When Lauren Fortenberry’s son turned 1 year old, she strived to make his birthday party “Pinterest perfect.” In honor of the celebration — or maybe the photos that would be taken — she got her hair done, crafted an impressive banner made of children’s book covers, and served food “that hardly anyone ate,” she told Good Morning America. Six years later, Fortenberry shared a Facebook post reflecting on that party, and how far she has come as a mom since then. “I am a different parent now. I don’t want to just take pictures of my well-groomed children anymore. I want to experience the moment with them,” she wrote.
Fortenberry’s desire for the party to be flawless is representative of a larger, potentially unhealthy preoccupation. “Our society places a very high value on motherhood. Even for women who have high-powered careers, they may feel like their roles as mothers are more broadly valued,” Dr. Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Ohio State University, tells Thrive. “Thus, mothers may feel pressure to show that they are doing a great job as parents.”
But according to research, regularly taking to social media to seek validation and approval can backfire. A 2016 study by Schoppe-Sullivan looked at the link between social media usage and depressive symptoms among new mothers, and found that the most frequent posters on Facebook were the same moms who reported the most depressive symptoms at nine months postpartum. Ultimately, chasing perfection in motherhood leads to mostly negative consequences — including guilt and higher stress levels.
Some celebrities, who aren’t impervious to these challenges themselves, have started to speak out against the pressure moms feel to show the world they’re perfect. Chrissy Teigen, for instance, who is often celebrated for posting the less-glamorous moments of motherhood, says being real on social media has benefits all around: “As important as it is for people to see me do [those things], it’s also really important for me.”
Amazing things happen when you let go of perfection and start owning the messy reality of being a mom. People tend to notice “less stress from parenting, as well as improved mental health and better relationships with their children,” says Schoppe-Sullivan.
As for the birthday party pressure, you might take Fortenberry’s advice the next time around: “Ask yourself how you can really be present.” Maybe it’s putting down the camera or just ordering a simple cake and forgetting the Pinterest-worthy snacks. “Because being present, that’s what the kids want and what they remember.”
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