In possibly the most candid and forthcoming interview I’ve ever done, influencer, model and actress Sheila Sim tells me how she too was influenced by social media on parenting styles that just didn't work, and the freedom she's found in doing it her way.
Being in the media for so many years, I can spot a “sponsored” post from the first sentence in the caption. While the meaning of Instagram is “Instant camera”, there is hardly anything instant about it these days. Every picture, carefully shot and edited, reveals only the most pristine side of a person, with every caption tediously crafted. While consumers are becoming more savvy and are chipping away at the illusion that is social media, it is still so easy to get caught up in it! Enter Sheila Sim: a first time mother who found herself swirling in the whirlpool that is “Instagram mothering”.
What is “Instagram mothering” and how influenced by it were you?
People need to remember that whatever is shown on any person’s profile is their best foot forward. It’s just not real. However, it is easier said than done. When you see so many beautiful pictures of mothers nursing their baby to sleep, and captions about how natural and bonding it is, you tend to make excuses and get lazy with sleep training.
At first I was determined to do sleep training when Layla was younger, but it just didn’t work! I made matters worse by constantly nursing her to sleep. It got to a point where she vomited from over feeding, but it was all I knew to make her sleep.
Another thing that influenced me a lot was baby-led weening. There were so many pictures and videos online, about immaculately prepared baby food and happy babies playing with their meals. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t my reality! The faster I accepted that, the happier I was. Layla is now 11 months and we’re trying sleep training again… All in our own time.
One reason why I resonated with you, was because of your very raw post about the fact that you couldn’t put Layla to sleep on your own. Why did you choose to share that and open yourself up to criticism?
From the start, we had a confinement nanny. I rested while she tended to Layla. After which, the job fell to my helper. Layla has her own room, but our helper slept with Layla, so she’s the person that puts Layla back to sleep. I needed my rest desperately as well! I was determined to breastfeed (possibly because once again, I was influenced by societies expectations and felt I would be a bad mom if I didn’t) and that too was a challenging journey.
As Layla grew older, insecurities got the better of me as well, and I didn’t want my helper sleeping with her. On my helper’s off days, I realised I just could not put Layla to sleep! She wasn’t used to me or my style and it was a terrible feeling. I felt other women could possibly be going through the same thing and they could relate to my frustrations. Thankfully, I didn’t really get any negative messages. The mothering community is a strong one, so I received a lot of advice instead.
Was there ever a post you were hesitant to share?
Influencer’s posts can be very misleading. Though my pictures are happy and smiling, I choose to be vulnerable and truthful in the captions. For example, when we gave baby-led weaning another shot, some of my followers messaged me in amazement: “Wow, Layla can finish all that?”. That’s when it dawned on me… I was always posting the pretty before pictures, but the reality of it would be she perhaps only had 3-4 bites of the meal.
In those cases I felt that I had to be responsible, so I would reply telling them the facts. Yes, on this day she ate all, or, on this day she just played with the food and ate nothing… she drank more milk instead. I had to give a realistic balanced view on things so other mothers wouldn’t feel the pressure I felt. Questioning why my child isn’t hitting this milestone or eating as well – every baby is different, and we all need to give ourselves grace.
When did the mom guilt easy for you? What was the turning point?
I sacrificed so much, really, so much. Work wise, passing on opportunities, my sleep, my social life, and I have not had any alcohol in almost two years because I’m still breastfeeding. I even changed the things I ate and when I ate. It came to a point where my husband asked me when I was going to prioritise myself?
That’s the truth isn’t it? First time mothers are just so burdened with their own standards and expectations they set for themselves. Looking at social media and other people’s lives reinforces that self-imposed pressure. It’s so easy to forget about ourselves. Once I started putting myself first, sleeping better and eating better, I was a better mother. It was as simple as that.
How do you deal with the public having an opinion on how you raise Layla?
I’m very bo chap about it, but that’s also because I’ve been in the industry long enough to have a thick skin. I just don’t care. Even when it comes to my family, everyone has an opinion on how we should raise our child. In fact, even I was like that! I remember going out with a friend, and she was feeding her one year-old son ice cream. I wasn’t even a mother then, but still I had the cheek to tell her, she shouldn’t be doing that, ice cream isn’t good for a child that young. Being a mother to an almost one year-old now, I understand! Sometimes they just don’t eat! You’re so desperate to get some food into them that anything goes! I called her up and apologised to her… luckily she was really nice about it.
Even my mother will chime in with her opinion about how I should be doing things. I remind her that the way she raised us worked for that time. Things are different now and not everything can be applied the same and have the same outcome. I tell her she’s had her turn raising children, let me have mine If I fail, then I’ll bear that cross – at least I failed doing it my way. Imagine if I listened to my mother, and something went wrong with Layla – what am I going to do? Push the blame to my mother? That would be outrageous…
Lastly, being an influencer yourself, is there a fellow influencer you compare yourself to?
Of course! We’re all human, and as much as you know there is a degree of phoniness to it all, you can’t help but compare and at times feel insecure. Melissa Koh would be it for me. Not only her whole aesthetic, but her body in particular.
I’m an actress and model, and I naturally had a very slim frame… where has it gone? I believe she’s had her second child? She bounced back at once, and not just “skinny” – she’s so toned as well! I keep telling myself, it’s only been 11 months, I’ll work out slowly and at my own pace, but it’s definitely difficult not to compare and be envious. How does she do it?
The bottom line
Let’s be real – it isn’t a matter of being able to spot which posts are docked and which are more real. It’s acceptance and how we deal with expectations. My chat with Sheila was warm and genuine. Just two girlfriends who had never met, chatting about how they’re attempting to navigate motherhood. She makes being a “bad mum” look friendly, relatable and let’s face it, chic as hell.