Does a young girl’s right to privacy trump her mother’s desire to express herself (or earn a living)?
According to Kidspot, that’s a conundrum that many mommy bloggers and writers face. If your writing persona revolves around sharing details from your family life, things like photos and intimate details may find their way into your work. And when that work is published online, you’ve effectively shared those details with the world.
So what happens when your child is old enough to know about this and object? Some parents may agree to stop sharing such details. But Christie Tate intends to keep going, despite her daughter’s opposition.
Writing in the Washington Post, Tate explains that her fourth-grade daughter just discovered that her mother has been sharing their family life with the world via blogs and articles.
It happened this Christmas after Tate’s daughter received a laptop as a gift. A day later, she angrily confronted her mother to ask why there were photos of her childhood — the photos that accompanied Tate’s parenting articles — all over the internet.
When she first started writing about parenthood, Tate thought about the ethics of what she was doing. However, as long as her daughter was too young to care about being in articles, she’d put the problem off for another day. When her daughter asked her about it, Tate was unprepared:
In the moment, I stammered, trying to buy time so I could go back and read what those sage parents had advised. When that failed, I told her the truth: that I write about our family in essays and that sometimes I include a picture. She was not comforted. “I wouldn’t do that now without your permission,” I promised.
Tate’s daughter asked if she could take the photos down, but Tate explained that she couldn’t. It wasn’t what the young girl wanted to hear.
— Christie Tate (@ChristieOTate) August 16, 2014
Looking through her old articles, Tate wrote that:
I read through some of my old pieces, and none of them seemed embarrassing to me, though she might not agree. A few years ago, I wrote about a disappointment in her social life — a girl she counted as her best friend abruptly stopped talking to her. While I wrote about the experience from the perspective of a mother trying to help her daughter through a rough patch without succumbing to anti-girl stereotypes about so-called mean girls, she might not appreciate seeing a painful episode from her past splashed across the Internet.
Tate wrote that her first impulse was “to promise her that I’ll never write about her again.” Looking at other mom writers, Tate found many who stopped writing about family details once their children got older and they became concerned about protecting their kids’ privacy.
But Tate believes she can’t make that promise to her daughter. While she agrees her daughter should get a veto on some topics or photos, she also wrote, “I’m not done exploring my motherhood in my writing. And sometimes my stories will be inextricably linked to her experiences.”
Tate says that she plans to chart “a middle course,” where she and her daughter negotiate and compromise over what she writes about and what photos she includes. But she isn’t willing to stop. She wrote:
Promising not to write about her anymore would mean shutting down a vital part of myself, which isn’t necessarily good for me or her.
Tate explained that part of the reason for her refusal to stop is that she dislikes the idea that mothers are supposed to be, “endlessly self-sacrificing,” for their children.
In the end, Tate and her daughter agreed that Tate won’t submit a photo without her daughter’s permission and that she’ll inform her daughter what the articles will be about. She’s considering using a pseudonym for her daughter as well. What she isn’t going to do is stop writing about her daughter altogether. She wrote:
My daughter didn’t ask to have a writer for a mother, but that’s who I am. Amputating parts of my experience feels as abusive to our relationship as writing about her without any consideration for her feelings and privacy.
While Tate feels that she shouldn’t have to stop writing about her daughter — despite the girl’s request — most commenters disagreed.
Several people called Tate’s attitude narcissistic, and one wrote, “You should re-title your blog Mommy Dearest.” Many found her parenting choice to be questionable and insensitive to her daughter. One commenter wrote:
Your resentment over the fact that your daughter doesn’t want to star in your personal version of the Truman Show is pretty palpable [….] If you cared half as much about being a parent as you claim, you’d respect your daughter’s imminently reasonable wish to have some basic privacy. You are absolutely entitled to your own creative and professional fulfillment, but she’s entitled to have a normal childhood where her day-to-day life isn’t plastered on the internet for complete strangers to pour over. It’s almost disturbing how much of a no-brainer this should be.
Nor were most persuaded by Tate’s argument for self-expression. One commenter pointed out, “There are many ways you can explore motherhood in your writing without directly referencing your daughter or violating her privacy by using her exact experience.”
While there were a few who felt that Tate’s articles about her child are comparable to posting a photo on Facebook, they were heavily outnumbered by those who felt Tate was violating her daughter’s privacy.
As one commenter stated, the issue is simple: “Not writing about someone who doesn’t want you to is about common decency, not self sacrifice, and the only reason you can put a spin on it like that (and can get away with doing it still) is because you are doing it to your underage daughter.”