Insta-Parenting: Why We Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Sharing Pics Of Our Kids
According to a Refinery29 survey, Canadian moms are doing it for the ’gram. But what happens when being a parent becomes wrapped up in likes and follows?
It’s the first day of Grade 5 for Samantha Kemp-Jackson’s 10-year-old twin boys and there’s a lot going on in her house — the rush of the early-morning wakeup, the re-acquaintance with packing lunches, the boys’ nervous energy and the inevitable back-to-school blues. But all Kemp-Jackson is thinking about is getting a good photo of her sons. "Every year I've had to bribe and cajole my boys into some semblance of a smile because I know I need those pictures," says the mother of four. "I’m trying to get the shot, not only for myself, but for all of my friends and family who have come to expect the requisite 'first day of school' posts."
It’s no longer enough to get your kid off to school with two shoes on minimal tears, today’s parents face the pressure of immortalizing the first-day-of-school rite-of-passage (and countless others like it) online — and with the perfect filter. According to a Refinery29 survey of 500 Canadian women, 95% of mothers post photos of their children on social media, and one in four upload new images of their kids every single day. Find a social-media feed of a woman in her late 20s, 30s, and 40s, and chances are, her timeline will be dominated by pictures of birthdays and lost first teeth and trips to the zoo. Our bios shout out proudly that we’re "Aidan’s mama" or "a mom of three" of "wife, mother, lawyer" — 80% of moms we surveyed identified themselves as moms in their profiles online, and 41% of moms said they share pics of their kids because "it’s an important part of their identity." In 2019, if you don’t Instagram photos of your babies, are you even a mom?
University of Waterloo professor of women’s health Diana Parry sees this desire to share these images on social as a new way of self-branding. "We put a social value on motherhood that’s connected to identity for women that is not there for men," she says. Social media has exacerbated that relationship. "Motherhood has 'come out of the closet' so to speak," says Kemp-Jackson, a parenting expert, podcast host, and creator of the blog Multiple Mayhem Mamma. "Before the digital age, mothers and their work were not as appreciated or recognized by larger society." Women, adds Natasha Sharma, a Toronto-based relationship and parenting expert and creator of The Kindness Journal, are now choosing motherhood to be a part of their identity as much as they would their job or hobbies. "It's a huge lifestyle choice just like your career is," Sharma says. "If you're going to put in your profile what you do for a living, it makes sense to also say, 'I take a lot of pride in being a mom,' too."
While it’s well and good to post because "it’s an easy way to keep friends and family updated" (according to 59% of our survey respondents) and "because my kids are so damn cute" (41%), there’s an inevitable downside to all this content. Most women seem to be happy sharing the lives of their children online while simultaneously struggling with unhealthy comparisons and shame on the very same medium: 82% of women in our poll say they compare themselves to other moms on social media and 35% admit they always or often have any insecurities around being a mom that stem from social media. Some of the reasons social media makes mom feel bad, according to our survey results: feeling like other families have more fun (38%), that their bodies aren’t as good as other moms’ (39%), that the meals they eat as a family aren’t as "healthy and yummy looking" (30%), and that they don’t feel as happy as other parents seem to be (24%). Online, there’s always someone doing it better than you.
It doesn’t help that there’s an overflow of moms with public profiles — it used to be you’d only compare yourself the moms on the playground, now there are millions to stack yourself up to. "I had a friend who posted, 'Up at 3 a.m. with my kid and we made muffins!'" recalls Parry, who in addition to being a professor, is a mom of two. "When I'm up at 3 a.m., the last thing I'm doing is making muffins with my kid. I'm thinking, 'How am I getting my kid back to sleep?' When you’re exhausted, it’s easy to think: 'I'm not making muffins so I'm a bad mom, or I'm a bad woman, or I'm failing at this.'"
Parry may not have liked the way her friend’s post made her feel about her own parenting, but she still hit the like button. Liking parents’ posts on social media may now be a friendship necessity. In fact, our survey found that most women under 35 notice when their BFFs don’t like their pics of their children. The problem with this, according to our experts, is many women — you guessed it — internalize this as criticism and feel bad about themselves. "We post to garner a lot of likes and comments. And when we don't get it, when there is radio silence, we wonder, 'What's wrong with us? Are we doing it wrong? Is there something wrong with my kids? Are they not cute enough?'" says Kemp-Jackson.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the work we all know goes into creating these images, the majority of moms surveyed (53%) still believe that social media gives an accurate depiction of motherhood. Maybe that’s because, in recent years, we have seen a slight shift toward content that feels a bit more transparent about everyday parenting ups and downs. Kemp-Jackson, for example, ended up choosing to post a relaxed shot of her boys on their first day of school. And other moms are opting to show the tears and the tantrums. "People are beginning to open up to the actual struggles moms go through in day-to-day life," one survey respondent wrote. "They are also depicting how beautiful and forgiving parenthood can be every day." Now that’s worthy of a double tap.