I’ve avoided finishing or publishing this post since Charlie was 8 months old, almost five years. Probably because it’s both relevant and yet redundant, and while typically I like to have a thesis with these kinds of posts, I don’t today. Like digital media itself, my stance and mindset shift almost daily and knowing what is the “right” thing to do is most often an in-the-moment gut decision. I like to think that I’m principled, as if I have these morals that are unwavering and these limits that are inflexible. But absoluteness, or a “never will I” attitude, is the vernacular of youth. And being unwavering in your principles is certainly easier said than done.
Needless to say, I have very complicated feelings about my kids and social media (both their involvement and presence in my social media and, looking down the line, Charlie and Elliot on social media themselves). But like any intelligent, progressive, responsible (and terrified) mom, I mostly just want them to be as far away as possible from social media. Hilarious, I know but there is a plot twist at the end.
The irony of me being who I am and what I do for work is not lost on me; in fact, I’m more sensitive to it because of what I do. You have no idea. I know what it does to my fully grown adult brain and I didn’t have the Internet until I was 18 and social media until I was 30. My brain was FORMED.
Most of parenting is modeling good behavior. Showing not telling. We are VERY good at adhering to a no phones at the breakfast and dinner tables policy and for the last six months have gotten The New York Times daily – the actual paper – so we can catch up on the news while the kids play, but without having to be on our phones. We are trying to take the power of the phone away and show our kids that these things are tools we use for work and for information, but not something we need. So if that’s the case then why can’t I just teach them how we are being and how they can be responsible with social media?
There is a lot of research that says that my generation (xennial) and above are far worse at the daily mindless scroll than a typical 23 year old. I’ve read that the younger generation has learned to use it moderately whereas even our parents’ generation is addicted to scrolling and updating the daily feed, although in my experience, I’ve seen a lot of 16 years old locked to their phone.
While I could honestly talk about this at length (and regularly do with other parents to hear their points of views), my kids are still young, so this isn’t really about them actually using social media. I’m several years (hopefully a decade or more) away from actively having to have this conversation. They hopefully won’t have a cell phone until 8th grade, and, if I can convince all of our friends to make the same promise, not be on any social media until they are 18. Please join the #waituntil8th movement. PLEASE.
No, this post is more about how much our kids are involved in MY social media. Just writing that makes me feel gross.
“NOT AT ALL,” should be the obvious answer. Our kids deserve their privacy and should be able to dictate where and when they are shown publicly. They are their own people.
And that was the firm answer a couple of years ago. No more kids on the blog and social media.
As Charlie started getting older, we decided that I would show less of his face in photos (like seen here – lots of back-of-heads). I would be more sensitive to the person that he was going to be once he was past baby age. Brian and I had a lot of heated conversations about it, even though we were on the same side. Neither of us wanted our kids to be in the public eye or to have a presence on social media. We want to respect their privacy. We don’t want them recognized in public. We don’t want this blog or my success to affect their futures because living in Hollywood is already hard. The obsession with fame here is potent and we want our kids as far away from it as possible. We joke all the time that while most parents “strive towards excellence” we hendersons “Strive Towards Normalcy”. We just want our kids to have the normal, safe, upbringings that we had.
So why did I move away from that staunch “our kids won’t be involved” decision? Or did I? Why do I still put photos of my two innocent children on social media even if its mostly the back of their heads? After much reflection, I think these are the answers:
1. I can’t blog without thinking about my kids. Those two are the biggest, most important part of my life. They are my only real priority. And while this blog is predominantly about design, the large following and engagement I have are likely because I’m also a human being with human reactions and honest responses. I’m not the best designer in the world, so why are all of you here? You’ve followed along for 10 years because I use this blog as a journal, documenting my self-expression and reflection, both stylistically and personally. I have the same struggles, challenges, concerns, joys, tears, tantrums and overwhelmingly happy moments as you. Therefore completely deleting that portion of my life feels like almost negating the most important part of myself. I know this sounds insane, but for the few months (a few years ago) that I didn’t talk about my kids or show them on social media, I actually think I wasn’t able to be authentic because I was shutting down the most volcanic section of my emotions and life. Brian agreed. He saw it in my mental state and in my writing. He could tell that I needed to express myself as a mom, as a professional mom, as a crying, emotional, highly joyful and sad mom. And maybe a photo of Charlie hugging me would help close some sort of door that not showing/talking about my kids left open.
2. Just like all of you, I have compulsions to photograph my kids when they are doing something really special. Taking home photos and videos of your kid is a good thing, it helps you all remember moments you will surely otherwise forget. And then at night, when they are asleep and I’m scrolling through photos, it’s like I can’t NOT put their adorableness out there. Believe me, I only put out about 1/1,000th of the photos that I want to. But I know that it’s not just a compulsion, there is obviously some sort of pride and well, EGO involved. In a day and age where people feel like they know you, you want to share and show them all aspects of your life. Like a house you worked on years to design, you want to put it on display for the world to see. You are so proud of it! You love it so much that you want other people to either recognize your work or love it as much as you, although they never will. It’s not just “being relatable,” it’s a serotonin and dopamine burst when you see a cute photo of your child doing something adorable earlier in the day, and you just want, well…I guess everyone to ooh and ahh with you. This is not a reason TO do it, but I suppose it’s been one of the reasons I have kept sneaking them onto social media—because it’s also fun FOR ME.
