What I Learned From Taking My Daughter Off The Internet

What I Learned From Taking My Daughter Off The Internet

Over the summer I shared the story of why I decided to take my daughter off the internet. A stranger went up to her in the park while she was with my babysitter, addressed her by name, pretended to know me, and tried to get my contact information. It FREAKED me out, and when my sitter called and told me what happened I immediately hung up and deleted every photo I had posted of her online. I’ve thought about all of this a lot since then, probably too much.

I sat down shortly after it happened and talked to Jo Piazza for her podcast Under the Influence, the episode came out today. Before we recorded I listened to her episode “The Sharenthood” which I highly recommend if you haven’t heard it. Hearing that episode sent me down a rabbit hole, and brought up many things I hadn’t quite considered. I reflected a lot, on what it all means, why I started sharing her in the first place and how I might feel about it 5, 10, 15 years from now. Here’s what I learned in the process.

What I Learned From Taking My Daughter Off The Internet

It’s not just about validation

Initially it felt like my sole reason for posting my daughter on the internet was for validation. There is truth to that, and I’m not even saying that’s a bad thing. As mothers we deserve validation, and in general I don’t think we get nearly enough of it. Pregnancy, childbirth, and becoming a mother is incredibly difficult on its own (as is just existing as a woman in society, regardless of if you have children or not). Add the judgment, pressure and expectations to be the perfect mom, to never mess up, to do it all with a smile and a wink, and it can crush you.

So yeah, posting a photo of your child and getting some validation feels good. As the weeks have gone by I realized it wasn’t just about the validation. It was about the joy. Social media is a place for many of us to share things we love, the people and places that make us happy and bring us joy. Of course my daughter is a huge source of joy and pride in my life, so it feels natural to want to share that, but at what cost?

The Illusion of Privacy on Social Media

I had Marin a few weeks before the start of the pandemic. By the time she was a month old the entire world was completely shut down. As a new mom recovering from childbirth, postpartum hemorrhage and grieving the loss of my grandmother, it was a lot. In many ways my online community felt like a safe space. We were all going through this scary and difficult time together. Those early days of motherhood are grueling and exhausting and quite frankly a blur. At the time, sharing my new baby was a way for me to feel a little less alone. It all felt innocent and harmless, until it didn’t.

I grew up without social media, many of us did. Born in the early 1980s, I didn’t have Facebook until college. There was no Instagram. The only photos and videos that exist of me as a baby and child are in dusty photo albums and old VHS tapes. As I thought about how much has changed since then, I realized how little privacy we have on social media. While it felt like I was sharing photos of my daughter with my online friends, in reality I was sharing her pictures with everyone, with strangers. For literally anyone to see, and ultimately use however they want.

Once those photos are out there I no longer have control, and that made me feel sick. I also considered how my daughter might feel knowing I posted her image online countless times without her consent? It might sound dramatic but the reality is, if I don’t protect her privacy and her image, it’s no longer mine (or hers) to control.

no regrets

Admittedly I was really sad when I wiped Marin from my blog and social media. There is a part of me that misses sharing my daughter and the joy she brings. It was a different and special way to connect with many of you, but I don’t have any regrets about my decision. Honestly it has brought me a massive sense of relief. I’ve noticed that my overall anxiety on social media has decreased. I don’t really have to deal with mom shaming anymore and I no longer have the worry or stress of protecting her from strangers on the internet. I’m also more present as a mother and find myself on my phone less in general.

Of course I still take photos and videos of her, but it all just feels easier if that makes sense? When I deleted all the photos I had posted of Marin I realized how much of my content had included her in it. I’ve since found a way to move forward that feels right for me (and for her). I know this is a difficult and nuanced topic. And I anticipate it isn’t going away anytime soon. I wonder if more people (regardless of what they do for a living) will start to take their kids offline. I don’t have a perfect answer, but I do know I am happy with where I’ve landed.

I’d love to hear what you think? Do you share your kids online? Looking forward to a discussion in the comments.

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17 Comments

  1. Ashley wrote:

    My heart leapt OUT OF MY CHEST when you shared that story earlier this summer. I’m so sorry you had boundaries violated like that. My husband and I have been very selective about what we will share on social – baby photos where our son looks cute are fun to share, but as he gets older he will get to choose what we do and do not share.

    One way to get around family members who were annoyed they weren’t seeing enough photos was to create an Apple shared album that we could send to them. It’s way better this way, and the whole family adds photos. It’s been hard to set the boundaries but in the end I think our son will appreciate it in the end.

    9.2.21 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That’s a good idea with the shared album. Luckily family was on board with our decision, made easier by the fact that none of them are really on social media anyway haha. But in some ways we do more Facetimes and chatting because we don’t have the photos we posted online to rely on anymore.

      9.2.21 | Reply
  2. Susan wrote:

    I would have been equally freaked out. Wow. Consider separate social media sites, one for your blog and the other personal sites private.

