Last weekend I started to write a blog post about our trials and tribulations trying to potty-train 2-year-old NJ. I have a photo on my computer desktop to illustrate it (nothing gross, honest) and had about 200 words written when I abandoned the project.
The reason? Too much information. I feel like I’m violating my kid’s privacy. That didn’t used to be a concern, when she was a little bundle of joy. Now, though, she’s a walking, talking dynamo who understands things, gets embarrassed, and expresses her thoughts and feelings.
So I asked myself a simple question: Would NJ want the world to know intimate details about her toilet time? I’m gonna have to give a big “No” on that one.
Now, the line here is finer than the one between stupid and clever. For example – do you think these items are too personal or embarrassing for the child involved?
- An 18-month-old falls asleep while skiing. Cute and not embarrassing, I say. What will this boy say in 10 years, though? And if he’s upset that anyone can see his younger self snoozing on the slopes, will he be within his rights, or too sensitive?
- A mom writes about her 14-year-old daughter’s first romantic breakup. This, to me, is textbook TMI. The author doesn’t mention whether she got clearance to write this from her daughter, although I’m assuming she did (the girl seems like she’s got it together and has a good perspective on things – honestly, she took the breakup better than Mom did).
- Making money off your child’s YouTube stardom. This is a slightly different issue, because the act of putting the video of a child deliriously happy because she’s going to Disneyland isn’t, in and of itself, an invasion of privacy. But as ad exec Donny Deutsch says, that sort of thing must be done with great care because “it's different when it comes to showing off your kids to people you don't know.”
- “David after Dentist,” the 2008 viral video that saw this 7-year-old boy, tripping on pain medication after dental surgery, asking his dad “Is this real life?” I thought this was very funny and quite innocent – if David didn’t understand what was going on at the time, he surely does now, and I’m betting he realizes that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Still, not everyone agrees and it was a controversy at the time – David’s dad, who shot the video, even got quite a dressing-down on national television for “exploiting his child” from morality expert Bill O’Reilly.
- Putting your 7-year-old on a strict diet, then writing a book about it. Yes, an invasion of the child’s privacy (and it’s awful in a handful of other ways, too, but that’s another subject). In fact, the dietician who worked with Dara-Lynn Weiss on her daughter’s weight and nutrition issues recommends discretion in public and encouragement in private – not, uh, writing an article in Vogue and then signing a book deal.
You may agree with my takes on those situations, but you probably don’t agree with all of them. Or maybe you don’t agree with any of them.
And that’s the way it is. And that’s what I’m wrestling with now.
A friend, who’s got a toddler the same age as NJ, started her “We had our first child!” blog a couple of weeks before I started mine. However, Christina stopped writing last fall.
"At some point, about when she began talking, I had to acknowledge that my daughter was a sentient being with a right to her own privacy rather than an accessory that I carried around and called by a first name,” Christina told me. “It was then that the blog felt more like exploitation than storytelling."
I’m wary of Christina sometimes – her tastes in music are highly questionable, for instance – but her reasoning seems pretty sound here, and I’ve thought a lot about it ever since she stopped blogging about her beautiful little girl. My output at my own blog has slowed considerably over the past few months, and this is one of the reasons why.
Another friend once asked me if I was nervous about posting photos (now numbering in the thousands) of NJ online. “If she ends up on a billboard in Romania selling baby formula, how will that hurt?” I flippantly replied. Of course, that’s not the only issue with the Internet and children’s identification, and now I’m rethinking things a bit.
Because our families are spread across the country, my wife and I thought the blog and our Flickr feed would be a great way to keep NJ’s grandparents and relatives apprised of her development. And they have. As my wife points out, while potty-training tales are one thing, other things that many parents forget as they age – first words, the first time Daddy got buried in the sand, first taste of ice cream – should be chronicled. And in today’s digital age, it’s so easy it’s practically a crime not to do so.
But now that “Daddy, no!” is a staple of NJ’s vocabulary … again, I’m rethinking.
It was the kid’s bad luck to be born into a writing/journalism family – a dad blog seemed like the natural thing to do, because of course I had to tell everyone everything. And it doesn’t make sense to write a chronicle of raising a child without mentioning things like potty training. So: Impossible to write a parent’s blog without mentioning personal information, but now I’m worried about using that very same info. Ironic, no?
I used to add wacky disclaimers – “Future NJ, sorry you’re reading this on the Internet” or something like that – but I don’t think adding another layer of goofy snark cuts it anymore. Now I’m pretty much down to posting photos and only the most innocent of posts – vacation recaps and the like. It’s not particularly exciting at the moment, I’m the first to admit.
It's often hard for parents to view their children as individual people, not just an extension of – or a do-over for – the parent's life. (“Toddlers and Tiaras,” anyone?) I am guilty of this, but lately I’ve been trying to keep it in mind and work on it.
So – do you think it’s OK for me to detail my daughter’s toilet training? Or is it none of your business? Where do you draw the line?