I read this article this morning and just winced. It’s advice for kids on how to confront their parents about social media sharing stories about them. We’ve had a few conversations on Chairman Mom about the privacy implications of sharing pictures of your kids online. And I’ve mostly been OK with the measured approach I’ve taken. 

  1. I never post naked photos—not even babies in the bath. 
  2. I don’t post my kids at their worst. I don’t post them having a meltdown or anything like that. I post the things that make me the proudest about them.
  3. I don’t post about my kids on Twitter, which is the most toxic of social networks in my experience and the one where I have the largest following. I mostly post about my kids on Instagram where I have a pretty small following, mostly of friends. 

Here’s the problem I have: Kids change. Eli, in particular, is a kid who wants to perform but not be seen. He literally practices performances at our house, setting up a stage and a spotlight, but then tells everyone not to watch. There’s literally no other reason for a spotlight than to be better seen. 

This is more complex when it comes to his gender. I have always posted images of Eli as himself, and that frequently means he’s in a dress. I have never once had anyone say anything transphobic on social media; most people comment about how gorgeous and brave he is. These are pictures of him out in the world, not dressing up at home. In fact, I only started doing it when he started wearing dresses in public. My logic being, if he’s comfortable with the entire world seeing him, surely that includes friends of mine. 

I want to share glimpses of our life, and I felt if I didn’t take pictures of him when he’s wearing a dress, that would somehow be internalizing and sending a message that I found something wrong with it. I’ve had professionals who work with gender non-conforming kids reach out to me and say that I handle it exactly right. I don’t make a big deal about it one way or another, I simply capture the beauty of who he is. Frankly, I was inspired by his bravery and felt it might even inspire others. 

But in the last year, he has changed. He has decided he wants his life to be very compartmentalized. He only wants people he trusts to see that part of him. I am not quite sure what to do now. Do I stop sharing photos if he’s in a dress, even if he’s proud enough to be wearing that dress that he’s wearing it in public? That still feels like I’m shaming something that is at the core of who he is. I don’t want bigotry to win. I don’t want to validate bigotry. Do I delete past pictures of him? I know he’d be upset now if he realized I’d shared them back when he didn’t care if I shared them. But will he in another six months?

This is a broader question I always wrestle with: When do stories about your kids stop becoming part of your journey, and something they deserve total autonomy over? If Eli were, say, 12 and asked me not to ever post a photo of him, I would respect that. If he asked me to delete past shares, I would respect that. But given his friends don’t have social media accounts of their own at age seven, I’m not sure he should get that much control now. 

Recently, Evie asked me if her name was pronounced right in the audio version of my book. It’s a soft “e,” ehhhhhhvie. (Don’t feel bad: Everyone gets it wrong.) I played her a snippet to prove it was right, and at first the kids thought it was hilarious and exciting to hear some woman they didn’t know talking about them. 

Evie loves being the star of my work. Eli does…and he doesn’t. Later, Eli told me that he didn’t want me writing another book about him without permission. He didn’t say anything about newsletters…but I am clearly breaking the spirit of what he asked right now. Should I even be writing this?

I have some experience of how this felt as a kid. My parents were both teachers and would tell stories of their kids, as ways of elucidating greater points in philosophy or literature. My mom especially did this. People tell stories of their kids at work all the time right? The potential problem was that I went to both schools they taught at. I remember the point when it occurred to my mother that this might have been a violation of my privacy all those years. It was a little embarrassing, but I never asked either to change how they did their jobs.

With Eli and Evie, the problem is I’m a writer, and I’m building a company that’s about being honest about the struggles of being a working woman and a working mom. What is my story as a working mom without Eli? 

Some of this is what authors and personalities wrestle with on a regular basis. When Paul and I first got to be friends, his day job was pretty much writing about his life. I was already dissected by mean trolls and gossip blogs on a regular basis, and I told him I absolutely never wanted to be written about. Instead, he made me one of the prominent characters in his second book without asking. He showed it to me after it was written and before publication, but what could I do? Tell him to scrap the entire thing? 

At the time I felt angry and like my request hadn’t been honored. But I also understood why he didn’t feel like he could tell the story of his getting sober (which is largely what his second book was about) without including me. And as a writer, I got the tension between your right to tell your story and the fact that your story is always woven in with others. 


Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:

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