Writing about your children: how much is too much on the internet?

Photo 07-04-2015 3 03 39 pm (800x800)

I’ve been thinking so hard about something lately – and gone round in so many circles – that it’s squashed my head into a new shape. But I finally made my mind up this weekend, and would welcome your thoughtful discussion. So here goes.

For about six months I’ve been seriously analysing the internet footprint I give my kids. Who knows what the internet will look like by the time they’re old enough to use it deliberately, but they’ve got plenty of teenage years to embarrass themselves online, right? That’s the world they’re in now, and we’ll have to talk about internet etiquette and safety as thoroughly as our parents talked to us about seatbelts.

My thinking has been: they deserve to come to the internet with a fresh slate. I’ve always used their real names here on this blog, without thinking much about it. But by using their names, I’ve given them an internet footprint that’s all about them as babies and me as their mother – through the good times and the less good. Not something they’ve chosen, or something they can control.

Am I making sense at all?

I think very carefully about what I write here, particularly about them. I try to be honest about my feelings as a parent, without exposing them in a way they might find painful or embarrassing later on. I want to be a good mother myself, of course (writing helps with that). And I hope that being honest and kind might help another parent who feels like they’re going a little bit insane. If I could do that, just a little bit, it would be wonderful. I hope too that my boys will love reading about how we grew together, but I don’t want them to find that I’ve undermined their dignity or privacy here. They are too important to me for that.

It’s a bit of a tightrope, and I’m always re-evaluating it as I go along.

Essentially my bottom line is: if a really vile kid in middle school googled my boys’ names with an intent to find something they could make fun of, would they find anything?

This has all come to a point this weekend, because that blasted What to Expect article resurfaced somewhere again. Oh, that article. It feels like the parenting mistake I should never have made and will never get rid of. I feel sick and guilty still when I think about it.

I was so nakedly, emotionally vulnerable, because I was used to doing that here, with a small and supportive audience comprised of people who liked me. But those people don’t live on the internet at large, as anyone could’ve told me. It was such a stupid thing to do.

The worst part wasn’t that I admitted to being wearied by toddler tantrums and attracted a lot of vitriol in return – fair enough, I wrote it. It was that I exposed my two-year-old. Who was only being two. Who didn’t even know what I was doing, but was then set upon by a thousand contemptuous adults who’d never met him, or me.

I brought him into that space. I used his name. I will never forgive myself for it, and I’ve never done it again. I hope to goodness he never finds it, or finds it with a bracing sense of humour and a stack of chocolate biscuits.

ANYWAY. I always know when that post is doing the rounds again, because I get a few nice messages of solidarity on Facebook (hi, nice messengers!), and then a few people contact me, out of the blue, to suggest I start spanking my boy to prevent his nascent personality disorder.

It happened again this weekend, and reminded me of the damage I could do.

(By the way, you’d be surprised how many people genuinely believe their children never had an emotional splurge – or had one once, and received A Single Look, and never tried it again. Because their two-year-olds were superhuman, blessed with the ability to control emotions far beyond their maturity level. Possibly they were Vulcans? I will spare you my thoughts on this, because they are NOT KIND. But you hereby have leave to imagine my laughter.)

So.

I think (I hope!) that writing about parenting – the happiness and the head-against-wall days – is something that builds and lifts and contributes. It does that for me, and I hope it does that for you too. So I’m going to carry on. But I’m going to stop using their real names. And I’m going to go back through my posts since they first appeared (urrrgh) and edit their names out there too. Tim tells me that gradually the search engines will catch up, so that by the time the middle-school snot is making them feel like crap in the hallways, he’ll find it a little harder to get here. BULLIES NEVER PROSPER, MIDDLE-SCHOOL SNOT. REMEMBER THIS.

There’s a lot I can’t do much about and this isn’t a perfect solution, but I can start here. Obscuring them just a little bit, so they can make their internet identities afresh when they’re ready.

PS – I’m going to use their initials. To be honest, it looks weird. But not nearly as weird as the various nicknames I tried. If you wouldn’t mind doing the same in the comments, I’d be much obliged t’ye, marsters.

What are your feelings about kids and internet privacy? 

