Do you remember when you first joined Instagram? I was already 40 at the time with two young kids. Having long since 86ed my writing career, I spent my days running from school drop-offs to dance class to three-hour playdates. Then I'd return home to sort sippy cups, ball up socks, and trick out baby wipe containers with stickers while my little one watched episodes of "Caillou" on repeat.
No one wanted to see pictures of that...did they? Now that parents have basically taken over our feeds, it's hard to recall a day when there weren't many of us on there. But seven years ago, as I sat on the floor of my family room holding a Popsicle stick covered in Mod Podge, I couldn't imagine what I possibly had to offer. After all, even the most artsy, Valencia-filtered image of a Diaper Genie is still an image of a Diaper Genie.
What I didn't realize at the time, was that Instagram represented access for all of us lonely new mamas. Access to something bigger. Access to something better. Access to something that would take us out of our lives and our homes and our towns and connect us with a greater picture, a different story, a veritable promised land filled with old friends, new jobs, and maybe even entirely new lives.
It took less than 10 years for the word "Instamom" to enter the lexicon, and for becoming a social media influencer to officially supplant starting a mom blog as the go-to side hustle for new parents. Of course, it takes a lot of hard work and ingenuity to stand out from the crowd. Here are a few women you should start following ASAP because they are currently crushing it.
Instagram Account: @mothertruckerco
Number of Followers: 30K
It's been less than two years since California moms Shannon Barker and Michaela Ehrle launched their Mother Trucker hat company on Instagram, but the dynamic duo—who have five boys between them!—has already amassed a huge social media following thanks to celeb mom fans like Tori Spelling, Candace Cameron Bure, Jenny McCarthy, Jana Kramer, and Tess Holliday.
"Michaela and I were headed to the beach for the 4th of July and couldn't find any cute hats," Shannon explains. "We made our very first hat and wondered if anyone else was maybe looking for the same thing? So we started an Instagram account and posted a few pictures. We were shocked when we had followers, and when celebrities and moms everywhere wanted a Mother Trucker!
The company may have had started off on a whim, but Shannon says it's brought home a steady paycheck from the get-go. "We have sold almost a million dollars in Mother Truckers in just 18 months!" she says. "Who would have thought?"
But don't get it twisted: These moms work hard to update the Mother Trucker Instagram account and stay on top of trends—putting in time before school gets out, in the baseball stands, and after the kids go to sleep.
"Instagram is probably the first thing I look at when I wake up and the last thing I check out before I go to bed," Shannon explains. "While we are waiting in the carpool line to pick up the kids we are usually looking at Instagram...crazy, considering I don't even want my children to have their own accounts."
Shannon admits that raising children while trying to build a brand isn't always easy—but these working mamas wouldn't have it any other way. "Balance is hard, but the trick is to just enjoy all the fun we are having," she said. "If we could give any tips to moms out there, it would be do something that you love! You have to be true to yourself and build something that you believe in."
Instagram Account: @gparrish
Number of Followers: 145K
Inspiring and upbeat, yet also totally relatable, this vivacious mama—known for a big, open smile punctuated with her signature red lipstick—first joined Instagram after noticing a picture posted by one of her favorite photographers on Facebook that said "Edited with Instagram" underneath.
"I instantly downloaded the app and edited every one of my photos with the Valencia filter for a good two years," Parrish recalls, adding that she remembers her first post like it was yesterday: "It was the day we brought our first son Jonah home from the hospital."
And while the mom-of-two admits that Instagram initially "confused the crap out of her," her feed of happy snaps has somehow managed to rack up more than 145,000 followers in the past six years. She's since signed with a Talent Agency to manage her many product and brand sponsorships, and she's launched a popular online photography course to reveal the exact formula she uses to edit her pics. Pretty impressive! Just don't ask to see her camera roll.
"Oh man, my poor camera roll," she says. "I take a good 20 photos of the same thing in every setting. I snap a million miles a minute, hoping for one or two decent shots. I used to be much better about going back and deleting photos that were blurry or eyes closed or what not, but if you take a look at my current camera roll, you'll see I need an intervention. Sign me up for photo hoarders anonymous!"
See what I mean about being relatable? Parrish also has a major passion for living in the moment and keeping it real, and her captions—which she writes by pretending like she's talking to one person face-to-face—often encourage other mamas to do the same.
"Don't try to be anyone but yourself," she says. "Find YOUR voice. Dig for the things that make your heart tick and hold on to them for dear life. Social media becomes a whole lot easier once you're able to separate your genuine joy from what others think of you. If you learn to love your true, imperfect self offline, you'll feel much more confident online!"
