Why Are Mom Influencers and Online Mom Groups So Toxic?
Raising little humans is hard. While this brand-new experience is filled with tremendous moments of joy, it also includes an endless array of ever-changing hurdles. This leads many new moms to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram with the hope of finding solace and support in mommy groups.
Unfortunately, while some online communities are helpful and accepting of others’ differences, other parenting groups tend to be a pulpit for shaming those who don’t conform to the other member’s beliefs.
Due to these ugly interactions, “23% of moms on social media say social media has had a negative impact on their emotional well-being [and] 49% of moms on social media say they have decided not to post, share, or comment on social media because they worried others would judge.”
We take a look at why some online mom groups are so toxic and how to find a positive outlet filled with encouragement and constructive advice.
What are Facebook Mom Groups?
For those who are new to the parenting world and find themselves without a personal group of mom friends to turn to when they need to vent or seek advice, there are an array of private groups on Facebook that provide these opportunities virtually. These platforms are also a great way for new mamas to connect and meet up with other moms in real life.
Why are these groups so popular? Moms are busy! Research shows that a whopping “81% of U.S. moms on social media use Facebook compared to 61% of the total U.S. population. [Additionally, 35% say that] social media is [their] main connection to the outside world.”
Social media is an easy way to obtain almost instant information and build relationships with those in similar situations much quicker than in real life. This was especially true at the beginning of the pandemic when social distancing became necessary. Sadly though, while the intent of these groups is genuine, if you join one that does not have a moderator, you may find that certain posts become forums filled with hate and misinformation.
Why Facebook Mom Groups Can Be So Toxic
As all parents know, there are certain topics that tend to strike up immediate debate — breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, co-sleeping, homeschooling, vaccinations, discipline methods, and how to give birth — to name a few.
Thus, what starts as an innocent question turns into a collection of hateful and judgmental commentary, all because someone thinks that their way of doing things is right.
This scenario can be extremely detrimental to the mental health and well-being of anyone, especially postpartum moms who are already struggling to adjust to their new normal as well as working and single moms who are trying to do it all.
Mom Influencers and Instagram Can Have the Same Effect
The negative impact of social media is only exacerbated by unrealistic posts made by influencer moms who share images of their picture-perfect moments. Upon seeing this person’s beautifully styled hair, their put-together and well-behaved toddler, and their pristine home, it can be easy to feel like a failure in your chaotic life.
Let’s be clear — people don’t post the spit-up, the temper tantrums, or the sleepless nights. However, despite knowing this, these flawless portrayals put pressure on moms to achieve the impossible. This can cause feelings of shame, guilt, and self-doubt.
In fact, researchers have found that “the relationship between anxiety and online engagement with InstaMums—mothers made famous by Instagram—was moderated by both social comparison orientation [(the inclination to compare oneself to others)] and self-esteem.
Engagement with InstaMums was associated with greater anxiety in those with higher social comparison orientation; it was also associated with greater anxiety in those with lower self-esteem.”
How to Find the Right Mom Group
The right mom group will be different for every person. Why? Every person parents differently. Therefore, what works for a friend or family member, may not meld with your general viewpoints and beliefs. Therefore, it is important to consider these topics in order to find the option that is best suited for you.
Determine What You Want Out of the Experience
First and foremost, ask yourself why you want to join a mom group. This simple question can help you to narrow down your search and ensure that you get the most out of the experience. Here are some of the top reasons why a mom group might be beneficial for you.
1. To Meet Other Moms in Your Area
Not only are there individual groups for specific cities, but there are also ones for different churches and neighborhoods. These can be great places to find out about local family events and kid-friendly establishments in your region.
Consider if you want to be face-to-face with other human beings or if you want this to only be a virtual experience.
2. To Gain Helpful Parenting Advice
If this is your purpose for joining, then ask yourself if there are specific topics that you want to learn about or if you are hoping to cover a handful of subjects.
There are mom groups that are centered around sleeping, eating, breastfeeding, education, recipe sharing, and even product recommendations. Choose the groups that cater to your specific wants and needs.
