Actually, no. But if you’ve ever flicked through Facebook during a nap gap and felt major life envy, you’ve got FOMO – fear of missing out. Time for a reality check
When my twin boys, now five, were newborns, it’s fair to say, I was beyond exhausted. But, after hours of struggling to breastfeed two hungry babies, when I did finally manage to get them down for a nap (usually with both sprawled across me), did I sink back into the sofa, close my eyes and enjoy a few precious moments of bonding? Did I heck. Instead, I’d snake my free hand out from under the sleeping little bundles and scroll through my iPhone, hungry for news of the outside world. At last, here was an uninterrupted five minutes to check my Twitter feed and Facebook updates.
More often that not, rather than
this being a satisfying fix that distracted
me from a world of endless nappies and feeds, it led to a creeping suspicion that
I had opted out of life and everyone I knew was having a much better time.
If this sounds familiar – and let’s not pretend I’m the only mum who survives their own lack of social life by vicariously living through other people’s – you may be suffering from Fear Of Missing Out, or FOMO. This modern malaise leaves you doubting how happy you are and worrying more about what you’re not doing, rather than what you are.
The Grass Is Greener
FOMO is a reworking of that old affliction – Keeping Up With The Joneses. But, instead of curtain twitching, modern women are using social media. And there’s no doubt it’s a mixed blessing. It can be a lifesaver when you’re up at 2am doing the night feed but, when you’re spending 24/7 caring for a baby, having several channels flagging up every party, holiday and new career move made by your friends – and your frenemies – can lead to frustration.
Why, when many of us have longed to start a family, do we start to feel like we’ve made a choice that is limiting, rather than enriching our lives?
Lou Wright, 38, from Surrey, who’s mum to Darcy, two, is in the grip of a severe case of FOMO. ‘Much as I always wanted to be a mum, I still find myself constantly imagining what life might have been like if I’d stayed baby-free,’ she says. ‘When I’m out with Darcy, I find myself glancing across cafés to look at smart-looking women working on their laptops, or chatting at the weekend over brunch, relishing what seems like their glamorous, independent lives.’ Mum Nicola Ashford, 34, from London, agrees. ‘I recently had a row with my partner because I refused to leave a party in case the fun started after we’d gone. We were both shockingly sleep-deprived and he was begging me to call a cab, but I hate it when friends dissect something I missed. Hearing about it later drives me nuts.’
But why, when many of us have longed to start a family, do we start to feel like we’ve made a choice that is limiting, rather than enriching our lives? According to a recent study into FOMO by the University of Essex, our communications-obsessed age – and the way technology is playing a growing role in our lives – has much to answer for. ‘Unlike the real world, sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram means we see all the opportunities we’re missing out on, as well as being able to follow our peers and competitors who seem to be pulling ahead,’ says study author and psychologist Andrew Przybylski.
Live The Adventure
He also points out that FOMO is more likely to be a problem for anyone who’s not feeling nurtured, engaged or emotionally strong. So, that’s probably most new mums, then. ‘At a time when women are particularly vulnerable, and everything from your daily routine to your hormones are all over the place, it’s no surprise that you question your choices,’ says psychologist Mia Scotland. This is heightened by the fact that, when you become a parent, you are more rooted to your home than ever before, meaning there’s lots of time to consume social media – plus, your own ability to do stuff is suddenly limited.
Making matters worse, experts say that our generation is finding it more of a struggle to grow up. ‘Our culture emphasises the importance of adventure, trying out new things, hedonism and excitement,’ says Mia. ‘But life inevitably slows down when you first become a mum, and there’s less focus in our society on this being a good thing.’ Our reaction is often to try to prove that being a parent won’t involve changing our former carefree social lives at all. The reality is that a few careful tweaks will probably be required. But, instead of focusing on what we’re missing out on, it’s time to recognise that you’re actually embarking on your biggest adventure yet. Becoming a mother may alter your social life, but you are still you and it should enhance that. ‘Don’t forget that you have joined a new social circle, a new world that plenty of childless couples feel envious of. You should get stuck in and enjoy that privilege,’ says Mia.
Are You Keeping Up?
Things do get easier with baby number two. When Sarah, 33, from London, who’s mum to Alice, three, and Lucy, six months, first became a mum, she was surprised how isolated she felt on maternity leave. ‘It’s such a rapid transition – one minute you’re at work, engaging with the world, then, only a few weeks later, you find yourself at home with a newborn, watching daytime TV and hearing about what your friends have been up to on Facebook. With my second baby, I knew the stuck-at-home stage wouldn’t last forever, so I tried to enjoy it. But, with Alice, it just felt like my world had shrunk.’
And, while it’s exhausting enough keeping up with other super-mums (the ones who somehow find time to bake cakes for everyone in their antenatal group), it’s an even bigger mistake to surround yourself with people who are leading child-free lives. ‘I worry people will think I’m boring now I’m a mum.
But, the truth is, I can’t compete with
some of my friends, however hard I try,’ says Sally Atkinson, 36, from Kent, who’s mum to twins Milo and Thomas, one.
If you’re not getting out, sharing and connecting directly with other mums, then you’ll be vulnerable to feeling isolated, because your basic psychological needs for belonging and connection aren’t being met. ‘That doesn’t mean you should abandon your old friends,’ says Mia. ‘But you do need to make sure you’re getting enough support from others going through the same thing.’ The best approach is to accept the stage you’re at, don’t fight it, and realise that your real friends will still be there when you return to the party.