A mother dis­sects the ef­fects of dig­i­tal me­dia on par­ent­hood

In­ter­net moms have made rais­ing chil­dren in the dig­i­tal era a trick­ier ter­rain


It’s hu­man na­ture to com­plain, no mat­ter one’s cir­cum­stances. I of­ten catch my­self mid-whine, but for the sake of my in­ner peace, I try as much as pos­si­ble to bite my tongue first be­fore I get started on my com­plaints. After all, as a 31-yearold woman liv­ing quite com­fort­ably in a cul­tur­ally ad­vanced al­beit still pro­gress­ing city, I am part of the gen­er­a­tion en­joy­ing the ben­e­fits of what the women who came be­fore me have fought hard for.

Thanks to tech­nol­ogy, is­sues that used to take years, if not decades, to be brought to light can now be ex­posed and dis­cussed al­most overnight. It’s an era I can say I am blessed to be part of. De­spite its down­sides, tech­nol­ogy has proven to be a tool that is also ad­van­ta­geous.

In the realm of moth­er­hood, how­ever, the lines are not so clear. With the in­flux of in­for­ma­tion avail­able at my fin­ger­tips, even my most ob­scure ques­tions have an­swers on­line. Yet with this ac­ces­si­bil­ity comes the pres­sure to do more and be more.

Three years ago, after learn­ing of my preg­nancy, the joy I ini­tially shared with my hus­band turned to worry. I have anx­i­ety dis­or­der and it fu­eled my need to pre­pare for my then im­pend­ing moth­er­hood.

I scoured the web for fool­proof so­lu­tions and con­clu­sions from var­i­ous sources. Vac­cines, free play, baby-wear­ing,

breast­feed­ing, co-sleep­ing, gad­gets screen time, healthy di­ets, tantrums, dis­ci­pline, gen­der flu­id­ity—these were the key­words that filled my Google searches. With ev­ery search that led me to med­i­cal lit­er­a­ture and so­cial me­dia posts, there was this un­der­ly­ing feel­ing that I was in­ca­pable of do­ing what I was sup­posed to prop­erly, and that what other peo­ple had posted on­line were the hard truths. Yet with ev­ery click of the mouse, I’d find yet an­other set of stud­ies and opin­ions, and some­thing that I had felt so strongly about just min­utes be­fore would sud­denly sound ir­ra­tional.

Worse, with the in­flux of opin­ions, it felt as if moth­ers were be­ing de­manded to take sides. Are you breast- or bot­tle-feed­ing? Are you wear­ing your baby, or are you re­liant on your stroller and me­chan­i­cal sooth­ing de­vices? Do you practice “no tears,” or are you for the Fer­ber method? And the list goes on. Pos­i­tive re­views on a par­tic­u­lar practice are matched with equally ve­he­ment back­lash, with the judg­ment meted out be­hind the pro­tec­tion of anonymity.

I’ve since come to un­der­stand that com­plex­ity is the very na­ture of moth­er­hood. It’s such a com­pletely new ex­pe­ri­ence to first-time moth­ers that we can’t live through it by fol­low­ing to the let­ter other moth­ers’ tips or pub­lished guides. Add to that the re­spon­si­bil­ity of rais­ing a hu­man be­ing— not a ro­bot that comes with a man­ual, not some­thing we can just mold ac­cord­ing to our lik­ing.

It’s that fear that drives us to learn more, and once our ac­tions are val­i­dated by a healthy and happy baby, we are lulled into think­ing that we’ve done some­thing right that must be shared to those who now fear the same things we used to.

But of­ten, what­ever moth­er­hood the­ory we hold true is backed by clin­i­cal re­search. The dif­fer­ent paths ev­ery mother takes are sim­ply vari­a­tions headed to a com­mon goal. That’s a pill we can have a hard time swal­low­ing due to our psy­cho­log­i­cal wiring.

The in­ter­net com­pels us to cre­ate var­i­ous per­sonas: We’re able to show our best selves de­spite the prob­lems we face, yet we are also ca­pa­ble of spew­ing hate through our com­ments, com­pletely for­get­ting the ef­fects our words and ac­tions have on oth­ers. We now have opin­ions on vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing— and work­ing for a so­cial me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion has ex­posed me to the cra­zi­est ones, even those in­clud­ing death threats—be­cause tech­nol­ogy has made in­for­ma­tion we think to be true more ac­ces­si­ble. We value the facts that sup­port our core be­liefs— then use them to step on oth­ers’. We may feel we’ve be­come smarter, but es­pe­cially with the cloak of on­line anonymity, we’ve also lost our em­pa­thy.

Moth­er­hood isn’t im­mune to this, and it’s some­thing ev­ery mother has to re­mem­ber. As the wor­ries of par­ent­hood drive us to learn more, we must choose our sources wisely, work what we’ve learned into our own life­style, and see if the re­sult an­swers our chil­dren’s needs. As with ev­ery­thing, it helps to take things with a grain of salt, a gen­er­ous serv­ing of em­pa­thy, and the ac­cep­tance that mis­in­for­ma­tion can hap­pen even to the best of us. It’s the only way to stay a sane par­ent in the dig­i­tal age.

I’ve since come to un­der­stand that com­plex­ity is the very na­ture of moth­er­hood.

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