mother-daughter

A (parenting teens) cautionary tale

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by Robin Dance

Married over half her life to her college sweetheart, Robin's guilty pleasure is Reddi Wip from the can. Mom to three, she's as Southern as sugar-shocked tea. Follow her on Twitter. Her beautiful new blog robindance.me is a must-see.

It was one of the most remarkable moments of my life, the kind you want to capture and hold onto or even remain present with forever.

Sitting on my front porch swing and listening to my daughter ,who had been away on a four-month internship, she gifted me likely the highest compliment I’ll ever receive:

“You’ve taught me how to be a mother.”

She was quick to calibrate the atmosphere lest I climb on too high a horse: “You’ve gotten a lot of things wrong and I’m not saying you’re perfect, but it’s amazing how great a mom you are, given your circumstances.”

(She was speaking of me losing my own mom to cancer when I was just nine; and though my father would remarry a few years later, family dynamics were c o m p l i c a t e d after her death.)

Yes, it was a magical few hours between a mother and daughter, the kind where we see each other and see into each other, rare and precious and impressionable.

Ironic that not two weeks later, I’d make an error in judgment that ended up hurting both of us:
I forgot to respect who she is.

* * * * * *

Today’s world is not the same one I grew up in:  where In Real Life relationships were the only ones that existed.

There was no world wide web, no virtual friendship, and certainly no sharing of personal stories or pictures of myself or family with people I had never met.

My children largely escaped growing up on the internet; I started blogging when they were in grade school and middle school, and no one in their right mind was posting their real name or children’s pictures online until a few years after that.

Back in the day, bloggers were cautious:  how could we be sure our online friends weren’t only masquerading as bloggers by day, when in reality, they were wielding machetes and axes by night?

But children are great fodder for blog posts, and it was only a matter of time until I would begin writing about them.

It never occurred to me that I was exploiting them for personal gain (even if that “gain” was minimal); that I was exposing them without their permission. Of course, neither were my intent, and maybe that’s too harsh a characterization, but eventually I would learn the hard way that not everyone wants their story spilled in front of strangers.

Somewhere during their middle-to-high school years, I asked my children how they felt about my occasional posts that mentioned them.  The boys liked the notoriety; but my daughter?  She had resented it for some time.

The conversation gave me opportunity to explain to her how I process, and that most of the time, if I write something that mentions her, it’s about me, not her.  She extended a lot of grace toward me, asking me to simply give her advance notice of pieces I wrote mentioning her, with the option to ask me not to publish.

It was a good solution.

Except when I forgot to respect her wishes…

Like two weeks after our Porch Swing Conversation, when I wrote about another poignant mother-daughter exchange, and failed to share it with her first.  To me, it was all about my response to her, but to her, it was exposing her and disrespecting her wishes.

* * * * *

There are no hard and fast rules for bloggers; most of us stumbled onto it by accident or as a creative outlet or because we wanted to share our lives with out-of-town family.  We don’t set out to exploit our family or friends – we simply want to write, connect, engage, encourage, inspire, share a laugh.

I discussed the possibility of writing this post with my daughter because the lesson I learned seemed of value to share with others, a cautionary tale as it were.  She appreciated the gesture.

We came to this conclusion as a take away for Simple Mom readers who share information about their children online (especially as they grow older):

Know your children.

Some will thrill to every picture or post you share online and some will shrivel or resent you.  Ask them, don’t make assumptions; let it be your practice to respect their wishes and exercise restraint when necessary.  And realize that what they’re okay with at 11, they may not be okay with at 15.

Postscript:  I unpublished my original post as soon as my daughter expressed her frustration, but not before several readers had seen it.  Because every one of them mentioned a poem that I had included, I published it again as a stand-alone, and a mea culpa to my daughter (who consequently, asked me to republish the piece, but I think it’s fine as is.  She and I both know the rest of it…and that’s enough).  If you have a daughter you might want to read it–it’s simply beautiful.

If you have an online presence (a blog, Facebook, even only Instagram), do you know with certainty how your children feel about you sharing stories/pictures of them?  Have you had instances where you found out “the hard way”?

