Once upon a time, social media was a delicious method of escape. In those days, I could balance my phone over a nursing baby and push back the boredom of endless cluster-feeds just by clicking an app. While my daughter latched and unlatched, I could take in expensive kitchen remodels, beach-side getaways, and book recommendations — trapped on my couch, sure, but free to roam digitally.
Now, years later, a cloud has settled over my Instagram experience. Less a mental vacation than a series of bite-sized lectures and accumulating to-dos, my Instagram feed has grown weighty under the almighty algorithm. Trained to perfection, the app knows just how to push my buttons, serving up a curious combination of Bridgerton memes and advice from parenting experts.
I’ll never begrudge a soul for spotlighting my favorite Regency-era family, but the proliferation of experts in the parenting space? Well, I’m realizing they might be more trouble than they’re worth.
When these expert accounts first began cropping up, their presence felt like a lucky discovery. Who needed to read through pages of parenting books when all that knowledge was newly distilled into digestible nuggets of wisdom? The more I looked to these accounts, the more I discovered — pediatric dietitians, children’s therapists, toddler whisperers, potty training experts, and the like. It was like my own personal team of professional child-raisers, primed to shepherd me over every parenting hurdle that blocked my way. For a while there, their advice felt generous. And then, it began to smother me.
Each time I’d open the app, these well-meaning experts assigned me a task: Rotate toys! Do *this* during a tantrum! Switch to fluoride toothpaste! Learn baby sign language! Validate emotions! Build sensory bins! Teach kids to meditate! Model self-regulation!
With every Instagram scroll, I left feeling a little bit less-than. How could I be a confident, well-adjusted, loving mom when I didn’t know half the things I discovered via Instagram? How did we manage to parent before literal scripts for the tough moments were handed over to us? It’s a paradox: the very advice meant to empower moms leaves us questioning our abilities. The very advice meant to make our roles easier only adds to our mental load. It’s almost as if we’re choosing to outsource ways to feel overwhelmed. And who needs help with that?
Then one afternoon, my second grader inadvertently shook me free. Having caught her little sister rearranging her dollhouse without permission, my oldest tipped the house forward, sending all its furniture sailing to the floor below.
“What are you doing?” I huffed, my patience worn thin by a spate of squabbling and a now-hysterical preschooler in my arms.
Her response was full of the finger-wagging and empty threats you’d expect in such a situation. But it also included this burst of insight: The dollhouse, she explained, was meant to be like our home. Not in looks exactly — if so, where was the art knocked off-center by playful roughhousing? — but in how it made the dolls feel — silly, safe, and comforted.
And that’s when it struck me. The task at hand was not to absorb advice until my brain was rote with parenting expertise. Instead, my job was to protect this feeling of home that already existed; this fledgling memory of safety and comfort that had been busy nesting here in my girls’ childhood. My oldest tells me our home is a place that feels silly, safe, and comforting. And that’s what I always want it to be — for now, yes, but also far into the future where it exists only as memory.
This has become my guiding philosophy on parenting. I imagine my kids grown, describing their time with me at home and I work backwards from there. In this way, I have an established end goal — a wish for a memory that says this childhood is equal parts silliness and comfort. It acts as a filter and frees me from the sway of all those Instagram experts.
In my version of motherhood, I’m trying to be present and live in the moment, a tip I probably picked up from Instagram. But this practice of manipulating time, of fast-forwarding 20 years at a moment’s notice, is the only way I can step sure-footed into the future. I see the end goal and work backwards from there.
Of course, it’s not up to me what my kids remember, but I can do my best to ensure that the moments they have to choose from help build the childhood I want for them. Like the school mornings I’ve gritted my teeth ripping these kids out of bed, only to remember to pause and share how happy I am to see them. Or the million little heartbreaks I’ve softened with hugs and a listening ear despite my impulse to jump to problem-solving.
I was never going to be the perfect mother, even with all my scrolling and bookmarking. No matter what words of wisdom I absorbed, I’m sure my impatience and inflexibility would have always been painful spots on my parenting record. But here’s what I know now: When I dream about how my kids will remember their childhood, and let myself work in reverse, I can find freedom and enough confidence to enjoy the journey, too.
Lizzie Duszynski-Goodman is a writer and editor living in the Midwest with her husband and two young children. Her work explores the intersection of mental health and parenting and has appeared in Forbes Health, The Everymom, Cubby, and other publications. She is the editorial director at Mother Untitled.