Like that would-be influencer’s overly filtered image of a frothy cappuccino, the parental blogosphere is saturated, ever-enticing and enhanced to look far more sanguine than it actually is. If you didn’t know any better and your only exposure to the motley world of parenthood was via Instagram, you’d probably think that the hardest part is figuring out how to best exploit those chubby cheeks for likes.
Of course, this isn’t anything new. The maternal blogosphere — operated by a fleet of women ostensibly living their best life, more commonly referred to as mommy bloggers — is, and has been for years, a deluge of posts featuring blissed-out babies sleeping in creamy white blankets, or some variation of toddlers covering their faces in [insert any messy and sticky substance] with a caption along the lines of, “Isn’t it cute that my child did exactly what an unsupervised child left alone with a tub of peanut butter would do?”
But this only captures one side of the nuclear Insta-Fabulous family viewpoint. What about dad? Well, he’s been around for a while too — you just may not have noticed until recently, with the rise of the Insta-Daddy. Back in 2009, Steve Hodson wrote of the emergence of the “daddy blogger,” suggesting that as a result of the 2008 recession, many men, formerly the breadwinners of the family, found themselves as unemployed stay-at-home dads, responsible for taking care of their child. “For a growing number of these men, the change was hard to take, or understand,” writes Hodson. “Suddenly we started to see a growing popularity of daddy-blogs, both as a valuable resource and as an outlet for those new stay-at-home dads who started writing them.”
By that timeline, Alan Lawrence — a daddy blogger who has six kids and nearly 90,000 followers on Instagram — was approximately four years late. “I got really serious about it after my second youngest son, Wil, was born, which was in 2013,” says Lawrence, who admits that for him, blogging was initially his way of grappling with the reality of being a father to a child with Down Syndrome. “I was struggling pretty hard and had some anger, frustration and sadness, and recognized later that it was a blessing. I didn’t want dads to go through the same things that I went through, so I revealed some of the feelings that I had and how I got over that, what I recognized and where I’m at now, and shared that on my blog and through social media. It took off from there.”
Lawrence, who also maintains a full-time job as an art director for a running shoe company, tells me that he dedicates at least three to four hours a day conceptualizing, writing and posting a blog. “I’m an art director and graphic designer, so I like to also do a lot of composite photography,” he says. “I started a series called Wil Can Fly.”
The series features composite stills of Wil floating in various settings, such as an open field, near a refrigerator door and in a supermarket aisle. But while those images understandably get a lot of attention, Lawrence says he’s noticed that people were really wanting to know more of the personal side, specifically about his struggles being the provider but also wanting to be a good dad and the realities of raising a son with Down Syndrome. “That will obviously get a lot of reach because you get a lot of people that are going through the same struggle,” he says. “So I try to find a balance of this playful side with the composite photography, but then also the reality side.”
Still, he admits that trying to balance the staged highlight reel of silly costumes, song-and-dance numbers and turning his youngest son into a literal Elf on the Shelf with the posts that convey his family struggles, can be tricky. “I get on Instagram because I’m done with my day and I want to feel good, I want to see something happy, and things like that,” says Lawrence. “The struggle isn’t all the time, right? So it just depends on the cadence of when it’s happening. I don’t think I really have a plan of, okay, this week, I’m going to do a struggle post. Sometimes, we could go a little while and there isn’t one. Then I think to myself, How can I talk about the struggles to help people when there isn’t a struggle? Just to create a conversation.”
Michael Rich, an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, who studies the effect of social media on parenting, tells me that using social media as an outlet does provide a remarkable opportunity for being authentic with each other — a way to optimize our humanity as well as a form of personal therapy. “I think that obviously this presents a remarkable opportunity to basically crowd-source experience,” says Rich. “None of us is prepared to parent.”
To that end, Mike Julianelle, a 40-something Brooklyn dad with more than 41,000 Twitter followers, goes so far as to openly admit on his Twitter bio that he, “writes instead of goes to therapy like my family keeps insisting I should.” In one intensely confessional blog post from July of last year, Julianelle writes that although few people openly discuss it, sometimes the realities of parenting make him sad. “I don’t want to be the parent that blows up at his kids, especially when I haven’t seen them for a week,” he writes. “But despite my efforts to hold my frustration at bay, I ultimately couldn’t help myself. I’d had a very long day, and kids are maddening and overwhelming and exhausting and confounding, and it’s okay to lose it sometimes. It’s pretty much impossible not to.”
