Mindful social media and parenting
Recently there has been an explosion on social media of videos and images that give us insight into how other people parent their children. Never have parents had an opportunity to look inside other people’s homes and access to so much information about parenting. Social media can connect parents to like-minded people for support and information that may help them to manage their own emotions and normalise the challenges that come with parenting (thus, contributing to the development of empathy, acceptance, and compassion for themselves and their children). However, the constant stream of information can also have some negative connotations for parents, often increasing the risk of comparison (and a negative judgment of self or child).
Whether it’s about wellness, labour, parenting, discipline, postpartum mental health issues, play or relationships there is lots of information on social media. Some of it is well thought out, respectful and researched. Some of it comes from people with lived experiences – which we know can add to our understanding of some topics; and can also give a voice to people who might otherwise not have opportunity to talk about their experiences.
But, in some cases the information and accounts can be ill informed, inflammatory, and possibly damaging. This is particularly the case for women (and men) in the preconception and perinatal period. During this period many people already experience sleeplessness, worry and high levels of vulnerability. While this is a universal experience, social media can make matters worse during this period as people are susceptible to the influence of posts that might be untrue or highly curated (creating unrealistic expectations).
If we consider a new mum with maternity pads and leaky boobs looking at Instagram and seeing a perfect image, it is easy to guess how this might negatively affect them. Seeing these highlights could lead to feelings of failure, inadequacy or like they are lacking in some way. Seeing images of women “getting their bodies back”, breastfeeding easily, having a dream birth experience, or having a perfect house can create some mental comparisons which are often unhelpful.
While we know these things logically, it can be hard to remember to cast a critical eye over social media posts while scrolling. So, it is important to think about how to be more mindful and deliberate in the content that that we consume.
Here are some tips for ensuring that you are using social media in a way that is helpful and protects your own mental health:
Next time you are looking through social media think about how the posts make you feel- does someone’s parenting/house/body make you feel inadequate or a failure? Do you find yourself comparing to them or their content frequently even when you are offline? Is it an account that you want to continue to follow?
Mindful scrolling: sometimes we get swept up in mind-numbing scrolling on social media. To make it a more deliberate and mindful action here are some tips:
Consider your intentions. Before you open the app, think about what you want to do on social media at that time- is to see what others are doing? Connect with a friend? Change who you follow?
Be present. As you scroll through your feed, practice being present in the moment.
Don't just scroll, interact with friends or family on social media.
Avoid engaging with negative or inflammatory posts- the keyboard warriors can really get under our skin so it’s best to unfollow and not hook into the messages.
If you are unsure of whether a message is positive or helpful you can ask these questions:
Who created this message?
What is their motivation?
Who benefits from this message?
Whose voice is excluded from this message.
Seek out accounts that help to normalise the challenges of parenting or provide information that is up-to-date and accurate. Here is a list of Instagram accounts that are positive, hopeful, and realistic:
@mumsmatterpsychology (of course!)
@missconceptioncoach (about difficulties conceiving in particular)
@kids.eat.in.color (about eating habits for children by a nutritionist)
Using social media to connect with friends, and get support during challenging times can be very beneficial. If we use these opportunities in a mindful and deliberate way it can change our entire relationship with social media.