On Protecting Children’s Privacy in the Days of Parenting Influencers

This was written in 4 parts and shared on my Facebook page (fb.com/sherocksthecradle), and I am consolidating it here into one post.

Its been a minute. Wondering where I’ve been? Buckle up, this is a post in 4 parts, because it’s long, and in 2021, we need to read bite sized things, or we get bored in a hurry. (This doesn’t even have beautifully edited pictures, so. Probably not worth reading, right?😉)

A year ago, I gave birth for the 6th time, was transitioning and reunifying our foster placements (a teen mama and her baby), trying to survive without help (hello early days of the pandemic), and working through serious postpartum depression and anxiety. (And when I say working through, I actually mean drowning in and feeling like my life was ending.) At this same point in time, our landlord on the farm we were living on decided to raise our rent by hundreds of dollars (leading us down the path that would cause us to have to leave our hometown, family, church, and support networks and move hours away to a very different place). The US, tired from being locked down and growing restless, turned to protests and cries for social reform, so that even trying to escape my current reality by turning to mindless social media scrolls, I was bombarded with calls to do more than I already was. It was a combination of all of these things that caused me to shut down, and my relationship with social media came to a halt.

The one outlet I have held close throughout the twists and turns of motherhood has been to write, and so many of my readers have bolstered me through that process, offered thought provoking commentary, and encouraged me. Suddenly, the one place I felt safe to share my thoughts seemed hostile, unknown, and scary. My postpartum anxiety (PPA) began to color so many things that I held near and dear in an ugly light. My anxiety grew so wildly one night that I was awake for an entire night, unable to stop scrolling through the madness and unrest that my feed had become, and the next morning I told Milkman, I needed a break. I deleted the Facebook app off my phone for what I thought would be a week long respite.

That week turned into weeks, and then into months. During (and after) that break, I started to look at parenting posts in a different light (both my own and others) and everything I had thought about parenting blogs began to change. After the 3 month mark of my social media hiatus, I told Milkman I was going to delete She Rocks The Cradle. It was a long conversation and ultimately, he asked that I not delete it until I was in a better place mentally, which I think was wise counsel. I knew, however, things would need to look different if I decided to come back to it.

I was largely tempted to delete SRTC out of a concern that surfaced after reading posts that other bloggers had shared displaying intimate details of their kids’ lives that made me uncomfortable. I started asking close friends if what I was finding so distasteful about other mom bloggers and influencers (gosh I hate that term!) was evident in me. They assured me it was not, but as we all know, friends are not always the most objective folks to go to when you’re asking them to point out flaws because, they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

I just couldn’t shake the fear that if I wasn’t careful with what I wrote, I could end up like many of these other parenting bloggers, and teeter over into the realm of exploiting my children in the name of “sharing my parenting journey”.

Now, you might be saying, hold up, hold up, Rach! What kind of mom bloggers are you following that you are concerned about child exploitation?? And I’ll assure you, I’m not referring to anything creepy or nefarious on the dark web— they are the same blogs and influencers you follow, too. So what do I mean by this?

We spend a lot of time advocating for our children’s autonomy. We spend a lot of time concerned about consent for our children when it comes to their bodies. We spend a lot of time talking about how kids cannot give informed consent for a myriad of things, whether that is a romantic relationship with an adult, getting their ears pierced as babies, getting a circumcision, or the current hot topic of whether children can give informed consent to receive a certain dose of a new medication. These are all excellent things to debate, and (with the exception of agreeing that underaged humans having romantic entanglements with grown adults is not ever okay), many of us will fall on a one side or another of these debates and that’s okay. It’s healthy to discuss these things, it’s how we grow and learn, and more importantly how we can be a voice for children and protect them.

So, if we can discuss children’s lack of ability to give truly informed consent when it comes to a skewed power dynamic, I began to ask myself the following question: can my children really give informed consent to me as their parent who is in charge of them when it comes to the things I post about them on social media (be it on my own personal profile, or here on SRTC)? And this was something that I just couldn’t seem to say yes to. Not only do my children have no clue what social media even is, there is also a power dynamic between parent and child that would make it difficult for them to give a true and fair informed consent.

If you’ve been around here a while, you are aware that I do not share my biological or foster children’s faces or real names. This has always been an area of importance to me, as I have been leery to leave a large digital footprint to haunt them as they become adults. Even with these precautions, as I reviewed the topic of my children’s privacy and informed consent, I grew anxious, wondering if things that I had shared in the past bordered on the line of “too personal”. I ended up deleting a post of mine that has gone viral every year since I have posted it, and that post is the reason that many of you began following me. I decided, no matter how many followers it may bring me, if it has even a hint of sharing too much of my child’s private life, I just don’t have a right to post it.

