Big Little Feelings Is Teaching You How to Be a Better Parent, One Instagram at a Time
There was a moment, not long ago, when it seemed all the moms on Instagram were Beachwaver-styled monuments to unattainability. Their grids never strayed from a tight aesthetic: the fair-trade, organic-cotton-linen overalls little Bodie loved best, spring crafts in muted tones, flower crowns on a damn Tuesday.
Then came the pandemic, which crushed—among other things—the fallacy that raising kids is all, or even 10%, wildflowers and Mason-jar smoothies. Suddenly moms were completely overwhelmed—and they were alone. Enter Kristin Gallant and Deena Margolin. Gallant was a mom, Margolin a marriage and family therapist, and they’d just spent several weeks plotting to launch Big Little Feelings, a no-judgment parenting community, complete with a service-driven Instagram account and online courses.
In the first weeks of lockdown, they went from complete obscurity to tens of thousands of followers. Today they have over 3 million as well as 200,000+ clients for their courses. Among their faithful fans are Amy Schumer, Hilary Duff, Eva Mendes, Mickey Guyton…the list goes on. Though, as Gallant points out, the duo has never forgotten their online roots: “I still see the same handles we were DM’ing with that first week—like, ‘Hey, Lauren, what’s up, girl?’”
That’s the vibe, in the BLF universe. Three million friends, no dress code, no judgment, no ego. Just kindness and science (Margolin’s area of specialty is interpersonal neurobiology). Gallant, who now has three kids, ages six, four, and six months, and Margolin, whose kids are two and one, sat down with Glamour to talk about their decades-long friendship, how trauma paved the way for their mission, and what they think the millennials’ parenting legacy will be.
Glamour: It’s kind of a fantasy to grow up and start a business with your best friend from childhood, but you actually did it. What were you like in your teen BFF stage?
Deena Margolin: We couldn’t have been more different. We grew up in Los Angeles and went to this very intense, academically rigorous high school. I was the good girl. I’m in the front row raising my hand—
Kristin Gallant: And I’m in detention. Detention was in the mornings, before school, so I would be high-fiving Deena on my way out of it as she was walking in. We both had these traumatic upbringings, and I think that for other people we put on a face, kept things light. But with each other we could really be ourselves.
Deena: It was kind of like—“Okay, you get it. You’re not judging it, and you’re safe.”
Which is huge at that age, especially. What sorts of issues were you working through?
Kristin: I had two parents who suffered from different mental health issues, and this was the ’80s and ’90s. There wasn't a whole lot of, “Let’s go to therapy! Let’s take medication!” It was very tumultuous.
Deena: At my house, things were volatile. Unhappy, full of resentment—that was the atmosphere. My parents had a lot of love for us, but they also just had really bad coping and communication skills. When I was 16, I was getting recruited for softball, which was really high pressure, my parents were fighting a lot, and I got broken up with for the first time ever. I went into my first depression where one day I was like, “You know what? I’m done.” So I made a [suicide] plan. I set it up; I had everything ready. And when I went to go do it, I had this really strange kind of primal feeling that was: I just want to meet my kids. I don’t know why, but that was the one thing that kept me from doing it. I knew I wanted to spend my life figuring out how kids can feel good, how families can be healthy. That’s been my life’s mission since I was 16.
So when you’re imparting wisdom on Big Little Feelings, you’re not just sort of doling out advice—you’re trying to break generational patterns, it sounds like.
Deena: Yes. The way someone spoke to you in your childhood, the way someone responded to your feelings, that wires how you speak later in relationships. We’re rewiring ourselves. And compassion for yourself as you’re doing that is so huge.
Kristin: It’s the number one thing I want parents to take from our page. If it’s your instinct to go, “Stop crying. Just stop,” or “You’re fine, you’re fine, happy happy, be a good girl, be a quiet girl, smile”—those are things that were said to you. If you’re repeating it, you shouldn’t feel like, “Oh no, I’m fucking up my kid.” You can always work on just replacing one little phrase with something a little healthier.
So when did you go from thinking about all this stuff as an expert and a mom to thinking, Hey, there might be a business here?
