A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

Wireless Motherhood: When Social Media is the New Village

Hey, mamas, anyone else awake? I’m having a really tough time tonight with anxiety, and have no one to talk to.

I wrote that when my son was five-weeks-old. It was 3 a.m. He was sleeping soundly on my chest, and I remember wondering why I couldn’t just enjoy this moment with him. It was so quiet, even the crickets had stopped their incessant chirping. My son’s breaths whispered across my skin with each exhale: it was a completely pristine moment.

Yet there I sat, anxious and alone. There were so many unknowns, and in the middle of the night, as a new single mom, I had no one to talk to. Within moments, women from around the world were commenting that they were thinking of me, sending positive thoughts, hoping everything was okay, there to talk if I needed. They were awake too, facing their own struggles.

In those early weeks and months, I remember feeling more than once that social media was my lifeline. The harsh glare off my phone was a beacon of hope, there in the dark with my son cradled against me.

Anxiety is just one of several perinatal mood disorders (PMD) commonly experienced by women during and after pregnancy. Postpartum depression is the most renowned, but PMDs also include psychosis, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, to name a few. An estimated 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression alone.

Despite their prevalence, women who experience these disorders can feel incredibly isolated. Depression, insomnia, and panic attacks do not fit the socially constructed mold of blissed-out new motherhood. This sets the stage for mothers to be riddled with guilt and shame for not being able to connect, or sleep, or leave the house. There were so many moments when I sat with friends, smiling and nodding, all the while wanting desperately to say: “I am so overwhelmed. I need help.” It’s hard to show the rawness of motherhood, because it still feels so taboo.

Perinatal mood disorders have been the dirty little secret of motherhood for far too long. It’s becoming easier to talk about, as celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, and Kristen Bell come forward and share their experiences. Actress Hayden Panettiere’s personal struggle was even mirrored in her character’s storyline on the TV show “Nashville” last year.

And that does help. Yet hearing that these seemingly perfect women have also struggled doesn’t necessarily make a mama feel less alienated as she watches the hours tick by in the night, alone and anxious. This is true largely because our society is highly autonomous. We prize individual triumph and the ability to succeed on your own above a group mentality. This mindset has its benefits, but also tends to alienate new mothers. In fact, this has become such a big issue that psychologists have wondered if postpartum depression is a misnomer, and should instead be called postpartum neglect.

Parenting takes a village

The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child is used frequently because it’s true and relevant. Parents are trying to navigate raising children in a society that has lost its village mentality. The idea that the collective is watching out for the best interest of the child, fostering his growth, and supporting his parents, is truly lost to us. If I didn’t make a concerted effort to get out of the house, I could easily spend day after day isolated at home with my son. This leaves parents, and new mothers especially, feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and alone, which is why the Internet can be such a useful resource – there at your fingertips you have access to a modern virtual village.

Memories of the earliest days of my son’s life are foggy, at best. Though I clearly remember the way his soft little body curved against mine, twitching in his sleep, the nights are a blur of monotony and sleeplessness. Midnight cries and grunts were the new soundtrack of my life. Three o’clock in the morning was my son’s party time, and when I had finally convinced him to fall back to sleep, I was usually too wired to sleep myself.

These moments were both miraculous and torturous – watching him sleep I wondered (as many parents do) how I had managed to make a complete human, but also how such perfection can cause such exhaustion. Shrouded in the darkness, my mind racing, I found myself turning more often than not in those early days to my phone for company. I took my motherhood wireless, and connecting online saved me.

I was lucky enough to stumble across an online mom group aimed at women with a similar due date. In its infancy, the group had hundreds of members, and was a place to turn to during those early, unknown days of pregnancy with questions about spotting and first ultrasounds. After almost two years together, we have whittled the group down to less than 100 members.

Together, we have suffered miscarriages, lost loved ones, divorced, and gotten married or engaged. We have supported each other through surgeries, pediatric scares, and domestic violence. We have cheered on, disagreed with, and learned from each other. We have encouraged mamas to seek medical help for warning signs of postpartum depression. We have laughed and rejoiced, shared stories, and marveled at each other’s little ones as they have grown and learned new skills. Most importantly, we have supported each other, despite our parenting differences. This group, to me, is the epitome of what the virtual village can offer.

I’m also part of some online mom groups that I rarely participate in: ones that are area specific, ones that are for working moms, for single moms, for breastfeeding moms, for writing moms. When it comes to types of mom groups, possibilities are endless. This can be a critical lifeline for mamas who do not have like-minded moms near them: LGBTQ moms, moms who adopted, single moms, moms who formula feed, moms who breastfeed, moms who struggled with fertility, moms who work-out, moms who co-sleep, moms who sleep train – the list goes on.

