Slaying the Mom-Envy Monster

For those of us who spend a healthy amount time every day perusing social media (and by “healthy” I mean “unhealthy,” and by “perusing” I mean “stalking”), dealing with the inevitable pangs of envy is par for the course.

Oh, you never feel jealous? Ever? No FOMO? No kitchen-envy? You never think “damn, I really need to start crafting/cooking/reading more sophisticated chapter books with my children?” You don’t wish your captions were as funny, or that you were as good at taking flattering photographs of your kids, whom you’d really love to be better dressed and whose rooms you wish were better-decorated and more organized?

Well congratulations to you and your magic robot emotions, and thanks for giving me yet another person to envy!

It is not news that the hyper-curated, often staged nature of social media posts can have negative emotional effects on of mere mortals, causing us to feel inadequate, inferior or both. Exhausted, hormonal mothers, already susceptible to self-doubt, are perhaps most vulnerable, but even non-exhausted, non-hormonal mothers are easy targets, given the way motherhood can render even the toughest and most confident among us insecure, raw and exposed.

So, then. How do we protect ourselves from wanting to throw either our phones or ourselves out a window after a nice, long session of scrolling through the perfect lives of others?

Let’s start with the obvious: just as the best way to protect against chlamydia is to keep your pants on, the most effective way to prevent against social media-generated angst spirals is to abstain. Instagram can’t make you feel bad if you don’t open it. Set limits for yourself, or take it off your phone entirely if you need to. Either way, treat social media like a carb and exercise some self control.

If you’re not willing or able to abstain entirely, please practice safe social media-ing. Below are some strategies to help you enjoy the good while keeping the bad in check.

  • Follow Wisely. In the same way that everyone (EVERYONE!) curates their own Instagram posts, carefully curate the list of people you follow. It’s tough to keep perspective when your feed is full of people who – in many cases – are literally paid to make their lives look as perfect as possible, so first thing’s first: unfollow. Do your best to make your social media feeds mirror your actual life — i.e let them consist of Real Friends with whom you ostensibly have Real Relationships (plus a select group of celebrities, duh, or platforms/companies that you can clearly separate from your own reality because you recognize their inherently promotional or commercial nature). Your feed should sync up with your life — such that your friend’s new baby, pictured on Instagram in his gorgeous nursery, should not make you any more jealous than you felt while holding him in said nursery.
  • See It With Your Own Eyes. Unfiltered. OK, so your friend’s kids always look so happy and cute and well-behaved, and you’d kill for her living room wallpaper? Go to her house. Then you will immediately see that her kids are just as annoying and their noses are just as drippy as your kids’. You’ll also notice that the wallpaper distracts from an un-vacuumed rug that’s covered in toys. And I bet her baseboards are filthy!
  • Motivate! Turn envy into inspiration. If you’re getting jealous seeing all the fun places your friends are taking their kids, close your Instagram app and open your Google one to find a cool exhibit to take your own children to this weekend. Your friend’s house always looks way cleaner than yours? Clean your house.
  • Be Self-Aware. Look at your own feed. The last three pictures you posted – do they represent your actual day-to-day life? Why did you decide to post them? How hard did you work to crop and filter and edit? How long did you spend thinking of a caption? How closely did you pay attention to the accumulation of “likes”? All that gymnastics you perform before, during and after you post are exactly what those other ladies do. You guys are the same, even though you think they’re perfect and that you’re a mess by comparison. Stop thinking that! First, it’s not true, and second, your posts likely have made others feel the same way you have felt. Sure, it’s the nature of the beast, but don’t let yourself feed it.



Alice Leiter is a recovering lawyer living in Washington, D.C. with her husband and four children. Her hobbies include making fun of her family on Instagram, watching Bravo, and worrying that people are mad at her. She hates when grown women call her “Mama.” Reach her at alice@aliceleiter.com.