Fellow daddy blogger Aaron Gouveia (who has nearly 24,0000 followers on Twitter), told the Huffington Post in 2015 that he got into blogging because he noticed there was a need for fathers to support and network with each other. “‘Parenting isn’t all sunshine, rainbows and perfect Facebook portraits,’ Gouveia says, suggesting that there is “often beauty in the sadness and redemption in the struggle.”
All this blogging isn’t falling on deaf ears, either: According to a Forbes report, 71 percent of millennials value the advice and insights they receive from parenting blogs, parenting websites, forums and social networks.
It’s also the case, however, that parent-bloggers (daddy bloggers included) still mostly relegate themselves to snapshotting the sometimes whimsical, often cutely frustrating, but ostensibly always fulfilling side of parenting — the sort of “dad’s greatest hits” that makes other mothers wonder why their husbands aren’t as naturally gifted, while making fathers feel inadequate when comparing themselves to the dad who even does “wrong” oh so right.
Case in point, Simon Hooper, AKA Father of Daughters, who boasts a perfectly curated collage of an objectively beautiful family. His Instagram, apart from one post in which he questions the ever-evolving role of the modern man, is nothing short of padre propaganda — a fatherly feast of all that’s good and right about raising four daughters. Arguably the most famous daddy blogger on the planet, Hooper has nearly a million Instagram followers scrolling through his every move. (He also has both a talent manager and a publicist, the latter of whom informed me that Simon is busy with other commitments and therefore had to “politely decline” to be interviewed for this article.)
If all that sounds like an advertisement designed to either convince you to have kids, or make you feel shitty about how you treat the ones you have, Rich says that’s sort of the point. “We all basically use social media in a way that is, in many ways, more harmful than helpful in the sense that we use it exactly the way that companies do — to market ourselves,” says Rich. “So that being said, of course this feeds into feelings of insecurity or feelings that they’re doing something wrong for parents who are struggling and comparing their parenting styles with the images they see.”
According to research by the Priory Group, the leading independent provider of behavioral care in the U.K., more than one in five parents (22 percent) report that happy snaps on Instagram, or “exuberant baby blogs” on Facebook and other sites made them feel inadequate, while 23 percent said it made them feel “depressed,” reports Essential Baby. Additionally, 40 percent of the 1,000 moms and dads surveyed said that idealized images of parenthood and “over-sharenting” are contributing to anxiety among new parents, while 26 percent blame “instamoms” for the rising rates of depression. “While many parents log onto social media to feel more connected to other mums, 10 percent said they felt some social media sites could actually make new parents feel more isolated,” claims the same report.
So how does it balance out? Are noble intentions enough to offset some of the damage being done by these idealized tableaus? To Lawrence’s credit, he’s at least conscious of how his daddy blogging could have an adverse effect on other parents. “Yeah, there’s times when I’m very aware of that,” he says. “There’s times when I have to do a gut check of myself from being like, what am I focusing on? Sometimes, I take a look back at my feed and I’m like, wow, happy, happy, happy, perfect, perfect, perfect. You know? It’s not like I’m faking what’s happening, I’m just concentrating too much on the positive.”
Further complicating the practical matter of trying to remain authentic, while also cultivating a wider audience, is the fact that sometimes the reality of fatherhood is just not that interesting. “There’s a lot of times I’m like, the kids were fighting because I took away Netflix. Then I think to myself, well, that’s not glamorous, that’s not very interesting. I step back and wonder if people are even going to react to this? I don’t think I want to post this because it’s just not interesting enough.”
Another reason Lawrence says he might not post a more “authentic” blog is simply because he’s worried about what other people are going to think. “There’s this specific topic: My children talking about really deep depression,” he says. “I’ve alluded to it and have started to dip my feet in the water of sharing that and getting feedback without… I want to share the positives about having a child with Down Syndrome and the positives about having a big family, and the struggle as well. So it’s like, when I get into a deep topic like that, you don’t want to just hit them with a 2×4. Like, wow, where did this come from?”
