This Is Why I Write This Newsletter
"Only 16 percent of parents said that what they saw on social media helped them worry less about their parenting."
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Yesterday, the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital published the results of a national poll. Researchers interviewed parents of kids under 4 about their use of social media for parenting advice.
The survey found that most parents — 84 percent of moms and 69 percent of dads — turn to apps like Instagram and Facebook to get and discuss parenting tips. This is a huge increase from 2015, when only 56 percent of moms, and 34 percent of dads, turned to social media for such advice.
Here’s the thing that really struck me. The survey asked parents whether the advice they saw on social media made them worry less. Back in 2015, 62 percent of parents said that yes — online parenting advice helped them worry less. But in today’s poll, only 16 percent of parents said that what they saw on social media helped them worry less about their parenting. And I’m going to guess that for many parents, parenting content on social media actually makes them worry more.
I’ve talked here before about my belief that parenting advice on social media contributes to parental burnout. Research has identified three key components of parental burnout, one of which is feelings of incompetency. In a recent study, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with mothers who were suffering from parental burnout and concluded that “the fear of not being a good enough mother is central to the experience.”
With social media, it becomes a vicious cycle: Parents who worry they suck at parenting seek out advice on social media so they can do better, but this advice only fans the flames, making them feel even worse.
That’s because so much parenting advice is highly moralized and incorporates undercurrents of blame. It pushes the idea that good parenting requires complete cognitive and emotional investment. Plenty of monetary investment, too — not just in camps and extracurriculars and things like that, but in tools that will help parents become “more perfect.” The very same Instagram accounts that make mothers feel guilty happen to offer $250 workshops to help those moms address their various shortcomings. How convenient!
Making matters worse, few parents feel comfortable speaking out about the ridiculousness of these expectations and pressures, lest they be judged for not caring enough. In a 2018 study, researchers in Portugal analyzed Facebook posts and comments in four popular Portuguese parenting groups. They found that the parenting groups typically promoted the idea of “intensive mothering” and that mothers rarely felt comfortable sharing their reservations about this approach, or sharing their struggles with parenting in general.
The researchers went on to argue that the more accepted it becomes to question intensive parenting norms and to share “taboo” feelings, the healthier mothers will be. This shift, they wrote, “could transform motherhood into an experience which causes less anxiety and requires less effort.”
This is one of the key reasons I write this newsletter — to push back against fear-mongering parenting advice and to invite skepticism about the lies we’re being told. I believe this will alleviate parental exhaustion and burnout.
I hope that Is My Kid the Asshole? helps all of you feel more confident in your parenting. I also hope it makes you feel more comfortable questioning the unfair norms and pressures you encounter. In my Parenting Advice Hot Takes, I pick apart how and why popular parenting memes make parents feel bad about themselves — and why they are often unscientific and inaccurate — so that you can do the same when you inevitably encounter them yourselves.
I want this newsletter, and its community, to be a safe, supportive space for all parents, where we come together to reflect on the harmful and inaccurate messages we are all exposed to — and to share strategies that will actually make raising kids easier.
If you’ve encountered a piece of questionable parenting advice that you want me to address, please share it with me!