The Dilemma of Disclosure
A mom blogger recently made headlines for her public assertion that writing about her children was for her, and not for her children. This made news because her oldest daughter had specifically asked her to not share her personal information. Like a majority of those who reacted, I sided with her daughter.
This was newsworthy because it was on one side of the extreme, making the issue more black and white. But in this day and age of Insta influencers, snapchatting our every move (not me, I have never used snapchat), and documenting every meal and every thought for hundreds/thousands/millions to consume, there is a whole lot of gray area.
When I decided to start a parenting blog, I did not take this dilemma of disclosure lightly. My husband and I are both professionals in our communities, so we stay vigilant about what we are putting out there. As a mother, I also give very careful thought to how and what I share about my children. I constantly think about what it will be like for them to read what I’m writing about them years from now.
I also know I am guessing about their comfort level, and I may be wrong.
I consistently hear from readers that the personal anecdotes are their favorite part of my writing. I know there is great power in truthful storytelling to build a relationship between myself and my readers. Personal disclosure is practically a requirement for “success” these days.
It’s Not Just the “Mom Blogs”
“These days” bring up this disclosure issue way beyond the blogosphere, though, as parents make different decisions about how to use social media, and how to include their children. Some use pictures of their children but not names even in personal Facebook posts. Some do it all. Some do none of it.
We are all learning how to acclimate to these abundant ways to connect with others while also managing privacy. My husband hasn’t used Facebook in months and is on the verge of total deactivation. I don’t even consider that an option, even with my complicated feelings about Facebook, because of the value I get from my group communities.
And then there’s the blog. There’s literally NO WAY to find success as a writer these days without building a following, which requires an online presence, which means using not just one platform, but many. If I’ve learned anything during this process, it’s that I am about as far as I can get from being a “natural” at social media. I don’t even know how to use GIFs.
My personal weaknesses aside, all of this brings up the bigger parenting question: where does my license to share as a parent end, and my child’s right to decide what images and information are out there, begin?
Privacy or Publicity?
My 9-year-old daughter now tells me “don’t put that on Facebook” and “don’t tell anyone I said (insert what I would consider benign, but she considers personal).” This has changed since I started the blog, so I have adjusted to keep her wishes in mind.
As someone who works with children, I respect and encourage their dignity and selfhood. We are all finally discussing the importance of teaching consent from a young age to build up their sense of autonomy and agency. Yet, are we undermining that message by posting or sharing whatever we want about them? Am I at odds with my principles by writing a parenting blog?
All my children know I use their art for images on my website, and they love it. They know I am writing to other parents and sometimes they know what I’m writing about. When my daughter googles my name and sees my picture immediately pop up, she thinks I’m famous and feels proud. In fact, a big reason I stick with the ups and downs of authoring a blog and website is to model for my children how to persist with challenges and pursue dreams without quitting when it’s hard.
I select my anecdotes very carefully, balancing sharing enough to be relatable, without revealing something too personal for my children. Obviously, this is much easier the younger they are. In fact, as I was developing my blog, I read an article titled, “The death of the mom blog” (and stubbornly ignored the title) which discussed the inevitable aging out of the pioneering mom bloggers because of their young children growing up into teens who didn’t want their stories shared by their mothers.
As carefully as I think about all of these issues, however, I’m probably making mistakes, and I’m likely being judged. Do I discard what I see as an important mission of helping other parents while injecting creativity back into my life so I run zero risk of inadvertently hurting my children? Some people may immediately answer yes, but I don’t think there’s an easy answer.
The Gift of “Back to the Future?”
I also think about the potential upsides of my personal writings being public. I do not expect my website to still be chugging along by the time my children are parents. I do hope I figure out how to memorialize the blog for my own keeping, so all this thinking and writing does not evaporate into thin internet air.
No matter the public success, the preserved posts could be a gift to my children of capturing parts of our family life in real time. It’s simply not the same as recounting memories many years later. But more than having these realistic snapshots of these years of our family, my children will hear my voice as a mother of young children, and then the adjustment to maturing children. Because let’s face it, parents forget what it’s REALLY like.
If and when my own children slog through the early years of parenting, and face some of these same challenges, they can read how I also struggled and maybe feel support from their mother, with a sort of Back to the Future vibe (without the creepy parts).
In the meantime, I am also growing my relationships with my children based on their dignity, agency, and autonomy. I pay close attention to what they say they need, and what they SHOW they need even if they can’t articulate it. I have to think that the payoffs of this day-to-day emotional labor of parenting far outweighs some of the risk I predict from writing a blog.
It is not an either/or. I am not either respecting my children’s agency and autonomy by not doing a parenting blog, or not respecting them by doing it. Trust me, there’s a whole lot of parenting going on that I do not touch in public. But that’s between my family and me. And not worth even millions of followers.