parent opinion

'As a first-time mother, following 'Insta-mums' wasn't helpful. It was toxic.'

With my firstborn being two years old, I’m still fairly new to this parenting gig

Having said that, I’ve done my fair share of everything that seems to be earning modern mums brownie points or bragging rights, like sleep training, self-soothing, baby-led weaning, not to mention perusing 87 different 'Insta-mum' pages to find the best Montessori-style activities for age-appropriate stimulation and learning. 

For the longest time, I did what I thought was a favour for myself and for the development of my daughter, and I followed every Instagram page I found with a large number of followers and bios that had family emojis, rainbows, the children’s names and ages - and oh, of course, the words ‘play based learning’ in capitals. 

 Watch: Be a "good" mum. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

Many of you would’ve heard the soundtrack that was trending on Instagram reels a while back; ‘Is this friends, are we friends? Oh you’re about to be my friend!’ 

That was me, every time I found a play-based learning blog with a child roughly the same age as my daughter. 

It was fun at first. I mean, there’s only so much you can teach a baby whose biggest accomplishment is learning to roll over. 

As she grew, however, so did the need I felt to live up to the standards these influencers were setting, and so began the constant questioning of whether or not the time I was spending with her was ‘good enough.’

Disclaimer: it was good enough. More than a year of my time with my daughter had passed by the time I drew this conclusion, but, parenting is not something to be learnt from people who use their mass following and visually appealing feeds as a springboard to throw their opinions out there, but then tell you to do what works for you. 

ADVERTISEMENT

What they don’t realise is, their strong online presence and images of happy and healthy kids only leave you to think; ‘Well, she must be doing something right.’ 

So when they say, ‘we’re introducing her to the alphabet by teaching her how to match letters with flash cards, but you know, we’re in no rush and every baby learns in their own time,’ for anxious and perfectionist first-time mothers like me, this translates to ‘if your child is this age or older and you haven’t done this, you’re falling behind.’

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for parents, This Glorious Mess. Post continues below.


To the first-time mothers out there, hear me out: whichever way you choose to raise your child, you are not falling behind.  

These influencers also often took (in my time of endorsing their content, anyway) to their Instagram stories about ways they held their children’s comfort above their own. 

Stories they posted at wee hours of the night with photos of them settling their babies did nothing to reassure a mother who wasn’t coping.

On the morning of a night I’d spent lying awake on her bedroom floor because my then 10-month-old would wake up at the slightest shuffle lest I leave, I remember staring at the tallboy in the nursery for minutes on end. 

I’d thought, ‘that’s where the perfect Insta-mum would’ve put a daybed and talked about it as the perfect solution to 'tough nights'.'

I’d then called the Karitane helpline and burst into tears to a stranger because my baby was still waking up every two hours like a newborn and I was now guilt ridden for wanting to sleep in my own bed and crumbling under the sleep deprivation. 

Lesson drawn: the place you choose for your night’s rest is not a measure of how much you love your child.  

Another thing Insta-mums had were playrooms bursting at the seams with Montessori toys more than half of their followers could probably not afford. 

I didn’t have room for that. I also struggled to justify spending, let’s say, $47 on a wooden scoop (note exaggeration for dramatic purposes) so she could learn how to transfer chickpeas or coloured rice from one wooden bowl to another.

I’d Google-search alternatives to that wooden scoop on thirteen different websites, all the while questioning my parenting just because I was mulling over the idea of something so mundane for so long. 

ADVERTISEMENT

And those tabs would sit on my computer’s browser until I was convinced my daughter was learning the same skills with the plastic measuring cups she’d found in the kitchen drawers. 

Whilst these influencers promoted the idea of bringing simplicity to the home and intervening as little as possible with the cues the child wants to take in her independent learning, they unconsciously left mothers under the impression that there was a ‘right’ way to play. 

And the products they used or were paid to promote dictated much of what playtime should look like in modern households. 

As a child, I went for walks to collect items I found on the streets for the setup I needed to ‘play house’ in our backyard. 

I flipped our bamboo furniture over and covered it with bedsheets to make forts in the living room - where we lived, there weren’t ‘play sofas’ they could’ve bought to save their living space from being (quite literally) overturned. 

So as a mother, I struggled to come to terms with why things that were supposed to be making a mother’s life easier and aiding a child’s learning and development were presented as (overpriced) novelties.

And again, I felt guilty for feeling this way. A tip I would’ve given my former self: there is no ‘right’ way to play.  

Not to mention, many of these Insta-mums promoting the Montessori lifestyle and homeschooling were teachers, but their ability to uphold this lifestyle partially due to their training was not discussed enough. 

For a first-time mum who had lost her job to the pandemic, was a fresh graduate trying to figure out how to start her career and having to navigate most of her journey through this alone, it was toxic. 

I felt crippled with worry that I was doing something wrong whenever I saw children on Instagram outperforming my daughter. I felt guilty for wanting to build a career as well as be a mum because on these pages, there seemed to be little room for both. If you wanted your child to flourish, your life needed to look a certain way.

Bottom line: it doesn’t. 

Feature Image: Supplied / Canva.