Why I Don’t Use Emojis to Cover My Kids’ Faces on Instagram

Writer Amil Niazi’s monthly meditations on the highs and lows of parenting — and every feeling in-between.

Writer Amil Niazi’s monthly meditations on the highs and lows of parenting — and every feeling in-between.

My iPhone’s camera roll lately has been filled with snapshots of family life taken not by me but by my 4-year-old daughter. Her point of view of the family, from me to her baby brother, is full of obvious tenderness, and all the pictures (and there’s a lot of them) are bursting with love and humor. She and my 6-year-old son have really gotten into taking photos, mimicking all the adults around them constantly engaged in some form of memory keeping or content capturing, at all times.

My first Instagram photos were probably pictures of food — I’m an elder millennial — back when we all wondered what the app was for. I was skeptical of the whole thing, not sure if I could really add any more social media on my pile. I was already busy posting inscrutable song lyrics on Facebook and throwing weird videos up on Tumblr. Back then, my posting was sporadic and disinterested. Then, eventually, Facebook became a collection of old bones and misspelled rants, and Instagram became the main way of staying connected to friends and family who had moved away or who I’d lost more frequent touch with.

I’d had a vague sense that the postpartum aftermath would be “tough” or isolating, but I was ill-prepared for the actual physical and mental tolls. I could measure just how much the thread had come undone by looking at the selfies I was taking and posting. In the roughly five photos I uploaded in the first three months, I’m often holding a baby or breastfeeding, but the focus wasn’t on him — it always seems to be the desperation in my eyes. I look lost, exhausted, and thirsty; so, so thirsty. (Around-the-clock nursing will do that to you.) Posting those images publicly on Instagram opened up the conversation with other moms, who would message me at all hours to say they’d been there, that it would get easier, that I wasn’t alone. My captions weren’t a call for help, but they saw something in my eyes that they recognized. It was exactly the lifeline I needed at the time, and it quickly became clear that for me the only way out was through another sad selfie. When I look at those photos now, it’s jarring to see how obliterated I seem, but capturing that moment in time made it easier for me to recognize it in myself and in others. Now, when I see a new mother post something similar, I know to reach out with the same words of encouragement so many sent me in those early, hazy days.

It’s no surprise to me that motherhood in particular found its full expression on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, that women are finding community, creativity, and careers by sharing this part of our lives. It can be devastatingly lonely to be with yourself and your baby all day, wondering if anyone else feels the same way you do, if anyone is also drowning in laundry, boredom, and the occasional pang of regret. For better or worse, those selfies kept me sane.

But as a decade-plus of momfluencers and family vloggers have shown, the stakes of sharing your kids on social media have changed. Children whose lives have been shared online and turned into content since they were toddlers now say they would have preferred privacy. Child influencers are even fighting for the right to be forgotten and compensation from their parents. Obviously, most of us aren’t monetizing our family photos, but the lesson is clearly that putting your kids’ every milestone and life moment on blast is at best annoying for the kids and, at worst, exploitative. So the alternative is either to stop posting entirely or find a way to post while protecting kids’ privacy until they can consent.

A number of celebrities, including even Mark Zuckerberg (if you consider him one), throw emojis over their brood’s faces, a work-around that earns mixed reactions when applied to us non-celebs. Some folks preach that it protects your kids from data extraction and surveillance, while others find it pointless. I’ll admit to falling somewhere in-between — I get that it offers a sense of control in a digital space that increasingly feels out of our control. But often my reaction to seeing a friend’s baby posted with a big emoji covering their face, especially on a private account with a handful of followers, is to find it all a bit absurd. I’d sooner stop sharing my kids altogether than only share carefully crafted shots of my baby turning away from the camera or sporting a giant clownish emoji.

Right or wrong, sharing those sad selfies of my early days of motherhood — breastfeeding at 3 a.m., expression caught in the glare of my phone’s flashlight, or, later, photos of me holding my daughter shortly after her birth in 2020, nursing her with a mask on — have given me a sense of control, too. They made me feel like I’m still a person and connected me to myself and other mothers. Documenting my son’s changing blond curls or both older kids’ evolving waddles and wardrobes have also been a default record of the joy in our lives, something to pore over when things feel overwhelming and hard.

I also love seeing friends’ baby announcements and watching those babies start to coo and cackle and crawl. I adore seeing people’s older kids come into their own and start to move onto high school or college. I don’t really want to stop sharing all of that entirely, nor do I want to stop seeing it from others.

I don’t think I’ve really thought twice over the years about sharing intimate moments, especially since my account is private and many of my followers are people I know. But maybe I’m deluding myself about the many dangers and concerns when it comes to posting my kids online. At the very least, I think I’m holding on to a version of social media and the internet that probably doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe it never did.

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