Motherhood in the age of social media: why comparison is robbing me of joy

comparison-robbing-me-of-joy

Did you know there was once a time where mothers parented without Facebook Mom groups? I almost wouldn’t believe myself if I hadn’t experienced it briefly – VERY briefly – myself.

The first couple of months after my daughter was born were the most isolating months of my life. It was a constant debate between: “Is this activity worth my having to shower?” or, “Do I want to risk a nip slip in this particular location?” or “Should I disrupt my baby’s carefully curated nap schedule so I actually interact with the outside world?” All very important questions when you are a depressed, sleep deprived shell of your former self and you have a mostly unhappy (and constantly hungry) baby.

Until one day, when a friend casually mentioned that Facebook groups for Moms exist.

WHAT THE?

There were other Moms out there too, struggling to get their babies to sleep? And I’m somehow only finding out about this now?

I will say that I simultaneously love and hate social media – Facebook, in particular. Even before I was a mother, on my worst days (or most often, sleepless nights) I would spend far too much time comparing myself to others on Facebook, composing emo status updates [that I constantly now get to revisit thanks to TimeHop and wow, I was a piece of work], creeping all the wrong people, and generally feeling entirely inadequate. People were out there getting engaged and married, or graduating, or vacationing, or volunteering in Africa, and here I was, doing nothing with my life. Needless to say, long nights scrolling on Facebook have never done good things for my mental health.

So, it’s hardly surprising then, that – while I was sort of relieved there was a community of mothers I could interact with while I sat on my couch – I instantly began to compare myself to other Moms. For example, I stopped breastfeeding when my daughter was about a month old so I could take medication to treat my depression. And of course, after that, every post about breastfeeding was a direct kick to my stomach. I was miserable.

Then, when my daughter didn’t walk until she was 18 months old, the comparisons grew. And grew. When she was one of the last of her peers to potty-train, the comparisons grew. I was anxious all the time. I tried to overcompensate by buying into the notion that maybe I just wasn’t invested enough in motherhood – and that it was my fault that she was so behind. Maybe it was my PPD. Maybe I just wasn’t capable of motherhood. On the outside, I planned and executed sensory activities, and spent hours labouring over learning outcomes and developmental milestones. I think a part of me felt that if she could excel at something, it would be proof that I hadn’t ruined her and was even partially succeeding at this Momming business.

I can’t count the number of times I wrote out and then deleted posts on Facebook mom groups in a fit of desperation. Posts that began with: “Why doesn’t anyone talk about how hard this is?” or “What am I doing wrong?” and “When is my life going to feel normal again, and why am I the only one who is asking this?”

Facebook was simultaneously my saving grace when I felt the most isolated and my worst enemy when I felt the most depressed.

For a while, I noticed that there was less to compare her against: mostly during her second and third year. Maybe it was the fact that I was so busy with school and wasn’t home as much as I used to be. But truly, I think those two years were some of the few years that most moms can sort of sit back and relax. Once your child has hit those few integral milestones: walking, talking, and potty-training, you can momentarily relax and just let them be kids.

I thought it would only get easier from here on out. But, I was wrong. As we prepare for kindergarten in the fall, I’m paralyzed with indecision and still haven’t enrolled her, yet. Should I enroll her in French immersion, or English? Everyone says you just “know” these things – that is, what’s best for your child – but I don’t. I never have. Am I a failure for not knowing what language she should be instructed in? Meanwhile, overnight her peers are suddenly mini geniuses, drawing at Picasso levels, doing math and reading, while I can’t capture her attention for more than a few minutes at a time to write her letters for the 500th time.

And then it hit me: the comparisons are only going to get worse. The evaluations, the report cards, the learning outcomes, the reading levels. And as always I’ll continue to measure not only my child, but my worth as a mother against these outcomes. And with the scroll of a mouse, it’s already far too easy for me to draw these comparisons.

There are certainly good things about mothering in the age of social media, especially for someone like me, whose network is small. Most days, I do genuinely appreciate and am amazed by the virtual network I’ve created for myself. At the same time, it is so perturbing to feel loved online, and not in real life. And I can’t help but wonder how I would have parented (or even spent my formative 20’s, for god’s sake) without the advent of Facebook. Would I be more well-adjusted, or was I predisposed to this inevitable anxiety?

It’s something I constantly have to remind myself about. It all comes back to the words tattooed on my wrist (although I wish sometimes they were tattooed on the inside of my eyelids). I am enough. (Well, I would be enough, if I didn’t have the world to compare myself against).

It’s hilarious to think about how our parents (and their parents) would have handled child-rearing. And while I agree we have taken some (very much needed) strides in the right direction when it comes to developmental psychology and reducing the stigma around mental health, did our parents spend nights awake worried about developmental milestones or learning outcomes? Did they debate sleep-training methods or vaccinations with other parents? Did they simply just treat a rash instead of asking an online community of virtual strangers to pre-diagnose it? In so many ways, parenting would have been so much easier, then.

I’m going to try my best to parent unabashedly, without comparison or second guessing my capabilities.

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