Why Social Media Makes Moms Feel So Awful

by Emily Sunday
Originally Published: 
A mother scrolling through social media in a dark room during the night
Adam Hester / Getty

It’s late at night, and although you should be in bed, you are scrolling through Facebook haphazardly — when you see it. Your friend, an overachieving mother of five, who happily homeschools her children while also managing a successful writing career, has posted stunning pictures of her and her husband, kissing in front of a priest. They are surrounded by their five gorgeous children dressed in their Sunday best, and are in front of a little stone chapel in the middle of a glorious, golden field.

The caption reads: “6th time we’ve said our vows, I’m so blessed to have been married to this man for 6 years, I’ll marry you every year until the end of our days.” And just like that, you feel like you have been punched in the stomach.

As you sit and digest the fact that your amazing friend and her doting husband have renewed their wedding vows every year on their anniversary, the knot in your stomach tightens. You realize that you, having been married close to 14 years now, can count on one hand the number of date nights you and your husband have gone on in the last 6 years.

After a few seconds of shame, your reaction turns to one of criticism and judgment, you think snarky thoughts about your friend and her braggy post, judging her in any way you can to make yourself feel better. But as you stare at her post, you can’t help but feel all those pit of the stomach fears about your own failings.

It’s all there: the mom envy, the judgment, the comparison, the self doubt. But what’s at the root of all those icky feelings is the anxiety over the fact that your own marriage has been in a rough patch as of late, and the guilt that you have neglected your own relationship so completely as you’ve navigated the waters of being totally overwhelmed in parenting.

So, somehow, the truly joyous occasion shared by your friend, has thrown you into a spiral of shame, comparison, and defeat. That one picture has highlighted in your mind, the idea that your own relationship doesn’t measure up. All those nasty comments that were spinning through your head a minute ago are really all just self-defense mechanisms. Because we, as mothers (people who work around the clock without tangible reward for our toiling), fall victim much more easily to the inadequacy and self-doubt that someone else’s successes, shared on social media, brings up.

We’ve all been there in one way or another. Maybe you’ve been rocketed into a feeling of loneliness when you see the pictures of your close friend smiling happily at a mom’s night out with her new friends; or when those Instagram pics of another mom’s Pinterest worthy toddler birthday party highlights the fact that you couldn’t even get it together to throw a birthday party for your kid this year; or when your fitness obsessed friend posts yet another sunrise yoga picture and you instantly feel ten pounds heavier because you haven’t gotten to the gym in months.

My oldest friend, a mom of three, shared with me that my own pictures of our family trip to Disney brought on a heavy, week-long funk for her, when upon seeing my pictures, she felt like a complete failure because her family had yet to be able to afford a trip to the magic kingdom.

Whatever the post is that triggers your own insecurities, you are not alone, we’ve all been there. In fact, according to a recent study by UK charity Scope, of 1500 Facebook and Twitter users surveyed, 62% reported feeling inadequate and 60% reported feelings of jealousy from comparing themselves to other users.

And if you think about it, motherhood in itself sets us up for far more feelings of inadequacy then any other day to day job. Why?

Because, motherhood is the only job in the world where one is not compensated monetarily, or tangibly for work done.

Even unpaid internships offer a disernible reward: a bragging line on your resume, which works as a stepping stone to a higher up position with better pay. Wouldn’t it be nice if motherhood offered us such a palpable reward? But it doesn’t, we work exhaustively without thanks, savoring the small undefinable rewards like sweet notes or drawings from our children, and the affection they save solely for us. And while those little moments are invaluable, the lack of definitive compensation for our toiling, opens us up to the feeling of self doubt and constant questioning of our own worth.

In school, or in the workplace, or basically anywhere else human’s apply themselves laboriously, one is recognized for the work they’ve completed with a material reward — a good grade, a paycheck, a supervisor or teacher’s acknowledgment of a job well done. So where does that leave us as mothers, toiling thanklessly and craving recognition? Enter Social Media…

“Oh, that’s so cute how you misspell bragging as #blessed.”

I have to say, I snorted coffee through my nose when I saw a meme with this statement floating around Instagram the other day. I felt like all of my snarky, judgey, malicious moment’s were vindicated in that one statement. Until I stopped to think about it.

We’re all curating a story on social media. As moms, we generally only post pics of our kids looking their cutest, snapshots of our good parenting moments, selfies after the first trip to the hairdresser in far too long (yes, we throw our kids in the selfie to not seem too vain, but we know why we are actually taking the picture). We post the things we want the outside world to see and remember us by.

If you look at it through the lens of motherhood — with the idea that we are all longing for someone, anyone, to recognize and appreciate the work we are doing — then social media is often where we look for that recognition.

Maybe instead of judging each other, we can try to remember this: that perfect mom you see, the one celebrating some academic milestone you are afraid your child might never even reach, is also struggling through the thankless tasks of motherhood, and maybe she just wants someone to pat her on the back and assure her she’s doing a good job. Maybe she just needs to be recognized for all the hard work she did to reach this point. Don’t we all?

So, next time that photo pops up in my stream, the one that starts me spiraling through the emotions of envy, judgement, comparison, self doubt, and insecurity, I’m going to take a deep breath, and think about all those times I’ve desperately needed assurance that I’m doing something right. Those times I’ve just wanted someone to notice how hard I’ve worked. And I’m going to tell that mom that she is amazing. Because she is. Let’s face it, we all are.

Motherhood is a hard, lonely journey. Maybe, just maybe, we can find it in our hearts to be kind to ourselves and remember that fact.

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