Community and “IRL” Friendship Are the Cure for Comparison and Perfectionism

Our toddlers giggled and screeched at each other from across the table as we drank our coffees and chatted. We tried to shush them, but the people at the tables around us smiled and said “hi” to our toddlers. (“She’s precious,” one said to me as we left.)

In the last couple of weeks, my daughter and I have met up with other moms and their toddlers at coffee shops, and it’s been life-giving. I’m so happy to be making mom friends, and it’s also been a powerful reminder that the pristine photos of smiling, well-behaved toddlers I see on social media are only part of the story.

The Social Media Silo

My daughter is one and a half. She is sweet and friendly, so often full of smiles and giggles. She also sometimes shouts what I can only assume are toddler swear words, throws toys or food, and tries to run around in a public place. She’s a toddler. It’s normal.

But sometimes, even for someone with experience caring for toddlers, it can be hard to remember that it’s normal. Especially for a first-time mom, it can be hard to remember that every other mother deals with toddler temper tantrums and public meltdowns. It can be easy to see the highlight reels on social media and think that every other mother has it all together.

Which is why I was not surprised to see a Wall Street Journal article about a new study showing some evidence that the more time mothers spend on “mom-centric social media,” the higher their cortisol levels are. It’s a very small study of a pretty homogenous group of women, but I think any mom who spends time online can support the results with her own anecdotal evidence.

It’s why I unfollowed most parenting “experts” on social media soon after my daughter was born. Feeding accounts triggered the fear and guilt I felt from switching to formula after my traumatic breastfeeding experience. Sleep training accounts triggered anxieties over problems that we weren’t even experiencing. And the comments from moms whose insecurity led them to shame other moms in order to feel better about their own experience … well, it was a near occasion of sin for my own pride and anger.

I didn’t realize what a perfectionist I was until I became a mom. And I never struggled with comparison on social media until I could compare my own parenting journey with what I could see of other women’s.

Building Community

It’s practically a cliche at this point to say that social media is a highlight reel (although I am pleased that many of the moms I follow on Instagram are pretty vulnerable with their own struggles). Even the photos my husband and I take and save on our phones are typically of the cute, smiling moments. After all, who takes out their camera when their kid is having a meltdown?

There’s a place for social media, at least for me. But, as I continue to build “in real life” (IRL) friendships with other moms, I’m reminded of the importance of being in community, not just for fellowship but also as a reminder that no one is perfect. My mom friends and I are trying our best, and our children sometimes steal each other’s toys or shout or cry or otherwise act like toddlers.

One of my resolutions for 2023 is to be more intentional in planning playdates and get-togethers with the other moms in my life—the ones who live in town. As the Wall Street Journal article shows, we need each other. I challenge you to do the same. What’s one way you can nurture relationships with other people in the same stage of life as you? How can you start breaking down the walls of comparison that social media helps us to build? As you start a new year, take that first step toward a stronger community.

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