Saturday 1 October 2016

Meet the Irish 'Instamums' whose kids are already stars on social media

They're the creative women who've turned parenting into an online art form. Chrissie Russell reports on the stylish - and often lucrative - world of family life on Instagram

Chrissie Russell

Published 10/02/2016 | 02:30

Hip mom: Julie Farrell at home in Dundrum with her children Dylan (7), Sarah (9), Birdie (3) and Rebecca (13). Photo: Doug O'Connor.
Hip mom: Julie Farrell at home in Dundrum with her children Dylan (7), Sarah (9), Birdie (3) and Rebecca (13). Photo: Doug O'Connor.
Networking mum: Sooby Lynch with Penny (3) at their home in Sandymount. Photo: Frank McGrath
Foodie mom: Orlaith Donlon and baby Isla (now 1).

As a mum, there've been plenty of times when I've been glad that no one was watching. The days when neither my 17-month-old or his mummy manage to wash and dress and instead spend the day watching Peppa Pig and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

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The times when dinner has consisted of cheese and corn puff snacks. The upsetting moment last week when Tom did a poo on the floor of his granny's sunlounge… Oh, yes, there have been many occasions when I've been very glad not to have been documenting my journey through motherhood.

Networking mum: Sooby Lynch with Penny (3) at their home in Sandymount. Photo: Frank McGrath
Networking mum: Sooby Lynch with Penny (3) at their home in Sandymount. Photo: Frank McGrath
Hip mom: Julie Farrell at home in Dundrum with her children Dylan (7), Sarah (9), Birdie (3) and Rebecca (13). Photo: Doug O'Connor.
Foodie mom: Orlaith Donlon and baby Isla (now 1).

But for an increasing number of mums, giving the public access to their world has become a way of life. Blogs are a common favourite but the big hit is Instagram. The photosharing site recently trumped Twitter in unique users. Its simplicity is what makes it a huge hit with mums; photos can be uploaded in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Peppa Pig and you can dip in and out of accounts, scrolling one-handed on your phone when time permits.

There's also money to be made, with brands estimated to be spending some $1bn (€917m) a year on sponsored Instagram posts.

Dublin mum Orlaith Donlon worked as a midwife until she had her first child, Leo, two years ago. Her daughter, Isla, recently turned one. Her Instagram account is a glorious celebration of her two incredibly photogenic children (sleeping curled around each other and playing in forests) and Orlaith's passion for food art.

From puff pastry cheese and pesto Christmas trees to banana and toast owls and cashew butter slathered Humpty Dumpties - it's a visual feast that frequently has her 634 followers calling for more.

She says it offers a sense of collaboration that some mums miss when they leave the workplace.

"It gives me an opportunity to bring my creative side to being a mum," explains Orlaith, who also blogs at Adventures in Tandeming.

Foodie mom: Orlaith Donlon and baby Isla (now 1).
Foodie mom: Orlaith Donlon and baby Isla (now 1).
Hip mom: Julie Farrell at home in Dundrum with her children Dylan (7), Sarah (9), Birdie (3) and Rebecca (13). Photo: Doug O'Connor.
Networking mum: Sooby Lynch with Penny (3) at their home in Sandymount. Photo: Frank McGrath

"I think one of the big attractions is having that connection with other mums. In work I would have been used to getting feedback, but when you become a first-time, stay-at-home, mum it can be a bit isolating.

"Especially if you don't have friends with children. Instagram gives you an instant connection. There's something nice about getting a little bit of recognition if someone likes a post or says 'wow, that looks amazing'," she laughs. "Even if the toddler ends up chucking it on the floor!"

She's had mums thank her for her ideas that have helped get their fussy toddlers eating and recently people have been encouraging her to do a book.

This collaborative and supportive response on Instagram is far from the hackneyed stereotype of 'mummy wars' or the moaning that can dominate parenting forums.

"Instagram is the world of 'you can do it', 'we'll support you', 'we'll help'," says Instamum Julie Farrell (@dancewithdirtyfeet). "In the outside world I'm 'just a mum'. I collect the kids from school, do homework, make the dinner, but online I'm more than that, I'm me, my opinion counts and the confidence boost that brings is really nice."

Urged on by her 25,800 followers she published a book last year, and has launched a range of products, inspired by her daughter Birdie's Instagram profile.

