The Rise Of ‘Oversharing’ Mums: The Real Reason Modern Mothers Share Their Parenting Journey Online
We have all witnessed on one or more of our social media accounts mothers “oversharing” details about their children’s daily habits through words, photos and videos.
As well as seeing such updates, you have no doubt also seen people criticising these mums for how much they’re choosing to share in public.
Recently an expert on internet law and ethics in France waded into the debate, claiming children growing up could take their parents to court for breaching their privacy.
Eric Delcroix argued that parents can be as irresponsible on Facebook as their children and they should seriously consider the pictures they place online.
But like it or not, “oversharing”, with mums showcasing both their parenting wins and flaws, seems to have become a part of modern motherhood.
What’s more, Delcroix’s argument seems to fail to take into account the fact that most mums will have taken the feelings of their children into account when posting photos online.
Emma Conway, 38, mum to a five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son and blogger at Brummy Mummy Of 2 said sharing updates isn’t about parents mindlessly posting photos.
“My personal photos of my children on Facebook are on the highest privacy setting and the photos I post on my blog or social media are carefully chosen,” she told The Huffington Post UK.
“I would never post any shots of my children with no clothes on, in pain or in a compromising position. Photos I post are generally smiley, happy shots and I am careful that they paint them in a positive light.
“Each week I do also put out a shot which isn’t so flattering, generally my son having a tantrum over something bonkers like me giving him an ice cream.
“I am okay with my kids knowing that they aren’t perfect, that life isn’t perfect and they will have a guide to dealing with some of the tougher parts.
“If most parents think a little about what they post, there should be no repercussions further down the line.”
Emma Conway’s two children
Conway said she only shares around 10 photos a week across all of her social media accounts.
“I am quite choosy because I do understand that these photos could show up in my children’s lives for many years to come,” she added.
Brenda McLackland, a perinatal clinical psychologist who works with mothers and children said there is a fine line between sharing online and respecting your child’s privacy.
However she added that the majority of the posts are positive and collaborative, and only a few will lose sight and overstep a boundary.
“If a mother is talking about her child’s poo, for example, she is losing sight of a boundary and giving too much information about bodily functions on social media,” she explained.
“Think of it like when people cross the line by giving too much information about their sex lives – it’s the same thing. It’s where people just go a bit too far, cross the line, and expose too much.”
Speaking of protecting her son’s privacy, Susie Verrill, 27, the writer behind My Milo And Me blog and mum to one-year-old Milo, said she will always put her son first when it comes to sharing online.
“If he ever approached me to say he wasn’t happy or if others around him started to mention they’d seen him online or in papers, I’d probably take a look at whether what I was doing was affecting him,” she said.
“It’s fun while he’s young but I won’t invade his privacy as he grows.”
“Here’s Milo, following in his father’s footsteps by sticking to a STRICT athlete’s diet of chocolate ice cream. Yes, I gave him ice-cream so I could dine in peace and no I don’t feel bad about it.”
The option of sharing their personal journeys online is a relatively new avenue for mums.
Things were different when my own mother, Lynn Packham, now 50, was a new mum aged 22.
“There was one night [my eldest daughter] Leanne would not stop crying and I had to knock on my best friend’s door to help me, but when I went to NCT class I wouldn’t have told anyone about that because it made me feel like a bad mum,” she told me.
“It would make me look like I didn’t know what I was doing.
“The negative experiences I had I would only share with close friends I trusted, face-to-face. Any of my daughter’s ‘firsts’ I didn’t share with others – only with my husband.
“It was very personal to us. I would take photos and document these moments and then put them away.
“My husband’s mother made a small book for each child about their first words, dentist trips, haircut and even illnesses, so I did that too and stored it away. It’s a nice thing to look back on.”
My mum’s notebook of “firsts” translated into 2016 could be seen as the pictures, videos and blogs mums now share across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Perhaps if she had grown up in a world where social media was so prominent, things would have been different.
According to Justine Roberts, Mumsnet’s CEO, the integral nature of oversharing isn’t anything new – we just have a more prominent platform to do this in the 21st century.