3. To Make Friends with Other Moms
When searching for mom groups with the intent of building relationships, it is important to think about your life. Are you a stay-at-home mom or a working mom? Are your kids young or are they in their teens? Do your kids play sports or are they into music? Do you love to work out or are you a craft queen? You will be surprised at how many groups are tailored toward these specific hobbies and lifestyles.
Look For Groups That Review and Moderate Their Content
Anyone can make a Facebook page. When it comes to finding a positive space, it is important to be selective. Most online communities that value their members have admins that review and approve posts before they are displayed.
They also provide a set of rules that must be acknowledged before you can be accepted into the group. Additionally, if these guidelines are not followed, the offenders are removed as a member. These types of checks and balances help to guarantee that a platform is a peaceful place for discourse.
Take Social Media Breaks for Your Mental Health
Facebook and Instagram are known for their mean-girl moms and the over-idealistic images that place undue pressure on mothers to parent perfectly. If you find yourself feeling the negative effects of these social media platforms, consider switching to options like Pinterest (which is used by 63% of U.S. moms) as well as messaging applications like Snapchat or WhatsApp.
Then, when you meet other moms in your community, you can add them to your friends list. This allows you to check in with actual people instead of a hoard of potential internet trolls.
Additionally, TikTok can be another great space for finding relatable content. This video-hosting service has an array of parenting TikToks, many of which highlight the struggles and failures that we all face. Best of all, you can follow specific account holders and block the ones that you find hurtful.
Important Things to Remember When Using Social Media
While social media can be a fantastic outlet for information, it is always important to do your own research.
1. Don't Believe Everything You Read
Just because a mom in New York City raves about an infant floor seat, doesn’t mean that it is actually safe for your child to use.
In reality, many parents don’t realize that these products are not recommended by pediatric physical therapists because they put a baby’s pelvis into a posterior pelvic tilt, which can harm their spinal development!
Do your due diligence! Take the advice that you have been given and then confirm that what you have been told is correct. If you find scientific studies that support the information, then move forward with the guidance you received. If not, then disregard what Facebook told you.
2. Don't Compare Your Situation to Others
Every baby develops differently! Just because an influencer’s child started talking at the age of one doesn’t mean that your baby, who is beginning to find their words at two, is anything less than perfect.
Also, remember that every parent is different. No matter if you choose to breast or bottle feed, you are doing a spectacular job!
While it is hard, try not to compare yourself or your baby to others. Don’t take every attack personally, as hard as that is to do.
Instead, focus on your baby’s amazing accomplishments. They will get to those development milestones when they are ready.
3. Ask Questions and Interpret Answers Carefully
Furthermore, think before you type. The biggest problem with social media is that the commentary comes with a lack of non-verbal cues. Research shows that “communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% words only.” Without these first two components, it is extremely important to watch how you word things and to take comments with a very large grain of salt. What may seem like an attack could actually be a simple comment.
Not only that, but try to stray away from touchy subjects. If you have a question about vaccines, talk to your pediatrician or a personal friend who is a doctor. If you want advice about breastfeeding, reach out to a lactation specialist at the hospital where you gave birth. This can prevent a lot of unnecessary arguments on a platform where everyone has an opinion.
Lastly, give yourself some grace. It is easy for an outsider to look in and only see part of the picture. We all have struggles and not every baby is easy. In the end, we are all just trying to make it through the day and we need to learn to lift each other up in the rough-and-tumble moments of life.
4. Put Human Interactions Above Virtual Ones
Some of the best ways to meet other moms and to build a mom group is to get out and introduce yourself. Most large communities have MOPS groups, which are a wonderful place to meet other mothers in your area.
Additionally, enroll your toddler in group activities like swim lessons, soccer, and music classes. These are fantastic opportunities for your child to learn and socialize with other kids as well as for you to meet other moms.
5. Connect with Other Moms Online AND in Real Life
Finally, use Facebook for what it is intended for — to build connections. Find other like-minded mums and then unplug once relationships are made! You can always pop back on to snag product recommendations and easy recipe ideas, but try to avoid controversial posts. Your mental health and wellness should always be the most important thing.
For more information on balancing mental health and mom life, see our essay: Should You Feel Guilty if You Hate Being a Mom?