A (parenting teens) cautionary tale
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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