At the risk of being blocked for life by Meta’s ubiquitous digital spy network (is that a thing?), I want to go on the record and say: I hate social media. I hate how ruthlessly it sucks hours of our time and attention away from real life connections. I hate how it encourages people to deceptively curate their lives so that they look perfect, and how this can unintentionally make the rest of us feel like our messy lives just don't measure up. As an educator and parent, I worry about what social media is doing to our children. Firsthand experience tells me that a cyber bullying, zombie-eyed, socially disconnected culture bred by the potent cocktail of smartphones and social media is wreaking havoc on kids’ ability to function in school, and to have IRL relationships. Research shows it is also making them more depressed and suicidal.
On principal (and after learning that political arguments on Facebook impacted nothing but my blood pressure), I left my Instagram account untouched for nearly 10 years, and uninstalled Facebook on my phone. I only reached for SnapChat when investigating an online threat at the high school where I worked.
Fast forward to 2018. I was working as a principal and education director, and needed to dress professionally for these roles. That need didn’t change when I became pregnant with my 2 sons. When I started looking for clothes to accommodate my growing belly, though, I quickly realized that there was a surprising lack of quality maternity work clothes available to women on the mass market. Surprising because women continue to grow in professional importance and status, WHILE the percentage of us having babies has continued to grow. After struggling to look and feel like my professional self for two pregnancies, I decided to leave my work in education to found MARION, a stylish, sustainable clothing brand for women who are pregnant, nursing, and adjusting to their new mama bodies while building their careers.
As I was preparing to launch by new business, I heard a consistent refrain from brand owners, friends, and consultants alike - “You have to be on social media if you want to grow your brand.” I resisted, typing in Google searches like “Is social media presence really necessary to establish a successful clothing company?” Eventually, the endless repetition of this advice, and the lure of potential free advertising, led me to grimace and sign up for Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and even TikTok.
I’ll be honest, much of my previous antipathy for social media remains. I also feel conflicted using an advertising medium that I feel can have such a problematic side.
BUT, all the time I’ve spent diving into social media over the past months has yielded an important bright spot, and helped me understand social media’s appeal a bit more. Being on Instagram for MARION day after day, I can’t help seeing the posts from other parent and maternity profiles. I now follow a string of folks who seem earnestly there to help, like @moomysmilk and @milkymamallc, who provide insights into newborn and nursing struggles, and the fiery/amazing @themamattorney lending legal insights and quotable commentary on parenting and women’s issues. Seeing their advice helps me remember that my struggles as a new parent are common to many, and I’ve absolutely picked up some helpful baby connection and toddler de-escalation strategies from @ourmamavillage (thank you!). Did I mention @yummytoddlerfood? Amy Palanjian and her ideas like "what to do with overripe bananas" (other than banana bread) have actually changed our lives and our cooking habits. Thanks, Amy.
@henpecked_hal, @thebabychick, and @pregnantbelly regularly make me laugh-spit my coffee onto my computer screen with hilarious posts about parenting moments that I identify with deeply, and that I can sometimes feel are unique to my family’s struggle fest. It’s normalizing, it’s validating, and it’s a bit of much-needed lightness on a marathon day.
The culture of this parenting and maternity community largely seems to revolve around inclusivity, body positivity, and mutual support, a huge breath of fresh air in the jungle of division that can exist online.
If I’ve learned anything about parenting, it’s that the relentless pace of it can be utterly isolating. As much as we want to connect with a community, the treadmill of caring for littles can take us through weeks without any meaningful connection to those outside our immediate families. After long periods of this, I am always amazed by the flood of well-being I feel while chatting with another parent about all the common things we’re experiencing. It usually starts off like a confession (“So, my kid has really been having the worst time with potty accidents again, and I don’t get it because she’s 4 and we had her so consistent for months, but now it’s EVERY DAY…”) and ends with the laughing realization that we’re all struggling, and our kids are all struggling, in much the same ways. It’s such a relief. And that feeling of relief can carry me for days. Of course, social media is no substitute for these real life connections. But, on the marathon days when real parent contact isn't possible, a little @thebabychick humor can still make a big difference.
Joy O'Renick is a longtime educator, proud mother of 2 toddler boys and a grownup adopted son, and founder of MARION Maternity & Mama.