Many people feel pressured to curate a specific image of themselves on social media based on what they see other people sharing. People with cystic fibrosis have shared how social media has had a negative effect on them. But social media can affect parents of children with CF negatively, too. I’m an example.
Parents Fall Into the Social Media Comparison Trap
Many parents of kids with CF with whom I’ve talked have felt isolated from the rest of the world as they stayed home with their newborns. They’ve mourned their old lives while watching friends post content that seemingly reflects their fun-filled lifestyles.
For parents of babies with cystic fibrosis, life is different from other new parents’ --there are more difficulties to figure out beyond learning how to care for a newborn (which is hard enough!): Enzymes, making sure your baby is getting enough milk/calories, nebulizer treatments, regular doctor’s appointments, monthly CF clinic appointments, weekly weight check-ins, the existential dread of germs … all while staying at home and scrolling through social media to pass the time. Having to face what my life looks like at the moment compared to the images and videos on my feed can eat me up.
Sitting at Home, Scrolling Instagram After My Son Was Born
Six years ago, I spent a lot of time breastfeeding or pumping, taking care of my baby with one hand, and scrolling Facebook or Instagram with the other -- every few hours throughout the day and night.
I would “like” photos from friends, real-life and social media “friends,” and influencers I followed. Prior to managing social media marketing for my children’s book series, I worked in social media marketing in Northern California’s wine industry, so I was often liking photos from various wine events -- events I used to attend, pre-child.
There I was, the new mom of a baby with CF who sometimes didn’t shower for a week, some days only leaving my house to go to the drive-through at Starbucks to get an iced dirty chai while my son slept in his car seat. And I was liking photos of smiling people in vineyards. Or pics of gourmet cheeseboards from top chefs in Sonoma and Napa. The jealousy and sadness hit me pretty quickly after my son was born.
I understood on some level that this was a phase and that someday I would be able to grab a glass of wine with my friends again. But that didn’t stop the negative thoughts -- especially ones about my life being different from other parents’ because my baby was “sick.”
Even pictures of kids’ birthday parties or cute kids on their first days of school would upset me. Because of having to be extra careful about germs, I didn’t know when it would be okay to start bringing my son to either of those events. My mind would go to worst-case scenarios, and social media was a catalyst for them, showing me a life that I wasn’t a part of anymore.
Social Media Has a Plus Side To It as Well
Saying “put your phone down” is too simple and, frankly, unrealistic, especially during those late-night feedings when scrolling through TikTok, Facebook, or Instagram can help pass the time. The idea that a parent can simply log off social media and not have those thoughts running through their head is naïve. Social media was also a way for me to stay connected while stuck at home. I could DM friends and stay in touch with family members who weren’t nearby. In fact, my son has a private Instagram account where I share all of his milestones. But that doesn’t mean that parents (or anyone, really) shouldn’t figure out ways to combat the parts of social media that make them feel bad about themselves.
Tips for Coping With Comparisons on Social Media
In her blog post, “Coping With Comparisons on Social Media When You Have CF,” Lauren Vignola, who is an adult with CF, writes about how she has to “rely on therapy, positive affirmations, and being kind to myself to preserve my mental health.” This advice applies to parents of kids with CF as well. With social media, being intentional about WHOM I follow is key.
If someone I follow -- even someone I know -- makes me feel poorly about myself, then I unfollow them on Facebook for 30 days or hit mute. They won’t know, and it helps my mental health in the long run to avoid seeing what they’re up to while I’m stuck at home.
Also, I try to remember that what I’m shown on social media is just a glimpse into someone else’s life. I don’t see the meltdown their child had before or after a photo was taken. Or an argument that two partners might have just had. Lives aren’t as tidy as they seem on Instagram, and it’s helpful to tell myself that to curb comparisons between the reality of my life and the veneer of someone else’s.
Support groups for new moms are all over Facebook. Ask other new parents to join you in a private Facebook group, or find one with moms in your situation. When my son was born, I joined a group for parents of babies with CF born in 2014 and 2015, and it was so helpful to vent and bounce ideas off other parents.
If you find yourself feeling sadder than usual, please connect with your child’s CF team; there are numerous mental health resources for you, your partner, and your child.
Cutting out social media is not a practical solution for most people, but you can use it as a tool to seek solace in others; just remind yourself that others’ posts do not provide the complete picture, and when you feel the need to scroll on social media, search out the funny dog or cat videos on TikTok to make you smile.
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