With clusters of moms and dads curating only the best parenting moments for social media, personal pages have become highlight reels for families. Daily feeds are inundated with pictures and posts about the successes, milestone achievements and advantages that today’s kids are experiencing, leaving parents with a new anxiety level about the job they’re doing at home. To some, social media and its amplification of reality can function as a constant reminder of self-imposed shortcomings, generating more questions than answers about how they are raising children.
“As a mother of two I can certainly relate and speak to the overwhelming influence that social media has had on my experience as a parent,” says Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. mom Sarah Finn. “I am admittedly a perfectionist by nature. My perfectionism isn't driven by the need for approval or recognition from others, but rather, it is an internal pressure I impose on myself, which is definitely amplified by the influence of social media.
“My impression of what a good parent looks like has been significantly fuelled and reinforced by the photos, comments, links and articles that flood my news feed on a daily basis,” Sarah says. “For someone like me, who is constantly ‘should-ing’ all over myself, having a constant feed of suggestions as to what I should be doing can create more harm than good.”
Calgary father of two Anthony Ricci says he actively avoids engaging in Facebook parenting groups, with the primary motive being his outlook on some members. “Many parents think that child-raising is a competition,” he says, admitting that as a new father he was initially drawn to pitting his parenting against other’s online. “Early on there was some pressure I felt [through social media] to enroll my son in every activity possible. After talking it out with friends, and another year of maturing as a parent of two children, I feel less and less societal pressure to raise my kids a certain way.”
So, is all of this online social comparison bad? What is the deeper consequence of social media in modern parenting beyond keystroke connections and simple sharing?
According to social media psychologist and Psychology Today contributor, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, online social comparison can function positively or negatively for parents. And how parents filter information into their lives plays an essential role in determining the impact of social media on their parenting.
Dr. Rutledge explains that taking in information online about the experiences of other parents and comparing them to your own can help lay a social foundation among new peers with children. “Things like social comparisons are normal as it is essential to our physical and psychological well-being to be able to navigate the social environment effectively.” In other words, if one is to successfully co-exist with fellow parents it’s good to have a road map. Moms and dads leverage information to better relationships and gain useful insight into what works and doesn’t work for other parents.
Comparing yourself through Facebook or Instagram becomes problematic when you take cues from other parents for selfish reasons. “It gets complicated when parents want to be seen as a good parent by their social groups,” says Dr.Rutledge. When you give in to FOMO parenting and act to level your child’s experiences with that of other children for external gratification, rather than the well-being of your child, you can lose your authority and make misguided family decisions.
It’s normal and understandable to want to be viewed as a good parent by peers. Acknowledgment reinforces success in an important job that takes time, patience and love. But social media and the volume of information available have skewed the reality of what makes a good and successful parent. “Social media can apply pressure when people want to make sure their children have ‘all the advantages’,” says Dr. Rutledge. Because of this, parents become extra sensitive to what others are doing to ensure their kids aren’t left behind. “As usual, people are creating a new level of worries on top of all the other anxieties we have every day,” adds Dr. Rutledge. “Now when people get information – however they receive it, on or offline – they have to consider if they are giving into FOMO parenting [if and when they act on it].”
And here’s my two cents: This current era is one of easily accessible information and sharing. And in the whirlwind uncertainty of parenting it is alluring to search externally for a beacon to help navigate the uncharted adventures that loom ahead. Although it’s reassuring to study other’s parenting maps, it is essential to rely on your own compass to guide parenting decisions.
Remember that people are in control of the information they publish online. Don’t believe the hype. Parenting is complicated, and every success is preceded by challenge. This is what makes parenting difficult and rewarding at the same time. Take the parenting experiences of others for what they are; other’s parenting experiences. Filter out the urges to FOMO parent and follow what’s posted online. Take in what’s useful and consciously make your decisions for your family: not for anyone else.
A good parent to one child looks different than a good parent to another. There is no universal blueprint. There is no true measurable level of perfection. But outside of these variances in parenting approaches, a successful parent is one who is present and makes an honest effort.
Your friend’s kids may be having experiences that yours aren’t. Who cares? If you focus on that, instead of taking the cues from your own kids, you will be the one who is missing out.
Mathew Lajoie is a freelance writer and creator of YOUAREdadTOme.com. He enjoys being active and spending time outdoors with his wife and son.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Spring 2017.