The most famous people have the worst things to say about fame.
Movie stars talk about privacy as if it’s an achievement. Actor Kate Winslet recently said, “No one really knows what has happened in my life. No one really knows why my first marriage didn’t last; no one knows why my second didn’t. And I’m proud of those silences.” (WSJ Magazine, October 2015).
I realize we’re not all “movie stars” (a label Winslet despises) but we have all worked to develop a public persona, from the pictures we choose for our (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) profiles, to the stories we don’t tell. We all get mini trips into fame when our Facebook pics and posts garner dozens of likes. And boy, it feels good, right? Our friends like us, they approve, we are beautiful, capable, strong, serene, popular.
I remember when Dale and I were first married. I took some pictures of him while he was napping on the couch. I showed him later the one I planned to post one online.
“That makes me uncomfortable,” Dale protested.
“Why? You’re so handsome!” I said.
“Those are private, intimate, vulnerable pictures,” my husband said.
Just because something happened in my home that is cute and adorable doesn’t mean it belongs online.
I would never take a picture of my husband in a hospital gurney, with tubes in his nose and IVs in his arms to put on Facebook. Not unless he asked me to do so. Again, too vulnerable and private.
Recently, I had a premature baby boy. While we asked for prayers on some social media outlets. But, we got less “hits”, less “likes” because no photos accompanied our requests. And yet, when I had my son safely home, I’m glad I did not post my newborn son’s face on my wall. I protected him from peering eyes during his most vulnerable days.
And I protected myself from using my son for more popularity. It’s something I struggle with, using people to feel better about myself.
Not everyone struggles with this, of course. You may be one of my online friends who can post pics of your children without caring if the photo is popular or not. You may be immune to fame. Maybe you should be writing this post. Or you may have a vigilantly guarded list of Facebook friends. Creepers or strangers don’t keep showing up on your wall.
It wasn’t until my twenties that I learned there were firm rules of privacy and publicity. Some things should never be shared publicly no matter how life-changing, wonderful, powerful, or poignant. I’ve written earlier how blogging itself tends to make pimps of us all. We’re always scarfing up the meaningful moments with “Hmmm, I should write a post about that” and friends start sharing less with us wondering, as my close guy friend once did, “You’re not going to write about this conversation, are you?”
I have to work on regularly asking myself “What is appropriate to share publicly?” Lately, I’ve been working on a mission statement for social feeds, a way to rope off some solid ground in my private life. Before any statement goes online on my feeds must pass this test:
Is this something I have been learning?
Is it something I want to share publicly forever?
Because if this is something personal, private and special, then I do not want to post it. Rather I will take extra time to share it with a few personal texts, a Voxer message, or (the vintage way!) printing these photos and mailing them to few special friends. More work, this one-on-one stuff, but I think privacy deserves a little attention. Because fame, the opposite of privacy, even in mini-doses is toxic. I’m not the only one who thinks that.
Adele in her recent interview in US Weekly said,
I’m frightened of fame destroying me and it ruining me, and me getting lost . . . and I get frightened for the people that I love, feeling like they’ve lost me. It’s a bit toxic, fame. I’ve got enough toxins in my body I don’t need any of that. (Dec 7, 2015).
Adele wears nondescript clothes, drives a Mini, and often eats at home (“I’m a brilliant cook” she says). If fame is a toxin and one that famous people have to avoid as best they can, how are the common folks like us keeping our distance from fame?
I’ve noticed that if I am silent online (as I was about my last pregnancy and birth) my friends get it, but not all my FB “Friends” understand. Why didn’t they know? They ask for his name, date of brith, what happened, details, pics, SHARE THEM!.
But is it right that they know? That is part of the work all parents must ask about the people who, for a season, belong to us.
People Who Belong to Us
Since the first year of my oldest son’s birth, I have been working toward the long-forgotten art of privacy. Since we live in a time when . . .
. . . if it’s not online, it didn’t happen . . .
. . . this is counter cultural work. I think it’s much harder to stay present online and practice privacy well, than it is to just shut down my Facebook account. I’ve wanted to pull the plug, often this last year. It’s easier to cut it out cold turkey than navigating this social network stuff, especially when it comes to our children.
Kids are one of the most meaningful places in all our lives, from parents to aunts and uncles, grandparents, sisters, cousins). Kids are by far typically cuter than most adults (Hate to admit it, but we are all getting less glossy by the minute), so of course we want to share their adorableness.
But, too easily, too often, we cross over from sharing their children’s lives to paparazzing their children’s lives.
How do you know which you’re doing?
Here is my test:
Would your child want this online when they are 15 or 25 or 55? If your answer is no, then don’t post it.
Of course, it’s difficult to know. Our kids may grow into becoming more private than we could imagine, or they might love that you posted that video of them going potty in their pants (it takes all kinds). We raise all types, right?! And yet, I think this filter is worth considering.
It’s too easy in America, the land of image-obsession, to think of our children as display points, their cute sayings, their hilarious poses, their darling stages as material for OUR feed. But our children are not possessions, they’re not posing every moment of their lives for an advertisement.
