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Social media is redefining the new motherhood—but is that a good thing?

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In the early days of new motherhood, it became a reflex to me: During any chance I had to sit down on the couch, I would open up Instagram and begin scrolling. As my own world felt largely restricted to the walls of my home—or the reaches of the park, the grocery store or a playdate, on a good day—I was hungry to see what was happening in the lives of other moms.

And right there in thumb-swiping distance were depictions of everything I was eager to have in my own life: carefree vacations, dates with partners and kids who were seemingly always healthy, always easy-going and always willing to smile for the camera.

Depending on the course of the day and my mood, these images and captions would cause me to feel anything from hope that the newborn haze looming over my life would give way or despair from the nagging thought these other moms were simply getting something lost to me.

For me, and many other moms I know, Facebook or Instagram served as important lifelines as we were tossed into the unfamiliar seas of parenthood. These platforms—both on the macro level of newsfeeds and the micro level of ultra-specific support groups—offer connections that can otherwise feel glaringly absent during the transition. They even provide plentiful resources with other moms willing to share from their experiences, which can be a nice reminder when you wonder if your baby is the only one who's ever had a particular challenge.

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The only catch is, to use a phrase that came up in multiple conversations I had with other moms, social media is a double-edged sword that can also make you feel cut down or lesser than. But rather than just accepting this as it is, we're being the change we want to see by striving for truer connections, sharing more authentic glimpses into our lives and reclaiming the experience of social media in motherhood.

Social media takes on a new role for new parents

For many of today's new parents, social media is a native language. It simply has been part of our lives, in some form, for so many years that we are just as comfortable (if not more) posting a question or sending a message through Facebook than we are with putting ourselves out there in such a way in real life.

What happens when the interactions we've been balancing internet usage with fade away—or are replaced by 24/7 interactions with an unspeaking baby? According to a 2012 study published in the journal Family Relations, 44% of women increased Facebook use upon becoming mothers.

Among these new mothers, the desire for continued social connection was one of the driving forces for regularly signing on — despite them reporting they didn't communicate with 88% of their Facebook friends outside of the virtual world.

The trend only continued in the following years, as a 2018 study on "Social Media as Social Support in Pregnancy and Postpartum" found that 84% of new mothers considered their social media friends to be a form of social connection.

To a real extent, it can be: If you're the first of your immediate friend group to have a baby or are dealing with a seemingly unique dilemma, social media can help pave the way to new, genuine friendships and can provide the human touch that is lacking from midnight Google searches.

However, you don't need to spend much time in many mom-oriented Facebook groups or Instagram hashtags to see there is a darker side to social media, too. Beyond the places where judgment and shaming seem to, sadly, run rampant, there is also the nearly inevitable instinct to draw comparisons between our personal lives and the ones that play out through meticulously selected filters.

In fact, the 2012 Family Relations study found more Facebook activity was associated with higher levels of parenting stress. That was backed up by a 2017 study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior that found drawing comparisons to other families through social media was related to more co-parenting conflicts and higher levels of maternal depression.

We're sharing more authentic glimpses into motherhood

The brilliant thing about social media is that, ultimately, we are the ones in control of our experiences. After what felt like a surge of backlash against perfectly curated depictions of life and motherhood, there has recently been a trend toward vulnerable, authentic and relatable posts.

More than just a casual observation, this is something millennials expressed wanting to see—with a 2017 Consumer Content Report finding 90% of millennials preferred "real and organic" social media posts over those that were "perfect and packaged." This, in turn, opens the door to more meaningful communication.

One mom I knew in person more than a decade ago but have since reconnected with over the shared experience of motherhood, told me authentic posts are her favorite aspect of social media. She says, "Seeing that [other moms] have issues and triumphs similar to mine make me feel like I'm not alone, which is nice."

The mindset with which we approach time on social media can make all the difference, too. As another mom told me, "When I suffered from postpartum anxiety, [social media] made me feel like I wasn't doing it the right way." Now that she's on the other side of the postpartum anxiety, however, she says she is able to see that these other moms just want to share their joy.

Taking ownership and control over our social media experiences

When social media still feels like it's doing more harm than good, is the solution to ditch it? For some people, the answer seems to be yes: According to a 2018 study from Pew Research Center, 42% of adult Facebook users have taken extended hiatuses from the platform while 26% had deleted the Facebook app from their phones within the past year.

However, for many more, the better option is to take power back into our own hands by actively seeking the connections we want and sharing the authentic posts we desire.