Instagram Account: @taylensmom
Number of Followers: 138K
This Florida mom opened up an Instagram account back in 2012, after having daughter Taylen, as a way to share photos with her family and friends without over-posting on Facebook. It wasn't long before both of her adorably styled munchkins—younger daughter Aleia just turned 2—won over fans, signed with a modeling agency, and began working with brands like Toys R Us, Betsey Johnson, Play Doh, and Kardashian Kids. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought this simple gesture would create such a movement," Calad told us. "I remember when we hit 10K, that's when I realized there was no going back."
After the first couple of years, Calad began collaborating with companies she found relatable to both her family and her audience. Now she brings in anywhere from $150 to $5,000 per sponsored post, but says she's still learning and trying to evolve with the times. "I can say proudly that I have grown with the pioneers of this social media world," she said. "We started at the early stages of Instagram, our community back then was very small and tight. We shared tips on styles, photography, and what hashtags would be ideal for us. It was a lot of fun!"
Calad is super-responsive to her followers and supporters, which means daily interaction, constant engagement, and twice-a-day posts. She's also a big proponent of keeping it real: "Be transparent through your posts, keep active engagement with your followers, and never let it become YOU," she explains. "The beauty of being an influencer is knowing how to communicate through photos and small captions without letting it blind you from the beauty of your own blessings."
Instagram Account: @diaryofafitmommyofficial
Number of Followers: 442K
Cooper is one seriously fit mama, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, the social media star started her Instagram account during her first pregnancy because she had previously been overweight and wanted to challenge herself to stay in shape while preggers.
It wasn't long before the former nurse quickly began amassing fans of her diet plans and downloadable body guides designed to inspire women to transform themselves before, during, and after pregnancy. "I was super surprised because it was unlike anything I ever expected," she told us. "I felt good about myself for spreading the word on pregnant and postpartum fitness."
While finding her way on Instagram was tricky at first, the mom of two—Greyson, 3, and Everly, 9 months—eventually stumbled upon the hashtag #FitMom, which she used to attract other like-minded women to her page. "It was so nice to connect," she explained. "I learned it's great to post a pretty image, but an inspiring caption can go so much further!"
Cooper only spends about an hour or so on her posts a day, but says the biggest challenge has been maintenance, since she prides herself on flying solo. "All posts and emails are answered by yours truly," she explains. Which means if her kids are home sick or she's simply exhausted, she has no problem taking a day off. "I know my work can always wait," she says "That's the beauty of owning a business! When I don't feel like posting, I'm very honest. I will talk about how I'm feeling because chances are many moms out there are feeling the same way."
Instagram account: @hannahacarpenter
Number of followers: 94K
Carpenter may have started out as a conventional blogger, but the mom-of-four jumped ship when she realized Instagram was a quicker, easier way to share and connect. "I had no idea what Instagram was about and was just experimenting," she said. "But I soon caught on to the game."
Now the Arkansas illustrator—who homeschools her kids while running a successful custom portrait business in her spare time—still manages to find enough hours in the day to stage all those whimsically stunning pics of her posse that perfectly showcase products from companies she's built partnerships with.
But while her feed may be total #MomGoals, Carpenter is known for keeping it real. Not only is she quick to cop to the fact that she often takes "a million" photos just to get one that's post-worthy, but when she does post, she will often peel back the curtain of perfection in her captions. "Like they say, worth more than a thousand words," she writes under a picture of the Carpenter crew in which only one of them is looking at the camera. "#XanaxPlease." Funny stuff.
Even so, the multitasking mama says it took her about three years and 40k followers before she started making a profit through product placements and sponsorships. "I think people expect to have a ton of followers immediately," she said. "It doesn't just happen overnight and takes a lot of practice and a lot of work." Social media marketing is most effective, Carpenter says, when the products have been integrated into life and posts seamlessly and beautifully. Which means taking lots of photos, actively looking for the moments where reality and inspiration coexist, telling a story with your images, and editing, editing, editing. And even then, the work is still not done. "Engage!" Carpenter advises. "You can have a lovely account that no one will ever see if you are not present. Comment and like and engage!"
Instagram account: @buddhabowlsandburpees
Number of followers: 16K
Gindi left her job as an attorney when her kids were born and decided to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. "I wanted to be able to pick them up from school and be around for them as much as possible," she told us. "So I decided to work from home instead."
She took a year-long online course to become a certified health coach, then opened an Instagram account where she posted food pics, kids' school lunches, and mom-friendly meal preps.
Just one year later, her account has 16,000 followers and is producing income via sponsored posts and swag from local brands.
"The best advice I could give moms is just to start doing SOMETHING even if it sucks!" Gindi says. "My first Instagram posts had terrible pictures, no hashtags, and uninspired captions. The only way to get better is to try at your own pace and your own schedule! Before you know it, you can be making REAL money and be home for your kids."
Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Follow her on Instagram @holleewoodworld.