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Comments

  1. Wise words. Blogging is such a great tool for sharing and connecting with others but it is so easy to overstep the mark. My little one is only a newborn so it will be a while before she is aware of my writings but she still deserves my respect. I think I need to come up with some system of critiquing my posts that include her so that until she can approve them herself, I can ensure I am doing my best to honour her with my writing and share about her wisely. Thank you for this important post, it has really got me thinking!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experience – and your daughter’s experience – Robin. This post gives me so much to think about. I am a total newbie to the blogging world – at least the public blogging world – and I am still pretty squeamish/anxious about posting too much information about my young children. As I get a bit more comfortable with this activity, however, I am sure that I will let my guard down a bit; and this post provides such great guidance for that time. I especially appreciate the point that “what they’re okay with at 11, they may not be okay with at 15″ – so true! I look forward to seeing what the other readers share in response to your post.

    • Jennifer,

      Again, your intention will serve you; and you’re wise to realize at some point you WILL get more comfortable and let your guard down! A wise parent will realize their children change and evolve, and flexibility and adaptation in parenting benefits everyone. It’s never one size fits all forever….!

  3. Thanks for this insight, Robin. I always look forward to your posts on teens. My oldest is 13 so teenhood is new territory! I’m a bit new to the blogging world and you have given me a lot to think about. A few weeks ago, I had a picture of my daughter that I was going to add to a post- it was an amazing picture but she didn’t like it and asked me to use a different one. I will definitely keep her in the loop as to what is ok with her to share or not. Thanks!
    And, I love Sarah Kay! She has another TED talk too that’s really good.
    Many blessings!

    • Cheri,

      One day I watched and watched Sarah–she’s so GOOD, isn’t she?

      Thank you for your kind words; sometimes it’s hard to offer parenting counsel like this (or any of my posts!) because I never want anyone to think I think I’ve got it all figured out! But…my kids are who I hoped they’d become and if anything I’ve done has contributed, well…it’s my joy to share :).

  4. What good words, Robin. I know that my husband growing up as a pastor’s kid really appreciated his dad’s policy about whether he or his sister could be in sermon illustrations: permission was always asked and a veto was always granted. I find so often that I was to assume what those close to me are feeling and alright with, but I like to be asked to share, and I need to continue to extend that invitation to dialogue with others before I do something.

    • Excellent point! I it not a problem that is limited to blogging. I’ve heard personal illustrations that make me feel cringe on behalf of the family members that were being used for the sake of a chuckle. I appreciate it when a speaker shows enough respect to his loved ones to run it by them ahead of time for approval.

      If you are going to use a personal illustration or story, make the joke be at your own expense, not someone else’s. Showing respect to our children and spouses in this way is so important. Good reminders here.

  5. avatar
    Brenda Crouser says:

    I love this observation and think it extends out broader than bloggers. I have a child who is intensely private that cringes when I share stories of him, in general. I believe as parents our load can be lifted when we share with other parents and obtain insights on how we might be a better parent to a child(ren) – however they can see it as a violation. The same considerations of asking, but also sharing what I benefit from has been helpful. Fellow parents have had suggestions that were brilliant and not originally in my realm of consideration as I had not looked at the challenge from that perspective!

  6. My husband and I have had this conversation a few times. Is it exploitation to write about your family online? The major quibble I have with calling it that, is that it is the nature of writing. If you wrote a column for the newspaper, or if you wrote a memoir for publication, the stories of your family might be a major topic from which you draw. It doesn’t seem to indicate that you will suddenly have stalkers or weirdos interested in your family because you do so. Just my two sense… take it for what it is! Good article- thank you!

    • I want to clarify that I understand you are talking more about your daughter’s wishes and boundaries, which I think is a good point to make.

  7. Unfortunately, yes, I found out the hard way. We have 3 teens; one does not want to be included in our blog, one is indifferent, and one kinda likes it. The first one is OK with appearing in an occasional photo, not identified by (searchable) name.

    When we began our blog, we intended to write much more about family–specifically, our experience of merging our two families. We shifted focus to our home, and use it as metaphor for what we’re learning about how to build/renovate a family. Allows us to explore a topic that’s meaningful to us, while preserving boundaries we feel our kids have every right to ask us to respect.

  8. Robin, first I’ll start with I have watched Sarah Kay recite that poem (is recite accurate? More like wow the world) w/ my daughter at least a couple times and tweeted it all over. It is one of the best set of guides for what we should be doing as parents. I love it too! It made me tearful.

