My Daughter Has Become ‘Community Property’
“If I wasn’t your daughter, what would you have done as a job?” my 17 year-old daughter, Rowan, asked me last night. I burst into laughter. I joking like to say, my daughter is “community property.” Let me rewind…
I was telling Rowan how after I recently posted something on Facebook about her college acceptances and how so many commenters were cheering her on and congratulating her, saying they couldn’t wait to hear where she chooses to go. “That makes me so happy,” my daughter said, with her signature wide smile.
I mentioned that a lot of commenters were just as thrilled and excited for her as if she were their children, such as the bond people feel they have with my daughter. My daughter smiled magically again, saying happily, “That’s so nice! I like making people happy!” One commenter, jokingly, congratulated “our” child, thanking me for sharing “Rowan” stories for so many years.
Along with my daughter becoming “community property,” I also like to joke that she’s been my “meal-ticket,” which isn’t entirely untrue and why she asked, “If I wasn’t your daughter, what would you have done as a job?” I explained that I’m pretty sure I would have figured it out, since I had been writing for years before she was conceived, even covering election campaigns.
It wasn’t only editors who loved “Rowan” stories but readers did too. I’ve loved sharing Rowan stories and photographs, over so many years, because she really is as magical as her smile. And she does make people happy, which is nice to see especially nowadays.
Looking back, I suppose I was a part of the first generation of parents who began raising our kids on social media. Our children, like my daughter, were the first to grow up being “shared.” I may have been one of the very first Canadians to become a “mommy blogger,” when I started, “The Nine Pound Dictator,” writing daily blogs about my then toddler. I have no idea what happened to it, or why I stopped writing it. My guess is probably because it was taking time away from writing for publications that actually did pay, often quite lucratively, to write about my daughter.
Before she was even born, I was writing about Rowan. When I was 12 weeks pregnant, my very first “Rowan” story was published in The National Post, about how hard it was to keep the secret I was pregnant, one that the editors, at the time, thought was important and newsworthy enough to be splashed across the front page.
Before Rowan was two weeks old, her newborn face was plastered across the front page, after I wrote a piece about the difficulty in choosing her “going home outfit,” after both her grandparents gifted me with a new outfit for her to wear leaving the hospital, another “Rowan story” editors thought was newsworthy enough to be featured so prominently.
Many don’t realize this, but I used to get the newspaper, back when people had newspapers delivered, opening my front door, shocked to see my face or my daughters face, staring at me as I picked up the paper, just like every other subscriber each morning. Apparently, the editors knew something I hadn’t quite clued into as quickly as they did back then — when I still had the coordination and to flip pages of a newspaper, which is that readers got a kick out of Rowan and my journey raising her. (Newspapers once had focus groups! Today? My eight-year-old son has no clue what a newspaper is!)
Before I knew it, writing about Rowan really did, in the literal sense, become my meal ticket. And the pieces I wrote, really did, for lack of better words, made my kid “community property.”
Candidly, I didn’t ever really get a thrill seeing her precious face on the front page, but nor did I stop writing about her. I was complicit by giving my editors what they knew many readers wanted; stories about Rowan, more stories about Rowan, and more stories about Rowan. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that, the following year after her birth, for the first time, the name “Rowan” made it to the top 100 most popular girls name in Canada. (It’s a great name!)
At six months, my daughter attended her first book launch. It just happened to be for my book Knocked Up, in which I write about all those long months she was baking in my stomach. Two more books about Rowan quickly followed, Wiped: Life With A Pint-Sized Dictator and Toddlers Gone Wild. At age four, Rowan landed her first magazine cover photo, for Parents Canada magazine.
I love sharing Rowan stories. I’ve always had, and still have, with an underlying belief that I was helping at least one other mother, if not many, who could relate to what I was going through; from suffering from postpartum depression, that stupid Diaper Genie, my struggles with my new identity as a mother, then single mother, up until now, present day, posting about the angst over her College acceptance/rejection letters. I would love to share, as would Rowan, but she hasn’t made a decision yet.
I’ve written hundreds of stories about Rowan, for newspapers, magazines, blogs and books. She was my inspiration and features prominently in my book How To Raise A Boyfriend and for my children’s book The Mischievous Mom At The Art Gallery, which I co-wrote with Erica Ehm.
The word “Sharenting” was not in my vocabulary when I started writing about my daughter, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, for almost two decades now. I had shared stories and countless photos of Rowan on social media. People began recognizing her. My daughter says she thinks this started around Grade Six, when people started walking up to her in lines at Starbucks asking, “Are you Rowan? I recognize your face. Tell your mom I like her writing.”
My daughter, too, remembers clearly “The Talk” I had with her, when she started to come home on a regular basis, saying things like, “Someone stopped me today and told me to say ‘Hi’ to you.” When pressed for a name, my daughter would usually respond, “I don’t remember.” I mean, she was still a kid.
