Social media and new moms aren’t always a great mix

Are you an online mama? Do you lead your mommy friends in social media usage? How often do you use social media in a given day?

According to some online social media statistics, moms spend an average of 6.1 hours each day on their smartphones. According to one study, 86 percent of moms are using social media, and from that number 54 percent are using it several times per day. Forty-three percent of moms use Pinterest, a free website where users can save and share pictures of crafty ideas for any event or situation you can imagine. One in three bloggers are mothers, and 70 percent of mothers believe technology makes them better mothers.

What do these numbers mean? As a psychotherapist who works with women struggling to adjust to their new role of motherhood, I see how social media usage can undermine their confidence and cause them to question their new role as a mother. When a postpartum woman comes to see me, she has typically already developed an anxiety or mood disorder. Her self-esteem is at an all-time low, and she desperately wants to feel like she is a good mom.

How do we know whether we are doing this mom thing well? Oftentimes, we turn to our peers to see how they are doing it. Unfortunately, social media plays a huge role in this. Here is an example of the internal dialogue we have with ourselves when comparing ourselves to others:

Look at Jenn who tweeted about going to that neat educational event with her kids. Why don’t I do more things like that with my kids? Brianna is breastfeeding like a champ and has so much milk stored. What am I doing wrong? How does Amanda keep so thin when she just had a baby? I wish I was as crafty as Trish and could throw a decent birthday party for my son. I am so lame.

The litany of comparisons is endless. If these comparisons go on without question, it can start to seem like the rest of the world is perfect. Becoming a mother is a journey that comes with much uncertainty. It is quite natural to look to our peers for guidance and a frame of reference that tells us whether we are doing a good job. Unfortunately, in this age of social media, what we see is not reality. What we are seeing is just a snapshot of a very complex reality full of failures and successes.

I have seen a backlash against this faux-perfection. Google “Pinterest Fail” and you’ll find mocking — and sometimes hilarious — examples of those who missed the mark on making the perfect cupcake, among other things. Sure, I can find several of my Facebook friends willing to poke fun at themselves with a post about some debacle they created. However, the reality is that day after day I see women in my office who may intellectually understand that social media is not reality, but emotionally feel like failures and dismiss this fact.

Let’s add on the fact that the information out there about parenting is utterly overwhelming. Here are the titles of two articles that popped up when searching on Google about baby and sleep: “Help Baby Sleep Through the Night” is followed by “Why Your Newborn Should NOT be Sleeping Through the Night.” Worrying about your baby’s sleep patterns is a common issue among new parents. Seeing this contradictory information can instill much insecurity.

So, how can we guard against social media faux-perfection and contradictory parenting information overload? First, I want to say that social media and the internet are not all bad and can be very useful to women struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety or those who are just insecure in their new role. There are wonderful online resources and support communities such as Postpartum Support International and the blog at the MGH Center for Women’s Health that work hard at providing balanced information.

I encourage my clients to take a break from social media if they find themselves comparing a lot and feeling inadequate. It does not have to be long break.

It is important to check in with yourself and see if you have the intellectual/emotional divide occurring. What I mean by this is whether you can tell yourself that it is OK not to be perfect — and actually believe it. Just by recognizing this divide will help you move these two parts of yourself closer.

Lastly, take time to have genuine interactions with others. That means face-to-face time and genuine conversation about the struggles and the joys of motherhood. A support group or mom’s group might help. Find your local moms’ club, or look for parenting education classes for moms and babies.