“Parents have always talked about their children – and if you think parents are bad, wait until you encounter grandparents,” she said.
“There’s nothing new about people being proud of their families or wanting to ask advice. What’s changed is the size of the audience that can be reached.
“One person’s ‘yawn’ is another person’s ‘like’ – some people get annoyed with posts about children, while others are bored stiff by posts about park runs, Scandinavian TV dramas or boyfriend troubles.”
Mums “oversharing” online often receive criticism and Conway even admitted it’s brought her to tears in the past.
“I have had several occasions when humour has been taken the wrong way,” she said.
“I have been told I should be shot, that I don’t deserve children, that I am a disgusting human being for highlighting the more ‘real’ side of being a mum.
“And it can hurt. And I cried. Lots.”
Negative comments tend to focus on the idea of the mum being thoughtless or a brag for sharing her experiences, but the truth about why so many women choose to ‘overshare’ is more multi-faceted.
McLackland explained there are several reasons motivating mums to post personal accounts on social media.
“There is something about becoming a mum that obviously makes you feel very proud and privileged,” she said.
“You want to share, especially with the nature of social media, you want to show other people what your children are doing and what they have achieved.
“Firstly, it’s to feel connected with the other people the mums are sharing to, another reason is because they want to feel accepted, such as when people like, share or comment their post, and the third reason is the need to feel approved of.
“If you’re posting a photo of your daughter eating vegetables for the first time, it’s like getting a real brownie point for a mum.
“There’s a huge amount of pressure being a parent and it can get competitive sometimes, so this is a way of trying to get ahead of the game, impress and collaborate – and it can feed the competitive aspect of parenting.”
Conway not only shares photos of her children’s escapades online but encourages others to as well, as part of her Wicked Wednesdays social media campaign.
She asks other parents to upload comments and photos of family life on her Facebook page that they wouldn’t share anywhere else.
The mum-of-two said sharing both positive and negative aspects of of family life online is about letting parents know it’s okay to “be a bit crap” sometimes.
“I was always the kind of person that enjoyed sharing photos on social media so as soon as my pair were born it was just a natural progression of what I already did,” she explained.
But Conway said it’s not only about connecting with other mothers, but ensuring they feel accepted no matter what their situation is.
“Blogging is really important and has changed the ways mothers feel about themselves,” she said.
“They can go on the internet at any time during the day or night, wherever they are and for free look up something about how to breastfeed, or read an article on PND or something that makes them laugh and not feel so alone.
“Being a new mum can be quite isolating and I think it is amazing that there are women out there that put themselves in the public eye to encourage and help others in the same position.
“The amount of direct messages we get about how as bloggers and by speaking out we have helped women with PND means far more than a one keyboard warrior calling me a nasty name.”
This is something McLackland agreed with.
“There are lots of negative aspects of parenting,” she added. “These are to do with feeling isolated and lonely and judged that your child isn’t good enough.
“If you can read or even demonstrate to yourself on social media that you’re not alone then it will make you feel better about yourself as a mother.
“Sharing the non-airbrushed side of parenting, such as your child misbehaving in a harmless way, can add to the charm – people want to share it because it’s witty and amusing.”
Emma Conway taking a photo of one of her son’s “tantrums”
Verrill said prior to the birth of her son a year ago, she hoped she wouldn’t be the type of mum to share images every day.
“But I’m exactly that,” she told us.
“I try not to post as much on Facebook and Twitter – Instagram is more of a mum-haven for me – and I do try to make the captions in some way entertaining.”
Verrill agreed with Conway that it was the pressure of being alone that made her want to share and be open about her parenting journey.
And by doing that, she has found a community of supportive mums to collaborate with online.
“For so long before the internet, once you became a mum that was your role and that alone,” she explained.
“Now, you can be a mum, an entrepreneur, have opinions and things to say, keep up with trends and it’s great to have other people to bounce off.
