My column on HuffPost is the written counterpart to my weekly BBM Global Network and TuneIn radio show (Wednesdays 1pm), with which it shares a title, MD for Moms.
This article was originally published in HuffPost on 1/8/2016.
It starts with well-lighted, charming, week-by-week baby bump pictures all the way through pregnancy, moves into black and white pictures of newborns perched on their tearful mothers’ chests, mom and baby playing peek-a-boo on the grass, Alice in Wonderland first birthday parties with porcelain tea cups and Mad Hatter multi-tiered cakes, how-to’s for hand-print Thanksgiving turkeys and a baby using a heart-shaped toilet paper roll as a stamp for Valentine’s Day. This is modern motherhood at its best—fine tuned and curated through social media.
Striving to be the perfect mother is not a new phenomenon for women. Yet our generation is the first to contend with motherhood in the age of social media. Prior to the internet, motherhood was symbolized by well known TV characters like June Cleaver, Carol Brady, and Elyse Keaton. Today, these role-models have been replaced by armies of nondescript, unknown, nearly perfect—yet utterly iconic—mothers on comprehensive Pinterest pages. Type in motherhood, and board after board appears with beautiful images of attractive women holding smiling, bright-eyed, chubby babies or playing house, cooking, or throwing a ball outside with rosy-cheeked, robust children. Everyone is the picture of health, colors are vibrant, life is good.
These stock images represent what real moms wish parenting looked like. But rarely if ever is motherhood so sterile, clean, easy or pretty. Unfortunately, these pictures ultimately often function to instill a sense of failure, ineffectiveness and mediocrity. One study reported that social media causes anxiety for many people because it reinforces a sense of inferiority and causes negative changes in behavior such as feeling disconnected in relationships.
Instead of a supportive, real-time expression of a mother’s life, sites like Pinterest provide a Utopian motherhood, distilled through pictures, links, pithy sayings and overt how-to’s.
When you feel overwhelmed, with a to-do list longer than the hours in the day, the notion of planning and executing ‘easy’ meals seems great. Except when the easy, kid-friendly meals look neither easy nor like anything picky, vegetable-phobic children will eat.
Furthermore, the mother preparing the meals does not look like the harried, overworked, rushed woman many of us are, but instead like the woman we were before having children. This woman has her hair and makeup done; she manages to cook in her pristine white kitchen while wearing her baby in a sling, all the while smiling and looking fit in the process. She wears trendy clothes to highlight her figure and hide her ‘problem areas.’
But what’s so bad about presenting a positive image to the world? Many women have told me that they feel more isolated and alone when looking at images that seem diametrically opposed to their experience of motherhood and question themselves as mothers despite being day-in-day-out committed, loving moms.
In fact, I regularly see women who try to model what they see on social media and end up anxious and unhappy as a result. They become excessively worried about keeping their houses and their children clean, are overly focused on maintaining appearances, being on time for the next activity and overall providing the ‘perfect’ life for their kids and themselves. Their obsession with perfection gets in the way of appreciating the joys of motherhood.
Here’s the thing: No one’s life looks like the images on Pinterest boards and thank goodness. As a mom and physician who spends time with real moms all day long, I can confidently state that reality is much better than Pinterest.