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Carrie Longton co-founder, Mumsnet

26 April 2013

'The folks who run those mum-and-baby groups can be the Church's best evangelists'

We wanted to make parents' lives easier. We always wanted to create a site that wasn't pink and fluffy.

Our USP is a sense of humour. That's the important thing with kids - not losing your sense of humour.

Parenting can be quite funny, but sometimes it's quite dark humour. Maybe it's because you have no sleep - you find quite bizarre things funny.

I met my co-founder, Justine, at ante-natal classes. We carried on meeting up with our small group, and for a long time we had all the answers to each other's questions.

But then Justine wanted to go on hols with one-year-old twins. We couldn't give her much help, and she had a disastrous time. When she came back, she suggested that, instead of asking each other for advice, why not ask the worldwide web?

We started it really because we felt parents were the real experts, and the ones best placed to give other parents honest, unbiased, and use- ful advice, support, and friend- ship.

It's free to join and open to anyone. The majority of our members are mothers, but we have more dads than any dad website, and we also have gransnet.com especially for grandparents.

Nothing is out of bounds. When we started, it was very much parenting-biased: pregnancy, sleep, food, and so on. That's all still there, but the top three forums are AIBU (Am I Being Unreasonable?), chat, and relationships. But we have everything, including religion and chicken-keeping on there.

I run all the commercial and consultancy side; so I try and make some money selling advertising and market research, while making sure the Mumsnetters are happy with what we are doing commercially. We asked our members a long time ago what advertising they wouldn't want to see on there. It's things like formula milk, plastic surgery, slimming pills, etc.

I'm also very involved in our Mumsnet Family Friendly Programme.  Our ambitious aim is to make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe; so we have a benchmarking system for companies, looking at how their policies affect both their staff and their customers.

Work environments are pretty tough on families. Some companies are working hard to change that - particularly the 20-odd companies who are in our Family Friendly programme - but balancing work and motherhood is always hard. Economically, times are also hard, and we've noticed that a lot on Mumsnet since 2008. And, emotionally, it's back to guilt, anxiety, and exhaustion. There are never enough hours in the day. . . Or maybe that's just me.

The best decision I ever made was marrying my lovely husband, and I am a mum to three fantastic children: Grace, 14, Noah, 11, and Mimi, 7. Before Mumsnet, I worked in TV for 14 years, and as a TV producer for Clive James for the last ten or so. I went back for three months when Grace was ten months old to do a millennium special, but I quit TV after that, and started Mumsnet soon afterwards.

I think it's always been hard to be a mother. The pressures vary from one generation to the next, but the guilt and anxiety seem pretty universal. That said, there's also so much joy in being a mum, and I don't know anyone who would opt out once they've started, even if they could. It's the best life experience ever.

What helps is sitting down and spending five minutes with your kids, and realising it's all worthwhile.

I had the best mother ever. A certified saint, she is and was my inspiration. Sadly, she died when she was 50 and I was 26. I miss her every day.

At its best, the Church can be a good mother to people. Sadly it's not always at its best.

In the early days, what most mothers need (as well as Mumsnet, of course) is a place to meet up in the real world with other mothers, and the Church has always done a good job of providing that. I think the folks who run those mum-and-baby or -toddler groups can be some of the best evangelists: not by preaching, but by listening, help- ing - just being there and understanding. It can be a powerful witness. I hope Mumsnet is the same.

I was brought up to believe that God was my Father.That wasn't a hard image to live with, as I had a very loving dad. But the God I know definitely has a mothering side.

When folks ask 'Why Mumsnet, not Parentsnet?' - apart from the fact that "Parentsnet" is clumsy - we say the art of "mothering" goes beyond gender, and the God I know through Jesus is both a great father and a mother.

I get great sermons every week at my current church, St John's, Downshire Hill [in Hampstead]. I don't always agree with them, but they always speak to me. The short talk at my wedding had a big impact on both of us, I think. Every Michael Green sermon at St Aldate's was like a shot in the arm. He once asked me to pray for him before he spoke, and that had a huge effect on me as a 19-year-old. I realised we were all just empty vessels without God.

And I once heard Rowan Williams speak at St Mary's, Islington. I was all ready to have a go at the C of E and ask him about what Jesus would be saying to the Church about its obsession with homosexuality and women, and he spoke so powerfully about the love and holiness of Christ that my questions just felt point-less.

All the sermons that have changed my life have been about the amazing, unbounded love of Christ. As my mum always said, you have to love people into the Kingdom.

My parents were wonderful Christian role-models, very practical in their faith. And my dad is still a big influence in my life today, as is my sister Gilly. Geoff Warburton was my minister when I was in my late teens, and he was the most wonderful preacher and friend to my parents. He spoke at our wedding, and at my mum's memorial service.

Michael Green had a huge impact on me as a student; Harry and Lin, who ran my home group for years; and my prayer partner (and ordinand) Kristin Breuss; Graham Claydon was instrumental in helping my husband get confirmed later in life, which has had a huge effect on me. Plus, I have a really lovely team at Mumsnet now, who support me and put up with me, and a husband and kids who keep me on the straight and narrow. End of Oscar speech!

My only regrets are for the times when I've hurt people.

My favourite sound is definitely the sound of the sea. My favourite places are somewhere sunny with warm sea and sand and my extended family.

I know I should probably choose Shakespeare, or Jesus, or Nelson Mandela; but honestly, if I had to choose someone, living or dead, to be locked in a church with, it would be my mum - every time.

Carrie Longton was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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