I write this column in a genre called “creative nonfiction,” which means that most of my material at least in some way references my personal life. Since this is a parenting column and the majority of my days are spent with my children, that also means my writing relies on my family for inspiration. While my husband reads most of what I write before I publish it, I can’t say the same for my children; and where my husband can grant consent and trust my judgment about our privacy, my children depend on me to set those limits for them. There’s no guarantee that they will be happy with the boundaries that I’ve chosen once they are able to decide for themselves, and there’s no telling what vacillations their opinions may undergo as they move from childhood into adulthood. What I share—and don’t share—about my family reveals two larger issues: first, that we parent as best as we can manage with no assurance that our offspring will approve of our methods; second, that social networking turns most parents into writers who need to consider our children’s privacy.
Take, for instance, the blog STFU, Parents, which “serves as a guide for parents on what NOT to post about their kids as well as a forum for non-parents to vent about their TMI-related frustrations.” I admit that I don’t really understand the frustration with parents who chronically over-share on sites like Facebook, because it’s not hard to control what we see or to simply move on and not respond. I start to wonder about posts regarding older children though—posts about puberty and relationships and even achievements. Even as a parent of small children, I’m not a huge fan of reading posts about bodily fluids, but I’ve also been known to use a “family vomiting story” (I think that’s a subgenre) for dramatic effect and general edification. I mostly just deal with enough bodily fluids in my daily life that I don’t choose those topics for my pleasure reading. But those are my limits and my preferences, and one thing “STFU, Parents” illustrates is that we don’t have consensus on acceptable online sharing.
As the site’s creator states in an interview with CNN, “Social media is the gateway drug to oversharing….you’re behind a computer or on your phone, and you’re almost tricked into thinking that what you post can simply be erased later. But in reality, once you post something online, it’s there forever.” It’s not that we don’t know that as parents; it’s almost like we forget that the children we’re parenting now will not always be children. They will grow up and assert their own boundaries regarding what information we share and don’t share about their lives. I try to keep this perspective in mind when I write as well as when I parent. I think of it as parenting for the long-term, but it’s also impossible for me to predict whether or not posting about my daughters’ interests as preschoolers will somehow embarrass them as teenagers.
As challenging as that sounds, though, I keep it at the forefront of my writing, remembering always that my subjects did not get to choose their mother’s vocation. It helps, too, to remember that the lives I write about are in relationship to mine—but not mine. I hope someday my chronicles illustrate my love for them, my hopes and dreams for them, and not an objectification or ill-use of them. And wherever I go wrong, in writing our lives or living them, I’m counting on grace to cover it.