Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, oh my! SO MUCH SOCIAL MEDIA DEDICATED TO BABIES! I don’t know about you, but if I see one more baby picture on my newsfeed I might just go crazy. For some reason, mothers feel the need to document EVERY LITTLE THING that their precious little larvae humans do (clearly, I’m the motherly type). “Today little Johnny ate mashed potatoes- everyone must be alerted immediately!” * long exasperated sigh*
Generation Z is the first generation of babies to have their lives methodically documented on social media for all to see, and recently, there has been a lot of scientific talk about the long term effect of this habitual obsession.
Psychologist Priya Kumar at the University of Michigan, published a study in which she investigated the psychological and sociological impacts of the clash between social media and motherhood. Kumar explores mothers’ decision-making processes to share baby pictures online and through the lens of “photo sharing,” the mother-child relationship.
Brooklyn mom Nicole Jedinak, one of the 22 mothers interviewed in the study, explains her reasoning for snapping and sharing photos of her son Jackson, “I think [Instagram] is a really great way for his grandparents and aunts and uncles and everybody in the family to keep up with what's going on."
Some moms like Molly Weingrod, however, share photos more privately – with family only rather than social media, "Since I don't know where things go and what happens to them after you put them out into the ether, I like to keep them private as much as possible."
Overall, Kumar found that excessive documentation and sharing of pictures is less about the kids and more about the mothers representing themselves (or ideal versions of themselves) through the images of their children. For example, an overwhelming amount of these pictures depict “firsts” (first birthday, bike ride, grilled cheese sandwich etc.)- all the rewarding aspects of motherhood, but fail to document all of the dirty diapers, middle of the night feedings, or health problems. In essence, Facebook pictures only represent an idealized version of motherhood. Kumar found that sometimes this goes even further, as to depict an idealized version of the actual child. Mothers will often share pictures that pinpoint their children as having certain personality traits that they may or may not actually possess- essentially, creating a public identity for their children that they will someday inherit.
Psychologist Daphne de Marneffe also explored the interplay between parental identity and the public self in her 2004 book “Maternal Desire.” "Our public persona in a sense is kind of hard to disentangle from our private self. And those are issues that cultures are always grappling with and this is just the newest iteration," she says.