    Also, glad you wrote this. I’m very warily starting to make my children more visible in my blog on family fitness. Right now I’m trying to keep their faces to a minimum and I’ve just shifted to using their real names. B/c it’s not just their feelings on this. It’s safety. It’s also knowing that whatever I publish is out there – forever. And who knows how eventually they will want that info out there.

    It’s hard to write a parenting blog and be guarded about your kids. And I’m sure I’ll step over the line sometimes. But I suspect we’re sometimes too casual about what’s happening with this online world and best to err on the side of caution. As one blogging mom put it – I’d like to give my children the chance to develop their public life on their terms.

  9. This is something I really struggle with as a new mom. I am of the Facebook generation where online over sharing seems to be the norm, and I have a book blog. How much do I put of my six month old out there on the web? How much is too much, and how little is being overly paranoid? Almost all of our family lives a very significant distance away, so having some stuff online really does help keep in touch. It’s hard to know the right thing to do, but at least I don’t have the added complication of needing to consider his wishes. He won’t care one way or another for a least a few more years!

  10. avatar
    Juli vrotney says:

    for me, it was with my husband. He did not want a picture I took – of him with the kids put on Facebook. So I had to unpublish it… oh well.

  11. As a blogger, I appreciate this post so much. Every now and then my kids, or husband, will say, “Please don’t blog about this!” It’s mostly a joke, but it’s also serious. I like to think that I am mindful of the fact that my children, and my husband, are individuals who may not want to be part of my public life. I always ask them before I post, and will often read things aloud to make sure that they approve. This post has reminded me that sometimes the poignant, personal moments need to also be kept private, as a memory between me and my loved ones. :)

  12. Good advice. My 8 year old son does not want me sharing his stories, pictures or information on Facebook or blog. I try to respect him or ask him first.

  13. I write a lot about my children, but I have them approve every post/picture. I have 4 children, ages 4, 10, 11, and 15.
    My 15 y/o daughter has only asked that I not write about her biological father, who hasn’t been involved in her life in years. I respect that as that is her story to tell later in life (in whatever medium that is for her).
    I have a passion for the everyday storytelling and helping others. And my kids are a huge part of my everyday story. That being said, I think it wouldn’t hurt to have a family sit down conversation with my kids about writing about them and their concerns. Thanks – this was wonderful!

    • but how does a 4 year old know how this information will impact her life? you’re just patting yourself on the back for a situation you can easily manipulate to make yourself feel better. not right…

  14. i’m really against bloggers discussing their children. although, as a parent, it’s obviously your life also, the trials your children go through are family private and you’re choosing what’s revealed of everyone’s character, not them, and publically before they even know how it will impact them.. relationships and opportunities in the future.

    i read a post about a mother frustrated with the bathroom antics of her small son. very descriptive and yeah, it’s her life she’s venting about.. but that’s in print and it’s fodder for anyone who wants to give her son a hard time in the future. it’s private family moments that a mother offers up to an unkind world, a world of a sadly growing vocal community of bullies and anti-s. and this doesn’t even begin to touch upon future competitors in both school and the workplace having access to this information. it’s not safe and it’s not fair.

  15. Dear Robin

    You talk about a subject that interests me a lot. I’m just too careful, but I understand those who share things, even if I don’t

    If you’re interested, here’s my politics (you have to translate it, though)

    http://melroazul.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/a-internet-as-criancas-e-as-redes-sociais/

    all the best!

  16. My kids are young, and I do share pictures of them with my Facebook friends, but nowhere else on the internet. And I try not to put their very personal stories / information out there, anywhere. I’m pretty private and generally leery of how the information that we publish can be used in ways we didn’t anticipate, but it is a balancing act because the internet is such a great place to share with like-minded people and get good feedback as a parent.

  17. Interesting topic. I definitely see being sensitive to your child’s wishes, especially in the over-sharing climate we seem to live in these days. But I also think of all the great art (books, plays, comedic performances, etc.) that we wouldn’t have if every single story had to be vetted with a child or family member before being shared. Are there adults who think, yep, here comes the middle school dance debacle story? Absolutely. But I think most people (I hope most people) gradually develop a sense of humor and realize it’s part of the shared experience of being human. Hopefully the story tellers also have a sense of decency in choosing what to share.

  18. Art is great. Artists are greater. An artist mind are the greatest. Thank you for your blog.

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