The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” takes on new meaning for millennial parents who turn to their peers online for counsel, as well as influence others’ parenting choices through this solicited advice. When your village is the Internet, that’s a lot of (often conflicting) advice, and that makes me wonder: Is crowdsourced parenting eroding our parental confidence?
Parents need external support
“They’re my best friends,” says Carpenter, who discusses parenting issues weekly over breakfast in Kansas City, Mo., with his trusted circle. Carpenter joined the group to get specific answers to specific questions (What should dads keep in their diaper bags? What do you do when there’s no changing table in the men’s room?). “Now that we’re going through the teenage years, we’re doing the same thing again with driving and dating and social media.”
The Internet can offer parents a supportive social network, “but we have to be really careful about the kinds of sources we’re looking to and be clear about whether it’s opinion-based or whether there’s some science behind it,” Miller says.
What looks like well-meaning advice may be masquerading as a humblebrag, with parents wanting to show off “how well their child has done this and that,” Scott says. It can leave parents feeling “less than,” she says, and with more questions than answers. “I don’t think it’s the intent, but it’s the effect.”
That’s why Samantha Gratton, a 32-year-old Raleigh, NC, mom of two kids, ages 5 and 3, always considers the source. “With anything, from thoughts on parenting to the pandemic, I’ve learned to pay attention to who I’m getting the opinions from. Is this their area of expertise, or did they also experience this same type of thing?”
Miller suggests tuning in to how an online community makes you feel. “When I leave this community, do I feel nourished, or do I feel fearful? If I leave feeling more nourished, then it’s preparing me to be more confident and capable in my parenting. If it’s leaving me more stressed and fearful, then I have to ask whether that really is doing the job of serving as a support of community for me.”
It gets complicated when parents start comparing themselves to other parents, which is so easy to do these days. There’s so much information, it can really create anxiety for caregivers, says Ulash Dunlap, a San Francisco-based family therapist. “It’s really impacting self-confidence in the decisions that they’re making, and they’re second-guessing themselves.”
Ask yourself: “Is this realistic for your lifestyle? Is this realistic for your circumstances? Because a lot of the information out there around breastfeeding or buying a stroller may not fit with our lifestyle,” Dunlap says, adding that conflicting advice can get parents down.
The solution? Dial down the noise. “Too many people in your village is like too many cooks in the kitchen. It can get really overwhelming,” Dunlap says. Instead, when you have the urge to ask everyone who is at your fingertips for advice, she suggests parents find two or three like-minded people to bounce ideas off, then make a list of pros and cons and set a deadline for deciding.
Scott concurs that parents should reduce the volume and says it’s possible to raise kids without overthinking, overstimulating and overparenting if you “use your instincts as your inner guide — and try not to make it too complicated.”
“We have to ground ourselves that we are making the best decision based on what our child needs right now,” says Dunlap. And, she adds, don’t look back.
A study on the relationship between personality and parental confidence in mothers of school-age children found that a confident mother not only trusts her instincts but is also comfortable soliciting and receiving advice when needed. In other words, confidence gives mothers the ability to take the advice that works for them and leave the rest.
“The inner should always inform the perception of the outer. In other words, have we deeply reflected on our core values? That’s something that comes from within. I think we always need to use that litmus test when looking outward for information,” says Miller, adding that looking outward is not inherently a problem.
She stresses that parents need to look inward every day to counterbalance outside influences. Before checking your phone in the morning, Miller advises grounding yourself with a daily dose of mindfulness. Carry your coffee outside, take a few deep breaths, and read a page or passage of a book that gives you some wisdom. Once centered, you can “take in advice, information and support in positive ways.”
Gratton, a freelance writer, keeps perspective top of mind. “Whenever a friend asks me a parenting question, I am really intentional to say ‘with my kids’ or ‘for us’ and make it clear that everyone is different in their approach, needs and outcomes. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to parenting, and it’s helpful to remind myself of that when I get overwhelmed.”
Jessica Runberg is a writer living in Phoenix. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaRunberg.