How Vanessa Raphaely created South Africa's happiest Facebook parenting group
We've all heard the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child" and as a parent you have probably also wondered "Where is this village?"
Vanessa Raphaely, mom to three teenagers, former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, and editorial director of Associated Media, decided to create her own village, and at about 30 000 members (and growing fast) it's become a place for many local parents to gather, commiserate and share.
The Village is not only characterised by its focus on parenting teens, but also by how pleasant, helpful and kind the members are to each other. I asked her what inspired her to start a Facebook group, and how she manages to keep it the 'happiest' parent's group on Facebook.
Strength in numbers
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that raising teenagers is a pretty challenging endeavour, she says, but quite how stormy this is still seems to come as a terrible shock to most parents.
"I think we expect other peoples’ adorable little moppets to maybe turn into grunting, tricky, revolting, confronting, (sometimes borderline criminal) teenagers, but not our own."
She admits she was no different.
"I love the four teenagers I currently share my house with, but I’ve got to admit that there were times when I felt very lost about what to actually do with and about them. So I figured I could do with some help. That there might be strength in numbers."
She says she thought Facebook was the easiest way to gather this tribe.
A few hundred like-minded parents
"I thought that if I gathered a few hundred or so like-minded parents around me to share resources, experience, advice, support, the bad days and nights might be easier. Oh. And laughs," she adds.
She says she thought sharing the funny stuff might help too. "After all, if you can’t laugh while raising teenagers, as we now say on The Village, you might as well resort to drink, drugs and bad behaviour, yourself!"
Ask any parent of a teenager or tween, Vanessa says, and the baby and toddler years were a walk down a tropical beach at sunset, in comparison to the period in a kid’s life between 11 and, well, maybe 43.
"Sometimes with a teenager you can ask for advice, get 15 pieces of advice and none work. You need a lot of patience and perspective to survive your kids teenage years."
Vanessa is also a published author: read about Plus One on W24.
The Village is different
If you're already a member of The Village, you'll know what Vanessa means when she says that what makes it special is that for a large group on social media, it is pretty much universally kind. In her experience, as the sole admin of the group, people behave respectfully to each other, join with the sole aim to help and receive help, to do the best for their families.
"There is no arguing, no judgment, no disrespect allowed," she explains. Facebook groups are notorious for arguments and trolling, as any parent plugged in to social media will know.
"I think people underestimate the difficulty of managing these groups. I’m a professional and I’m certain that all my experience helps me maintain a respectful, harmonious tone."
"When there were only 2 000 members, people told me that if any more joined, the group would become more like other groups on social media and become a hostile, aggressive place. But The Village Vibe has never changed. It is a safe space to share triumphs and pain, to ask for and receive help," Vanessa says.
"We create networks of support and referral - all with the aim of helping each other enjoy our precious years parenting teens, more."
Dads are parents too
Another thing that differentiates The Village from the many mom groups on Facebook is that fathers are allowed to join. Vanessa says dads are parents too, and Parent24 strongly agrees.
As for how she maintains the 'Village Vibe' which makes the group the 'happiest' parenting group on Facebook? Vanessa says it seems that you can infect a space with good values and a respectful culture if you’re "fierce enough!"
"Because I have always been very clear about the rules of the group, Villagers have taken them on too and guard the supportive, polite environment, themselves. And if there isn’t conflict, there’s a lot less for an Admin to do."
But with 90 percent engagement (and 30 000 members, remember?), the job of sole admin is huge. Vanessa says The Village "doesn’t really sleep!"
The biggest mistake parents make
Vanessa has learned many things through The Village, including the biggest mistake parents make. "We are not here to protect our kids, but to prepare them for an imperfect world," she says.
"Anxiety is a cancer. Not treating our own mental health, with the care it demands, causes huge problems for our kids. To thrive, they don’t need to be perfect but ideally they should be robust. No one but us can teach them those skills."
She says personally, she's also learned that patience and a sense of perspective are very underrated parental skills.
The most common problems or issues raised on The Village, Vanessa reveals, include teen suffering with anxiety, depression or alienation from their peers, issues that arise from divorce, and laying down boundaries without ruining the relationship between parent and child, as well as lighter topics such as why no one except Mom ever replaces the toilet paper and how Apple Cider Vinegar is the answer to any pressing household question.
Vanessa says that so many parents are surprised to discover that they are not alone.
"Everyone who parents a teen has moments of panic, inadequacy, disappointment, fear. Raising kids, while we confront our own ageing, is a messy business. Even the people whose lives look the most perfect on Insta are honest about the truth on The Village," she says.
And, importantly, that you can make (many,) mistakes and still be a marvelous parent.
Where to next?
"I believe The Village provides a very important service to its members, and would be missed, were I to have to stop. I really believe it adds value and so needs to be sustainable," she says.
"The Village does not exist to evangelise or convert parents from their ideas of how to raise their kids, though, because I strongly believe that no-one is an expert in raising teens. You’re either lucky, or just stumbling around like the rest of us!
"But we’re definitely helping each other. We are planning a Teen Summit, for next year, where experts in the most relevant fields can present to our community. I foresee more growth, so mostly I would love to secure the group’s future, but in order to do this it needs to be monetised!" Vanessa says, adding "Anyone out there with any great ideas? Please get in touch!"
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