3. Alright, so here’s where it gets tricky. We have turned down jobs that have required my kids to be involved, so far. Sure, at times they have been in sponsored posts but I’ve never told a partner that their presence is guaranteed (well, maybe when they were infants, to me that’s different because they are just laying there, but I don’t remember). Honestly, most companies don’t even ask. Since my brand isn’t a mommy blog, they usually ask nicely if it’s a possibility but understand when I say it’s not guaranteed. But being an “influencer” is absolutely weird, you guys and life is full of slippery slopes. I realize even writing about this will take me out of jobs. Or maybe not. WHO THE HECK KNOWS (OR CARES) IN DIGITAL MEDIA.
I involve my kids when I know it’s important for our lives, like a magazine feature about our family or a post about their rooms in which they are super excited to play. That sounds like we are open to pimping out our kids for money. But we aren’t. Those don’t pay and it’s more about telling our story to a larger audience that is important to us. And we have learned how to make it really fun for the kids and we are very selective and how we do it (limit who is on set, get to the know the photographer first, have kittens, milkshakes, etc. at our disposal).
Does that mean that I’ll always say no to work that requires my kids on camera? Not necessarily. If it’s a good project, with a good message and something that we as parents feel will be a positive experience, we MAY consider it. But no, we are fiercely protective of their youth and privacy. At the same time, I can never say never. What if in five years Birdie, has some insane performance ability and BEGS to upload a video to YouTube? I shudder to think, but it’s also not that much different than taking your kid to a national talent show. My level of fear about this kind of stuff is so high that I don’t want it to cloud my ability to support my child, although I do think I can find creative ways to do this that doesn’t involve the dark web and the aftermath of comments/trolls and anxiety that will likely ensue. This is all a hypothetical and one that I hope never plays out.
So for now, it seems like I should just stick to my general parenting ideals and processes when it comes to challenging situations, the negative stuff in life. Maybe they are universal. Maybe not. Here ya go: (P.S. It’s been very good for us to really write down how we want to handle things in general.)
- Protect. Full Stop. This involves physical, mental and emotional safety.
- Model good behavior. We try to show them how to be good people. A good rule of thumb I remind myself all the time is ‘show, don’t tell. It’s an ‘all day every day’ situation. No pressure. 🙂
- Listen. Just listen. All the time.
- Suggest good behavior. if they aren’t doing it. Nudge them towards it in hopes they catch on.
- Watch. Observe. Then ….
- Intervene when it could get out of hand.
I suppose I left out all the positive affirmation, the daily “you got this.” But, hell, it’s not like I know what I’m doing, I just love a parenting book (and am happy to recommend my favorites) so regurgitating clichés is not hard. Not like this subject. This is hard. The easy answer of “don’t involve your kids” becomes so much more complicated when you/I think about how the reason I’m here is because I’ve been an open book since day 1, about all aspects of my life.
But as a mom I also really want to respect their privacy, respect them as individuals, honor what they want and not put anything out there that they might some day be embarrassed by. (P.S. Brian wanted me to add that if you see them in public without me, with just him, they don’t need to know that you recognize them. It’s only happened a couple of times but it makes everyone kinda uncomfortable and the kids are confused why a stranger knows them. If I’m with them, please feel free to say something to me about the blog if you want, not them).
Normally, I can see a few sides to how someone can parent and can get behind why you would let your kids participate in something. Brian and I are super conservative and protective as parents, FAR more than I thought we would be. I had no idea how little I would care about being “cool” as a parent.
So yeah. That’s the non-conclusion for you.
I’m going to try to be purposeful. Think of them and their future as much as possible. And generally put myself in their shoes.
My current strategy is this: Post my feelings with photos of the back of their heads (as much as possible) which I realize sounds creepy but all the photos in this post have been like this. That’s been my strategy if you haven’t noticed (not always the case) and I think it actually works…I share with you how I’m feeling which is what I need to survive, but my kids faces aren’t necessarily plastered on the internet. Meanwhile yes, there will be times when I break this rule, I’m sure.
I know as a parent I would react pretty heavily and instinctually to this post. I might scream “keep your kids out of social media” at the computer, but there are times when I think maybe we (Brian and a I) are more sensitive than most.
I’m nervous about reading the comments, I am. I’m worried that if Brian reads them he will ban our kids forever from the internet, and well, he’s their dad with incredibly good instincts. So I implore you to really think about every side of this before you just throw out simple solutions. At the same time, well, I’m listening …
Pretend you are me. What would you do??