From the September 2019 issue

Breaking Free From FOMO in Families

Whether it's our social feeds or stressing over catching every single soccer match, FOMO in families, or fear of missing out, is rampant. Here's how to tame it.

Illustration by Jay Holladay

Shortly after her son was born, Ashley Porter felt “immense pressure” to sign him up for classes.

“Baby sign language, music class and anything else that I felt was going to help him learn and grow,” the Birmingham stay-at-home mother recalls.

Today, her son Jake is a happy 3-year-old.

“As my son gets older, I feel this less and less,” Porter says. “Although I never want us to miss out on any great family events going on in my community, I also am more willing to see the joy in a weekend full of no plans.”

Porter is feeling the effects of FOMO – fear of missing out. It may be a trendy term, but its impact on families is real.

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At a time when we are digitally connected to one another like never before, FOMO in families is impacting the personal, intimate connections. It’s difficult to be present in our day-to-day lives while we’re scrolling on our phone, admiring beautiful family photos, exciting vacations or on-point birthday parties of friends, acquaintances or even people we haven’t seen in 20 years.

It is, perhaps, contradiction at its finest. We fear that we are missing out, yet that’s exactly what’s happening in our present reality when we pick up that phone or tablet and become mentally transported to the happenings of others.

Why are we so plagued by FOMO – and what can we do to thwart it?

Evolution of FOMO

FOMO is nothing new, says Ronnie Hormel, a psychotherapist with the Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy. FOMO has been around for generations. Today, it’s millennial parents who are feeling the effects.

“We’ve heard the term, ‘Keeping up with the Joneses,'” Hormel says. “That was just another phrase for FOMO. Today, though, it’s more than seeing a new car in a neighbor’s driveway or hearing about someone sending their kids to an expensive sleepaway camp. Now, with social media, there are so many more countless areas for everyone to feel that they are missing out.”

Daily guilt grind

Sometimes life’s simple day-to-day responsibilities stir up FOMO, too.

Andrew DuPont of Rochester Hills is dad to Amelie, 2, and works in professional sports as a producer/editor. The nature of his job requires him to be onsite whenever the team plays a home game. This results in 10- to 14-hour days, sometimes 10 to 12 days in a row.

“We have extended family who are more than happy to help out with watching Amelie during the day, but that still means my wife has to work her 40-plus hour-a-week job and then sometimes come home and spend a whole evening without me there to help,” he says. “She is more than capable of doing it, but I still feel guilty sometimes when I am not around to help until after Amelie is in bed for the night.

“It also means I sometimes go several days without a lot of time with my daughter. I see her every morning, but she is always asleep by the time I get home on game nights.”

When kids get older, this stress can translate into guilt over missing a kid’s game, concert or event due to work or other obligations. What if she scores the winning goal? Won’t he be devastated I’m missing his trumpet solo?

The social monster

From Facebook to Insta, image-heavy feeds highlight a world of fun that can stir up feelings of loss. Porter felt it early on as a new mom.

“The first three months with a newborn was tough on me,” she recalls. “I felt like I was missing out on everything that brought me joy in my life before a baby, including simple things like going on hikes or going out to dinner. I would see friends on social media and instantly miss that time in my life where I could do what I wanted when I wanted to.”

Porter adds, “I think what made it hard is that, for the most part, people don’t showcase the ‘tough’ times in their life on social media. And so, social media turned into a really negative place for me where I was just comparing my life with everyone else’s.”

Michelle Margraf of Oxford says she’s also experienced social media FOMO.

“Facebook and Instagram definitely have an impact on how I feel when I’m at home not doing anything,” says Margraf, mom to Jack, 8, Violet, 5, and Blake, 3. “There are so many outlets for moms to find things to do with kids in the area. I find myself wanting to do something almost every single day – music in the park, movie night, any type of festival.”

The ripples go even further. “My phone use causes issues with my husband,” Margraf adds. “I do my best to put it down during meal time and date nights and even outings with the kids, but I always resort to snapping a few photos regardless.”

Turning the page

Sure, there’s common sense in all the clutter. For example, on social media, we know that what people share is a sliver of their own truth; a glimpse into their reality, but not the whole story. We know that we can’t register our kids for every class or take them everywhere. We know we’re doing our best to juggle it all.

So why is FOMO still such a strong force?

“FOMO is hard,” says Samantha Pedri, a social worker and therapist in Macomb County. “Remembering what you have and being grateful for what you have is hard when you see the beautiful things that others have.”

Taking a step back is important. “Appreciating the little things and spending real-life time with our loved ones is key in maintaining happiness in our relationships,” she says.

Read on for eight tips to help you overcome FOMO.

1. Personalize it and stay grounded

Porter has learned to view social media as a way of showing the love she feels for her family – and she says she chooses to focus on what she has.

“I’m proud of my family, how hard my husband and I have worked to be where we are in our lives,” she says, “and I always remind myself how lucky we are to live the life we do.”

Turning the attention back to your family can be a healthy way to refocus, Hormel agrees.

“A very helpful way to curb FOMO is remembering to ask yourself what works for you (and your) family,” he says. “Most of the time we were perfectly content with our initial plans and ideas until we learned about someone else’s.”

2. Look forward to something

“Make plans in advance,” Hormel adds. “Having things to look forward to is a huge cure for FOMO. When we’re prepared, FOMO goes down.”

