Beth is a new mom, and she is exhausted. She hasn’t showered in several days. And even though it's well into the morning, Beth hasn’t brushed her teeth yet. Between breastfeeding on a tight schedule — as prescribed by her pediatrician — and worrying about her daughter gaining weight, Beth has had no time for herself. But today, her daughter is one-month old!
Beth picks out the perfect outfit for her baby. She stages the perfect setting and carefully places her daughter in front of the one-month old sign. She takes several photos and chooses her favorite. She then clicks "post" and waits for her social media community to like and comment.
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As the likes and comments stream in, Beth feels a sense of validation. Maybe she's doing this motherhood thing right after all. At least her friends seem to think so by their adoring comments. But just as quickly as the validation comes, it also goes away, and panic and insecurity set in. Why hasn’t her sister-in-law liked her photo yet? Beth knows she is always on Instagram at this time. Does she think Beth is a bad mother? Does she not like the outfit that Beth picked for her daughter? Should Beth have used one of her sister-in-law’s hand-me-downs? Did Beth’s husband share that Beth is really having a difficult time?
Beth is not alone in her social media “insta-curity.” A growing number of Facebook and Instagram users are mothers. Forty percent of millennial moms have an Instagram account dedicated just for their baby. One study, looking at new parents’ social media use, found that mothers sought external validation through social media posts, comments and likes of their child. This type of social media activity was linked to elevated parenting stress and depressive symptoms for new mothers.
A related study, examining the connection between social media comparisons and mothers’ parenting behaviors and mental health, found that mothers who frequently compared themselves to others on social media sites felt more depressed, overwhelmed and less competent as parents. An estimated 15-20% of new mothers report experiencing mental health issues during the perinatal and postpartum period. What role does social media play in undermining the confidence and capability of a new parent? Does social media perpetuate perinatal mental health problems, or is it merely a sly accomplice?
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People on social media tend to portray themselves in a highly positive manner. This can be especially true for mothers who feel pressure to be perfect. For those mothers who are struggling, comparing themselves to the picture-perfect idyllic image of motherhood inevitably makes them feel like they’re falling short.
There are other ways to participate in social media that allow moms to cut themselves some slack. Not every mom on Instagram is perfect. There is a new breed of social media moms that are fighting against the “perfect mother” and instead portraying a more authentic (and messy) version of motherhood — unwashed hair and throw-up stains included. This mom isn’t afraid to admit when she is tired or having a bad day, or that she does not have it all figured out. Additionally, many new parents identify social media as a way to maintain relationships with family and friends and also create a new community, where they connect with other mothers virtually. These connections should help them share support and normalize their personal experience—not make them feel inadequate.
Internet aside, you can always connect with other new parents in person. Find parenting playgroups, music classes or mom-and-baby exercise classes. Try to expand your community outside of social media and the Internet. Remember, some days are harder and no amount of “likes” or “comments” is going to change that. But you’re doing great.