It was almost time for bed. Before I settled in, I thought I’d check Facebook just to see what was going on with my friends. Oh look, she just potty trained her daughter at 2 years of age (my kids were way older than that). Cue feelings of failure. My other friend just redecorated her living room – it looks so great. My living room looks like a toy store exploded in it much of the time. Cue feelings of inadequacy. Wait a minute, wasn’t social media supposed to be about making connections, not feeling inadequate?
Does this sound familiar? In the age of social media, it can seem like our whole lives and those of our friends are portrayed online. We love seeing pictures of our friends’ families, kids, and vacations, however, they can also be the source of some serious comparison. It’s human nature to look at those “perfect” vacation pictures and consider what our last family vacation looked like. Did your last vacation include cherub-faced children building sand castles on the beach? Rather, maybe it included red-faced tantruming toddlers refusing to get out of the pool or throwing food on the floor.
For many of us, the picture in our head probably does not measure up to those we see on Facebook.
How does this comparison make us feel? Do comparisons on social media sites make parents feel less positive about their parenting skills or do they make them feel happy and empowered? Can comparisons on social media actually make you feel less happy about your life?
A recent fascinating study considered just this issue. This study included 749 mothers and it looked at how often the moms used social media and how much they compared themselves to others on social media. Researchers also considered parenting factors, like how competent you feel as a parent and how overloaded you feel.
Well, it turns out that my experience of feeling inadequate after scrolling through my social media feed isn’t unusual. The study showed that the more moms compared themselves to others on social media, the less adequate they felt as parents and the more they felt overloaded by their role as moms.
Furthermore, this type of social media comparison may also be influencing moms’ mental health. Moms who spent more time comparing themselves to others also had higher levels of depressive feelings. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean they were clinically depressed, but it sure didn’t make them feel happy and empowered about their situation either.
You know how you feel when you see a friend’s picture on Facebook of their partner taking the kids to a museum or park. Or maybe they post a picture of their husband vacuuming the living room – does that make you feel like your husband is not pulling his own weight around the house? Turns out you’re not alone. The study also indicated that moms who compared themselves to others on social media were more likely to feel like they receive less support from their network and also feel worse about their co-parenting relationship with their partner.
That’s what the study found, but what’s really going on here? Do you think this adequately represents your experience? Is comparison on social media really that much of a problem for mothers today?
Personally, I think it does have the potential to cause real feelings of inadequacy if you are not mindful of what is going on. I know I have at times let comparison to others steal my joy for parenting and motherhood.
The key point to understand about social media is that it is just an image. Rarely do people post photos of their kid’s last potty training accident or the pile of laundry that’s been sitting on the couch for a week. You never see the full story on social media – you always see the filtered story. This is why social media comparison is so easy to slip into and hard to trick your mind into avoiding.
How do you try to make yourself immune to this type of comparison that can be problematic? I think the answer comes back to true, authentic connection with other people. It may sound trite, but I have found that it works. If you can find friends that you can truly be yourself with (in real life), you come to see each other’s’ faults, struggles, challenges. In being authentic and vulnerable, you come to realize that those pictures they post on Facebook are only half the story. You know that behind that perfect living room is a 7-year-old’s bedroom that is covered with Legos. You come to know that after that cute picture of their toddler painting, there was a 10 minute tantrum that ensued.
Motherhood can be challenging, exhausting, and emotionally trying. However, if you can build just a few real connections with other moms, you can come to see that all the other moms are in the process with you. In my experience, this helps us to find the real joy that can be found in motherhood too. You see that you and your friends are doing the best you know how to do. You begin to see that part of the joy is found is laughing at and sharing the challenges with other moms. I have found that in sharing just a bit of my real life with close friends, the messy, hard picture of parenthood becomes a lot more beautiful.