Hip mom: Julie Farrell at home in Dundrum with her children Dylan (7), Sarah (9), Birdie (3) and Rebecca (13). Photo: Doug O'Connor.
Hip mom: Julie Farrell at home in Dundrum with her children Dylan (7), Sarah (9), Birdie (3) and Rebecca (13). Photo: Doug O'Connor.
Networking mum: Sooby Lynch with Penny (3) at their home in Sandymount. Photo: Frank McGrath
Foodie mom: Orlaith Donlon and baby Isla (now 1).

She doesn't make money from her posts but says some of the larger Instamum accounts can earn €1,000 a post per product featured.

There are other perks - Birdie has a closet packed with freebie fashion sent to her by brands aware of her Instragram clout. Boxes of kiddy clobber regularly arrive at their door.

The monochrome world depicted in Julie's account is so achingly hip that before I talk to her, I'm worried she's far too cool for me. I'm certain her Doc Marten-wearing, three-year-old daughter is.

"I love that you think I'm cool, that's made my day," she chuckles. "I'm not that cool in real life."

Her Instagram radiates a chic calm but our conversation is interrupted by normal parent exclamations of 'go and watch Paw Patrol' and 'Don't put your jumper on the cat!'. It would seem that life, as you might expect with five children, isn't all sleek Scandi style and beautifully coordinated footwear.

She assures me that there's food mashed into car seats, ill-timed poos (I'm delighted to hear it) and (shhh, don't tell Instagram) but sometimes her kids wear colour.

"They were all in red jumpers at Christmas and it was hurting my eyes," she laughs. "Birdie (a nickname, her daughter's real name is kept off the internet) loves her cool clothes but also wears cartoon character jammies and I don't do food art to 'show off' or make other mothers feel bad, I do it because it makes my children happy… and I certainly don't do it every day."

But Instagram is about showing the good and cropping out the bad. "People don't want to see horrible pictures, they want to see something that makes them smile," says Orlaith. "We all know motherhood and, as grown adults, we all know that Instagram only shows a certain aspect of life. Who wants to see a photo of a big pile of laundry?" She makes a good point.

Nor does showcasing just a particular facet of life make it any less genuine. Food art was part of Orlaith's life before Instagram. Julie doesn't think she's representing a perfect image of motherhood. In fact she's frank about how Instagram, and the supportive community online, helped her get through some tough times when her relationship ended a year-and-a-half ago and she became a single mum.

There's a similarly 'out of adversity' feel to the genesis of Belfast mum Cathy Martin's Instagram account @valentinawore. The PR executive's daughter Valentina was born premature at 31 weeks and just nine months earlier Cathy had gone through a devastating still birth.

"When she came home, everyone was so happy and relieved, there was a huge show of love from family, friends and colleagues," says Cathy. "I got into the way of taking a picture of her with a new toy or outfit and posting it online so the person who'd sent it could see."

The account has become a way of charting four-year-old Valentina's progress and a place where Cathy's family around the world can keep up with what she's doing.

"I've had people question the ethos behind creating a digital identity for her and what the future ramifications of that are," she admits.

"And the reality is we don't know because we don't have kids who've grown up experiencing it. For me, I'm happy doing it and very much in control of it. I tell Valentina if I'm sharing a picture of her and she doesn't mind. But I don't want her to be a precocious kid."

According to Dr David J Carey, a psychologist from Dublin's Connolly Centre, there's nothing to worry about.

"Parents are proud of their children and want to show others how they are doing and what they are doing. There are really few dangers involved in doing this," he says.

"Children will not be harmed by having their photos posted. The key thing is to keep things within reason, don't be obsessive about it and ask their permission as they get older."

There are benefits to being a recognisable Instagram kid. A year ago Dublin Instamum Sooby Lynch (@standingbythewall_) spotted a mum and her baby, who she followed on Instagram, shopping in a supermarket.

"We got chatting and it turned out our kids were the same age and we lived really close to each other."

Not only did the two mums become great friends, but they went on to set up a children's fashion and interiors magazine together, Mutiny Kids (@mutinykids).

Sooby, mum to three-year-old fashionista Penny, also now works as a stylist. "My new career came from Instagram and I was able to set up a company from what I learned from being an Instamum," she reveals.

"The account has been a wonderful stepping stone and I love looking back at photos of Penny and seeing how much she's changed. I've made great Insta-friends and found a group of creative and inspirational people. I love Instagram!"

Irish Independent

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