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Pickle Me This

February 22, 2019

Why I Put My Children Online

Once in a while, some thoughtful person will ask my permission before posting a picture online—a Facebook page, a community website, their Instagram feed. And in response I always start laughing. “You go right ahead,” I assure this person. “After all, I’ve plastered both of them all over the entire internet already.”

For 18 years, I’ve been telling my life stories via blogging, and when I became a mother, I didn’t see a reason for things to be different. In fact, when my eldest daughter was born, I needed the communities of blogs and social media more than ever. It was through my blog that I puzzled my way through early motherhood, and found friendships and connections that made me feel so much less alone at a difficult time. 

Of course, things became more complicated as my children grew, developing into individuals in their own right. I knew that they would be implicated in the stories I told, and so I exercised caution, asking myself, “Will this keep my child’s dignity in tact?” before posting a photo or an anecdote. Only once I ever fudged this, and this was when I posted a photo of my naked child’s bare bum as she played in a paddling pool on a rooftop. The backdrop was a cityscape—it was quite dramatic—and I figured that as you couldn’t see her face, she would come off from this fairly innocently.  

But what about the pedophiles???, some worried parents will inevitably respond to this (and they did, in fact). To which I reply that while I do keep such nefarious individuals in the back of my mind, letting these people guide the way I operate myself online would be misguided. Regarding the internet as a place wholly apart from the world would be similarly wrong, and so instead I proceed with a spirit of openness with a sensible amount of caution. 

Letting my children exist on the internet at their young ages is also a useful way to acquaint them with social media, which will presumably be a huge part of their lives in general when they are older, just as it is a huge part of mine. They are currently invested in how they appear on social media and on my blog, and are developing an understanding of how it all works, which will make them more savvy online operators when they’re ready to venture into the world without parental accompaniment. 

For my older daughter in particular, I do ask her permission when I post images of her or write about her. (There are many photos I never posted, and stories that I’ve never told.) Although I also understand that the permission granted by a nine-year-old is dubious at best. But this is where the fact of me being her parent who is looking out for her interests comes in handy—it’s actually my job. And she trusts, and I trust, and her father trusts too, that I will make smart decisions that will also keep her safe—and preserve her dignity as well. 

Of course, there will be mistakes and misinterpretations. Things will go wrong. Posts will be deleted. I hereby reserve the right to mess up, but to keep on learning too, rather than just simply forgo my children appearing in my online life altogether. (There are also indeed weirdo parents who blatantly exploit their children for YouTube notoriety, but maybe let’s not make this base-level parenting be the standard from which all our ideas and discussions about parenting begin.)

My biggest reservation with the expectation that women not share their images and stories of their children is that it implies that certain parts of a woman’s experience no longer belong to her once she becomes a mother. It reminds me of those 19th-century images of “ghostmothers” shrouded in black holding their babies in portraits. It’s not so far along the spectrum from a line of thinking that once a woman becomes pregnant, she doesn’t even properly belong to her body anymore and therefore someone else can be charged with her reproductive choices. 

There is also a gendered element to this discussion, in which mothers often refrain from posting photos of their children and explain that it’s because of their male partner’s discomfort with social media. I find it strange and troubling that a man whose partner is active and literate in social media could not trust her to make smart choices in this space (often a feminized one) which he is less savvy about, and instead has the power to decide what she posts online. 

While I acknowledge that a woman’s life is no longer just her own once she has children, I assert her right to maintain an existence on the internet (which these days is where a lot of life happens) that acknowledges her entire personhood—and motherhood is a part of that, if she desires it to be. The stories I tell about my children are their stories, but they’re also my stories too. 

 In my novel, Mitzi Bytes, my protagonist learns that while compartmentalizing one’s experience and maintaining a rigorous divide between online and actual selves seemslike a smart approach, ultimately it’s not sustainable. Living in the world is more complicated than that, both online and off it. 

3 thoughts on “Why I Put My Children Online”

  1. Sharon says:

    This is such an interesting and nuanced take….esp the ghost mother part. (19th century…so creepy!) Will this keep my child’s dignity in tact is a very good guiding question!

  2. melanie says:

    I remember when I first had Moira (who has currently learned that I have a blog and has taken to googling me while she is at school but that is a whole other discussion), I told my friend Jocelyn that I would eventually have to stop posting photos of my children online. She reminded me of that recently, “So,” she asked, “how is it going with the whole ‘I’ll stop posting about them online someday’ thing going?” “Oh, it’s coming,” I responded, “WHEN I’M DEAD!” Which, to be honest, would have been the same answer whether I had a terminal illness or not. I try and follow the same rule as you though and keep their dignity in check. The result is a lot of stories I don’t talk about and perhaps a rosy glass view of my life but it is also something for them to look back on. And perhaps you have noticed that one of my children very rarely turns up on Instagram? This isn’t because I don’t want to take photos of her – but because she very rarely gives me permission to do so. I accept that – while sneakily taking photos of her for my own enjoyment.

    1. Kerry says:

      The writer of this blog post died a few years after writing this piece (https://www.todaysparent.com/family/breaking-up-blog/) which I find incredibly poignant. While she is “breaking up with her blog” in the post, she is also really thoughtful and insightful about the value of blogging about parenthood. And that she has since died AND her children have this incredible archive to remember her by and get to know her through is incredibly precious. I think these stories really matter. (PS I have said this before, when I had a new baby, your blog meant SO MUCH TO ME and I love it still.)

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