Lately my husband has been sending me a lot of articles discussing the use – or careful avoidance of – the Internet and social media by parents for the sharing of photos of their children. Most of the articles are written by people who have made a conscious decision to minimize their children’s exposure to the online public, some simply by limiting the number of pictures they post and by strengthening their privacy settings, others by establishing password-access-only sites to share pictures with close friends and family, and, in one case, by registering a URL, email address, and Facebook account in the child’s name, to be handed owe to him or her at such time as the parents deem appropriate. I have not yet come across any articles encouraging the opposite, go-ahead-and-share-away philosophy, which I suppose makes sense since that approach seems to be the norm.
I will admit that I share photos of my son on Facebook. There was the initial birth announcement featuring a shot from the delivery room. I keep an album of the photos we take each month, him propped in the same chair with his stuffed elephant nearby for comparison. Is he in my profile image? Yes. Other than that, I don’t post very often, but does it really make a difference given that I’m posting at all? In terms of preserving his privacy and waiting until he is of an age to give consent, or at least assent, to the sharing of his identity and image, is it an all or nothing phenomenon?
This really brings up a bigger question for me – what about my writing? How does one manage privacy concerns when writing about one’s family? My husband figures frequently in my work, and although I never delve into deep dark family secrets or share anything overly private, he is always my first reader and I give him full veto power over any piece that involves him. (He has yet to exercise that power.)
But now there is my son. One simple solution would be to not write about him until he is older and can grant permission, but he is such a huge part of my life, and already has such a great influence on all of the things that I process through my writing – my work as a pediatrics resident, the balance between career responsibilities and family life, and of course the joys and challenges of motherhood – that avoiding mention of him feels impossible and counterproductive.
Protecting our subjects’ privacy, especially when those subjects are patients, is a topic that features frequently at conferences in the medical humanities. The general consensus seems to be that the writer should try to gain the subject’s permission and, barring that, alter any information that might make the individual identifiable to someone who knows him or her.
Thus far, I have taken a similar approach in writing about my baby. I never use his first name, and handily his last name is different from my own. Nothing that I share pertains to his appearance, health, or any other aspect of his life thus far that he could conceivably in the future wish to keep private. The question looms as to whether he will be upset one day that I have written about him at all. That’s something that I can’t predict. I can only hope that he will understand how essential the act of writing is to his mother’s well being and that he will know that I have made every decision with the intent to protect him.
How do other writers feel about including their children in their writing? Do you avoid it, embrace it, or strive for some middle ground?