20 thoughts on “Writing about your children: how much is too much on the internet?

  1. Really interesting post. I don’t have the answer and it’s something I have pondered over the last 12 months of blogging too. I don’t use my son’s name (I actually hadn’t thought of it from the bullying middle school google POV so thank you for that), but I do use photos and when starting out, it didn’t seem like a big deal, but now I’m not so sure.

    Also, I write very honestly – about both the good and the bad bits – and I’d hate for him to be disappointed or embarrassed when older, BUT as you say, weighing up the potential benefits of writing truthfully and supportively about parenting versus a small risk of a negative reaction from our children is something we probably all do.

    This has given me more to think about, so thank you, but ultimately I hope my son will be proud of my words, and see in them all the love and humour he has inspired.

    I love your writing by the way – I found you via HuffPost (I have a shy boy too). Look forward to reading more!

    • Hello, fellow mother of a shy boy! (A bit rough sometimes, isn’t it?) Thanks so much – it’s kind of you to say.

      I think as long as we’re always putting thought into what we write, and doing it with good intentions, they’ll see that when they’re older! And I hope they’ll love to read about how things were when they were little. I’m sure yours will too. Thanks for following here, and for the comment! x

  2. Rachel, you write with love and sensitivity and I haven’t read anything that I think would cause embarrassment. What shines through is your love for them, and you great deisire for them to be brave, kind and sensitive too!

    I think other young mothers are validated, uplifted and often brought to laughter &/or tears – it’s a gift to be able to engage with others emotions!

    • Thank you so much, Kathryn. I really, honestly appreciate it. You never fail to lift me up with your comments! x

  3. If your boys have inherited a third of your sense of humor, you can rest easy knowing that the legacy you’ve written for them here won’t haunt them in any way.

    I wanted to thank you for the writing you do, and will continue to do. Every post you write helps me realize how super normal my breakdowns are, or reminds me how breathtaking the small moments can be (and to notice them!)

    As far as babies on blogs, I don’t think our last name appears anywhere, so I’m sticking with a first name, and hoping for the best.

    • Ah, you lovely, lovely thing – you’ve made my night with your comment! I’m so very glad you can identify with what I write, and that it helps a little 🙂 And yes, I think sticking to a first name only is a good policy. Wish I’d done that at the beginning! Though it’s hard to just give your first name when you write for other places. Ah well, we do the best we can!
      Thanks so much again x

  4. I dont blog as much because I tend to stop myself at what I am writing about my children. I do want to blog more, I have a ton of ideas but I don’t want to make a amazing blog at the expense of them. We live at a time where if you don’t share names, pics, details, it’s unusual but I feel content knowing that when they’re old enough, they can choose their memories to share.

    • I think you’re right that their feelings have to be paramount. I think it’s possible to share things about parenting without embarrassing them, but it is a hard line to walk! Thanks for the comment x

  5. Great post.
    I have always felt very private about showing my kids on the Internet. But after a few months of blogging I realised that most people tend to use photos of their kids quite freely so I have been less cautious.
    I have changed my kids names and I mostly draw them to avoid the photos wherever possible. I also try and avoid using their faces if I can.
    I’m sure I will change what I do as they get older…That’s if I’m still blogging by then!
    But when you consider how often children of famous people are photographed and named, it doesn’t make it seem so bad.
    My pal told me that I absolutely shouldn’t use photos of my kids. A week later she signed her baby up for a modelling agency. What’s the difference?!x

    • I love the idea of drawing them! If I had an ounce of talent with a pencil I’d do that too 🙂

      I like using photos too. But you’re right that as they get older I’m sure it will all change. Thanks for commenting! x

  6. Really interesting post.

    I have been blogging for a few months and initially did not really think about privacy much as there was not much of a readership for the blog but recently I have been thinking about going through and changing their names and I have been wondering about the photos although I love the photos of them so much that I have included.

    I’ve included photos of them that I really love, in their best moments and I’m so proud of them.

    I think that my love for them comes through in what I write and I try to not include pictures or stories of them that will compromise their dignity in any way, or embarrass them in the future but will the fact that I have written about them at all embarrass them? Maybe.

    I think that if you create anything, a blog, a novel, a song, a painting, it will always include your loved ones in some way or another.