Kristin: The genesis was a real need. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time. My husband was working 12-, 14-hour days, we’re living paycheck to paycheck, and I was struggling with postpartum anxiety. I had a three-year-old and a one-year-old, and with postpartum anxiety, you spiral about everything. I would text Deena. She’s this renowned child therapist, so I’d be asking her things, and then sometimes she’d be asking me things back—something random that a mom would know. We saw these gaps and how we could bridge them. We wanted to be able to say to a mom on the brink of collapse who’s asking: “How do I take a pacifier away? How do I get them to leave the park? What do I do about screen time?” There wasn’t anything doing that, and I knew, because I was the mom on Instagram, scrolling and scrolling, looking for it. When I did find a mom on Instagram, she didn’t look like me or sound like me or have a body like mine or a mom bun like mine. At the time, it was selfies with ring lights and blowouts and perfect little activities. And I felt like shit because I couldn’t get myself to do an activity!
Catching a Catfisher
Let me tell you a crazy story.
Deena: At the end of 2019, Kristin and I started to kick the idea around of making this dream page and course that would be authentic, vulnerable, and judgment-free. We went away—Kristin left the kids—and for three straight days we were in this house, brainstorming. And then in March of 2020 we did our first post. We had no followers. Kristin was waking up at five to work on it before the kids woke up, and I was working on it after leading my clinic all day in Los Angeles.
Kristin: We said we were going to work on it from day one as if we had a million followers, even if we had 75. Our dream was 50,000 followers in five years. And then it just started to spread. My husband still keeps this spreadsheet of our followers week to week, even now.
Deena: I think during the pandemic especially, people wanted this community.
And then the celebs started jumping on. Did they all come in at once? Did you one day get a notification that’s like, “Holy shit, Blake Lively”?
Kristin: We actually don’t get the notifications, so somebody has to tell us. Usually it’s my husband, because he’s obsessive.
I hope whoever his favorite star is—they just show up one day.
Kristin: It happened! It’s Josh Brolin. My husband was very excited. He was plotting out his lunches with him in Los Angeles. I was like, “I don’t think it’s that deep, but I love that you love this.”
There’s been a lot of conversation in the past several years about the emotional labor of parenting. How it’s a real job. And yet, there’s still this idea that parents—women, especially—should just know how to do it, innately. That if you have to get advice from people like you guys, you’re already failing.
Kristin: Yes, and as a side note—when a man in this space has a best-selling book or course, he’s a psychotherapist. Not a mommy blogger.
Deena: I remember that once my husband and I were sitting in a café, and he had this moment where he realized, “We’re about to have a kid, and I’ve done more research about cars I’m going to buy.”
Kristin: I think some of it comes from guilt, unfortunately. If it wasn’t so closely linked with our constant mom guilt, it would be a no-brainer. You would never expect yourself to learn any other new skill without reading and research. You would never expect yourself to be perfect right away. But we don’t have that kind of flexibility when it comes to parenting. It feels so all or nothing—you’re either this Instagram idea of a gentle parent, and you’re perfect and there’s bunnies and your children are covered in mud and you’re not triggered at all—or you’re just supposed to give up. The guilt debilitates us.
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Deena: Sorry, I’m being my super-nerdy self, but what Kristin is describing—it’s all built-in neural pathways. You’ve gone down a hiking path over and over; if you’re going to do it differently, you have to hack down the weeds and make a new path. It’s hard work, and you’re not going to get it right all the time. That’s why you have to celebrate the tiny steps of progress and not aim for perfection.
Kristin: I love it when you talk brain.
So bringing it back to progress, not perfection—what do you think will be the millennials’ legacy when it comes to parenting?
Deena: We are the first generation to apologize to our kids. When you go back and you say to your kid, “Hey, I’m so sorry I was frustrated. I didn’t handle that very well”—damn, what an opportunity for them to see that they’re going to mess up too and that it’s okay, they’re still loved, we’re still a family. That is an incredible thing.
Kristin: With parents of previous generations, what was valued most was this idea of success and money and a certain path or a certain way. For example, my older sister became a lawyer. She never should have been a lawyer. She gave it up because the economy went the way it did. I think because everything is happening the way it is in the world, success for our generation will be more internal. It doesn’t have to follow an exact path, and it doesn’t have to follow money. We’re working on ourselves, and that’s what we’re passing on—listen to your body, do what you want to do. I want you to be you.
Megan Angelo is the author of Followers and has written about television, film, women and pop culture, and motherhood for publications including The New York Times, Elle, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Slate, and Romper.
Originally Appeared on Glamour