When I was in grade three, I pooped myself on the way home from school. When I was twelve, my best friend and I accidentally dropped my sleeping six-year-old brother at the top of a flight of stairs and watched him tumble all the way down. (He was fine). At sixteen, I left that same brother alone in a sketchy area of town for more than an hour when I forgot to pick him up after swim class. (Fine again).
This is just a small sample of the now-horrifying things I did as a kid, and the fact there was no social media (or even Internet) means I could have taken these secrets to my grave.
My kids, however, aren’t so lucky because since becoming their mom I’ve documented much of their lives with little thought as to how that might make them feel once they’re old enough to navigate the internet.
When they were little, my kids’ stories felt like my stories. Our lives were so entwined I lost sight of where I ended and they began. And, to be brutally honest, I was so overwhelmed with being a mother I felt like the least they could do was give me some good content. I convinced myself that sharing their stories was harmless. I was caught up in the “she who has the cutest story wins” quagmire of social media, oblivious to future ramifications.
For example, if “someone” forgot to wear underwear to kindergarten (making her the only child exempt from the criss-cross applesauce seating rule), that story went online. And let’s say “someone else” slathered on what my mother would call “lady of the night” makeup and paraded around the house wearing stiletto heels, a crop-top and nothing else, that too would be photographed and shared post-haste.
To me, these were harmless anecdotes that showed the world how cute, precocious and special I think my children are. But as they get older, I’m realizing that these aren’t my stories anymore. And I’m not sure they ever were.
Now that she has her own Instagram account, my oldest daughter sees everything I post. This has made me much more conscious of what I share, and now I ask both my children’s permission before I post about them. Even though they veto about half of what I want to share, I’m feeling better about the process moving forward.
But what about the past? Should I purge all those cute at age six, embarrassing at sixteen photos? Or should I come clean and ask my kids’ forgiveness?
I’ve known for a long time that social media has changed the parenting game, but I underestimated my own role; one that goes beyond monitoring their accounts and thinking more carefully about my own.
Not surprisingly, my daughters are over-sharers too. My oldest is forever considering what to post and how to get more likes, and my youngest records everything she does like she’s auditioning for the documentary channel.
Did I create these monsters? Are they even monsters, or just normal kids growing up in the digital age?
I don’t mind telling you I pooped my pants at age eight because I’m an adult who’s no longer embarrassed by what I did as a kid. I’m also in control of the story, which is a right I’ve deprived my children of with every personal photo or anecdote I’ve shared sans permission. As parents, we can laugh about five-year-old underwearless kindergarteners, but it’s different when the incident is about you and you’re only a few years removed from those incidents.
Isn’t adolescence hard enough without having to fend off cringe-worthy stories your parents insist are cute? If my poopy pants episode had been discovered and shared amongst my friend group when I was twelve or thirteen, I would have been mortified. And the only thing that would have made it worse was realizing my own parents were the perpetrators.
None of this means I’m going to stop posting about my kids because sharing stories is how I make a living. And beyond that, I love the connections the digital world makes possible because, despite its many flaws, social media can also be a place to make and maintain connections, especially for an introvert like me who prefers to socialize from behind a keyboard.
For now, I’ve decided to stick to asking my kids before I post something about them, and we’re going to go through my social media accounts together and delete anything that makes them uncomfortable. Digital content is never really deleted but at least it’s a start. And it’s a gesture that tells my kids I care about and respect their wishes, privacy and individuality. It’s my way of acknowledging that their stories aren’t necessarily my stories.
Thank goodness my cat is ready for her close-up.