Comparison and Self Esteem in Motherhood

Motherhood is HARD, and today motherhood is made even harder by the impact of social media and how easy these platforms make it to compare ourselves to others.

In This Article

  1. Motherhood is HARD
  2. You Are Not Alone
  3. Breaking the Cycle of Comparison
  4. Managing Our Anxieties and Depression in the Trenches of Motherhood
  5. Sources


About the Author

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Lexie Trudeau is a Christian Counselor specializing in post-partum depression, as well as anxiety and depression. You can schedule an appointment with Lexie for online counseling or in-person at our Pensacola – Navarre, FL office.


Comparison and Self Esteem in Motherhood

There really are not words that can adequately describe the shift into motherhood. In an instant our bodies become foreign to us, unfolded laundry or unanswered work emails become the least of our problems, and our thoughts of planning date nights or dreaming about our next vacation are quickly replaced with worrying about the ingredient labels on cans of formula or how much breastmilk our infant is getting. No matter what season of motherhood we are in we can’t seem to stop thinking about whether or not our child is getting enough sleep, enough play, enough food, enough stimulation, or enough love.

We scroll on social media looking for answers to our questions but find ourselves fixated on our friends posts of their perfectly organized playrooms with only the most educational toys, we see their toddlers lunch plate with a star-shaped PB&J and organic fruits and vegetables from their morning trip to the farmers market, we notice our friend who just had a baby 3 weeks ago wearing the same jeans she wore in high school, or that our college roommates child got a full scholarship to the university of his dreams. In our searching for camaraderie in the trenches of newborns or toddlers or teenagers, it seems we start to think- “Am I enough?”. Motherhood is HARD, and today motherhood is made even harder by the impact of social media and how easy these platforms make it to compare ourselves to others.

Have you found yourself thinking:

  • Why is this so hard for me and not for her?
  • Maybe I’m not cut out for this.
  • How come I can’t seem to do things as well as she can?
  • Am I failing my child/children?
  • What if I am messing my kid/s up?
  • I am the only one who is struggling.

You are not alone.

Studies that have been done on motherhood and the influence of social media have shown that though social media can be a useful tool for us to get our questions answered and allow us to feel connected, a majority of mothers notice their mental health is impacted in a negative way when they get lost in comparison. Mothers who spend time comparing themselves to others on social media tend to feel less competent and more burnt out by their role as a mom.  It has been shown that the impact of comparison can even lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety (Journal of Social and Clinical psychology, 2018) .

It can be really difficult to wade through the noise on social media and learn to use these platforms as a resource for connection rather than a means to compare ourselves to others. In this article we are going to list some practical tips for dealing with the cycle of comparison as it relates to social media, and how to cope with anxiety or depression.

How can we break the cycle of comparison in our social media use?

1. Remember that social media is a highlight reel, not reality.

When scrolling through social media it’s so important for us to realize that we are only getting a small glimpse of someone’s life, not the real deal. Behind that perfectly curated photo of their child’s lunch plate might be a whole mess of dishes in the sink, cheeze-itz for breakfast, and a toddler who just tossed that beautiful plate on the floor. Think about your social media posts- if we ask ourselves whether we tend to post our failures and chaotic moments or our victories, I would venture to say that the majority of us can identify that the highlights of our life are what tend to make it on to our newsfeed. In the same way, we need to keep ourselves grounded in the understanding that what we see from others are usually only their best moments, not the whole story.

2. Clean up your feed.

Give yourself the permission to unfollow or unfriend accounts that leave you feeling down. Do you notice that when you see posts from a certain influencer or account you almost always find yourself comparing or feeling low? Allow yourself the freedom to remove these accounts from your platforms. If you’re struggling with this because these posts come from someone you are close with, many social media platforms have the option of “silencing” an account or turning off notifications from a specific user- an option like this might allow you to avoid these posts until you are in a season to view them without the pressure of comparison.

3. Set boundaries with social media use

It’s so easy to use social media as a distraction from the stress we are experiencing in our day to do lives. Sometimes it’s easier to pick up our phone and scroll through Instagram or Facebook rather than acknowledge our emotional experience or face the chaos before us. One of the most practical ways to manage this is to be aware of and set boundaries for our time on social media. There are many Apps that exist that can help you keep track of time spent scrolling through social networking sites, such as Moment, Offtime, and AppDetox. If using an app isn’t possible for you, consider setting a timer while you scroll. Once you’ve reached the limit set by your timer, close the app you’re using out and put the phone down.

How can I practically manage anxiety or depression in the trenches of motherhood?

1. Know the symptoms

Symptoms of anxiety and depression are very common among mothers. In one study, it was found that 35% of mothers surveyed identified symptoms of postpartum depression, and 18% identified symptoms of postpartum anxiety (Journal of Women’s Health, 2013).

Common symptoms of Anxiety can include but are not limited to:

    • Constant worry/racing thoughts
    • Unexplained fatigue
    • Sleep disruption
    • Irritability
    • Feelings of dread
    • Shakiness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Muscle tension

Common symptoms of Depression can include but are not limited to:

    • Feelings of guilt/worthlessness
    • Loss of interest in usual activities
    • Weight and appetite changes
    • Thoughts of death or suicide
    • Changes in sleep habits
    • Feelings of hopelessness
    • Persistent feelings of “emptiness”
    • Irritability
    • Unexplained pain

Just because these symptoms are common, does not mean feeling this way should be considered the “standard”. If you or someone you know are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s necessary to inform a medical health professional and seek care.

2. Create margin and set intentional time for self-care

Taking care of ourselves is extremely important while we are raising children. Oftentimes, society leads mothers to believe taking care of themselves is selfish, making mothers feel as though they are “less than” if they take time away from their children. The definition of self-care according to Webster is: the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s mental health. It’s important to remember that we cannot care well for others if we are running on empty and our own mental health is poor. Setting intentional rhythms for self-care ultimately lead to us being happier and healthier, and therefore allow us to enjoy our children even more! These rhythms can be as simple as waking up 20 minutes early to get some quiet time in the morning, going on a walk and listening to your favorite songs, or making sure you are eating and sleeping enough. If your resources allow, set a date every few weeks to get a sitter and catch up with friends, or participate in an activity you love but may not always get to do. Putting these events on a calendar or creating a routine that includes small amounts of margin in your day to care well for yourself can make a tremendous difference in your mental health.

3. Reach for connection and talk it through

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, or are feeling the burden of comparison through social media, reach out for help. Talk to someone about what you’re experiencing, and consider seeing a mental health professional for support. There are counselors who are experienced in postpartum mental health disorders, or anxiety and depression, who can help you on your journey toward health and wellness. In addition, it is important to talk to your doctor as medical interventions such as medications can be tremendously helpful for mothers experiencing these symptoms.

Being a parent is a beautiful gift, but it is not easy- especially in this day and age where social media comparisons are rampant. You are valuable and worthy of help and understanding, and you do not need to do this on your own.

Article Resources:

  • Farr, S., Dietz, P., O’Hara, M., Burley, K., Ko, Y. Postpartum anxiety and comorbid depression in a population-based sample of women. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2014 Feb;23(2):120-8.
  • Tricia Padoa, David Berle, and Lynette Roberts (2018). Comparative Social Media Use and the Mental Health of Mothers With High Levels of Perfectionism. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Vol. 37, No. 7, pp. 514-535.

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