I’m sure at this point, many of you are bristling, whether you share a lot about your kids on your private socials or have more of a public platform, you’re probably thinking that I am over-thinking this topic. That’s fair. I’m going to be totally transparent with the fact that I have been struggling with PPD/PPA pretty seriously for a year now. I’m in therapy, I have close friends I regularly check in with regarding the state of my mental health, and Milkman is always here to both support and challenge me in this area of my life. When dealing with anxiety, there are many things that seem to be a lot more menacing than they are, as I’m reminded each week when I get my pre-therapy check-in questionnaire that asks if I feel like something terrible is going to happen and I fill in a bubble on a scale ranging from hardly ever to every day.

But I’m here to say, that after a year of reflecting on this topic, I’m still feeling pretty strongly about it.

So how do you maintain a parenting blog and not share about your kids personal lives? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?

Long ago I realized that I would never be successful at monetizing my blog, it would never be a career, and it would never expand past the fantastic little following I have here. About this I was certain and it’s for a couple of reasons:

  1. I never picked a real specific niche for SRTC. I’m not fashionable or cool, so the best dressed mom and kids sector was out. I’m overweight so fit mom sector was out. I don’t like to get on airplanes, so there went travel mom. While a firey reformed Baptist preacher’s daughter, I don’t seem to appeal to many Christian women, and so on and so forth. I have historically written about whatever I wanted to, whether that is homeschooling, chronic pain, breastfeeding, formula feeding, fostering, food, or marriage, and unless you have a specialized area of interest, most people aren’t on board with following my chaotic life.
  2. I am unwilling to use my children to schlep a product or make money. Yes, in the past I have done campaigns and talked about products I used on my kids, but these were unpaid, I never shared their personal details, and frankly, at this point in my life, I wouldn’t do that again, because I’m disinterested in using my children as a means to get money, products, or followers.

And this is what brought me almost a year ago to reach out to my close friends and ask “does it seem like I am I selling my children’s privacy in order to get more followers/product/attention?” Once again, the answer was an overwhelming and resounding no, but going forward, I feel even more sensitive to this than I had been in the past.

This leaves me with two choices: let SRTC die (which wouldn’t be difficult, considering I have neglected this space for a year), or when talking about parenting, focus on how I parent, rather than the people I’m parenting. I’m still not totally sure what I’ll do. Facebook has changed so much from the early days of when I was posting here. It’s nearly impossible for posts to get traction when you refuse to pay to promote them, and I ain’t about that pay for likes life, any more than I’m about that share the intimate details of my kids’ lives for likes life.

I suppose I am sharing about this not for some validation or earth shattering revelation, but because this is what I’ve often done on SRTC. Shout my thoughts into the void— even when they aren’t pretty or packaged nicely. Even when they seem unfinished, unedited, or unpolished. Even when they aren’t popular or share-worthy.

So for now, maybe I’m back. At least a little. When time, raising 5 children, homeschooling, keeping a house, nursing 2 kids, running a business (yes, I also started a business amidst the pandemic, and I’m proud to share it’s doing well and bringing so much joy! I’m on Instagram @sherockssocial ), juggling food allergies amongst us all, dealing with chronic pain, completing house projects, trying to eat well, exercise, and hit my 50 book reading goal for the year all allow me a moment here or there to post.

In the meantime, thanks for being patient with me while I figure these things out, and I hope to try to continue to share things that might be helpful in your parenting journey, without exploiting the privacy and digital footprint of my kiddos.

***As an addendum, I want to make it clear that while I currently hold to the conviction that using my children for likes, sponsors, product, or pay is not a path that I feel comfortable with, and while I may even find it unwise for others, I have benefitted from many mom bloggers, particularly early in my parenting journey, who did (what I would now label as) over-share about their children.

It’s not easy to be counter-cultural, it’s not a comfortable place to be, and I hope I have not been offensive as I’ve shared what’s been brewing in my head for the last year.

Also, as a clarification, when I use the word exploitation, I use it in its dictionary definition of “the action of making use of and benefiting from resources”, when those resources are your children. I do not mean to say that mom bloggers and influencers are using their children for evil purposes, just that they are using their children for their own benefit rather than the benefit of the child when they over-share about their kids’ personal lives, quotes, or journeys. ***

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