Use a notebook, storyboard or Pinterest to collect ideas, he suggests. “Instead of feeling like you’re missing out, reframe the feeling as possible inspiration for the future.”

With this tactic, planning family trips has worked well for the DuPonts.

“Traveling has always been something my wife and I both value doing, and while we knew we would have to make adjustments after Amelie was born, we were determined to keep at it – with the understanding it would take more preparation and sacrifices on our parts,” DuPont says.

“Amelie got her passport shortly after her first birthday, and we’ve taken her on a trip already. I definitely don’t feel like we’re not doing enough.”

3. Follow/unfollow

You don’t need to let your feed consume you. Rather, curate what you see to increase the odds that your mood will get a boost, not a bump.

“Follow pages on social media that increase your happiness – such as inspirational pages or topics you enjoy, like sports recaps or videos of animals – to reduce the amount of photos on your feed that may cause FOMO,” Pedri offers. “Eliminate celebrities or influencers to reduce the amount of photos that may increase FOMO – such as beauty, vacation, cars, money or relationships.”

If the pull is too strong, “Try deleting social media for a period of time,” she adds.

4. Work on your emotions

Parent guilt is ubiquitous. But letting your kids down sometimes – like missing a baseball game or birthday party because of work – is also a healthy chance to communicate with your kid and for your kid to build resilience.

After all, these “fleeting and precious moments” tend to be more for parents than for the kids, New Jersey psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore recently told the Wall Street Journal. Processing disappointment is important for parents, too. So instead, explain to your kiddo clearly that you’re bummed you can’t be there, but you’re looking forward to calling them at a certain time and hearing all about it.

“Don’t make it into a bigger thing than it is,” Kennedy-Moore tells WSJ, “by repeatedly apologizing or begging for forgiveness or saying, ‘What can I do to make it up to you?'”

5. Self-care – and mindfulness

Give yourself some TLC, too. “When feeling anxious or worried about missing out, do something for you to relax,” Pedri suggests. “Exercise is a great coping skill for anxiety, stress or depression.”

Make a conscious effort to stay present and be mindful when you are with your family.

“I have to remind myself every now and then to be in the moment,” Porter says, “and not worry about getting the perfect picture of the experience.”

6. Put down the phone

“Social media has taken (us by) storm to be a platform for political conversation, sharing photos, sharing beauty tips and more,” Pedri says. “Regulating the amount of social media we participate in is just as important as regulating our children’s electronic use.

“It is important to enjoy time with others or have self-care time,” she continues, “and one of the best things I’ve seen or done in relation to this is put down the phone or tablet when you are with your family, at the dinner table, at work or with friends. Leave social media for a lunch break or for lounging before bed.”

7. Open up – and relax

“Become more active with your current circle of friends or family,” Pedri recommends. “Plan weekly date nights or plan activities regularly to be a part of something … Talk to your support system or group of friends if you’re feeling left out by them or need additional support from them.”

At the same time, embrace that there’ll never be enough time for everything.

“I realize there are going to be times when I feel a little jealous about missing out on some experience that I might have been able to do if I was younger or did not have a family,” DuPont says. “But I also feel like we still manage to do a lot, and I value the time we have together. So I am never sitting around wondering what I am missing.”

8. Seek help

“If FOMO is related to mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, counseling or therapy could benefit the individual,” Pedri says. “This could be as easy as talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.”

She adds, “Seek out professional help with counseling or therapy to discuss better coping skills, depending on the severity of the symptoms related to FOMO.”

Kids tips for fighting FOMO

Just like their parents, children and teenagers experience plenty of FOMO. Psychotherapists Hormel and Pedri also have a few insights on that.

1. Less is more.

“When dealing with kids, it’s so important to keep in mind that psychological studies show that kids actually benefit more from lower-key quality time when parents are able to be present,” Hormel says.

“Playing a board game, baking cookies or kicking a ball in the backyard without phones could have a greater developmental impact than an expensive trip to an amusement park. Parents often feel their kids have FOMO if they aren’t always able to provide their kids with elaborate activities. This is not true.”

2. Connect fully.

“Kids will benefit emotionally from activities where parents and caregivers are able to connect with eye contact and be truly present,” Hormel says. “This is one reason why it’s important to spend time with your kids without phones, tablets and TV.”

3. Do for them, not for you.

“Another thing to remember is to get cues from what your kids like/want,” Hormel says. “Often parents will plan events/birthday parties/vacations they think their kids need or will like. If you have a more quiet and introverted child, a huge birthday party with 30-plus kids is not what your child would plan. This is the parents’ own FOMO!”

4. Listen to your parents.

“I never listened to my parents when they said this to me: ‘You will never see 95 percent of these people again once you graduate.'” Pedri recalls. “I had very strict parents and couldn’t go to parties or places without other parents for chaperones. I always felt like I missed out and, eventually, never made friends with the people I envied.

“This was for the better, now that I look back,” she continues. “I hate admitting that my parents were so right, when I, at the time, thought they were so horrible. I got over it eventually, and now am grateful for it. We get over it. We learn from it. It just takes time. Being a good parent is not easy.”

And kids and teens, Pedri reminds: “You will be able to experience so much in your life. There is so much more to come.”

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