This morning, a reader suggested that I share a post here written by a mom about her daughter, who has a disability. She suggested that it might be helpful for my readers searching for resources on puberty. So I read it.
In the post, the mom talked in detail about how her daughter is perseverating on a desire to develop breasts, how she’s proclaiming the existence of (as yet non-existent) pubic hair, and about how she (the mom) is dreading the onset of her daughter’s period. For good measure, she posted a photo of her daughter’s undergarments.
I have no doubt that this mom loves her kid. Nor that, in the larger scheme of things, she respects her. But this is the farthest thing from respect. Inadvertent though it may be, it’s nothing short of public humiliation. That said, I will not be sharing it nor offering any information that might further identify it.*
Please, friends … please, please, PLEASE stop before you hit Post (on anything public) and ask yourself a question. Just one:
AT THAT AGE, WOULD I HAVE BEEN COMFORTABLE WITH MY MOM POSTING THIS ONLINE FOR EVERYONE I KNOW AND THE WORLD TO SEE?
For bonus points, add “And it being there forever.”
I’m not posting this for the purpose of standing in judgment of another mother who walks this road. I’m posting it because I feel like I have to. Because it terrifies me for a generation of kids, the most intensely personal details of whose lives are routinely laid bare in a forum with an infinite memory.
To be clear, I have learned much of this the hard way. I have, undoubtedly, overshared … stories of my own fears, of intimate conversations with my children without thinking to ask for their consent, of the gritty details of my daughter’s painful meltdowns … long before I started thinking about the devastating implications therein.
But then I began to look at those stories from the perspective of my kids. And once I saw what I’d been doing, I couldn’t unsee it.
I wrote an entire post yesterday about how important trust is for our kids to succeed. How can they trust us when we swallow whole their right to even the most basic privacy?
Two years ago, I wrote a post explaining why I would continue to refuse to answer your fairly constant questions about Brooke and puberty. In it, I said the following (ages updated)
I know that many of you reading this are parents of kids who face different challenges, and many of those kids are younger than mine. I know that many of you look to our story to see to what to expect as you move further down the road. Some of you have asked me to talk here about puberty, to stand by my banner of No Secrets, No Shame and to share the details of the process. To offer a guide of sorts.
As much as I want to help, I can’t. I won’t.
Some time ago, Brooke’s older sister, Katie and I came to an agreement about what I would write about her here. If I don’t have the chance to ask her permission first, I am to trust my gut about what would embarrass her and what wouldn’t and, obviously, not write anything that I don’t think she would want me to share. My gut answer comes from one question … “If it were me, and I were fourteen, would I want my mom telling this story to everyone I know?” The answer is, most often, no.
Brooke’s autism does not negate her right to me asking the exact same question of myself every time I sit down to write about her. My desire to talk about my challenges, my fears, my own insecurities about the process, cannot ever trump her right to privacy. Helping to guide others cannot come at the cost of her dignity.
If she chooses someday to talk about any or all of it, so be it, but she’s not in a position to make an informed decision yet. So it’s up to me to ask the question, “If it were me, and I were twelve, would I want my mom telling this story to everyone I know?”
The answer, my friends, is no.
Two years later, I ask my children for their permission to share stories and photos. But even when it’s granted (or long before I ask for it), I ask myself the question first. Because my job, first and foremost, is to protect my girls. Even if it’s from my own inadvertent impulse to expose them.
*note: I have made small changes to avoid identifying details.