Photo courtesy of Rachel Moore

You're A #Boymom, But Does It Define You?

by Erica Jackson Curran

Hi. My name is Erica, and I’m a #boymom. I’ve been peed on, my floor is littered with toys that look like power tools, and I’ve occasionally released a wistful sigh when passing through Target’s baby girls’ section. I often think about the right way to raise a boy in a world that still feels misogynistic, and I assume a lot of other people who identify as boymoms have a lot of the same experiences I do.

There are plenty of popular #boymom bloggers like Boy Mom in Jeans, Dude Mom, and Life Without Pink. Search Instagram, and you’ll find well over 5 million posts under the #boymom hashtag. #boymomlife is 283,000, #boymoms is 51,000, and #boymomma is 60,000. The images range from professionally shot photos of boys with their professionally coiffed moms to real-life moments showing messy, crying boy babies.

I scroll through the hashtag feeds, feeling a subtle sense of solidarity with other #boymoms. It’s a popular hashtag — over three times more popular than #girlmom, in fact — and I can only guess it’s because the experience of raising boys is so foreign to grown-up girls. Yet I can’t help but wonder: where do we draw the line between using these hashtags to connect with others and identifying ourselves by our offspring? At what point does the outsized popularity of #boymom to its female counterpart suggest that sneaky gender stereotypes are at work?

Blogger Rachel Moore is no stranger to the #boymom hashtag. Scattered among her carefully curated Instagram feed are photos of her two sons and light-hearted commentary on #momlife. “I use the #boymom hashtag to connect with other boymoms out there,” Price says. “It's a unique role and bond.”

Her kids are a big part of her identity, but she notes that she does still have a life outside of them, as evidenced by her fashion-focused blog, Pinteresting Plans. That said, social media has been an important tool for Moore as a mom. “It's been a huge outlet for support and company during some of the early/lonely days of motherhood when I felt a bit isolated at home with cranky, napping, teething babies,” she says.

Carolyn Robistow is a Texas-based counselor who specializes in helping millennial women manage anxiety — and she’s all about the power of social media to help us find our tribe. “Social media allows moms to show pride for their children and to find connection through various aspects of motherhood,” she says. “For example, the hashtag #boymom provides not only a badge of belonging to a specific ‘club,’ if you will, but also a way to vent the frustrations of parenthood in a socially approved way, often by poking fun at the trials of raising a son — think pee on the seat, dirt in the pockets, et cetera.”

But Robistow notes that the connections we make over social media can tempt some moms into changing to fit the image of whatever hashtag she's using to connect. A mom might feel like the hashtag has become her “brand,” and that any deviation from that would seem inappropriate. “We can all get sucked into the belief that our online persona needs to portray certain aspects of our lives and personalities,” she says.

Studies have shown that many mothers seek external validation through social media posts, comments and likes of their child’s photos. This type of social media activity has been linked to elevated stress and depressive symptoms for new mothers.

Katie Rössler is a licensed professional counselor and a mom to two toddler girls who notes that many women don't realize how motherhood can impact their self-identity. “For the first year to two years of our lives, our brain is changed to focus on our child and keeping them alive and well. What happens during this time is that we lose track of ourselves and focus only on them,” she says.

And that’s when we can become vulnerable to the lure of social media. “We share pics of our kids at first to share our experiences and day-to-day,” she says. “Hashtags are created, profile names established, and pictures ensue that make us feel important... We get wrapped up in what our kids can provide through pictures and stories. We lose ourselves because we only identify with being a mom. We forget we are wives, daughters, friends, women, et cetera. We think we only exist through one channel because our minds and our ‘followers’ tell us this as well.”

We can all identify with the positive rush we get from receiving a notification, thumbs up, or heart symbol. It’s a powerful feeling for moms who are struggling with their sense of self. “Moms who identify themselves by their kids through social media struggle with a sense of self-identity beyond their role of being a mom and it is compounded by the support they get from followers,” Rössler says.

Social media also leads many moms to fall into the comparison trap. “When we see what other women are or are not doing, we start to question ourselves and compare,” Rössler says. “If I didn’t have a strong self-identity, then I might think that these hashtags would connect me with ‘my people’: fellow moms who would get me because they are similar. Many moms fall into this trap and you can find this in these large Facebook ‘support’ groups for moms. Many moms assume these groups are made of women who are just like them because they have a similar quality or identity characteristic.”

And they are, by extension, putting their children into boxes.

As blogger Stephanie Loomis Pappas put it in a post disavowing herself of the boymom label, "I fail to see how sliding at a playground, dropping food on the floor, or climbing to dangerous heights are limited to boys. I hate the expectation that boys are more energetic, careless, and adventurous than girls."

Though perhaps the use of the label is used to connote those qualities in the mothers themselves.

Jamie Kreiter, a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Chicago, notes that moms who seek validation through social media or use it to compare themselves to others may have a harder time creating their own healthy identity. While identifying as a mom is completely natural, it’s easy to forget that it’s just one facet of who we are.

“To ensure that a mom doesn’t lose herself when she becomes a mother, she should maintain the friendships and relationships that she had prior to their birth of her baby as well as find new connections,” Kreiter says.

She also recommends allowing a healthy distance between themselves and their kids — something many of us struggle with. “We see this when parents get upset or embarrassed when their kids are having a tantrum in public or feel proud when their child does something awesome,” Kreiter says. “These are natural human emotions and reactions from parents. But with a healthy distance where a parent respects that their child is their own distinct person, it is easier to cope with the child’s own feelings and behaviors… It is good for mom and great for the child's own development.”

Using the #boymom hashtag (and really, any #momlife hashtag) is a powerful way to connect with women navigating a similar experience — or just to take a peek into their lives. But balance is crucial. “I caution anyone using social media to be mindful of the impact it’s having on daily life,” Robistow says. “Do you feel better or worse after you've been scrolling? Do you feel nervous when you post? Staying mindful of how interacting with social media impacts the daily grind is key to healthy use, so a mom can be free to connect meaningfully rather than superficially.”