I Instagram my baby most frequently on Saturday mornings, that once-sacred pocket of time that is now one of the toughest moments of the weekly cycle for me. On Saturdays, I used to sleep late-ish until I woke up feeling leftover anxiety from the week, anxiety that I’d quickly purge with a yoga class, a big plate of eggs, and maybe a nap in the afternoon.
Now, far earlier than I want to be, I’m awakened by my 15-month-old. I still feel tired, and anxious, and burdened by the logistical and emotional hangover of the previous week. But my child, innocent that he is, doesn’t care about that. He wants to play with mama, point at stuff, and eat breakfast, or “mmm” as he calls it. And I want to enjoy these precious moments, but my body and brain just aren’t there yet.
So I inevitably take out my phone and capture little videos and pictures of him doing all his adorable things (on our private, friends-only baby account, and occasionally on my account which is also private). This ritual helps me wake up—and gives me incentive to muddle through the haze, the crankiness, the bone-tiredness and honestly, the boredom. It reminds me that the stuff I’m too bleary to appreciate right now will be deeply appreciated by the small but faithful coterie of followers on our baby’s account, including four grandparents, an aunt, an uncle, and many close friends, and therefore also appreciated deeply by me—later, after a nap.
And when I open Instagram, I see a litany of posts from friends with toddlers, too, and I feel less isolated in my low-level, temporary misery.
Back when I was pregnant, I used to lie in bed with my phone on Saturday mornings and marvel at the steady stream of new posts from acquaintances with dogs and babies, the two varieties of companion that force an early wakeup. If I found all those posts myopic pre-pregnancy, my transition into mom-to-be turned the ritual of checking the ‘gram on Saturdays into an intriguing glimpse into my future—an extremely accurate one, as it turns out
So now I’m one of those Instagramming mommies. I have mixed feelings about selfie culture (you will never sell me on the idea that it’s 100% about empowerment) and the kind of social-media sharing that makes the user’s life seem perfect and adorable, but I’m an occasional participant in these cultural trends anyway, and I’m sure some people find it obnoxious. Oh well.
In the age of Instagram, parenting’s appearance versus reality can be hard to parse. That’s why Kveller will be running a series of essays this summer exploring the theme of what we show to the world vs. what we really experience, with social media as a lens. Because our relationship to the way we present our parenting life online is as complicated as our relationship to parenting itself.
I’m lucky in my online cohort, with nary a “Look at my perfect life!” ‘grammer among those I follow. It’s entirely possible I unfollowed all those people, as I keep my Instagram follow count very curated. The only thing that comes close are those Friday night challah-baking photos—they do give me a moment of unease, because I will probably die without ever baking challah.
Still, my friends largely keep it real on the ‘gram: they broadcast their frazzled state as much as their bliss, offering up tantrums, messes and screaming, jumping kiddos—not to mention their own tired faces, or their desperately-needed coffee cups for my consumption. I think that for my particular peer group, mostly professional women in our 30s juggling work and home, ‘gramming our kids and our own experiences as parents is a way of saying: “Hey, I’m still here—see me!” These experiences we have at home or in the park, with no one to witness, are meaningful, strange, amazing, hilarious, numbingly boring and exhausting—and Instagram is a way of making it feel less invisible.
Or maybe it’s just vanity and self-absorption in the end. All I know is that in the Trump era, with Facebook and Twitter semi-permanently exiled from my phone for sanity’s sake, Instagram has become a refuge, and a community.
If you have reflections on social media and parenting, appearance and reality, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.