As soon as Jamie Garrison signed her divorce papers, she turned up the Spice Girls.
Garrison, a 50-year-old mom of two from North Little Rock, Ark. who goes by @jgfitfam on TikTok, the lip syncing video app popular with teenagers, posted a video announcing the end of her marriage set to the hit “Wannabe” earlier this year. Garrison stands in her living room as text appears around her: “Guess who… never has… to talk to.. her ex-husband… never… ever… again… ME” it reads, followed by emojis wearing party hats and blowing party horns.
Then she breaks into a celebratory running man dance. The clip has been viewed over half a million times since it was posted in July
“I’d seen that kind of video done by other people and I thought, I’m divorced and I had finished up some things with my ex-husband… I’m gonna try to make that one work for me,” Garrison says. “I couldn’t believe how I got such a positive response.”
Like many other TikTok users who can legally rent a car, Garrison got on the app with the help of a teenager, her 16-year-old niece. “I’m an empty nester, my sons are both moved out,” she says. “It gives me something to do when I’m not working, when I’m at home, so I don’t dwell so much on, ya know, that my kids aren’t here.”
In the United States, 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million active monthly users (out of 500 million global users) are 16 to 24 years old, according to the influencer marketing agency Mediakix. Spend any time perusing the app’s highly addictive “For You” page, where videos are curated specifically for a user, and you’ll find video after video of teenagers dancing, participating in goofy memes and venting about their lives.
But there’s a wide community of mothers who not only know what TikTok is, but are thriving on it. They post videos about parenting, their divorces, even about children they lost too soon. They also post fun dance videos and join in on memes, just like their kids. While teenagers might use the app to crack jokes about AP tests or crushes, the app’s older users have found it an affirming venue for their more adult concerns.
Michelle Gomez, or @whoaitsmichelle, is a 27-year-old mother in Tennessee who, in addition to lip syncing and dressing up as Rosie the Riveter for videos, posts frankly about the death of her son Jacob, whom she lost during her pregnancy.
“It was a very traumatic pregnancy and I was left with PTSD,” she says via email. “I became a [stay-at-home-mom] and TikTok became a great outlet for me.”
On the app, Gomez says she found a community that has engaged with her experience and shared their stories with her. “I truly feel by speaking about my loss and my life I have helped so many gain the courage to do so as well.”
Gomez is certainly not the only mother who has used TikTok as an outlet to share a personal struggle. The videos on the tag #rainbowbaby, a term used for a child lost to miscarriage, have been viewed almost 24 million times. #singlemom videos have been viewed over 92 million times, while #momlife has a view count of over 1.1 billion.
“What is TikTok? For all the moms out there—what is TikTok?!” mom-of-three Reese Witherspoon recently asked her followers in a video posted to her Instagram. Witherspoon joined the platform that day after receiving a tutorial from her her 16-year-old son Deacon. In the Instagram video, Deacon gives a noncommittal “sure” when asked whether or not his mom should get on TikTok before teaching her how to hit the Woah, a popular dance on the app.
Brandy, a 33-year-old single mother in South Carolina who asked to keep her last name private, got on TikTok in July of last year as @kodanstephy after her 15-year-old son showed her some funny videos. At the time, Brandy says, she was going through a tumultuous period in her marriage.
“To me, emotion was weakness, and with TikTok I felt like it was a way that I could put out my emotions without feeling weak,” Brandy says. “It definitely helped me along the path of a lot of decisions I made in the last year—I didn’t decide to file for divorce until after I started on TikTok.”
She now has over 60,000 followers and says she is dating a man she met during one of her TikTok livestreams. After two days of messaging across different platforms, he drove out to meet her with his kids in tow and when he arrived she was dressed as a “voodoo queen,” complete with a dramatic headpiece, a corset top, and elaborate stage makeup. (“‘Cause I was doing TikToks!”) In TikTok discourse, meeting someone from the app in real life is called “Breaking The Distance,” and Brandy says she has met over 100 people in person.
“It felt like I had already known them—like I had grew up with them almost,” she says.
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The platform has even served as a tool to discipline her kids. Earlier this year, Brandy suspected her son had tried marijuana for the first time. “I popped a drug test on him and I made a TikTok out of it!” she says.
Having a space to openly discuss the trials of single parenting has brought her an outpouring of support from the community. “It’s hard, but putting it out there, there were other people who were like, ‘Yeah I had an issue with my son last year,’” she says. “It’s nice to feel like people out there are giving you that pat on the back.”
What do kids think about their moms becoming internet personalities? Brandy says her son “actually thinks it’s funny most days.” Sometimes he and her daughter will even help her set up a particularly involved video.
Jamie Garrison’s sons are fully grown, but still weigh in on their mom’s posts. “I send them all my videos and they’ll let me know, ‘This one’s really good, Mom.’” When Garrison posted a video that was backed by a song that used a racial slur, they called her out on it and she deleted the post.
“It’s the type of family that you didn’t know you needed,” says Brandy.
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