And it seems no coincidence that social media platforms and media brands are responding: In the past couple of years alone, Instagram Stories have provided more intimate views into friends' lives and responses have prompted more ways to communicate. Facebook is continually pursuing ways to connect people face-to-face — even with miles between them. And, with Motherly, we've responded to requests for more true-to-life depictions of motherhood with community-sourced posts that have sparked some truly incredible conversations.

True connections take more effort than a double-tap

The gateway to a rich community of fellow moms through social media can truly be a valuable resource, says licensed marriage and family therapist Heidi McBain, author of Major Life Change: Stories of Motherhood, Hope and Healing.

"When you're a new mom, it can be hard to leave the house to buy milk, let alone to meet up with friends," McBain tells Motherly. "Social media can be a great place to get much needed emotional support from other moms, especially if you're feeling lonely or isolated being at home with a new baby."

But not all connections on social media are created equally. A "like," although instantly gratifying, does little more than say the post was seen and appreciated. It's in the comments or, better yet, direct messages that the best digital heart-to-hearts of my motherhood journey have unfolded—often giving a mom I knew back in elementary school and me something new to bond over. And, better yet, giving us the reminder that we aren't alone.

As one mom friend told me about her favorite aspect of social media, "On those days I'm trapped at home, I like sharing snippets of our day and getting feedback from other moms in the 'we've been there, your life is totally normal' way."

However, licensed master social worker Erin Barbossa cautions that these conversations—meaningful as they may be—are no true substitution for in-person interactions.

"Be mindful when your online relationships are your primary friendships," she says. "Online feels easier in the short term, but it doesn't have the same long-term payoff as an in-person friendship."

Each person's relationship with social media can—and should—vary

I now look back on those Instagram-scrolling sessions from my couch as the moments that helped me bridge the transition to motherhood until I felt confident enough to fully reemerge in the world with a baby by my side.

Honestly, I also love that I can open up the time capsule that is my Instagram feed and be instantly transported back to the moments when my son was messily trying solid food for the first time or when we were cheering as he learned to crawl. But, oh, how quickly the mind can forget the lows that can accompany those highs. When you're in the midst of it, it can be challenging to get the impression through social media that other moms are managing everything better.

Even now, there are days when I realize how mindlessly I've been scrolling through Instagram or liking pictures on Facebook—during times that could be better spent asking a friend if they want to meet up for a playdate or coffee break.

That's where I have been recently, back on the ol' social media crutch. So I did something radical, at least for me: I deleted all the social media apps from my phone for an undetermined period of time. And, you know what? Instagram and Facebook will be there, patiently waiting, when I'm ready to return. Under neglect, the same can't be said for the real people in my real life.

Originally posted on Medium.

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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

This article is sponsored by Nordstrom. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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For decades, doctors have prescribed progesterone, one of the key hormones your body needs during pregnancy, to prevent a miscarriage. The hormone, produced by the ovaries, is necessary to prepare the body for implantation. As the pregnancy progresses, the placenta produces progesterone, which suppresses uterine contractions and early labor.

But a new study out of the UK finds that administering progesterone to women experiencing bleeding in their first trimester does not result in dramatically more successful births than a placebo. Yet, for a small group of mothers-to-be who had experienced "previous recurrent miscarriages," the numbers showed promise.

The study, conducted at Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research at the University of Birmingham in the UK, is the largest of its kind, involving 4,153 pregnant women who were experiencing bleeding in those risky (and nerve-wracking) early weeks. The women were randomly split into two groups, with one group receiving 400 milligrams of progesterone via a vaginal suppository, and the other receiving a placebo of the same amount. Both groups were given the suppositories through their 16th week of pregnancy.

Of the group given progesterone, 75% went on to have a successful, full-term birth, compared to 72% for the placebo.

As the study notes, for most women, the administration of progesterone "did not result in a significantly higher incidence of live births than placebo." But for women who had experienced one or two previous miscarriages, the result was a 4% increase in the number of successful births. And for women who had experienced three or more recurrent miscarriages, the number jumped to a 15% increase.

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Dr. Arri Coomarasamy, Professor of Gynecology at the University of Birmingham and Director of Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research, said the implications for that group are "huge." "Our finding that women who are at risk of a miscarriage because of current pregnancy bleeding and a history of a previous miscarriage could benefit from progesterone treatment has huge implications for practice," he said.

It's estimated that 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. And while even a spot of blood no doubt increases the fear in every expectant mother's mind, bleeding is actually a very common occurrence during pregnancy, Coomarasamy said. Still, first trimester bleeding is particularly risky, with a third of women who experience it going on to miscarry.

