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Coping with images of successful parenting

We all do it. We browse various social media sites, we look at people in the same life stages as us, and we make comparisons. We believe what we see. When we become parents we are no different. When friends or celebrities post pictures and write about how marvellous they feel, how amazing their LO is, how quickly they have got back to exercising, we often forget that this is not the whole picture.

Think back to a time when you posted about how great something was on Social Media. You used the perfect photograph that captures the essence of the point you are making or the moment you want to share. Did you use filters? Did you feel like that the whole day? Was the picture a visual reality of the experience? Or were you projecting a persona, wanting to believe yourself about a wonderful time and maybe deleting some information that would have made the post much more ordinary? Did you post again 10 minutes later when something had not gone so well?

My suspicion is that like me you put out on social media the version of you that you would prefer people to know and see. The person you want people to know. We don't put on social media all the thoughts that run through our heads, our worries and deepest anxieties, or the pictures of grey skies and less than perfect selfies - not unless the point is to show how brave we are to post a photo with no make-up or the like.

And yet when it comes to viewing other people's lives through the window of social media we forget that they, also, are filtering what they share and manipulate how we perceive them. The celebrity mum who has it all together and is back to her pre-baby body within 2 months? How much has she invested in the personal trainer and nutritionist to keep her on track and motivate her? How much childcare support has she bought in to enable the work it takes to force the body back into shape? What is going on in private that you can have no idea about?

It's not just celebrities either. We are often shown images of parenthood through TV programs and magazines and compare ourselves and our babies to people we know. Strangely in TV dramas and sitcoms, when a baby is born the parents are mostly back to functioning as their characters were pre-pregnancy and babies appear to be so easy to manage it's no wonder that our expectations of parenthood can be a little off the mark.

Social media is a brilliant way to stay connected to the world but it is often a world distorted by filters and ideals and caricatures of who people really are. When I view posts on social media and start making comparisons I check myself - step back from the feelings of failure or envy and focus on "what else?" What else am I not seeing? What else is going on in this person's life? What else could this post be telling me?

Sometimes when I see posts of successful parenting I try and imagine everything about the life I'm being shown and create this fantasy perfect life for this person based on the fragment of information I have seen. Stay with me - I think this is possibly something we can all do to an extent but the crucial thing is not to stop there. Nobody's life is perfect, sometimes we are very content, it is true, but if everything was perfect there would be nothing left to strive for, to learn for, to be alive for. So after you have imagined this perfect life you need to start adding in some realism. What else could be happening? Maybe they are turned to the side in a photo to hide a giant zit. Maybe this is the only moment in the whole day in which their baby smiled, or slept. Maybe they have only posted about how amazing their day is because they are feeling crippling loneliness and by receiving likes and comments about how amazing they are they find the strength to get through another day.

When you are struggling with feelings of inadequacy, especially from being bombarded with images of parents who seem to be able to do it all, take a moment to write down or even draw what it is you are feeling. So often we hold onto these thoughts; we may try and block them out or ignore them but they still have an impact on us. By writing or putting a representation of what we are feeling on paper it gives us an opportunity to examine it more. It loses its power and your mind is able to be relieved from the battle.

You could also try a few minutes of focusing on your breathe. Notice how the breathe feels as it enters your body, follow it's path into your lungs and then follow the path back out. Do this several times. If thoughts come into your head, let them. acknowledge them, and then let them go. If you find you have stopped following your breathe and your mind has wandered that's OK. Just bring your focus back to your breathing. Notice how your chest rises and falls. Notice how it feels to be still and in this present moment. Anything else can wait. You are everything your baby needs you to be. They are developing just as they are supposed to be.

If you find that looking at social media or other images of parenting which are making you feel that you are not good enough the perhaps it is time to recognise that it is social media that is not good enough at giving you the support you need to be the parent you are. Maybe you could record your journey just for yourself for now, without sharing on social media and exposing yourself to images which are having a negative impact on you right now.

Try talking to someone real. Someone who will be honest with you and listen to you. Someone who is there for you. If you are worried about how you are feeling then please do get in touch with a professional such as a midwife or health visitor or your GP as PND is common and very treatable.

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