The “talk” I had about “stranger danger” had another component. Thanks to sharing most, but definitely not all aspects of her life, Rowan had both a presence in traditional media and an online presence. And she had fans, more than me at times! She couldn’t “opt-out” of me “sharenting,” because I never asked her permission to share.
So, along with stranger danger, I also had to teach my daughter how to react when others, usually mothers, went out of their way, comfortable enough to introduce themselves her, always with good intentions. “Always be polite,” I told her. “Smile and say, ‘It’s nice to meet you, too.’”
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, Eckler is about to admit that she regrets making her daughter’s life so public.” And, “Eckler is going to say she regrets making a career out of her daughter!”
Alas, that’s not happening. I don’t regret any of it. Perhaps if my daughter had a different personality, I would. The reason you see so few photographs of my son, for example, is because he hates getting his photograph taken and he always asks me, “Who are you sending that too?” He will not be a kid who enjoys me “sharenting” when he gets older. But, because people have grown an attachment to Rowan, and seem to get such joy out of hearing Rowan’s accomplishments, I couldn’t stop! I didn’t want too, either. I still don’t want to. She brings smiles to people’s faces.
Whenever I wrote Rowan stories, people would reach out saying things like, “I love your daughter,” and, “Your daughter is incredible.” Friendly commenters who have followed my writing really have invested time in her, cheering her on, and for so many years, so it makes sense they want to know how my now almost-adult daughter’s life will turn out. Like a book, they have read the beginning, the middle, and now they want to know how it ends.
Many mothers have written about regretting writing about their children. In this article, “I Used To Be A Mummy Blogger. Now I Regret It,” one mother writes, “About six years ago, as I continued sharing my way through motherhood…I began to question my constant use of social media to document my children’s every move as children. I broadened my lens and looked at “sharenting” not only as a mum, but also as a children’s rights scholar.”
She asked herself, “Are their images, which occupy far more space on my news feed than they do on my living room walls, really mine to share?” before in a tone, that was a tad too lecturing for me, suggesting, “Before posting about our kids, it is critical that we ask them how they feel about us sharing their story. Even young kids deserve “veto power”…”
She then plugs her new book about “documenting her journey and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.” Am I the only one who sees the irony of a mother who says she regrets writing about her children, but then writes an entire book about it? Let’s call it as it is: This author is still using having children as her meal-ticket.
Plus, has this writer not seen the countless photos of new parents posting photos of their newborns literally 20 minutes after they came into this world? Twenty minutes! Has this writer ever tried to ask a baby if they mind if you post a photograph? I pretty much can guarantee their answer would be, “WAH! WAH! WAH!” Can you imagine asking your toddler, “Um, before we read this bedtime story, can I post a photo of you on Instagram? You can veto it, of course!”
Frankly, I really don’t want my 8 year-old son to know what “veto-power” means. It’s a slippery slope! I can envision him saying, “I don’t like this dinner. Veto! I want McDonald’s!” Or, “I have veto-power! I don’t want to go on a stupid walk. I want to be on my iPad for the next twelve hours!” Plus, I don’t think that “sharenting” is going away anytime soon.
If Rowan wasn’t Rowan, who told me she genuinely “doesn’t care one way or another” if I write about her and also, “I like to know that I’m making other people happy.” She loves when people introduce themselves, because in her words, “I just really like talking to people.”
My daughter hasn’t read the hundreds of articles written about her. I asked her why she hasn’t, especially since they are about her. Her answer was a typical teenager one. “I have other things to do,” she said. And that does not include google searching her mom’s name to look for articles I’ve written her.
I did start telling Rowan, when she turned 16, about the topics relating to her, I wanted to write about, asking if she “minded.” It felt like the right thing to do. Quite frankly, whenever I ask, she usually just looks somewhat boredly at me and says, “I really don’t care.” And she doesn’t. But other children, with different personalities, might. And other mothers, with different personalities than mine, stay away entirely from “sharenting.” To each their own!
In my opinion, it’s time to stop writing and posting about your children if they tell you they don’t like it. In my opinion, you should definitely stop if you think, even for a nano second, that what you write may come back to haunt you. I have no idea, for example, why so many mothers write how they “regret” having children. That’s something, in my opinion, to “think before you ink.” But, overall, I do think sharing the joys and struggles of parenthood, and adorable photographs of your children, is good for mothers who need to know they can relate to other mothers and, like me, feel joy upon seeing adorable photographs posted by proud parents.
I’m not so sure there will be that many more Rowan stories, once she goes off to college, and it makes me sad. It does really feel like the ending of a book I’ve been writing for 18 years.
But, thankfully, I still have much younger kiddos at home, to write about to replace my “meal ticket.” I’m kidding! But I’m not kidding that Rowan asked, “If I wasn’t your daughter, what would you have done as a job?” I mean, is she’s taking credit for my career? If so, she wouldn’t be entirely wrong.