With access to these groups, you have the ability to contact women with vast experiences and knowledge from your very own living room, and can get support and advice without having to travel 5,000 miles to get it. For many, these online forums can be the first place they realize that they might have a PMD, and that they are not alone.

Moms can be bullies, too

There is, of course, the darker side of virtual villages: mommy shaming and the mommy wars. After experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsion after the birth of her daughter, Jessica Hanlin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of Mama Bird Wellness in Colorado, dedicated her work to helping mothers and families through their own experiences with these struggles.

Her postpartum support group has its own private Facebook page for mamas to connect after-hours. She sees the benefits of the virtual village firsthand, but also warns about the division that can be reached with such easy connection: “More input means more opinions, and often a more direct, less compassionate communication of these opinions.” This is also why it’s important to remember that the mamas we turn to online only hear a snippet of your stories; they do not know your or your baby’s social, personal, or medical histories. They have a window into your life, but their responses are deeply reflective of their own stories.

It’s easy to anonymously deride a mother who is parenting differently than how you would. This is always a risk with online interactions, and mom-bullying should not be taken lightly. Parenting decisions are so personal, and we tend to think that someone is doing it wrong when they are doing it differently than us. A question about supplementing with formula for a baby who isn’t gaining weight can quickly be met with derisive comments about how your body should provide enough, formula feeding ruins your child, why haven’t you done your research, I can’t believe you are going to do that to your child. In other words, you’re a bad mom. And those are some of the nicer comments I’ve seen. These comments can further isolate and alienate a mother who is already deeply struggling. This is why face-to-face interaction and support, from loved ones and professionals, is such an integral part of a successful postpartum existence.

So, what about real life?

I was part of real life groups, too, but rarely spoke up when I went. This was partially because I felt that the other moms just weren’t having the same issues as me. I was the only single mom in most of the groups that I tried out, and the only one dealing with the legal and emotional repercussions of an absent co-parent. I felt that sharing my story would garner more pity or curiosity than useful advice. In this regard, the relative anonymity of my Facebook group made me feel safe – safe to say, “Hey, I’m really struggling,” without feeling that I was a freak show for other moms to gawk at. My virtual village allowed me to show up and be vulnerable when I was struggling the most, when I didn’t want to face anyone or when my real life mama tribe was inaccessible.

For me, in-person mom groups filled a different need: one of camaraderie, and adult conversation. It was rewarding to get out of the house every week and sit in a circle of women who would show up at your door in a heartbeat if you asked for help. Kerry Stokes, doula, childbirth educator and founder of the Full Circle Doula Cooperative, leads a new mom group in her town. Several of the mamas in that group, myself included, have benefited greatly from having a tribe of mothers in their community.

From help packing and moving, to babysitting, play dates, and meal trains, real life moms can offer help where your virtual mamas cannot. Stokes agrees: “I don’t think online support groups are enough for any one mom, but it sure is a start. Motherhood and postpartum is a very raw time, and it needs to be represented and validated as such.” She began her new mom group after struggling herself and not finding the local, in-person tribe that she needed.

Can the Internet stop postpartum neglect?

Of the professionals I spoke with who specialize with the postpartum population, all agreed on the need to balance online and real-life support. Shelly King, a psychotherapist who works with women and couples during pregnancy, postpartum and parenting, believes that virtual villages can and do provide instant access to input, advice, knowledge, and support that mirrors what was once provided by family and extended support networks.

She notes, however, that technology, despite providing instant access to people and resources from around the world, can leave one feeling very disconnected. “Technology is amazing,” King says. “Online networks are so supportive, and yet nothing compares to being seen, heard, and felt in the presence of another kind, caring, nonjudgmental human being.” Going online can certainly help you overcome the stigma and guilt associated with PMDs, but sometimes being truly seen in the moment, in person, outweighs the vast advice you can find online.

It’s no secret that motherhood is a huge and vital job, and one that cannot be accomplished single-handedly. It really does take a village, and after centuries of raising children with that mentality, we are still instinctually driven to find our own personal village.

Yet, at the end of the day, can virtual villages replace real-life help? The short answer is no.

There are benefits of face-to-face interactions that you cannot get online. They are, however, an important fabric of the postpartum support system that can truly help a struggling mother. When it comes to the health and wellbeing of mothers, the more positive support the better. As King points out, using social media as part of the support network is not an either-or situation, but a both-and. Turn to them when you need a little extra support at four o’clock in the morning, or have an issue you want input on from been-there-done-that moms. Then, when the sun finally rises, and the rest of nearby humanity wakes up, find your real-life tribe. 

What do you think: Can the virtual village replace a physical community and help with perinatal mood disorders? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

You might also like:

In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

You might also like:

When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

You might also like:

Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.