Along with staying true to the struggles of fatherhood, the other major potential problem for bloggers posting pictures of their kids, Rich warns, is the issue of consent. “This is a non-consenting minor who’s unable to give their consent,” says Rich. “Are you making your child the little star of some narrative?” If so, Rich says that these are all things we have to pause and consider. “Not just in the moment — as in, is this device coming between us, because I’m staring at my own phone and ignoring you — but because a post will be there forever, even when your prom date shows up.”
In a recent Slate article, writer Ruth Graham notes of how Christie Tate, a mommy blogger who’s been writing about her family for more than a decade, has experienced backlash for essentially blogging about her daughter against her daughter’s wishes. “It’s clear Tate doesn’t think she has much to apologize for,” reports Graham. “‘I read through some of my old pieces, and none of them seemed embarrassing to me, though [my daughter] might not agree,’ she [Tate] writes.” Graham also reports that Tate’s daughter now has veto power over photos and that she is “taking under advisement” her daughter’s request to be referred to by a pseudonym. “She [Tate] is part of an entire generation of writers and Instagrammers and YouTubers who have turned their family’s daily dramas into content,” writes Graham. “These are the children whose tantrums have gone viral, who have been pranked for LOLs on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, and who have turned into brands as preschoolers. Some of these mothers make serious money.”
Lawrence, for his part, says he’s acutely aware of the consent issue, which is why he doesn’t post a lot about his older kids (who, according to him, have also shown greater concerns about being a part of his blog posts). “When I started getting really into blogging, it was mainly about my younger son, so it’s just trying to find the balance of bringing the rest of my family into the feed, or the rest of my kids,” he says. “But also out of their respect, like my oldest daughter, a lot of times, she’s like, ‘I don’t want to be in a post.’ So I just have to respect that.”
Further complicating matters is the fact that Lawrence admits that what began as a fun, stress-relieving outlet now currently accounts for nearly half their family income. “We have worked with Google in the past, and we worked with Amazon,” says Lawrence. “We’ve worked with Netflix and we’ve worked with Disney quite a bit, promoting their DVDs and movies that are coming out and different things.”
When there’s that much money on the table, naturally the whole enterprise begins to feel at least somewhat compromised. While there’s no exact data on how much daddy bloggers make (according to some claims, mommy bloggers make anywhere between $2,000 and $63,000 a month blogging), as per this Times report, the entire influencer ecosystem — of which the daddy blogger is a part — is set to reach $10 billion by 2020. Grace O’Leary, a senior agent assistant at Independent Talent Group — the same agency that represents Hooper (aka Father of Daughters) — tells me via email that they also represent The Dad Lab (Sergei Urban), Freddie Harrel, Zoe de Pass and Hollie De Cruz, all daddy and mommy bloggers.
Despite the lucrative potential that parent-blogging has to offer, Lawrence’s decision to commit to being a daddy blogger full-time is still in up in the air. “Right now I feel like it’s something that I could actually do,” he says. “But it’s just trying to make sure that it’s gonna maintain. We’ve kinda been watching it for a little while and wondering, is there a level? Or is there a consistency that can make me feel safe about making the plunge?”
Until then, Lawrence says he’s dedicated to remaining as authentic as he can — especially since he’s noticed that what distinguishes him from other daddy bloggers in an ever-growing field of fatherly flaunting is the same trait that got him into this business in the first place, and which more and more fathers admit to experiencing: Vulnerability.
“The one thing I’ve found that’s really interesting is a lot of women who blog are really good at sharing their feelings,” says Lawrence. “A lot of dads feel vulnerable when they put themselves out there. It was hard for me to put those feelings out there about my son initially. But once I did it, it felt so good. It became easier for me to share more emotion, and it was interesting how many dads reached out to me that were like, ‘Yeah, I was feeling that same way about my son with special needs,’ or a different topic. Then I’m kinda like, well, why didn’t you share that? Get it out there, ‘cause man, it feels good to do that.”