How Facebook mom groups can cause a lot of stress for women

When my husband and I were planning to move from Ohio to Chicago earlier this year with our six-month-old daughter, some mom friends suggested that I join local Facebook groups as part of my survey to determine the best day care centers, best doctors and so on and so on. As someone who often researches all possible outcomes before making a decision, I did as I was told.

What I soon learned, however, is that these Facebook Mothers’ groups were sometimes helpful, but often toxic. Helpful: Meeting a fellow mom who had recently moved into a building we were considering and was able to share firsthand knowledge of the neighborhood and nearby daycare. Toxic: heated arguments about whether to breastfeed or bottle feed; when and how to start sleep training; to send your child to a Montessori school or (gasp!) to a traditional one. There are so many conflicting opinions and advice, not to mention the trial for days! It’s enough to drive an anxious, sleep-deprived new mom crazy.

According to a new study from pepperdine university, the more time women spend in these mom-focused social media groups, the higher their cortisol or stress levels. Yes, it sounds fine.

The researchers recruited 125 new mothers; filtered out those who reported additional stressors, such as pregnancy, mental health problems, and substance abuse; and moved forward with 47 participants who were mostly white, college-educated, active on social media, and members of moms’ groups. More than half of the participants spent at least two hours a day on social networking sites, and 46.8% used mother-oriented social networks at least four times a day.

The mothers completed a four-day follow-up period, which included daily questionnaires and saliva samples to test their cortisol levels. The researchers later found that the cortisol spikes were likely due to “negative interactions with other moms on social networking sites and more time spent on these interactions.”

While I’m technically still a member of these Facebook groups, I only jump in when I need to find something and quickly leave. Occasionally I stay to watch the discussions, but always as an observer, never as a commentator, so that no one criticizes me for my parenting decisions. It doesn’t help that I’m often one of the few black moms, an experience Washington Post Helena Andrews-Dyer, a senior culture writer and author, takes a candid look in her latest book, The Moms: What I Learned About Kids, Class, and Breed From Moms Who Aren’t Like Me.

One of the Andrews-Dyer mom friends interviewed for the book described online mom groups as something for “soft-job/stay-at-home white women who make Goldfish crackers from scratch and decorate their front porches for every season.” I can’t say that she is wrong. It’s hard to miss a space that isn’t designed with me and my experiences in mind.

Instead, surprisingly I have found Twitter being the most helpful when it comes to finding parenting advice as a new mom as I often found myself tweeting into the abyss during those late night or early morning feedings wondering if this was normal or that was normal. I’ve had Twitter Moms, as I affectionately call them, give me (non-judgmental) advice on everything from sleep training to starting daycare.

I also found solace in my group text chats with two other new moms, both black, each of whom intentionally created the kind of online community we all crave. The kind of community these Facebook groups promise but, at least in my experience, rarely deliver, especially for moms like us. The usefulness of online mom groups depends on what you hope to get out of them and, as with most information on the internet, your ability to take everything with a grain of salt.

“My advice is for mothers to first decide if the online space is the best place to seek support, given their existing tendencies to compare and their existing interpersonal relationships,” says Dr. Lauren Amaro, an associate professor of communications at Pepperdine and a of the study researchers, says in a Press release.

“If a mom needs practical information (hey, Facebook group, which pediatricians do you recommend?), online mom groups can be a wealth of insight and advice, though it takes discernment. Whether it’s friendship or reduced feelings of isolation, some online mom groups can also be wonderfully encouraging places to make “real life” friends, but some aren’t. Moms should explore the culture of a group before participating. It is always worth asking why and what are you seeing.

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