Telling Our Own Stories: Our Children and Internet Privacy

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a private blog. Writing has long been my preferred means of communication, and blogging felt like a natural way to chronicle my daughter’s birth and my birth as a mother. We were 2,500-3,000 miles from our family and friends, and this blog helped make that distance seem shorter.

I posted weekly belly pictures and anticipatory poems about labor (“Here I sit in early labor/Hoping my moans won’t wake the neighbor”). I wrote a post entitled “My Cups Runneth Over” in which I gleefully reported on my trip to the bra store when I discovered that I now filled a C cup. I wrote about my ambivalent feelings about the ultrasound I got halfway through my pregnancy. The image on the screen was so different from my experience of my baby that the moment didn’t carry for me the emotional significance so many women report. “All attention was on that little screen,” I wrote, “but I had the entire universe inside me.”

I posted pictures on the blog for a while after my daughter was born, but telling her birth story was painful and new parenthood was kicking my ass in ways I had never imagined it would (and the blog host started charging money), so I eventually let that blog go.

Between my daughter’s birth and my second pregnancy, Facebook was born. I leaped into the Facebook ball pit and jumped around happily with everyone else, tending my pretend farm, “poking” people, sending magic eggs, updating my status seventeen times a day. While pregnant with my son, I posted weekly belly pictures, and after his birth, I posted photos of us in the birth tub and dozens and dozens of photos of his cuteness.

Then there was some alert about Facebook using member photos in advertisements, and how, based on the terms of agreement, all content on Facebook was the property of Facebook to do with as it liked. I wasn’t really sure how big a privacy risk this was, but it got me to thinking about what I was doing. My son had been on the internet since before his birth and had no say in whether he was there or not. This didn’t seem fair. So, I took down all of the photos of my children’s faces, all of the birth photos, all of the belly photos. Eventually I deleted all content and closed down my personal profile (although it still shows up, and I suspect it might not be possible to delete it entirely).

I started Imperfect Happiness, and carefully avoided posting photos of faces. (Eventually I posted a photo or two of my own face, but I still avoid photos of my kids’ faces.)

I posted stories about my kids, but I never used their names and when my friends would forget and use my kids’ names in the comments, I would edit them. I wanted to post about deep, important issues, but I didn’t want that traced back to my children.

For a long time, this seemed like enough privacy, but now I’m not so sure. Telling my own story is one thing, but do I have a right to tell my children’s stories to anyone who happens upon Imperfect Happiness? Am I betraying their trust in me by exposing our private conversations and concerns to the world?

I felt this way about my daughter first. She’s four years older and much more private than my son. Especially now that she’s on the cusp of adolescence, she seems even more in need of someone she can trust with her secrets. In the past six months or so, I’ve started to feel this way about my son, too. He’s not yet six, but he has a rich internal life that he lets me glimpse and which delights me. I want to resist the temptation to share the things they say as “cute.”

And my children are cute. They are endearing. Every day, they each reveal a heart that’s sensitive and strong and wise in its innocence. I listen with amazement as they reveal their hearts to me and to their dad and to other people they trust. I am one of a very few with whom they trust their hearts. It doesn’t feel right for me to turn around and tell all about it on the internet, especially in that distancing, patronizing “isn’t that adorable?” grown-up way. That doesn’t feel like a good way to cultivate trust.

This has been my struggle with blogging over the past few months. How do I tell about the moving and perception-altering experience of sharing my life with my children without betraying their trust?

Without an answer to this question, I tread carefully. I’ve withdrawn from the revelatory posts I’d previously found so comfortable, and this has left me feeling flat about what I’m writing. I know authors who write movingly without telling too much about their families; I know it’s possible, but I’ve not figured out how to do it yet and so I err on the side of silence.

Just as my children have since their births been engaging in the long transition from being one with me to being individuals, I need to learn how to transition from interweaving my story with theirs to the degree that their stories are merely an extension of mine. Even more difficult, I have to learn to see my own story as not merely an extension of theirs.

 

5 comments

  1. Lori · March 18, 2015

    I think every blogger who is a mother (and has a personal blog) has to think about this all the time. If you’re not going to write about your kids, it’s going to be difficult to write about motherhood in general too, which will have to mean that you need to maybe refocus the blog a little (not that I think of your blog as a “mom blog,” but it does tend to focus on parenting a lot, right?). I don’t know what’s the right approach. Although I think of my own blog as a personal blog too, I tend to see it an expression of the other sides of me that are not related to my family life (and still, unavoidably, I write about motherhood from time to time). And maybe it’s a cultural difference, but I don’t give my kids so much credit for being their own individuals right now. I don’t think they are yet. I think of them as extensions of me and when their care is taking over my life, I don’t see what’s wrong with writing about them on my own personal blog (without giving names and more importantly without ridiculing them). I think later in life if they read these things they will most likely appreciate that as kids they were such an enormous part of my life and I had payed them so much attention. But of course, nobody has all the right answers and each of us has to find our own place of comfort.

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    • Charity · March 18, 2015

      Whether it makes sense to do so or not, I’m making a distinction between writing about motherhood and writing about my kids. Of course, if I’m writing about the experience of mothering, I will mention my children, just like if I’m writing about anything personal, I will of necessity mention my spouse. If I edited them out, I’d be editing out pretty much everything that happens to me. But writing about my experience of being a mother is different from writing stories about my children. There are things with which my daughter, for example, is grappling that would be interesting for a blog post topic, but while my inclination up to now has been to set the stage by telling my daughter’s story, I would prefer now to take a slightly different angle and leave her personal ruminations out of it unless she and I agreed that I should include them. With my son, it’s a decision not to tell about certain discoveries he makes, which at his age are often bodily in nature, because, even though they’re funny and would make good blog posts, they’re personal, and he might not be delighted later in life that I’d shared these things when he was five.

      I think about Shirley Jackson’s children. Jackson has two incredibly funny books about child-rearing, but as I understand, these were too revelatory for at least two of her kids. Granted, this took place in a different time with a different expectation of privacy, and there were likely other factors that played into her children’s reactions, but it’s easier to keep the toothpaste in the tube than it is to put it back in.

      The overarching question for me is, how much do I want to let people I don’t know into my house and into my children’s lives? I’m making a choice to let them into my life, which necessarily involves my children, but where am I comfortable placing that line between public and private?

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  2. ilovefandomsky · March 15, 2015

    In my point of view, writing blogs about your children is full of great meanings. It can not only make you feel quite ease when you were pregnant, but also it would be a precious chronicle for you and your children. That is to say, when your children grow up and see the blogs you write about their former life stories, they are bound to feel deeply touched by your great works, right ? You know, it’s just amazing !

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    • Charity · March 16, 2015

      I can see your point. When I was a kid, my dad wrote letters to me at key birthdays, to be opened at a specific later birthday. I treasure these letters from my father, but I don’t know if they’d have the same impact if they’d been intended for public consumption. Then they’d not be a conversation between just him and me. And if I’m always writing for an audience, recording funny, “isn’t she cute?” stories or choosing which stories I tell based on what my audience will think of them, I worry that my children would see that as me making fun of them rather than simply recording their childhood.

      I know people who write public letters to their children, and it seems to work for them, but for my family, I prefer to keep that kind of chronicle private. If my kids want to publish the letters when they’re older, that’s their choice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ilovefandomsky · March 16, 2015

        Yeah, you are right. As a mother, you are really very great to keep the stories between you and your children private for protecting your children from gossip of others so that your children will be able to grow up healthily and happily. I vote up for your great works !

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