I’ve been a mom for a while now. I became a mom in the early years of Instagram.
This was my first Instagram post.
The above was snapped when I was on maternity leave, coming out of the haze of those first weeks of parenthood. The dated 2012 filter effect is reminiscent of that time in my life. A little fuzzy, not light but not completely dark. Little did I know this new platform would spawn a new cultural sensation that would develop alongside me as I navigated motherhood: Momstagram.
Momstagram is the mom culture of Instagram.
My Relationship With Instagram
My entire career has been rooted in the crazy growth of social media platforms. I literally got my first office job because I had a Facebook account. I graduated college the year Facebook opened up access to everyone, not just people with verified college email addresses. So when I started my internship, I was the only person within arms reach that had a working knowledge of the platform. I was welcomed into the Marketing department with open arms. Since then, understanding the patterns and behaviors around social media and consumption has been a major component of my job.
Until recently, my interaction with Momstagram was mostly as a casual Instagramer and mom. Then last year I took a job at Sittercity, a platform that connects parents and sitters. Naturally, our core customer is moms—which had me diving headfirst into the deep waters of motherhood, projected through the filter of the platform.
After only a month of daily scrolling through a mom-only feed, my personal mom anxiety was at an all-time high.
Part of my job means having direct access to the brand Instagram account. Previous people in my position have followed over a thousand mom-centric Instragam accounts. Logging in means that the feed is filled to the brim with mom musings. After only a month of daily scrolling through a mom-only feed, my personal mom anxiety was at an all-time high. At the moment, I wasn’t able to quite pinpoint why, but once the need for me to log into the feed every day lessened, so did my mom anxiety. There had to be a correlation.
What is Momstagram Exactly?
First of all, there’s A LOT to Momstagram. Type #mom into the search bar of Instagram and there’s a seemingly endless scroll of options ranging from #momlife to #momworkout to #momguilt. These hashtags contain tens of millions of pieces of mom-related content. #Momblogger has nearly 6 million tagged posts alone.
Secondly, Momstagram is big business. The creation of Youtube set the stage for a ton of content to be created that had never been made before. Specifically, content for the gamer, beauty, and LGBTQ communities. What Youtube did for beauty experts and influencers, Instagram is doing for moms.
I am all for moms using the tools and systems they have to make money independently. Mirco-influencers (roughly defined someone with 10,000 to 50,000 followers) on the platform can command a few thousand dollars for a single post. Those with smaller followings can still make a few hundred dollars for a post or get access to free items in exchange for promotion.
There’s a cost to monetizing the concept of motherhood.
That said, there’s a cost to everything. There’s a cost to monetizing the concept of motherhood. It means taking one of the most personal parts of human existence and turning into a livelihood. That’s a tough spot to be in—for the creator and the audience.
I can’t speak to the experience of the creator. I’m not one. Although, I’m close to a few who have wrestled with the concept of “being in the moment” and “doing it for the ‘gram.” The lines have blurred so drastically, they struggle to turn off that part of themselves. They’re intertwined. It’s the new work/life balance struggle of the Instagram generation.
On the other hand, I can speak to the audience. Bottom line: it’s a complex relationship.
The Momstagram Viewing Experience
It’s wonderfully beautiful to see the shared experience of motherhood spanning different cultures and continents. There have been times that a mom, whom I’ve never met, has bared their soul on Instagram and it has made me feel less alone in my own experience. Parenthood can be an incredibly isolating experience. I will be forever grateful for the luxury of being able to tap into the digital motherhood hive when I need it most.
While my rational brain knows that Instagram does not equal reality, my monkey brain has a hard time disconnecting it. It believes what it sees.
However, the place that has buoyed me has also pushed me into the depths of feeling inadequate. How are these women constantly in perfectly matched outfits?
How are their kid’s parties flawlessly themed? How is their skin so glowing when I can barely manage the energy to wash my face some nights? It’s the images of the perfectly packed bento lunch box. The seemingly endless vacations. The perfect candids of “firsts.”
While my rational brain knows that Instagram does not equal reality, my monkey brain has a hard time disconnecting it. It believes what it sees. It believes the #goals are attainable.
But here’s the ultimate trick about Momstgram: you can choose your own adventure.
If the glossy mom posts become overwhelming you can easily jump into the “wine + whine mom” feed in a single tap. Instantly the narrative shifts into a space that runs on an undercurrent of mom rage. It’s filled with jabs and knock-out statements from women who feel overworked and underappreciated.
Instead of processing what I’m truly feeling, I fall down a rabbit hole of chasing what the most satisfying emotion is in that exact moment.
My feelings of inadequacy shift into anger. It can be a wild ride. It’s like an à la carte menu of feelings. Instead of processing what I’m truly feeling, I fall down a rabbit hole of chasing what the most satisfying emotion is in that exact moment. But the end of the rabbit hole almost always looks the same.
I exit way past the short time I had intentend to spend in the feed. My mood matches the blue dim light that the screen emits. I have, what I’ve dubbed, “screen brain.” It’s the thing I say kids have when they consume more content in a single sitting then they can truly handle.
When you have a screen brain, your eyes glaze over and you become sort of a zombie. Feelings are muted and you just stumble into the next activity. It’s not a good look.
What Broke the Spell
As with many things, it was my daughter calling me out. I was looking at my phone one evening and her frank “put your phone down, mom” broke me from the Instagram addiction spell. In that instant, we made a commitment to become screen-free in the evenings. That snap decision instantly cut my consumption of Momstagram drastically.
I noticed the difference almost immediately. Which if you’ve done any other sort of diet or cleanse, it usually takes a day or two to feel the difference. This Insta-diet has instant results. My anxiety decreased, my ability to concentrate increased, and my sleep the next night was great. After the immediate change, I worked to dwindle usage more.
The single biggest shift happened when I stopped making Instagram the first thing I looked at when I woke up.
It was shocking how easy it was to cut back. Since social media was linked directly to my job, I had convinced myself that I couldn’t cut back. I needed to be plugged in. But that mindset allowed the feed to creep into almost every moment of my downtime. I had become incapable of waking up, standing in line for coffee, or even at a stoplight without opening the feed. You know that metaphor of the frog boiling to death in a pot of water, despite having the ability and freedom to just jump out of the pot? That was me. The slow boil tricked me and had become nearly all-consuming.
The single biggest shift happened when I stopped making Instagram the first thing I looked at when I woke up. It had become so much of a habit that I thought it actually “helped” me wake up. But instead, it was kicking my brain into hyperdrive. Delivering images of perfect, unrealistic motherhood and/or snarky comments about how hard the mothering experience is before my I even started the day.
Life On the Other Side
Now that I’m on the other side of it, it’s abundantly clear Momstagram was the root cause of the rise in my mom anxiety. Now when I wake up I…drumroll, please…I open my eyes and just stare out the window for a few minutes. Naturally giving my thoughts a chance to formulate without outside influence. It has made a world of difference.
Today, I’m on a strict portion-control Momstagram diet. Only 30 mins a day in 2 sets of 15-minute intervals. My family is there to keep me honest and accountable. The new behavior has resulted in the balance of feeling supported by the beautiful community and feeling content more often than not with how I’m navigating my own mothering experience.
Every good thing in life demands moderation.