Thu Heintz started her online blog filled with photos, recipes, stories of her daily life and of life in Chicago on Feb. 1, 2013.
“Over time, I incorporated the photos with (oldest daughter) Olive representing a lot of shots,” she says. “And it started as that, a hobby. Then I slowly incorporated my blog and our lives and it all kind of meshed throughout the years.”
But for Michele Maleszyk, or @Midwestmomofone, it was a way to connect with friends and family who lived outside the state or country.
The common theme for both of these moms comes from wanting to showcase current photos of their kids while interacting with their communities and local businesses.
While this might not be the driving inspiration for everyone with a family Instagram account or wanting to start one, it certainly is among the benefits of doing so.
“When people are creating these kinds of channels, they’re looking to share things about their children and about their lives when they might just do that on the playground,” says Dr. Michael Stern, Professor and Department Chairperson for Michigan State’s Department of Media and Information. “Or they might do that at the soccer game. They might do that at the playdate. And so, there’s this kind of duality with both the social part of it and the financial part of it.”
With more than 20,000 followers, Heintz has seen this duality firsthand through moms from California to Texas.
“We’re able to communicate, support each other, and some of us have the same journey when it comes to influencing and blogging so it’s nice to have that support, that word of mouth,” she says.
Maleszyk has found a more local community in moms that she meets face to face.
“I have met several people from Instagram in real life for playdates,” she says. “I have also found some amazing local businesses, small shops, and handmade clothing makers for my daughter.”
This lends itself to the plethora of information available to parents when they advertise themselves as a family page. Ads and connections can be made through local brands and advice from other moms can be shared and monitored.
Dr. Liefu Jiang, Assistant Professor for Chicago State’s Department of Communications, Media Arts, and Theatre, sees this as a very useful tool.
“For example, if I have some concerns on whether my daughter needs more homework or if she needs to do more exercise, I can see what other parents are doing,” Jiang says.
Especially in the current pandemic, Jiang notes the pressures that can come with parents having their children at home 24/7 and the lifeline that having a supportive group of people in a similar situation can provide.
While the pandemic is only a recent development, the need for community is not.
“There’s a very quintessential community aspect to being a follower and interacting with other people who have similar interests to you,” Stern says. “Clearly, you’re bonding over this one channel, but you have shared experiences now and those shared experiences become important. Especially from an emotional and supportive stance, you start to feel like you’re connected to these people because you have this shared interest. It’s a very powerful thing.”
But there’s a fine line to cross with people who feel as though they know your children and family. Unsolicited advice and issues on privacy are often brought up in regard to family pages and influencers.
Heintz takes a very direct approach to this by having an open dialogue with her daughters.
“I’ve read a couple articles where children as they get older get offended or they want to sue their parents for posting them online,” she says. “But I don’t view my kids in that sense, and I wouldn’t think they’d have that mindset. They might be young, but we talk a lot about things. And when it comes to social media, we have a very positive mindset about that and that’s what I really try to push is looking at things in a bright light.”
Privacy concerns are very individualized due to how much the parent chooses to share. But there is always an inherent risk. Drastic measures can even be taken in the form of making your account private and closely monitoring your followers.
While this might seem extreme, for some people this is what works best. Maleszyk takes this seriously as she keeps a lot of her personal information offline due to her job and general safety.
But privacy can come in different forms. Simply oversharing can be seen as personal and a line has to be drawn as to what parents deem appropriate about how much of their lives to divulge.
Jiang says that showing the negative aspects of parenting might be a good lesson for other parents or a way to show that they’re not alone if they’re going through something similar.
Dr. Stern adds that this balance can draw people in: “People love the drama of real life. They want to see the ups and downs. That has a lot of power to draw people in with that ‘wow, someone else is going through this’ or ‘yeah my family had that problem all the time when we were growing up.’”
Ultimately, making a family page is inherently for the person who made it.
“I started the blog and the account because I really enjoyed the creative outlet of it,” Heintz says. “And being able to do that and share it with others, I think that’s a blessing. But ultimately, I do it for myself. And if people follow along and people are positive about it, that’s fantastic.”
Maleszyk agrees, and the advice that she has to offer for parents is clear: “You should do what you feel comfortable with, and only post what you are comfortable with. I think you should have fun with your Instagram account.”
Tips for public family Instagram accounts:
- Turn off location services while you’re at home
- Don’t post photos until you are somewhere else
- Avoid school names
- Don’t take photos that show your street name or home address
- Turn off geotagging