Earlier this week, Marjorie Ingall let us in on five reasons for the delayed publication of her book, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, and the glories of ghostwriting. Marjorie has been guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on the The ProsenPeople.
Are you familiar with STFU, Parents? It is a blog that mocks parental oversharing on social media. Do you post incessantly about eating your own placenta? Tweet about your infant’s Apgar scores? Respond to online grief about mass shootings with tone-deaf posts about how yay, your kid pooped in the potty? Mazel tov, you are a candidate for STFU, Parent-Shaming.
I know the risks. I’ve written parenting columns for two different publications, The Forward and Tablet. I have surely crossed the line and been annoying as heck. Writing about babies is really writing about yourself: you’re working out your fears, your own childhood mishegas, the beautiful and terrible transition from someone with bodily autonomy to someone whose body isn’t entirely your own anymore. It’s world-remaking, this business of being entirely responsible for another human life. But the longer I’ve been a parent, the more careful I’ve gotten. I don’t write about my own children anymore without their consent. They’re old enough to have some expectation of privacy. Once your child has been on this planet for a bit, I think they should have a say in how they’re depicted for public consumption.
All of us — writers and not — should be careful about what we say about our kids on social media. We want them to be safe. We want them to be not mortified. And we want, ourselves, to avoid seeming narcissistic, self-absorbed or deranged. Come on, does anyone want to see that Instagram depiction of a diaper filled with yellow poop? Sure, you’re proud of your child’s artwork/grades/acting/dancing/sportsing! But consider the sheer volume of what you share. Because honestly, the rest of us don’t care much. We enjoy cute pics of your spawn, as long as that’s not all you post, and as long as you also coo about other people’s spawn. Never be broadcast-only, online or in life. We love hearing about the funny things your kids say, as long as we don’t wince reading them, knowing your kid would be humiliated if they knew what you were telling the anonymous Internet masses.
And think about your audience before you start declaiming. For instance, why respond to someone’s online grief over infertility with a mention — any mention — of your children? Your friend knows that many people struggle but eventually become parents. Pointing out your own privileged status, the fact that you are where she wants to be, is not helpful.
I’m not saying don’t share. Since long before I became a parent, I’ve been a member of The Well, an ancient online conversational space that predates the World Wide Web. In 1993, I bought a used 2400-baud modem from some random dude in the financial district. I logged onto an electronic bulletin board (BBS) to write a magazine story about whether “cyberspace” (wince) was safe for girls. When I dialed in and got that twangy-beepy noise, it meant I couldn’t be online and on a telephone at the same time. When I joined The Well, many of us were 20-somethings; we eventually became parents and began sharing tales of the joys and challenges of parenthood. Because it’s a small community that doesn’t allow anonymity — and that one must pay (or provide volunteer conference-hosting services) to belong to — there’s a higher bar to entry. The conversation is smart. There are small conferences where people have known you forever, where you can unburden yourself, or brag, without feeling as though you’re performing like a circus monkey or betraying your child. It feels more like real-life friendship than online performance. I talk to my friends and my mom about motherhood, but I also rely on online friendships in an increasingly wired world. There’s no shame in that.
And there’s a bonus! A lot of us say “The Well is my baby book.” Who has time to scrapbook? And who can preserve memories via Facebook or Twitter, when anything you post is lost in the data slipstream after a few evanescent moments? But on a BBS, with a few commands, you can generate a report on all your posts in a certain time period containing a certain word. I just searched for Maxine (my younger kid’s name), 2006 – 2007. She was two to three then, a good age for funny stories. I started cackling at what I found.
And yes, she gave me permission to share my posts from back then:
2006: maxine deliberately ripped a lift-the-flap book this morning and said with a gleam in her eye, now i need TAPE! (she loves tape.) i said, “we don’t rip books. i’m going to tape it, not you.” begging and whining followed. i said, “i’m not going to REWARD you with tape for ripping a book!” and she gave me the big eyes and said, “i’m only a baby!”
2007: maxine: “there are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and cheese.”
2007: maxine and i were playing with dress-up dolls (you know, those melissa & doug wooden magnetized ones) and we put on our fancy outfits and she said, “DARLING! you look SMASHED!”
OK, so maybe Maxie (now 11) and I think these stories are funnier than you do. Which is understandable, what with you not being related to us. That’s why I tried to be very judicious about the number of kid stories I shared in my book Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children. No one wants to be THAT GUY at the cocktail party, loudly bragging and proclaiming with a G&T in one sweaty hand. But it’s natural to want to share stories — it’s human, it’s profound, and it can be a source of connection if you do it right.
Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet Magazine and a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review. She has written for many other magazines and newspapers, including The Forward (where she was The East Village Mamele), Real Simple, Ms., Food & Wine, Glamour, Self, and the late, lamented Sassy, where she was the senior writer and books editor.
Marjorie Ingall is the author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, and The Field Guide to North American Males. A former columnist for Tablet and the Forward, she is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review and has written for a gazillion other outlets.