Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Social Media and personal conversation: what we say about our husbands and children.

Recently, a young mother blogged on Huffington Post about an incident in which she and two-year-old son were treated in a frightening way.  In her post, she made some controversial remarks.  I am concerned about some of the things she said, and I would love to be able to chat about those concerns in a friendly and personal way -- perhaps over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I do not know her, however.

The young mother's comments have led to a public firestorm of both positive and negative responses. According to a latest Huffington Post article, her personal information has been leaked, and she has received threats directly to her family and her physical home. Now, the police have been called in. I am not linking to the articles, because I reason that this young woman has received more attention than she ever intended to attract already. I do not believe that the meant for this to get out of hand, as it has, and I have nothing but sympathy for her plight.  She and her family need a break from publicity.

Fortunately, the controversy will die down in time, and her family will likely regain their personal safety. My question is this:  will the comments that she and others made about this incident in her son's life ever completely go offline? Perhaps, the child in question is too young to remember much of this when he grows up. Will he, however, come across his name and his mother's on the web at some future point?  If so, will he be happy or distressed that he was used, however inadvertently, to make a point?  I wonder.

That's only an extreme case of a trend that bothers me.  It's popular now to discuss in public just how difficult mothering can be.  We all know that mothering takes stamina.  Young mothers do need a place to joke about the need to get away for a few days or to seriously ask for advice from older mothers about how to weather the rough spots. To me, that place is in person, within a trusted, intimate circle of friends.  Even then, we need to make conscious choices about what we say and to whom concerning our spouses, children, in-laws, etc.  

When I was a young mother, I appreciated women who were positive examples to me of loving their husbands and their children.  I appreciate examples of grateful, positive grandmothers now that I am a new grandmother. Those examples inspire me and make me want to grow as an individual and in my various family roles. I also appreciate sympathetic and wise friends with whom I can discuss worries, concerns, or difficulties.  If someone confides one of their struggles to me, I appreciate that, as well, for that lets me know that I'm not alone.  

I am glad that my husband and children have similar, loving, in-person friendships. I don't think I'd be very happy, though, if my husband put out on Facebook or on a blog the equivalent comments about me that I see mothers make about their children:  My wife was home all weekend! (My child was out of school and under my feet all day!).  I deserve a martini for putting up with my wife.  (I deserve a martini for putting up with my children!)  Really?  

Yes, those comments might be funny in a certain setting, but do we really want them on the web where they last forever and ever. Also, sharing from the heart can help bloggers relate to their audience, and vice versa. There's a fine line, however, between having enough open and honest relationships and broadcasting intimate details to mere acquaintances or even to strangers.        

What will it be like for this generation (the homeland generation) to grow up being so publicly and individually discussed?  How will they respond when they become adolescents and wrestle with who they are, only to find that their mothers have publicly shared TMI? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, I think we all do well to remember that gossip on the Internet is permanent and has the potential to go viral to a worldwide audience. We need to ask ourselves if we have the right to share certain things about children who are too young to give their input.

Love always protects, I Corinthians tells us. I think when we love our husbands and children, we are careful about the things we expose them to. We think about the impression we leave of them.  We also think about whether a blog post or a Facebook comment might expose a loved one to danger.  If we lose readers because we do not seize the chance to grab a headline at our children's expense, so be it!      

I'm personally sobered when I remember that the words I write on social media may very well outlive me! My public comments, even more so than written letters, may be a legacy that I leave. I have letters written by late relatives that I still treasure, and I'm sure that many of you do too. Reading those old letters is a traditional way to stay close to the memory of a loved one. Often, people have gleaned wise advice and a sense that they were loved from such writings.  A hateful letter, though, has often inflicted much pain. What will be the impact of our current web communication on the ones we will inevitably leave behind?  It's something to consider.  

The Bible has so much to say about the tongue and how we speak of others.  Many of us have worked on this in our personal lives.  We need, more than ever, to ask for God's guidance about the things we say in social media.  I say this as a reminder to myself!  

Along with that, we can ponder our responses to snark.  If we respond in a loving, forgiving manner, we've stopped what could become a cycle of meanness and cruelty. If we can teach our children to be confident be enough in the Lord to respond as he did on the cross, we will go a long way to helping them withstand snarky comments and even potential cyber-bullying.          

Ephesians 4: 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.