How much of your child’s life is documented on the Internet?
When I was (finally) pregnant, I was so happy to be pregnant that I loved sharing belly pics on Facebook and posting the occasional pregnancy-related status update. I knew I was growing a baby inside my uterus- after all, I had multiple ultrasound pictures to prove it- but the baby remained unknowable, an elusive stranger, an amorphous concept of what-might-soon-be. The pregnancy, on the other hand, was real. It caused real, measurable changes to my body. It altered the patterns of my daily life. Since we’d decided not to find out the sex, we never called our baby by his name until he was born. Even his nickname while in the womb- Bump- ended up referring to the effects of the pregnancy rather than to the baby himself.
All of that changed the moment I pushed E. out into the world. The midwife reached down and placed him on my belly. My husband told me we had a son, and then cut the umbilical cord when it had stopped pulsing. That cut severed E. from my body, the body that had grown and nourished him for so many months. Even though he would always be a part of me, he was his own being now.
I have struggled ever since with how much of his life should be shared online.
This issue came to a head when I agreed to become a contributing blogger for Grounded Parents. I didn’t think I could be a very good parenting blogger if I refused to write in any detail about my son. At the same time, I knew that writing for such a site would likely lead to a much larger readership than I’d previously experienced, which meant that any information I provided, any stories I told about my son would be seen by many more people. And, as we all know, it’s best to assume that nothing on the Internet is ever truly deleted. Once my words went out into cyberspace they could never be silenced.
When E. was first born I was much less cautious with how much of his life was shared. Partly this was because I was so excited to have a baby I didn’t stop to think about the implications of my actions, but mostly it was due to the simple fact that it took me quite some time to come to the realization that, unlike the pregnancy, E.’s life was not my life, even though he had become a enormous part of it. As my son grew, his online presence diminished as I became less and less comfortable with sharing his life willy-nilly. I started reading Terms of Service agreements for websites and very soon after that stopped posting pictures of my son on Facebook.
Now I have an online album to which I regularly upload photos and videos which is only accessible to the family and friends who have been given the link. I also set myself some ground rules for what images I would and would not publish. No nudity, obviously, but also no photos which might embarrass him. No photos of temper tantrums. While I will admit I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe the first time I encountered the Reasons My Son is Crying website, I almost immediately afterwards felt sorry for the child whose meltdowns had gone viral (although it led to a book deal, so perhaps that counts for something). It can be very funny when E.’s having a temper tantrum, especially if it’s over some seemingly inconsequential and irrational thing. But it’s not funny to him- it’s hugely distressing and it upsets him greatly to get so out of control emotionally. It would be a violation of his self to take a photo of him in that moment and share it with my friends.
At the same time, while I’m now hugely protective of how his image is disseminated online (you will never, for instance, see a picture of him on this blog or find him referred to by his full name), I’m torn. I have good friends who do post pictures of their children on Facebook, which allows me to keep in touch and watch their children growing up, even when they live across an ocean. I love reading parenting blogs where the blogger is open enough about her children’s lives that you feel like you know them. One of my best friends frequently posts status updates that are direct quotations from her children. They are hilarious and are usually the highlight of my news feed. I love reading them.
Yet when it comes to my own son, I am more guarded.
Keeping E.’s image off the Internet entirely is not an option. His father’s entire family lives about as far away as you can possibly get while still being on the same planet. I know that they treasure the photos and videos I do share- they’ve all told me this. I try to capture and document as much of his life as I can for these relatives who love him so much but see him so rarely. My family also lives mostly in different cities, provinces, or countries. They too love getting the emails that tell them there are new pictures of E. available. But there are times when I have to step back and recognize that if I spend all my time capturing the moments through the lens of my camera, I’m never actually experiencing them myself. Sometimes I have to put the camera down.
My son is only two and a half. He is not yet able to tell me which photos he does or does not want to be shared with his family. He is not yet able to tell me that he doesn’t want a particular anecdote to become a Facebook status update.
When I post status updates that document one of the adorable things he’s said recently (such as the time he announced at breakfast that he was “planning on having a terrible day” at his nursery school), when I upload photos or videos to the online albums I share with family and friends, when I write about him in an email or in a blog post, I am telling his story.
I am his mother, but his story isn’t mine anymore.
One day he will be old enough to tell me what he does or does not want me to share. Perhaps by then my concerns will no longer be an issue. He will grow up in a world where smartphones and tablets are commonplace and where notions of privacy may well prove to be vastly different. My worries may look rather quaint and old-fashioned. If he’s one day posting pictures of himself at keg parties, perhaps he won’t mind that I circulated the occasional photo captioned “E.’s adventures with yoghurt” from his baby-led weaning days.
Until that day comes, I will abide by my rules. I will try to share enough of him to help compensate for the distance that separates us from most of his relatives, while at the same time respecting his own autonomy. When he tells me, “Mummy, stop taking pictures and turn the camera off”, I will respect that, even if I know I’m this close to the perfect shot.
It’s not an easy balance to maintain.
But I owe him nothing less.
(Featured Image credit: Evil Erin, via Flickr)