I vaguely remember the first two months of my daughters’ lives. Honestly. It truly is a blur when I think about the long days of feeding, napping, changing diapers, doing laundry and then more laundry, and shoving food in my mouth with one hand while holding the baby with the other. I resurfaced after the third month feeling semi-human with a regular six hours of sleep and a bathing routine (for me). I know that I’m not alone. During the paradoxical time marked by tears of joy and tears of exhaustion, there are myriad ways to cope. Watching TV episodes, calling on friends, and sleeping are some tactics shared by new mothers, but new research from The New Parents Project out of Ohio State University points to a surprising new coping mechanism: Facebook. Researchers were interested in studying the relationship between Facebook usage and the transition to parenthood. They found that while mommy is soothing baby with pacifiers and warm milk, Facebook is swaddling mommy in the warmth of a connected community of support. In this small study of 154 mothers and 150 fathers, 44 percent of new mothers said their Facebook use increased after giving birth, compared to 27 percent who said it decreased and 29 percent who said it stayed the same. What soothing qualities do new mothers glean from this online community that makes them want to visit more frequently?
Think back to the moment when reality set in and you realized that this baby was yours. For life. Unlike many other professions that provide internships and field experience to learn the ins and outs of the business, the few experiences that parents have pre-kids are carrying an egg around in a basket for a week or watching other people’s kids. In both cases, the child is not yours. For life. Many new mothers are filled with fear and anxiety as they face the great unkown. During this transitional phase new mothers want confirmation from friends and family that they are doing something right. They want to increase confidence and competence to raise a healthy child from day one. In that sense, researchers note that Facebook may be a way for new mothers to connect with friends and family and seek their support during a very stressful time. Since new mothers do not have the advantage of living in cooperative groups like our primal ancestors, they have adapted as social creatures by clicking a button on a website rather than grunting to someone in a cave. When that friend from college “likes” a comment or writes words of encouragement, it can make a new mother feel less lonely and isolated and normalize the process she is experiencing. The comments and likes also give new mothers feedback during the transitional time, which positively validates their new role. Both the mothers and fathers included in this study reported higher levels of satisfaction in their parenting role if they received comments on photos from friends and family on Facebook.
Mothers who used Facebook more frequently reported higher levels of parenting stress. Researchers note that there is insufficient data to show that using Facebook more often caused stress in new mothers, but it may be that mothers who experience higher levels of stress look for support on Facebook. Regardless, the fact remains that some new mothers use the online community to seek help by venting about frustrations. New mothers need to come up for air. Venting on Facebook provides the space to breathe fresh air and clear out the dust bunnies that cloud their thoughts. In essence, they create their own virtual support group of people who have been through similar experiences or empathize with them at a fragile moment in time. The status update becomes an online journal of struggles and stressors, which can be a healthy escape. Sharing thoughts and emotions through expressive writing leads to greater physical and mental health, so in some ways new mothers are building emotional resilience by sharing vulnerabilities and seeking feedback and support from others.
For more information on this topic I posed a question on my personal Facebook page and asked mothers how they escaped from the stress of being a new mom. Exercise, eating, sleeping, cleaning, organizing, connecting with friends, watching popular television series, window shopping at the mall, going to the grocery store alone and driving in the car were a few of the responses. Wherever you find your support, look for opportunities to connect to other people and share your experience. Vent about your frustrations and write. It will make you feel better. In the end, Confirmation and Ventilation may contribute to your overall well-being and lead to greater security in your new role as a mother.