Citation: Bartholomew, M.K., Schoppe-Sullivan, S.J., Glassman, M., Dush, C.M.K., & Sullivan, J.M. (2012). New Parents’ Facebook Use at the Transition to Parenthood. Family Relations, 61 (3), 455-469. DOI:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00708.x
Summary: The present study investigated new parents’ use of Facebook during the period between the last trimester of pregnancy and nine months postpartum. The study inquired whether the Facebook habits of these parents (154 mothers and 150 fathers) changed during this period and whether mothers and fathers differed in how often and to what purpose they used the website for. The data was then cross-referenced to participants’ results in three adjustment scales, which respectively measured parenting satisfaction, self-efficacy and stress. Upon completion of the study, it was found that the mothers in the sample were more actively involved with Facebook than fathers, and younger mothers were more likely to have accounts than older ones. However, there was no correlation found between using Facebook and parental adjustment, that is, parents who had Facebook accounts were as well adjusted as their counterparts without an account.
An interesting finding of the study was that most mothers’ Facebook friends were not family members or real-life acquaintances, but rather friends the mothers had never met “offline.” With regards to time spent online, almost half of mothers and 1/3 of fathers related greater frequency in Facebook use since delivery, and the majority of both groups reported an increase in the number of pictures they uploaded to the website as well. However, most mothers said their friends were “very likely” to acknowledge their child’s photos (through “likes” or comments), while less than half of fathers reported the same about their friends. Finally, among mothers who had Facebook accounts, those who were very active users reported higher levels of stress when compared to counterparts who did not use Facebook as frequently.
Finally, we anticipated that greater Facebook use would be associated with better adjustment to parenthood for new mothers and fathers. Our rationale for this hypothesis was that if greater Facebook use facilitated the acquisition and maintenance of social capital for new parents, then parents who reported greater use of Facebook should show better adjustment to parenthood. In particular, we measured three important facets of adjustment to parenthood: satisfaction with the parental role (Pistrang, 1984), parenting self-efficacy (P. K. Coleman & Karraker, 1997), and parenting stress (Kazdin & Whitley, 2003). We hypothesized that new parents who reported greater use of Facebook would report greater satisfaction with the parental role, higher parenting self-efficacy, and lower levels of parenting stress. (p. 458)
The authors conducted this study from a “social capital” perspective, that is, they considered Facebook to be an important tool for new parents to maintain relationships with friends and relatives during this important transitional period in their lives. As mentioned above in the summary, the findings point to the opposite of the authors’ hypothesis: the more the mothers used Facebook, the more parenting stress they reported. The present study does not investigate why an increase in Facebook use correlated with parenting stress, but it is possible to make an educated guess based on another finding of the same study. Specifically, the majority of mothers reported more than half, if not most, of their Facebook friends were online acquaintances only. It is possible that mothers found such friends in expectant mothers groups, which are very popular on the website. Assuming these offline friends were active Facebook users as well, perhaps we can question whether mothers reported more stress due to being exposed to only the picture-worthy moments of their friends’lives? This is probable when we consider how challenging becoming a parent is. The participants in the study were suddenly overwhelmed with their new roles as parents, and yet their peers, who also recently became parents, are perceived to be excelling – because mothers can only see the parts of their lives which appear on Facebook.
When mothers reported that a greater proportion of their Facebook friends were family members or relatives, they reported greater satisfaction with the parenting role. Similarly, mothers who reported that their friends were more likely to comment on photos they had posted of their child also reported greater parenting satisfaction. When mothers were more frequent visitors to their Facebook accounts and managed their accounts more frequently, however, they reported higher levels of parenting stress. (p. 463)
In the passage above is important to note that parenting satisfaction and parenting stress were measured using two different scales. Thus, it is entirely possible that the group of mothers who reported being satisfied with their roles as parents intersects with the group who reported feeling stressed. These findings are not surprising; it is expected that (most) mothers are happy about having a child and starting a family, but evidently such changes are stressful for most, if not all, of new parents. What is noteworthy about these results is that mothers felt most satisfied when they received acknowledgment and approval from their Facebook friends, but the more they sought such approval (by being more active on Facebook), the more stressed they became. Could it be possible that mothers became stressed after not receiving as much support (in the form of comments and “likes”) as they hoped for? Another possible explanation is that mothers spent more time on Facebook as a consequence of being stressed out (and time spent online was a way to relieve stress), and not that Facebook using made them stressed.