We are raising people. And in their smallest, most vulnerable forms, we must protect their lives the most vigilantly.
Since it’s nearly Christmas, I thought imagining Mary’s Instagram feed might give us as thought or two on how to practice privacy, also known as WWMP? or What Would Mary Post?
So much good material, great branding opportunity, for this Virgin Mother. Imagine the possibilities! Mary could have posted a selfie with Jesus taking his first bath, his first steps, his first Passover, his first Hannakuh.
Here is Jesus at 6 weeks. I’m giving him his first bath. #VirginMotherDoesItAgain #BathingGod
I know I’m daily tempted to post photos of my boys looking super sweet. Can you imagine what Mary would have felt, how badly she would have wanted to brag about HER baby’s cuteness, abilities, moral fiber? When her baby arrived, do you think Mary would have posted pictures of him wrapped in swaddling clothes on her Instagram site? #PrinceofPeaceSleeping
When the shepherds came to worship, would Mary have snapped a selfie? #AngelicBirthAnnouncement #ShepherdsLoveJesus #MessiahinBethlehem
Maybe a few years later, when the kings arrived, surely a selfie at that time with these wealthy men? #KingsWorshipMySon. I know for certain she thought about what was happening, she meditated on these things. Luke has her “pondering these things in her heart.”
Mary could have used Jesus for some much-needed spikes in her popularity.
I have no doubt Mary would have been tempted to use her son to showcase her mothering with a capital “M”. She was, after all, chosen by God to mother and not a shameful fornicator as most her friends thought.
Jesus’ exceptional childhood could have raised Mary out of a lot of unpleasantness. We know Mary had slip ups, she pushed Jesus to showcase his power at that wedding in Cana a bit too prematurely. And yet, we know she spent the majority of her time and energy, not writing a memoir (Confessions of the Mother of God), but pondering. I’m pretty sure this was one of her questions.
How should I raise the son of God? What ought the mother of God do in this situation?
That’s instructive for me.
What should a mother to this young image bearer do with the pictures I take? Should they be made available to all our friends? To some?
I don’t think Mary’s Instagram feed would have been inundated with pictures of Jesus. I could be wrong, but I think Mary would have protected her son, the Son of God, in his most vulnerable state. She is a suggestion to me this holiday and in the coming year.
How did Mary raise Jesus without exploiting his power, his identity, his meekness, his humility?
It’s a guiding question on how we consider mothering and fathering our children. Mary called herself a servant of God. I imagine that’s why God chose her. Who wouldn’t want a servant of God raising their son?
To Post or Not to Post
I do not post pictures of the faces of my boys. It’s not because they’re deformed or because I’m embarrassed of them, or because I want all the space for myself. It’s not because I think their life is boring and mine is so interesting.
As a mom, my proudest moments are of my whole family, their beautiful faces. And yet, I do my best to rope off my boys’ lives from social media not because anything is wrong with them, but because something is wrong in me. I too easily succumb to needing my fans/friends to “like” them. I have to keep practicing to protect myself (and them) from that craving.
I also want to protect my sons from having their earliest days in the public eye.
I think much more famous people practice the same policy. In that US Weekly cover article on Adele, the headline claimed to expose Adele’s “Choosing Family Over Fame”. But in the whole four pages of interview and photos not one picture appeared of her son. Her son, Angelo, for whom her choice was made, was refreshingly absent.
I want my sons to have a space of privacy to play, as themselves. I grew up thinking all my life was a stage. I always felt an audience’s breath on my neck. My childhood consisted of performing. And now, with a stage ministry, it’s even more important. I want to protect my sons from this “performance experience” for as long as possible. I want them to have time to cultivate their real selves.
For we all know the world wants a performance, and to be a child means, at its best, to be free from that self-consciousness.
As a possible Christmas present to the children in your life, I invite you to practice this kind of privacy. You can practice for one day, one week, or a month or a year. You can simply begin asking yourself the question “Would my adult child want this childhood photo of him or her online?”
So far, I’ve been working on this discipline of no photos of my children’s faces for five years. Call it a gift to my boys, call it a cleanse for my soul. But as I love to perform, as I am in a platform ministry and as I am still recovering from a stage family, this is how I work to keep privacy alive in our home.
Try it out, practice making your social media feed about you, not your husband, not your marriage, not your kids, about you and what you are learning. Stop using Instagram and Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest as a place to showcase others.
I imagine God knows how tempting Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, Twitter (etc.) is to us mothers and fathers who want to share the cutest moments, but I also think God empowers us to serve our children rather than having their images serve us.
That may mean sifting through those who follow you online. That may mean posting more, not less. But for many of us, it may mean posting less childhood photos of our dearest ones.
If you take this challenge to post less in 2016, would you tell me about it. How long will you try to do it? And why did you choose privacy over posting? And any other practices for developing private space? I’m all ears.
Image credit: Nastya Pitchek