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Parenting: newborns to toddlers

LOLs, trolls, and tequila: Facebook groups for Hong Kong mums offer support, advice, laughs – and a good argument

Whether its for advice, support, a business idea, or just a joke you can laugh out loud at, mothers in Hong Kong from all over the world join Facebook groups. Online guide The HK Hub lists 16, and some even attract men – who are soon booted out

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2018, 11:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 12:33pm

It can be a lonely life for an expat mother in Hong Kong, far from close relatives and friends. However, those in need of practical advice, emotional support, good company or just someone with whom to share a joke do not have to look too far. All they need is a Facebook account.

Online guide The HK Hub lists 16 mothers’ groups on Facebook with English names, catering to different nationalities, neighbourhoods, business-minded mums and those with other specific interests, with thousands of members.

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Among them are HK Aussie Mums, German Mums in HK, Russian Mums in HK, Discovery Bay Mums and Dads, Sai Kung Mummies, Southside Mums, HK Mumtrepreneurs, Prenatal and Postnatal in Hong Kong, Mums without Helpers, and the naughtily named HK Drinking Mums. The most popular, and probably the oldest, is the closed group Hong Kong Moms, with a whopping 56,000 members.

“We are a kind, thoughtful, passionate and resourceful group – and we are here to help each other,” its introduction reads.

It’s a culturally diverse group, and in an effort to get everyone to play nice, members are asked to honour 10 commandments. One of them reads: “Act with Respect, Honesty, Empathy and Integrity. Please speak your mind but refrain from derogatory/snide comments. We all come from different countries and cultures and it’s easy to misinterpret something. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with your boss seeing what you wrote, do not write it. Violators will be removed.”

The group’s large and diverse membership may have its downside, however. Commenting on the popularity of Hong Kong Moms, one insider, who wishes to remain anonymous, says: “Put it this way, non-mothers have been known to join it because the fights can be very entertaining.” These “fights” include heated disagreements over parenting styles and issues related to domestic helpers, the person adds.

Entrepreneur Coco Wong says Hong Kong Moms is a good place to seek support, explaining that two years ago she left a post asking for advice when her daughter was being bullied at school. “The response was unbelievable – I had overnight over 100 responses to help,” she says.

The group is also useful when you are trying to locate a shop selling something you’ve been looking for, she says, adding that she just posted a call-out for an Indian sari and is confident that her search will bear fruit.

After noticing many business-related posts on the page, six years ago Wong decided to start her own business-oriented group, HK MOMpreneurs. It now has about 1,200 members.

“I don’t aim to grow the group to a huge size, because it’s nicer talking to people who we know more about. I think having 2,000 to 3,000 members with around 25 per cent active is actually quite a nice group already,” says Wong, who describes herself as 40-plus and based in Kowloon. “We filter applicants as we only take mums based in Hong Kong who actually have a business or are starting up.”

Her group holds monthly gatherings at the Causeway Bay co-working cafe Thinkaholic, whose owner lets her use it for free, she says, adding that participants attend for the opportunity to network and help each other develop their business ventures.

“It’s nice to have mums in the same boat sharing resources. At the beginning, most of the members were expats, so I was hoping to help them get cheaper resources locally,” Wong says, citing requests for printers, lawyers and accountants.

I don’t aim to grow the group to a huge size, because it’s nicer talking to people who we know more about. I think having 2,000 to 3,000 members ... is actually quite a nice group
Entrepreneur Coco Wong of Hong Kong Moms

“Because of the language barrier, it was harder for expats to find more economical choices … So it’s a nice happy atmosphere,” she says. Members avoid posting about issues that could raise temperatures.

Wong then realises a man has sneaked into their group. “So many dads want in. I’ll remove him now,” she quips.

Men trying to join the group are often market researchers hoping to sell baby clothes, ceramics or dance classes, she says. This time, however, the intruder is holding a football in his profile picture. “So I guess he is a football coach or something.”

A lot of us feel the same: frustrated, tired, shabby. But there’s a funny side to it all, too.
Sarah Knight, HK Drinking Mums

A newer group is HK Drinking Mums, which was started by Sarah Knight in February 2016, when her first child was a year old. It now has about 900 members. Despite its name, it’s not a group for alcoholics. The name is a jocular play on the frustrations of motherhood, says Knight, 31, who has two boys, aged three and one.

Knight believes the reason there are so many local mothers’ groups on Facebook is that mums are looking to foster a sense of connection.

“I felt isolated and lonely, and wanted to share the humour of trying to [be a] parent and maintain a social life,” she says, describing how she felt after her first child was born.

“It becomes harder and harder to meet like-minded people after having children,” the make-up artist and face-painter adds. “Usually, you end up being friends with whoever has kids of a similar age, so I tried to create a space where we could be self-deprecating and enjoy the same humour.

“Mothers are judged all day, every day for their choices, so it’s nice to a have a fun dialogue where there is zero criticism.” Knight believes laughing out loud at a post from another mother is a big help.

“And knowing that other people are experiencing the same thing at the same time in the same location makes me feel connected,” she adds.

Members of HK Drinking Mums meet about twice a month, usually at the Coyote restaurant in Discovery Bay. Mothers come along for the chance to have a laugh over a drink, blow off steam and eat lots of tacos.

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Elaborating on some of the frustrations of motherhood that they can laugh off over a drink, Knight says: “You make an effort to do your hair and make-up, and compile a fashionable outfit for the first time all month. Then you pack everything you need into your stroller and are about to catch your bus or ferry, but the baby throws up all over you and you need to change. Nothing matches any more, your hair is ruined and you missed your transport.”

After going through all that effort to catch up with a friend for lunch, the baby cries constantly while you try to have a conversation – at this point, you are ready for a glass of wine.

“And that’s why I created the group. A lot of us feel the same: frustrated, tired, shabby. But there’s a funny side to it all, too. And if you can laugh instead of cry, and commiserate with some women experiencing the same thing, it makes you think, ‘Oh, this will make a funny story’ the next time it happens.”

Another group, Hong Kong Island Moms, has a more pragmatic approach to sharing. Founded five years ago, the group has about 1,200 members.

Mothers are invited to offer tips on where to go with the children, and on activities aimed at mothers or babies to join. Advertising of goods and services is allowed any time as long as the tone is right.

“All profiles will be checked before approval and please do not hesitate to report any nuisance posts,” the rules say, adding that those without a profile picture, location details or friends won’t be accepted into the group.

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Hong Kong-based psychologist Dr Anthony Dickinson says the attraction of online mothers’ groups is that they offer a relatively anonymous, non-threatening space for discussion. Often, young and first-time mothers worry about looking stupid for asking questions they believe others already know the answers to.

In a Facebook group, childcare issues that they feel anxious about – uncertain paternity, genetic abnormalities, and real or suspected abuse, for example – can be talked over safely and openly.

A mother no longer has to deal with the poor understanding, lack of empathy or even silence that she may experience at home, Dickinson says. Nor does she have to worry about saving face in front of her husband or family members if she brings up an issue such as postnatal depression.

A mothers’ support group can also serve as a cordial recreational networking platform. Targeted individuals can be approached for personal offline contact that may happen outside, potentially leading to friendship formation.

Dickinson felt that pattern applies especially to new expat arrivals seeking companionship for themselves or their children.