He won’t stop crying! Why doesn’t he like to be swaddled? Is he eating too much? Not enough? Isn’t he supposed to be crawling by now?
Ah, the anxiety that plagues new moms. It’s like a constant laugh track in the back of your brain – except sometimes it’s sobbing instead of laughing. We have so much to worry about and keep track of that’s it a wonder we are able to function at all. Plus, our generation is dealing with a whole different animal when it comes to parenting online. From the insane oversharing to the glossing over everything to present the perfect image, we have a digital beast to bear as mothers in the internet age.
We can now find hundreds of pages of parenting information at the click of a button. Curious about the best bottle brands, having a pacifier dilemma or need an answer about sleeping habits? There are countless opinions and articles online just for you. That’s both reassuring and terrifying. My husband and I made the mistake of turning to the internet with health questions after having our baby, and what we found made us vow to never do it again. Instead of making us feel better, it exaggerated our fears. It turned eczema into severe ringworm and newborn cradle cap into a chronic condition. Plus, search engines seem to prioritize message board Q&As with the craziest, least encouraging conversations. You can type “diaper rash remedies” and end up reading a rant from a mom admonishing anyone who uses disposable diapers. You can find a story that backs up every concern you’ve ever had online, as well as an opinion on every topic and decision you make.
And then there are the mom blogs and social media personas: The reassuring, the judging, the loving, the unattainable. More than 90 percent of U.S. mothers are on social media, and as eMarketer succinctly says, the “images of perfect families leave some mothers feeling inadequate by comparison.” I read month-by-month pregnancy updates from bloggers and felt a kinship with some – but like I didn’t measure up with others. Similarly, I felt a range of crushing, contradictory emotions for my own baby when I (unconsciously) compared him to everyone else’s in the social sphere. Their baby is crawling now but mine isn’t? Why won’t he eat the homemade puree recipe she recommended? The internet can make you forget that every baby is different. There are certainly wonderful, supportive communities online – but it isn’t always healthy to rely on social media or blogs for development or resources. There’s just too much information and not enough filters.
I feel bad when I compare my baby to others. I feel bad when I measure myself against other moms. My hair never looks as good, the bags under my eyes are always more pronounced and I can’t afford the designer diaper bag they rave about. It’s said that “comparison is the thief of joy,” and there’s nowhere that’s more evident than in motherhood. In fact, 70 percent of mothers recently surveyed for a Time study said that they felt pressure to mother in specific ways, and 50 percent felt guilt and shame when their mothering ideals didn’t go as planned.
Of course, it’s important to note that every generation has faced their own set of unique challenges. We’re currently grappling with the overwhelming impact of the internet, but it also seems incomprehensible to not have it all. What did my grandmother do, for example, when she was raising four kids and needed to see pictures of rash types or figure out how many bottles a day to give her baby? She says that she would ask a neighbor or doctor – or just go with her gut! I mean, talk about anxiety right there. Stressful scenarios are prevalent in every journey, but attempting to do everything perfectly or relying on Google isn’t always the answer.
As this Times article notes, “What’s lost in the cacophony of anxiety is the other thing every mom wants: to enjoy the beauty of motherhood.” Along with random books, unrealistic stories and unsolicited advice, the internet can make us think we aren’t good enough. And in a way, that’s true – no one is perfect. We’ll never lose that pregnancy weight fast enough, take the “unicorn” of family pictures where everyone (including the baby) is looking, or have that blogger’s amazing wardrobe (who wears that much white with an infant anyway?). We’re all imperfect people and moms – but we’re perfect for our babies because we love them and put their needs first.
We’re all just trying to do the best we can. We go from exhausted survival mode to heart-eye emojis and back again a million times a day. We often sacrifice sleep, showers or hot meals in order to cater to our babies. It’s merciful to help these little ones when they can’t help themselves. We do it so that they can grow up to enjoy life and do amazing things too – like being a parent. It’s hard work, with a purpose.
So, what if we stopped feeling bad about who we are or what kind of mom we are? What if we let it be good enough? In a Washington Post article about technology and parenting, it’s said that: “our online behavior heavily impacts the way that we interact as parents, the ways that we see each other, and the ways that we think about ourselves.” Let’s flip the script on the internet and use it only as a force for good. Whether you work full-time in an office or full-time at home, we’re all in the season of motherhood together. By lifting up our community of moms, we can choose to focus on all of the extraordinary aspects of motherhood over the shame or guilt or anxiety. Let’s praise every imperfect mom – because that’s all of us!