So for women who have been through it multiple times, Coomarasamy's findings are an important avenue to explore. "This treatment could save thousands of babies who may have otherwise been lost to a miscarriage," he added.

The study is among a number of recent groundbreaking discoveries made by doctors looking to further understand what causes miscarriages and what can be done to prevent them. While about 70% of miscarriages are attributed to chromosomal abnormalities, doctors recently learned that certain genetic abnormalities, which exist in a small group of parents-to-be, could be discovered by testing the mother and father, as well as the embryo.

Doctors have also discovered that even knowing the sex of your baby could predict the complications a mother may face, thus helping medical professionals to assist in keeping the pregnancy viable.

But while there is no sweeping solution to stop miscarriages, for some couples, the use of progesterone does offer a glimmer of hope. "The results from this study are important for parents who have experienced miscarriage," Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy's said. "They now have a robust and effective treatment option which will save many lives and prevent much heartache."

Brewin added that studies like this one are imperative to our understanding of how the creation of life, which remains both a miracle and a mystery, truly works. "It gives us confidence to believe that further research will yield more treatments and ultimately make many more miscarriages preventable," she said.

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It's never easy to give up a career and launch a whole new one, but when I decided to end my time as an opera singer and move into the field of sales, I knew I could do it. After all, I had the perfect role model: my mom.

When I was growing up, she worked as a dental hygienist, but when I started college, she took some courses in sales. She was single with two kids in college, which was a driving force to make more money. But above that, she truly had a passion for sales. In no time, she got jobs and excelled at them, ultimately earning her the title of Vendor Representative of the Year at her electronics company.

When I entered the field of sales, an unusual and unexpected twist followed. Several years into my career, I was hired by a different electronics company. My mom and I ended up selling similar products to some of the same businesses. (Neither of our companies realized this, and we have different last names.)

But rather than feeling uncomfortable, I saw this as a great opportunity. She and I were both committed to doing our best. More often than not, she beat me when we went after the same piece of business. But in the process, I learned so much from her. I was able to see how her work ethic, commitment and style drove her success. I had even more to emulate.

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Here are some of the biggest business lessons I learned from my working mom:

1. Use your existing skill set to differentiate yourself.

As a dental hygienist, my mom knew how to talk to people and make them feel comfortable. She had also served as a youth leader at three different churches where my dad preached. In each town, she found at-risk kids, brought them together and developed programs for them. She had learned how to help people improve themselves and make their lives better.

In sales, she did the same thing, focusing on how the products or services she was selling could genuinely make a difference in the lives of her customers. Those skills translated seamlessly into her new career.

2. Start strong from day one—don't wait for permission to launch your full potential.

From day one at a job, my mom showed up with energy and vigor to get going. She didn't take time to be tentative. Instead, she leaned into her tasks—the equivalent of blasting out of the gate in a race. Having seen how well this worked for her, I strive to do the same.

3. Have empathy, it's essential.

Many women have been falsely accused of being "too emotional" in business. However, empathy is a necessity and drives better results. As a businesswoman, my mom set herself apart by demonstrating genuine empathy for her clients and her colleagues. She loves getting to know people's stories. That understanding is a key component in her finalizing deals and helping her company reach higher levels of success.

4. Learn often—you're never done building your skill set.

My mom is the reason I spend at least three months out of each year getting a new certification or learning a new skill. She's always working to improve, harness new technologies or develop new competencies—and she's passed on that eagerness to learn to me. She knows that to stay on top, you have to keep learning.

5. Bring on the charm.

By nature, I'm analytical. I like to present the numbers to clients, showing the data to help sway their decisions. And that has its place, but charm is universal. Being someone people want to do business with makes a huge difference. If I had a nickel for every time a prospect told me, "I love your mother," I could retire now! Business, especially sales, is about the connections you make as much as the value you bring.

Our paths have taken our careers in different directions, but along the way, I've done my best to incorporate all these skills. Thank you, mom, for teaching me all this, and much more.

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Every mom has her own list of character traits each of she hopes to instill in her children, but there is one that stands out as a big priority for the majority of millennial mothers.

Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey revealed that kindness is incredibly important to today's moms. It is the number one trait we want to cultivate in our children, and according to stats from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this emphasis on kindness couldn't come at a better time.

In recent years kids and parents have been straying from kindness, but these Ivy League experts have some great ideas about how today's moms can get the next generation back on track so they can become the caring adults of tomorrow.

Between 2013 and 2014, as part of Harvard's Making Caring Common project, researchers surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students across the nation. They found that no matter what race, class or culture the kids identified with, the majority of the students surveyed valued their own personal success and happiness way more than that of others.

