Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
If you've even glanced at the internet in the past couple of weeks, you probably know something of the hubbub caused by the now-infamous Time cover story, Are You Mom Enough? The image and the accompanying article have ignited debates about everything from extended breastfeeding to breastfeeding in public to the philosophy behind Attachment Parenting, but the angle I have found most interesting is the subject of children's privacy.
Blogger Rachel Lucas weighed in with a strong take in which she denounced the Time cover, and brought it back to the general issue of what mothers choose to share publicly about their kids [note: some profanity at that link]. She writes:
This is the same issue I have with "mommybloggers" who post pictures of their kids, with full names. Why do they think that’s a decent thing to do to another human being? It's no different than if my husband was in a temporary vegetative state and therefore unable to give consent to having his story published, but I posted photographs of him and intimate details about him on my blog, with his full name for good measure, for nothing more than publicity or to advance my own political/social agenda about some issue.
When he woke up (like when those kids grow up), I am absolutely positive that he would be profoundly p****d off that I'd violated his privacy and his anonymity that way. I'd never forgive someone for doing that to me, either.
I don't understand why parents don't see it that way with their underage kids. I know some people say it’s to build community or to commiserate with others in the same boat, but why does that require photographs and full names? If you wouldn't take pictures of your grandmother while she was asleep and post those on the internet, captioned with her full name, why is it okay to do the same to your kids?
Lucas has a thought-provoking analogy there: Is posting pictures and stories of your kids on a blog the equivalent of posting pictures and stories about an incapacitated adult?
These kinds of privacy issues are important for all modern mothers to consider, especially those who have any kind of online presence. I've been pondering it ever since I read Lucas' post, and while I understand where she's coming from, ultimately I came to a different conclusion. I think that posting pictures of kids on mommyblogs is fine in most cases, even when their mothers use their full names. Here's why:
1. We're talking about mommyblogs. When evaluating when to share information about your children, context is key. For example, a mom who blogs for a major media outlet and has hundreds of thousands of readers of all different backgrounds faces a different calculation than a mom who has a blog about motherhood, read by a relatively small group of other mothers. That was one of the big issues with the Time picture: In addition to the fact that the picture itself was bizarre and intentionally salacious, it was placed in a very public forum. Publishing a picture on the cover of a popular national magazine is completely different than posting a picture on a personal blog.
2. Pseudonyms offer little protection. I understand why many moms choose to use pseudonyms or initials in place of their children's real names, but I don't think it offers as much privacy as it might seem to. If a mother blogs under her own real name, it likely wouldn't take more than a couple of Google searches on her kids' names to connect them with the blog. And if a reader who didn't personally know the family was determined to discover the real identities of the kids, in this day and age it would probably only take a matter of hours to discover that information.
3. There are some advantages to moms blogging about their kids. The isolation issues that many stay-at-home moms face is no joke. As we've discussed before, it's unnatural for people to live utterly cut off from any real community, as is the case with moms who are outside of the workforce. Blogs give women in these situations a way to share stories and feel close to one another, and using pictures and real names can enhance that feeling of connectedness.
4. The web is the new town square. I think that people's opinions on this issue are determined primarily by what they understand blogs to be: Is sharing your life through a blog closer to sharing your life in a nationally televised reality show, or is it more like socializing in the local town square? Personally, I see the latter analogy as being more apt. Yes, technically anyone in the world can call up the information posted on a public blog, but in reality most blogs -- especially mommyblogs -- are followed by a core community of loyal readers, many of whom are familiar with one another.
I think that that's where the invalid analogy breaks down: An incapacitated adult is in an unusual situation that requires a special level of privacy. You wouldn't post pictures of your comatose husband on the internet, but you also wouldn't bring him to a birthday party, or take him to a playdate at the park. I don't see sharing stories and pictures of kids on blogs as being all that different than walking them through the town square to socialize: Certainly, it is a public forum, and mothers need to remember that. If a mom had her son out with her in a public place and introduced him to a group of people by saying, "This is my twelve-year-old son Bobby, and he loves to play football," that would be fine; but if she were to say, "This is my twelve-year-old son Bobby, and he's recently had some issues with wetting the bed," that would be a problem. And so it is with blogs.
Mommyblogs can be a great way for women to share information, encourage one another, and just feel a little less alone. I don't think it matters that much whether or not moms share names and pictures of their kids, as long as they're mindful of their children's privacy, and don't share any more than they would in any other public forum.
What do you think? Do you see anything wrong with mom bloggers posting names and/or pictures of their kids?