“You were also expected just to get on with things; women my mum’s age often tell me they wish they had access to the online network we have today because you know without even leaving your house you can chat to another mum and feel that little bit less alone.
“It’s so nice to read other people’s experiences and take what you need from it.”
Verrill continued: “Once you’ve picked out the blogs and accounts you feel you resonate best with, it’s great to hear how they’ve dealt with parts of motherhood you’re struggling with.
“Rather than just Googling ‘Oh my gosh what do I do?’ I can just ask the question on social media and get genuinely useful advice back. Advice relevant to my generation, from people who’ve recently lived it.”
She said while some of her friends don’t entirely get why she shares so much online, the majority do understand her motivation.
“I share important aspects of my life and Milo is one of them,” she explained. “My friends and family also don’t live near me and we travel a lot, so it’s a nice, easy way for people to keep in touch.
“I actually haven’t had any bad comments! If I did… I wouldn’t care.”
Jo Montbailey, 52, who is mum to a three-year-old and five-month-old, also finds that reading and hearing about other mums’ experiences creates a supportive community like no other.
She rarely shares anything online about her kids or private life, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t approve.
“The internet can sometimes seem like a virtual mum’s coffee morning where we can all share our parenting fails and triumphs,” she said.
“Only in this coffee morning there are countless of brilliant and creative women eager to share their experiences in a funny, intelligent, wise and honest manner.
“In the often lonely world of motherhood, it is great to know that at the click of a button you are part of a global community.
“The internet has played a huge role in championing mothers and rebranding the often unacknowledged job that we do. It is fantastic to have a platform where we can celebrate the witty, intelligent, funny, sympathetic and wise women bravely sharing their experience of motherhood.”
Lessening the potential negative connotations of the word “oversharing”, Siobhan Freegard, founder of video parenting site ChannelMum.com said most young mums simply see this as “being honest”.
“For those parents who’ve grown up in the digital world, posting their thoughts, pictures and videos online is normal and simply a way to connect with their family, friends and other parents around them,” she explained.
“Sharing amongst other parents is undoubtedly beneficial, as it stops the isolation that new parents often face.
“Now, they can go online and find support and a warm community within seconds. At ChannelMum we know of many friendships that started online and developed into real-life, which completes the circle of connection.
“When it comes to parenting, the more knowledge we pool, the better it is for every new mum and dad.
“Bringing up a baby is never going to be easy but if ‘oversharing’ means people are prepared for the highs – and the lows – they will find it far easier to cope.”
Mum Laura Powell-Corbett, 33, agreed with Freegard that sharing online can be used as a coping mechanism, admitting it has helped her “laugh through the tears”.
Powell-Corbett is mum to two boys – aged three and 10 months – but doesn’t share their names online. She blogs about her parenting journey and agrees with Conway and Verrill that feeling less alone is a huge factor.
Laura Powell-Corbett shares pictures and blogs about her parenting journey but doesn’t reveal her children’s names
“I think there used to be more of a village mentality when it came to raising children,” Powell-Corbett explained.
“You had other mums around, you often had family back up for support, and there was someone, somewhere you could go and ask.
“Someone who would make you feel less alone. With people moving away from families and returning to work there seems to be much less of this around, so by being able to see someone else is having the same struggles, the same joys, has the same effect in feeling less alone.
“It’s made me feel more normal, less alone and helped me laugh through the tears”
Powell-Corbett said there have been a few times where blogs she has written on Life With Baby Kicks have received a negative reaction.
“My post about 11 types of mums at baby group, especially,” she said.
“I find criticism often arises when people read the headline but not the article which is more annoying. But I’m more aware that my boys will see things as they grow up. If I wouldn’t share it of myself I won’t share it of the boys.”
So it might be tedious to read sometimes and it might even bore you, but for mothers sharing these experiences online isn’t just for attention.
It’s for acceptance and appreciation, but most importantly it’s a community of women championing one another and indirectly saying “I know, I’ve been there”.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today. Through features, video and blogs, we’ll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you’d like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@Babyquater.com with a summary of who you are and what you’d like to blog about.