    I remember having a house party on my 18th birthday and my mum stuck my baby and toddler pics all over the house. I took them down but only after me and my friends had had a good laugh over them. It was quite funny. I didn’t really mind but I think that if the photos were of me crying with a caption underneath that said, ‘I am just so fed up of dealing with these outbursts.’ I would have felt guilt about my behaviour and maybe a little bit of shame.

    So, I suppose I’m trying to include photos of them that they won’t feel weird about seeing later in life and I’m thinking about changing the names. They both have the same initials so might have to come up with nick names!

    • ‘I think that if you create anything, a blog, a novel, a song, a painting, it will always include your loved ones in some way or another.’ – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. I wouldn’t know how to write without including them.

      I think your policy of including photos they won’t be embarrassed about is a good one. I love seeing photos of myself and my siblings when we were babies! I hope my boys do the same.

  7. I can completely relate to this. When I started out blogging, I used fake names for my children – and, indeed, for myself. Precisly because I knew they might not want their early years to be ‘findable’ when they were older. Now I’ve gone even further: I have a friend whose Dad is a famous author, and she hates the (non-fiction) stuff he wrote about her and her brother when they were little. In her view, it’s his (skewed) side of the story, not the whole family’s. I don’t want my kids to feel like that when they grow up, so I now very rarely write ‘about’ my children, or the feelings parenthood prompts in me. Instead, my blog focuses on stuff we’ve done.

    Having said that, I really enjoy reading about other parents’ feelings, their woes and joys. Just a bit fearful to throw myself into that breach again.

    • Oh, that’s really interesting about your friend – I can imagine that would be really difficult.

      And I feel the same – I love reading about parenting, and I also love writing about it. It’s tricky, but I think it’s worth finding a good way through 🙂

  8. This is something I considered before I started blogging, but more about me than them! I didn’t want strangers to be able to google my name & find out some really personal stuff… so I started blogging under a different name.

    As time’s gone on, I’ve ended up writing more about my family than I thought I would, and I made the conscious decision to never name them, or my other half, or use photos of them. Maybe because they’re older (6 & 10 now) it seemed more of an issue? I dunno. But it does mean I feel I can be more honest about what I write, because I don’t worry about ‘protecting’ them.

    Excellent post, by the way – really like the way you write! It reads the same way that someone would talk, and not many people can do that.

    • Thank you so much! That’s lovely to hear.

      I never considered using a different name when I started, and now, years later, it’s a bit late! And using my real name does mean I’m a little more guarded about what I write. I don’t talk much about my husband, for example, because he’d find it embarrassing.

      I think when my boys are older, like your children are, they’ll be old enough to have an opinion on what I write and will probably feature in it a bit less. We’ll just have to roll with it as it goes along! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  9. This is something I’ve thought hard about & although I’ve never used the boys names & go to the extreame of muting videos if their names are mentioned I still worry. I don’t use the same images on my personal social media to my blog incase someone searches for the image.

    Since my eldest started school I’ve thought again and have stopped posting anything personal to combat my doubts.

    • It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? I don’t mind using photos, but it’s name + photo that makes me nervous. Of course, we’ve got no idea how technology will advance, but I do think it’s wise to be cautious!

      Thanks for the comment!

  10. This is very interesting! I started off referring to mine by their initials, but lately i have slipped into boy 1 and boy 2 and I think I might stick to it, it seems impersonal but i think it makes sense. I think that only about 3 people read my blog though so i’m ok for now!!! : )
    I have just discovered your blog and i LOVE it! xx

  11. *hugs* Rachel
    I have successfully avoided posting pics or revealing our names online, mostly because I don’t want a few people I know, to know I have a blog. But also party because I’m a paranoid person who is wary of getting their pictures misused. However, I have realized that posts are not as interesting as when you do post pics and put names to the faces. People like to get involved, to identify those they read about.
    I understand where you are coming from, your worry about having shared the kids’ names and antics here. Though you choose what to write, taking into consideration their own opinion later in their life about their online footprint, you can never be sure of their reaction.
    I really hope they have your sense of humor to see, what you’ve written, through your eyes and realize how we all love them because you gave us something about them to love.

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