What is perhaps more controversial than politics? Motherhood. Should I stay at home or keep working? Should I breastfeed or bottle feed? Should I live and die by sleep scheduling or go with the flow?
Being a mom has already been deemed the World’s Toughest Job, but arguably it’s getting tougher as the goal post for being a great mom is ever-changing and met with judgment at every decision made.
As society is both a mover and a mirror of today’s values, the definition of mom hasn’t changed, but the meaning and method of mom-ing have.
Navigating this post-internet and social media riddled world has spawned a new breed of motherhood: iMoms. The defining tenants and behaviors of iMoms revolve around information, investment and intensity.
iMoms fall in the Millennial age group (now aged 23-38), are upper to middle class and look very different than the preceding generation of moms. Demographically, they're having kids later, are more educated and more are working. There are many reasons for this including the economy, delaying marriage and prioritizing careers. Additionally, there has been a mindset shift where women (and men) are thoughtfully considering children as a choice vs. a given.
A 34-year-old reader in Boston said, "it was more of a guarantee to have a kid, and kids were less 'special' than they are now, it was just something everyone did. More women are working and prioritizing this."
A 68-year-old reader in Texas added some color to this referencing society's historical shifts: "During the 70’s the Women's Liberation Movement became all the rage. Young women were shown an alternative to being homemakers and staying home to raise children."
The number of moms working full time had a 48% increase from 1970 to 2015, which has added to a major reason why the meaning and method of motherhood is changing.
Pew reports that the median age of first-time mothers increased from 23 years old in 1993 to 26 in 2016. This does certainly vary by region, which is a major cultural factor for when women decide to take the plunge. As you can see from the map below, the average age of first-time moms flexes up to the 30s for the East and West Coast, whereas the South skews younger.
But the difference in iMoms is way more complex than just demographics. The influx of information at iMom's fingertips has become both a blessing and a burden. "Researcher" should be added to her resume, because with every single decision comes a trip down the rabbit hole of googling everything from product reviews to parenting advice.
A reader in LA explains this conundrum well: "Prior to the internet, your knowledge about raising your baby and having your baby was based on books, word of mouth advice, and hospital classes. You weren't able to google every single thought that came into your head—there are pros and cons to that. You perpetuate anxiety by indulging your every thought and worry but you also have instant access to questions and resource you may have never had."
Response media fielded a study that uncovered iMoms spend 60% more time on blogs than the general population. In addition to blogs, social media offers up the much needed emotional support many moms are searching for, especially in the weird hours you find yourself awake.
Different social platforms matter more to moms, centering around Facebook because it meets many needs—marketplace, review network and support system. As you can see from the chart below, Pinterest and Instagram are gaining ground but Facebook still holds the number one spot. While social media does provide a support network, it can also be a double-edged sword, putting how you mom on a public stage for all to see, judge and compare.
The level of investment from a time and money perspective has reached new heights—even though moms are working full time more now than ever, they are also spending more time with children than years past, increasing from 10 hours to 14 hours per week from 1965 to 2016 (dads time spent with kids grew more drastically from 2.5 hours to 8 hours a week).
The cost of children is also on the rise due to a handful of reasons, including the cost of extracurricular activities and child care. This further adds to the conundrum of how to juggle it all, because once the costs reach a certain height, many times it's more affordable for a parent to quit their job and stay at home.
The final defining element of iMoms is intensity—"intensive mothering" is a concept that has seeped into culture and iMoms have latched on to. In her book Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, Sharon Hays describes intensive mothering is an ideology that "holds the individual mother primarily responsible for child-rearing and dictates that the process is to be child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive, and financially expensive."
She describes the contradiction lies in the fact that "working mothers today confront not only conflicting demands on their time and energy but also conflicting ideas about how they are to behave: they must be nurturing and unselfish while engaged in child rearing but competitive and ambitious at work."
Although iMoms are in constant search of the elusive "balance", it's impossible to reach because the pressures of society require an all-in devotion and the more you accomplish, the more you feel like you haven't accomplished.
Stimulating kids through enrichment for fear that they won't get ahead has ratcheted up the competition adding to the intensity of parenting and contributing to more stress and anxiety. Psychologist Paula Bloom says that "As parents, we've got to get over our anxiety that we're not doing enough. Creating a sense of safety, helping kids have the confidence to try certain things, those are the things that matter."
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, "the amount of time moms spend with their kids has no bearing on the behavioral and emotional outcomes in younger children. What matters most is not quantity but quality. In fact, mothers who spent time with their children while they were overwhelmed, rattled with guilt, and sleep-deprived, actually did more harm than good."
Much easier said than done, because the pressure to be a perfect mom, wife and worker is reaching a boiling point. An iMom in Texas said, "There is so much pressure to always be with your child and make sure they are flourishing (music class, the best outfits, and following all the modern practices), but also be the best in your personal life (look fit, eat well, have the best job, and have the perfect relationship)."
Another iMom expounded on this pressure: "you feel the need to breastfeed for a year and provide all organic food, limit or eliminate screen time, make a perfect Instagram-worthy Easter basket, all while keeping a picture perfect house and being generally put together."
What does this all mean? Society has laid a heavy burden on the iMoms of today making achievement seemingly attainable but literally impossible. However you decide to parent, let me be the first to say that YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB. Decades from now there will be a whole new set of "rules" for motherhood but the real truth of the matter is this—the love of a mom never changes.