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.

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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.

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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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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