Monday, March 10, 2014

What Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh Have to do With Mommy Blogs






I grew up with the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and even acquired the nickname "Tigger" after my dad decided that I had altogether too much energy (he was right, by the way).  Recently, however, I've learned some new information about the Winnie-the-Pooh stories and A.A. Milne, the author, that has made me think of those stories in a different light.

You might know that the boy-hero of the books, Christopher Robin, was based on Milne's own son, also named Christopher Robin.  It sounds like a sweet tale.  But Christopher Robin Milne grew up in the shadow of those books and his father's success.  When he was older he came to resent it.  In one of his biographies, C.R. Milne wrote, 

"It seemed to me almost that my father had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and left me nothing but empty fame."

I think of this quote often when I come across "mommy blogs".  In the age of information (or better put: the age of over-information) it seems as though some children are living out their lives for their parents' blog readers.  Every birthday party and every first day of school is shared with hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of readers.  It makes me a bit sad, but also a bit scared.

Here's the truth:  as parents, we are the guardians of our children's online identities.  And it's a job that we should take seriously.

Parents are concerned about what their children are putting online.  And rightfully so as there has been an epidemic of sexting and cyber bullying in the past few years.  We don't want our children making a mistake that will haunt them for life.  And yet, I can't help but wonder if some people's blogs are going to be haunting their children for life.

I cannot predict what the internet will be like in twenty years, when my son is grown and trying to make a name for himself.  But in case it remains similar to its current state, I know I must proceed with caution.

When a school-mate or a future employer googles my son's name, do I want them to find my son's birth story, potty training pictures, and tales of the first day of kindergarten?  More than that: is it really fair to my son?  Is it fair to color people's idea of who he is with who I think he is?

For bloggers interested in gaining a platform, it's all about followers, page views, comments and shares.  When my husband and I made the decision to separate our family blog from my public blog, we did so because I couldn't reconcile using my son's stories and pictures in an attempt to get readers.  If I am ever to be successful in this blogging world, it must be because I've told my own story, and not co-opted my son's.

Of course, I'm not the only blogger concerned with protecting my child and I'm not even sure that my approach is best.  Some parents share openly about their children, but keep their last name closely guarded.  Some write about their children using nicknames.  Others share stories about their children, but not pictures.  And others, like me, try to balance it all, sharing about our children both in words and pictures, but keeping in limited to occasional references instead of details about their every day life.

Sarah Bessey, who wrote the book Jesus Feminist that I reviewed, shared a beautiful post on this topic.  I loved these words:
"I need my children to know that they aren’t blog fodder. I need them to know that they can grow up without an audience being privy to their sacred moments.
I need them to know that when they curl up around me in that old leather chair that their secrets are safe with me."

Can my son tell me secrets and know that they'll be safe with me?  Will I stop speaking for him in time that he can find his own voice in the world?  

Try as I might to know my son fully and be his best friend, I know that my perception of him will always be colored by the fact that I am his mother.  It is a special, unique, one-of-a-kind relationship.  But it also changes as he gets older.  And I know from watching others that this time is short so I must do my best to prepare for years of being his friend and peer instead of simply his caretaker.

That quote from Christopher Robin haunts me in a way.  Even if I have good intentions when blogging about my son, I try to see it through his eyes, twenty years in the future.  And, most importantly, I am trying to leave him more than empty fame.     



**The Christopher Robin Milne story is not an isolated event, by the way.  Frances Hodgson Burnett used her younger son, Vivian, as the model for Little Lord Fauntleroy and he was mercilessly teased about it through college.




6 comments:

  1. this is an excellent point and one I've thought about (and continue to think about) long and hard. As a military family, my blog is basically the only way some family know what's going on with us. It's terribly sad, but they don't call, they don't return emails, they're not on facebook, but they somehow manage to read my blog. When we do talk to them, they know what we've been up to. I try very hard to keep our last name under wraps. I'm not sure how good it does, but I feel like that's me trying to keep our lives semi private. Every post I write, my husband reads before I publish; I would never want something going out there that he doesn't approve of either.

    While i was setting up for Julia's party I (whole-heartily) admit that the blog was the center of my focus. I actually had a breakdown a few minutes before it started, because things weren't as they should be. Then I realized that her party is about her...NOT me or my blog. I need to keep myself in check so that I can keep our family in check. I need to share the bad stuff along with the good so that I don't make us out to be perfect (since we're far, far from it).

    I have so much more to say about this, but this is already becoming a novel! Great, thought-provoking post.

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  2. Jessica, I loved your comment - you never have to feel badly that it's becoming a novel! ;) One of the BEST part about blogging (I think) it these conversations that take in the comments sections. A couple of thoughts: 1) you were one of the bloggers I was thinking of when I mentioned keeping your last name secret and I really think that's a good idea. I've been reading you for a few years now and I have NO CLUE what your last name is! :) It make me think that when your daughter applies for a job and someone googles her name, they're not going to find your blog (at least not easily). 2) It sounds like you are very aware of this and doing your best, which I think it a great start. I like how your husband reads the posts first because it's a good check-and-balance system. When I do post pictures of our son, I always okay it with my husband first to make sure we're on the same page. In the article I linked to, Sarah Bessey mentions how she blogged about their children more when they were younger and slowed down as they aged. I think that's a good way to make it a natural progression. Anyway, thanks again for commenting.

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  3. Callie, such good and wise thoughts here. I started my public blog when I realized that one post on my private blog was being fairly widely shared on FB. I was okay with that post being shared, but felt very threatened by the fact that a quick scroll up or down was like a family newsletter for our nearest and dearest - full of dates of birth and full names and clues as to where we lived. I confess I haven't been as good about keeping up my private blog since I started the public one, but it has been quite freeing to have a new space where I don't mention my family by name or where we live. Your quotes from the ever-wise Sarah Bessey are so good too. Thanks so much for adding richness to this conversation. Like you, I wouldn't ever want my children to feel that they were inappropriately exposed by my blogging. Their secrets must be safe with us.

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  4. Really appreciated this article! What does blogging look like when our kids are grown? I love your heart in protecting your son, his heart and relationships with being careful about your posts.

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  5. I'm so glad you liked it, Julie! I definitely don't have all the answers on this topic, but I so want to set myself up for a good relationship with my son and I want to respect him as a full person even though he's so young.

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  6. We have a private blog too and, like you, it often falls by the wayside when I'm busy with other things. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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