Some days, I think, I blog therefore I am. It is my reason for getting up in the middle of the night. It is my link to the outside world. It is a way to connect with strangers, to exorcise my demons, to mull over my thoughts and stash them away for posterity.
But in writing things down, my throwaway thoughts take on a life of their own. They are there to be interpreted, or misinterpreted by anyone who chooses to read them, screen shot them, use them against me, as documentary evidence of this or that; however flimsily they were intended. In short, blogging is a dangerous game.
But beyond the risks I take writing about myself online, as a parent blogger am I potentially harming my children's futures by talking about them online? Or worse, are we parent bloggers (or anyone having a gripe on Facebook or posting pictures on Twitter that may well make them cringe in the future) setting them up for psychological problems by allowing our untamed thoughts and flippant remarks to be read by their older, more vulnerable selves? In short, are we invading our own children's privacy?
The horrific fact is, we are probably doing all these things, but the magnitude for potential damage is hard to calculate.
Last week, I read two things that sent me into a tail spin about the implications of blogging. The first was this article about the reputation economy, which details how your online footprint follows you around and could become a way for you to be assessed on a risk basis by anyone who uses your behaviour as collateral, be that employers, insurers, the health service. Soon, our online reputations may give us more than likes and followers, they may give us a risk rating, a credit history. It is scary, but it is coming.
The second was an interesting blog that likened the parent blogging phenomena to the stories of AA Milne, who wrote the stories of Winnie The Pooh about his own son, Christopher Robin. The stories, which seem harmless enough and timelessly charming were a global success, but the relationship between author and son soured, with Robin deteriorating into mental health problems. It is a historical morality tale to which we should pay heed.
But is the damage already done?
My personal blog, Raising Jonah, My Aspie Son, started out as a way to deal with the various stresses of life as a mother, in particular to my son Jonah, who has Asperger's. The title's a dead giveaway. But it has grown to be so much more than that. My online diary has metamorphosed into more than the record of my days, a track of the weather of my mood and throwaway remarks. It has been published worldwide and has given me a certain amount of status and credibility. But it has also been damaging to my reputation, not as a writer but potentially as a person.
In it, I talk about all aspects of my life, from my past as a dancer to the social problems I myself am currently working through. I discuss my mental health, the ebb and flow of my smoking habits, exercise regime and diet, my experiments with substances, my sex life. I talk about Jonah's medical history, my children's behavioral quirks, my thoughts and feelings about the workplace and society.
Though I used a pseudonym and conceal details of their lives to protect their privacy, in the long run, they are going to know that I'm writing about then. What are the long term implications of this for their mental health?
Oh yes, it seems all fine now, the innocent explorations of my life as a mother, but what about when my son wants to pursue a career as a lawyer and my past comes back to haunt him. Those tales of the time he missed the toilet seat won't go down well with his university chums or chamber partners (in actual fact, this is just an example. I try to be careful to protect his dignity, but then, I didn't begin writing this until well after the potty training stage, but what if that too had been documented by my proud, anxious, exhausted hand?) But the embarrassment of any revelations I have made on his behalf at an older, more fragile stage might well be tough for him to swallow.
What about the time, frustrated, I said he was being a little shit? That DID happen. I read it now and it reopened my sense of frustration I felt in the moment, but will it chip away at his psyche as a teen or will he go on, a father himself, to have empathy with how I must have felt? Will he even be bothered? After all, he'll be busy cultivating an online presence of his own, the party nights, wild eyes and drunk, well it wasn't so easy to click and post when I was at uni. My half baked opinions weren't given air time on Twitter before I was old enough to take legal responsibility for them, and think twice before posting and for that I'm eternally grateful. And in a world where we all live out our days under the scrutiny of an easily searchable past, will any of us know any different? After all, who's embarrassed by drunk pictures or revelations of porn use now that everyone's been there and done it?
But my blog is already having an indirect affect on their lives, and not always for the good. It can be used against me in a court of law, my words, printed for all to see, taken out of context and twisted, like anyone who puts themselves in the public eye. In a difficult situation, I am compromised. It is much better to say nothing, a lesson which I am learning to my cost. But of course, anyone in their right mind knows this of course, it is a risk we all take everyday with every comment left in jest under a newspaper story, every tweet, every status update, we need to take care of what we say about ourselves. But what about what we say about our children? In an increasingly litigious world, they could have grounds to come back and sue me.
These cached pages of my soul compromise me, so much is clear, given the circumstances I am in right now, redundant and searching. Looking for a new employer, I am nervous what they might find if they dig too hard. I have found myself removing posts, self-editing and censoring, fictionalising. In any case, some of what I write is hyperbole. The literary exhibitionism I am drawn to as a writer means I live in fear of being thought saccharine and vanilla. But being outspoken comes at a cost, and I have felt over scrutinised, in the past by those who have power over me.
But so far, that's a risk I'm willing to take. My blog has given me a profile, a presence, an authority, a voice. It has improved my mental health, inordinately but It has taken on a life of its own. In short, it has become my other baby. To kill it would be to kill a part of myself. But when I click publish from the comfort of my bed, and to hell with what happens to my words as they enter into the world, I need to take more care I'm not hurting anyone but myself.