For many moms, social media can be a triggering space. It can be a breeding ground for comparison, which so many moms are already prone to in their offline lives. Comparison only creates more and more doubt about everything from your parenting choices to how you are as a person.
Maybe you compare yourself to the mom on social media who makes creative meals, has a spotless home and entertains her kids with fun activities and adventures. Maybe you compare yourself to the mom who gushes about every part of parenting, while you’re crying and covered in throw-up. Maybe you compare yourself to the mom who’s back to her normal routine only days after giving birth, while you’re lying in bed in excruciating pain from your C-section.
Maybe you’re struggling with postpartum depression, and seeing a mom share something like, “Every day with this little one feels like a gift!” causes you even more anguish, said Catherine O’Brien, MA, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with moms and new parents in Sacramento, Calif.
Maybe social media often leaves you wondering, why is it so hard for me? What’s wrong with me? Should I be doing that, too?
In fact, moms often tell O’Brien that when they see the things other moms are posting on social media — parties, pools, restaurants — they feel incredibly inadequate if they aren’t doing the same.
Social media also can trigger shame about our parenting choices. Groups are formed around different parenting decisions from birthing to feeding to sleeping to schooling. And many moms spend a lot of time defending and validating their choices to others, said Krysta Dancy, MA, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Roseville, Calif, where she specializes in women’s issues, including parenting transitions and birth trauma.
Instead of helping or making moms feel better, this just perpetuates a cycle of women fighting over their parental decisions, she said. It leads to more overwhelm and more “shoulds” that moms feel like they must follow.
“Online we see such a one-dimensional caricature of people. It makes it easier to reduce their choices into ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and judge them and ourselves.”
However, “when we drop those fights against other moms, we ultimately also find peace inside our own choices too.” Instead of black versus white arguments, Dancy said, we open ourselves up to “good enough.” Which is a perspective that’s a gift to all moms, including ourselves, she said.
Of course, social media also may be a blessing. Maybe you connect with supportive moms on Facebook or another social media site. Maybe you’ve even found a great group that meets in person.
The key is to consider how you use social media, and how it affects you. Pause and pay attention to what thoughts go through your mind as you’re browsing and scrolling. Pay attention to how social media makes you feel about your decisions as a parent—and about yourself as a whole. Let that knowledge guide your actions around social media. Let it help you figure out what works best for you. And do that.
For instance, some of O’Brien’s clients can’t fall asleep because they’re browsing Facebook in the evenings. So these moms have decided to stop using their phones altogether at night. Other clients don’t use their phones on weekends either. Or they’ve removed social media apps from their phones. They’ll only “use [an app] when they can sit down to a desktop, which as a mom can be hard to do.”
O’Brien also reminds her clients that social media is a mere snapshot, a glimpse, into a person’s life. We don’t know what was happening before or after an image was taken, she said. There might’ve been just one photo — out of 20 — where a child finally smiled. And right after he burst into tears and a tantrum. We just don’t know.
“[E]very woman’s experience is different,” O’Brien said. And every experience is valid. Remember that you are doing the best you can. And if social media tends to undermine your confidence, sink your mood and stress you out, then it might be time to rethink how you’re using it. In fact, consider how much time you might have for meaningful or relaxing activities — with yourself, with your spouse, with your kids — if you logged off. Maybe even permanently.