am.’
The co-op has its own private Facebook group, which has turned into their own social page with lots of banter, about anything and everything. And the group socialises in person too. Hanna says: ‘We meet for drinks monthly and now have a fortnightly playgroup for the preschoolers. We borrow things from each other. We pass on hand-me-downs. We are forever joking and ridiculing each other – in a supportive way, of course. But we look after each other too. I’m currently recovering from surgery. Before I went in I had medical aids and books dropped off for my recovery, and since surgery I’ve had texts every day to see if I need anything. Last night I had a massive, scrumptious vegetable lasagne dropped off.’
Fellow co-op member Rachel Foster-Bailey agrees whole-heartedly, writing in the group, ‘The fruit and veg co-op is definitely the best thing I’ve gained from IWM! So much more than fruit and veg – couldn’t ask for better friends.’
And Ella McNamara sums it up nicely with this: ‘Our little group is the most interesting, diverse, hilarious, amazing group of women around – very much reflective of the Inner West!’
Several members nominated their businesses in response to my post – all talented, passionate, dedicated women. I chose to feature Zoe Vayanos, part of the Ladies Running Errands team, based in Balmain, a business whose services are widely used and frequently recommended by Inner West Mums, as she was so articulate about the positive impact of Inner West Mums on the business and, in turn, her life.
The business was launched five years ago by her aunt, Maria Xynias, offering a broad range of services to assist families, particularly transportation fitted with child restraints. Zoe explains: ‘We can take your children to and from day care, preschool and school as well as after school activities. We can collect you from day surgery, take your elderly parents to the doctor when you cannot, do your shopping, mind the gardens whilst you’re on holidays and wait at home for tradespeople whilst you’re at work. No job is too big or too small.’
Zoe joined Ladies Running Errands after her maternity leave following the birth of her daughter, four years ago. ‘With the support of Inner West Mums, Ladies Running Errands had grown enough to enable me to step away from a demanding career and work in the business. This was invaluable to me because it offered me the flexibility of a job that allows me to be with my child all day.
‘The Inner West Mums have been so incredibly supportive. They’ve used us time and time again, recommended us to all their friends and mothers’ groups and even recommended us to the group whenever the question arises in a post. We are truly grateful for the support and wouldn’t be where we are today without this community.’
Zoe says she has made many strong connections both through Inner West Mums and the business. ‘Sometimes the line is blurred whether the friendship formed through the group or the business but nonetheless we’ve formed some amazing connections. These connections are so important when you’re up late at night with a sick child or feeling a little isolated in the thick of parenting.’
For Zoe, seeing the group rally to help a woman in a desperate situation really highlights the power and importance of this group. ‘We have such a tight-knit community of mums now in the Inner West and admin do a great job of keeping the group harmonious and maintaining it as a safe space.’
More articles from Ginny:
The Day Cale Met his Idol Guy Sebastian
How to Support a Friend through the Loss of a Baby
Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
The Milk Wars
A Big Shift: How Three Women Transformed their Careers during Motherhood
You Know You Have an Inner West Child When …
Cookie Cutter Kids: How can we teach our children to celebrate diversity?
Running in Circles
Allergies: What’s all the fuss about?
The Early Days
Not water – Tears
No Judgements, please
Triumph or Trauma
Riding the Merry go Round
Friends, Near or Far
When is Enough, Enough?
My ( Child’s) Kitchen Rules