Why do kids value their own success so much more than things like caring and fairness? Well, apparently, mom and dad told them to.

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Eighty percent of the 10,000 students said their parents taught them that their own happiness and high achievement were more important than caring for others. (So much for sharing is caring.)

The folks at Harvard say that valuing your own ambition is obviously a good thing (in moderation) in today's competitive world, but prioritizing it so much more than ethical values like kindness, caring and fairness makes kids more likely to be cruel, disrespectful and dishonest.

So how do we fix this? Here's Harvard's four-step plan for raising kinder kids.

1. Help them practice being nice

Giving kids daily opportunities to practice caring and kind acts helps make ethical behavior second nature. They could help you with chores, help a friend with homework or work on a project to help homelessness.

All those tasks would help a child flex their empathy muscles. The key is to increase the challenges over time so your child can develop a stronger capacity for caregiving as they grow.

2. Help them see multiple perspectives

The researchers want kids to “zoom in" and listen closely to the people around them, but also see the bigger picture. “By zooming out and taking multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are too often invisible (such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn't speak their language, or the school custodian), young people expand their circle of concern and become able to consider the justice of their communities and society," the study's authors' wrote.

3. Model kindness

Our kids are watching, so if we want them to be kinder, it's something we should try to cultivate in ourselves. The Harvard team suggests parents make an effort to widen our circles of concern and deepen our understanding of issues of fairness and justice.

4. Teach kids to cope with destructive feelings

According to the researchers, the ability to care about others can be overwhelmed by a kid's feelings of anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings. They suggest we teach our kids teach that while all feelings are okay to feel, some ways of dealing with them are not helpful, or kind (for example, “Hitting your classmate might make you happy, but it won't make them happy and isn't very kind. Counting to 10 and talking about why you're mad is more productive than hitting.")

While the folks at Harvard are concerned that so many kids are being taught to value their own happiness above all, they were also encouraged by the students who do prioritize caring and kindness. One of the students surveyed wrote, “People should always put others before themselves and focus on contributing something to the world that will improve life for future generations."

If we follow the advice of Harvard researchers, the world will see more kids that think like that, and that's what future generations need.

[A version of this post was originally published November 8, 2017. It has been updated.]

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These days more women are having babies into their 40s, but the idea that women are facing down the biological clock is pretty pervasive—once you're over 35, you automatically receive that "advanced maternal age" classification, while your male partner's age may never even be mentioned. The pressure on older moms is unfair, because according to new research from Rutgers University, men may face age-related fertility decline too and America's dads are getting older.

It's a new idea, but this finding actually takes 40 years worth of research into account—which, coincidentally, is around the age male fertility may start to decline. According to Rutgers researchers, the medical community hasn't quite pinpointed the onset of advanced age, but it hovers somewhere between ages 35 and 45.

The study which appears in the journal Maturitas, finds that a father's age may not just affect his fertility, but also the health of his partner and offspring.

Based on previously conducted research, the team behind this study found evidence that men over 45 could put their partners at greater risk for pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Babies born to older fathers also have an increased likelihood of premature birth, late stillbirth, low Apgar scores, low birthweight, newborn seizures and more. The risks appear to exist later in life, too: Research suggests children of older fathers have greater risk of childhood cancers, cognitive issues and autism.

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There's been plenty of studies surrounding advanced maternal age, but research on advanced paternal age is pretty slim—scientists don't quite understand how age correlates to these factors at this point. But researchers from Rutgers believe that age-related decline in testosterone and sperm quality degradation may be to blame. "Just as people lose muscle strength, flexibility and endurance with age, in men, sperm also tend to lose 'fitness' over the life cycle," Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, explains in a release for this news.

As we've previously reported, more and more men are waiting until later in life to have children. According to a 2017 Stanford study, children born to fathers over 40 represent 9% of U.S. births, and the average age of first-time fathers has climbed by three-and-a-half years over the past four decades —so this research matters now more than ever, and it may represent the first step towards setting certain standards in place for men who choose to delay parenthood.

The biggest thing to come out of this research may be the need for more awareness surrounding advanced paternal age. This particular study's authors believe doctors should be starting to have conversations with their male patients, possibly even encouraging them to consider banking sperm if they're considering parenthood later in life.

Women certainly tend to be aware of the age-related risks to their fertility, and many regularly hear that they should freeze their eggs if they're not ready for motherhood. And while it's still too early to say whether we'll ever examine paternal age this closely, this research may set a whole new conversation in motion.

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