A few days ago I saw a headline on people.com, “Kristen Bell’s 5 year-old is Still in Diapers”. Very quickly many thoughts went through my head.
First- judgement. I can admit it. 5 seems really old to be in diapers.
Then, secondly- solidarity. My 5 year old daughter is still in diapers overnight. Her pediatrician shook off any concern I had at her wellness appointment and told me not to worry at all.
Finally I was a bit horrified at the entire thing. I was mad at myself for clicking the link and also disgusted at myself for being part of the problem with celebrity gossip. I was also fairly sure Ms. Bell was probably going to have some explaining to do with her husband, Dax Shepard, about the whole thing anyway.
For those of you who don’t know about Ms. Bell and Mr. Shepard’s family, they have been extremely protective of their children while maintaining their own chosen celebrity lives. I really admire this. I’m a huge fan of Mr. Shepard’s podcast, “Armchair Expert”, and many of his views on a child’s right to privacy have reshaped my own views with my own children and how I expose them online.
Like most women my age with children, I’ve shared most aspects of my kids lives with the extended “friends” and “followers” I have on social media. There’s really nothing better to do during those hazy days of newborn babyhood. I didn’t really give it much deep thought, I’d post a picture of my kid with a funny caption and that was it. Being a mother made my own identity feel “less than”, after all, I no longer do much beyond taking care of my kids, and my kids are infinitely more photogenic than I.
Around the time I created this blog I did have some trepidation about how exactly much I wanted to share- at least when it came to giving out their full names and posting pictures of them. I know if I go through the archives there’s a few photos of their faces, but I think I’ve avoided using more than their first initials to identify them. While I don’t have thousands of readers or anything on my blog, it does feel like a uniquely personal space that is really open to anyone to read, and I felt like my children deserved a bit of anonymity when it came to it.
It was a few years ago when my eldest started requesting I stop sharing every picture of him on Facebook. He was around seven at the time. He didn’t mind if I shared some, but he wanted to approve of them first. This request sort of blew my mind. He had the understanding of privacy and I had to honor his request.
As time has gone on, I’ve completely deleted my Facebook, but I still maintain an Instagram account. I’m souring on using it as much as I did, because, after all, it’s part of the big beast of FB anyway, but I’m still addicted to the photo-scroll. However, this year I heard a podcast (Armchair Expert) where it was discussed on social media companies and ‘big data’ may one day (or even are currently doing….) be able to make predictions and judgements on our children through just photos alone. Like, in the movie Minority Report. Like, my innocent children being pigeonholed from birth.
They didn’t ask for that. They didn’t ask for any of this.
So I’ve made a conscious effort of block as much of their faces as I can with my social media. My posts have gotten a lot less cute, but I’m okay with that. I haven’t resorted to using emojis to conceal their faces (like the Bell/Shepard family does), but this very subtle change makes me feel like I’m sharing my life but not exploiting them.
I’m probably being an alarmist. I’m paranoid and I love a good conspiracy theory. But at the most basic level, I’ve come to terms with the idea that my children do deserve some protection online and my own decision to share my life online extends only to my own self. Yes, my kids are a part of myself and my identity, but I respect them as individuals and once they are old enough they can put as much (or as little) of themselves out there as they chose.
This brings me back to the Diaper-gate headline with Kristen Bell.
The day after the first headline, People published a new one. “Kristen Bell’s Daughter Only in Diapers At Night”.
Why this was ever newsworthy is beyond me. She had made the statement on a podcast with a fellow mother and they pulled out a throwaway story and made a huge deal out of it. I feel bad for her.
But these are our times we live in. I’m writing in my little read, but deeply personal blog (I’m not writing for any other reason than for myself) but one day someone could take a line or post and make a story about it. I as a parent have a delicate line to balance. I love to share my life with people who know me, and I enjoy writing on this platform whenever the mood strikes me. I have a nagging bother at the back of my mind to erase the line at the beginning of this post disclosing my daughters overnight-diaper needs. It’s perfectly normal and not anything to worry about, yet, why share?
Ms. Bell only told the story as a way to explain how every child is different. Her first potty trained extremely easily at 21 months old, and her second is throwing her for the loop. I have similar results with my kids; all potty trained at different ages with varying degrees of success.
Sharing these stories is important so other mothers don’t judge themselves. How I wish I had read testaments from women on how difficult breastfeeding could be when I struggled with my first; I reached out to every person I knew for advice and mostly heard back, “It wasn’t hard for me!”. We are already so hard on ourselves as mothers and in the glossy picture perfect world of social media it is nice hear from other women that they don’t have it all figured out and no one is perfect. But it just goes to show how easy the story can twist from being a personal story of mothering to direct judgment on the child itself.
There is no easy answer. You can’t avoid online life and data tracking and even though I’ve deleted accounts and photos of my kids from social media, I know they aren’t really gone from the “cloud” and everything I put on the inter webs is out of my control once I push post. But I am going to make a conscious effort to continue to be mindful about how I share my children’s lives online and I think this whole diaper-headline is a perfect example of why it’s important.