* A disclaimer… the word sharenting is an example of a portmanteau – two words combined together to make a new word, as in chillax, frenemy, Brexit. Portmaneuas are a literary device which cause me great offence. I felt I had to acknowledge this and apologise for any offence caused to other readers.
Now, I shall begin…*
There is a topic which has been at the forefront of my mind for many months and years, and I have tried frequently to write about it; I have begun numerous blogs but have always failed to finish them. It seems that recently the stars collided and finally provided me with the spark that I have needed to write it, finish it and publish it.
The topic is parenting and mental illness.
I have wanted to write about the difficulties of parenting with anxiety, depression and trauma as a backdrop. Parenting is a central part of my anxiety, and it feels significant that I have never explicitly acknowledged this within my blog. I have so much I would like to write about the issue. But, despite trying to pin it down, for reasons which have always been slightly out of reach it has never felt like the right thing to do. I have never been able to find an angle with which I felt comfortable.
And then one morning a couple of weeks ago, I was listening to Woman’s Hour on the radio and the issue of ‘sharenting’ was discussed. Sharenting is a term which relates to parents sharing pictures or anecdotes about their children on social media. The programme centred around the rights of the baby, infant or child who, sooner than their parents think, will become a teenager and then an adult, with no control over images and information which has been shared about them and their family on social media over the years. For most families these posts are unlikely to be any more controversial than a story about an unfortunate potty training incident or a photo of a ridiculous World Book Day costume. For others, however, there may be more sensitive issues involved.
While listening to the programme the reason for my discomfort when writing about parenting became obvious. It is about my children’s rights to privacy and the fact that one day, sooner than I would like, they will be at will to read anything and everything I have written online. How will I feel about that? And more importantly, how will they feel about that?
I am always mindful of the way my words might affect others, and I believe that with social media and the internet comes responsibility. What has happened in my family is not my story. The information I share does not belong to me. What I choose to share in a public forum has the potential to affect other people; strangers and friends but most importantly my family. Those who are emotionally attached to the subject or to the people who I write about – whether my brother or myself – are always at the front of mind before I press the publish button. In the past when I have written about particularly personal circumstances, I have asked my parents, sister and husband to read through my blogs before I publish them. At times I have changed words or phrasing based on their feedback and feelings. I would not have felt comfortable to publish certain blogs without their blessing.
Up until this point these considerations have solely involved people over 18; responsible for managing their emotions, rational, and with an insight into the complexities of life. What happens, then, now that I have a ten year old? The wellbeing of both him and my six year old is, of course, the most important thing in my world. This issue seemed less complex and certainly less imminent when the children were younger, but I have become increasingly aware that I do not yet know the people who my children will become and how they might feel about my blog. When I started the blog my children were 5 and 1, and I did not know the characters who would emerge – whether at 6 years old, 12 years old, or 25 years old. I never considered that the blog could have a negative impact on them, that they might find it upsetting or feel exposed by my openness.
My son has been aware of Ian’s death for the entirety of his living memory, and my daughter is aware in a more detached way, having never met him. We have always spoken about Ian, been age-appropriately honest, and have never consciously fostered any taboo about the circumstances of his death. We speak about mental health in our house, and this involves a safe space to ask questions, to answer questions, to clarify, to challenge and to think carefully about what is said and how things are explained. We do this in the privacy of our home and in our own time. But there is an important distinction between talking about something and writing about it – particularly online. In the last six months my son has entered the Embarrassment Phase. Almost everything my husband and I do causes him some degree of mortification, and I am realising that my blog has the potential to embarrass him. He may not want to be associated with the stigma of suicide – who does? – and I do appreciate why a slightly awkward child who is growing into themselves might feel like that. The other part of me thinks that this is just life, and it is a tough but important lesson. This is what happened in our family and it needs to be spoken about. The Embarrassment Phase will pass and that I cannot be censored in what I write just because I am a mother.
All of these considerations are about the blog in general, without even mentioning my urge to write specifically about parenting. It seems conflicted to be open about so many topics relating to mental health and yet to refrain from discussing such an important aspect of my anxiety. But I must consider how likely it might be that linking parenting and poor mental health would impact negatively on a child when they are old enough to read such a blog and understand it. My gut feeling is that there is every chance that this could be damaging, and could bring up feelings in the child of guilt, of feeling that the depression and anxiety is somehow their fault, and of confusion around what they have done to cause something so hard to understand. Writing about parenting and my mental health would necessarily mean sharing information about my children’s individual characters, our unique mother / child relationships and my feelings about those relationships. Is this fair on my children? My gut feeling is that it is not. While I am committed to writing about mental health and tackling the stigma which is prevalent, I will not put this before my children’s feelings. Indeed, I would be a hypocrite to do so. Well-being begins within our own four walls and with our own nearest and dearest. There is no value in me writing about parenting and mental illness in an attempt to help other people, if I could be harming my loved ones.
This blog has been really hard for me to write. I have edited, cut whole paragraphs, re-worded and re-jigged in order to feel that it is finished and that I can feel a sense of peace before publishing it. As a mother of a pre-teen, a whole new can of worms regarding my blogging profile and my words on social media is opening. My sharenting issue, then, is not around embarrassing photos or cutesy stories which one day may make my offspring blush. It is about sharing history and details about our family with the world before I have shared them with my children in any depth. I believe that the way to balance this, and to make sure that my blog is positive part of all my family’s lives, is down to me. It is about me, as a mother, being just as willing to talk to my children about the issues within my blog, as I am willing to write about them and share them online. As a parent life always seems as though you are feeling in the dark. I really hope that with this particular issue I am heading down the right path.
Till next time, thank you for reading.