    9.2.21 | Reply
  3. Megan H wrote:

    I don’t share my children online and it’s something that for some reason always felt like the right move for me. I got a lot of pushback from friends and family in 2018 when my first was born but I held strong with my convictions and created a private family/friends album for people to get their daily dose of baby. I don’t have a large online presence like yourself, but I do have one and a public one for my small business and I just felt a little safer keeping that part of my life more private.

    I think when my kids get older ( like the age they would be using social media themselves) and I can have more discussions with them about online safety and get their consent about what photos I share and not I’d reconsider. But for now it’s a no for me.

    Thanks for sharing your story and the reasoning behind your decision! ❤️

    9.2.21 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That totally makes sense and good for you that you stuck to your convictions and did what felt right. I think it’s easy (at least it was for me) to get swept up in the excitement of sharing your baby, but I now realize I hadn’t fully thought out what that meant for her.

      9.2.21 | Reply
      • Jess ( as well!) wrote:

        I relate so much to this.
        My hubs got surprisingly somewhat famous for appearing on a tv show ( he never asked to be on) and every time a new season comes out, thousands of strangers track him down on social media and start following him( he never posts) and then many follow me so they can see more photos of him since I post more. When we got pregnant we really didn’t like the idea of sharing our daughter with all these strangers for her privacy and all the reasons that you said. I’ve posted maybe a family photo every 6 months or so or if it doesn’t show her face. That is what we decided we were comfortable with. But all of our family lives out of state and a few grandparents are really tech challenged without an iPhone so i love the the shared iPhoto album but felt like I was Leaving a grandparent out. And add a pandemic where they can’t visit or see her, they needed something…So I have a private Instagram account just for my daughter that is named something random that only family and a few close friends I grew up with can see, like 30 people. I was able to get the tech challenged grandparent on it and allows everyone to see photos and videos of her and comment and feel in the loop with her milestones and those little moments and I have made a nice little time capsule of her first 2 years of life. I think I also take a little comfort in the idea that if I ever lost my phone or something didn’t upload to the cloud, I could have the important moments still on there and get them back. I think it also scratches that itch you mentioned to get that validation and share the joy she brings us. The grandparents understand we don’t want photos of her on Facebook without our permission, which I’m grateful for. Anyways, thanks for sharing. You really nailed the feelings of it on the head, especially us elder Millennials who were coming of age and trained since the beginning of all social media that the more we share the better, and that you have to post it or it didn’t happen…. it’s hard to unlearn that when we’ve been doing it for 1/2 our lives.

        I do love how you share your life (and thoughts like this) with us and respect and understand the boundaries you’ve created. ❤️

        Hugs,
        Jess

        9.3.21 | Reply
  4. Carmen wrote:

    We have been very happy with our decision to not post pictures of our daughters on the internet. To me it always felt like a violation of their privacy. I also felt like it took away their control of their own image. Having been born before social media or even before the internet was a real thing, I had the privilege of choosing what I wanted to post online and the ability to create my own online footprint or persona. By posting my daughters pictures online I take that freedom away from them. I just want them to have the same privilege that I did when it comes to what they choose to share online.

    9.2.21 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      It really was such a privilege in many ways to grow up without the internet. I really feel for kids now that have to navigate social media at such a young age.

      9.2.21 | Reply
  5. Erica wrote:

    Up until two years ago, I regularly shared my children on my blog and Instagram (they are now 5 and 6 years old). That summer an Instagram photo of mine was picked up by several large online publications. My son had taken the photo, but it really got me thinking “what if he had been in the photo with me?” None of the online publications asked my permission to publish my Instagram photo. I no longer post my children’s photos on my feed (I do still post them in Stories, but will re-evaluate if my account grows).

    I was just thinking about how I enjoy that you still share stories about Marin starting daycare, or the photo of her in the nap dress, but in a way that balances her privacy. As a follower, I still feel like you’re sharing that part of your life.

    9.2.21 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thanks Erica. I’ve tried to find a healthy balance that respects her privacy and also lets me share bits of my life with her. To your point that is something I think about a lot, as my images are often used without my permission (ALL THE TIME). And it just made me realize if I barely have control over my own images with me in them I certainly don’t want that happening to images with my daughter. Lots to think about. Thank you.

      9.2.21 | Reply
  6. Kristen D. wrote:

    I couldn’t agree more! I use Instagram as a hobby (I love fashion and share outfit photos). I don’t have my kids on my account at all. Any sort of risk it would put them in is not worth it to me. I get so much joy out of seeing some of the bloggers I follow share their children, but I would respect their decision 100% to take their children off of their accounts. It just seems like there are too many unknowns and dangerous what-ifs.

    9.2.21 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Me too, I follow a good number of bloggers and I love seeing their kids, but I also understand why some people don’t want to share. It’s certainly something I think a lot more parents are going to be thinking about.

      9.2.21 | Reply
  7. Jessica Preece wrote:

    When I was a brand new mom, about a week after giving birth, having never held a newborn before, really any baby, and reeling from postpartum anxiety, a great uncle (!) shared a photo on Facebook of me in the hospital bed holding my newborn that my father had email blasted to about 100 people. My new mama bear instincts kicked in and I just saw red. What transpired, in hindsight probably could have been handled slightly better, though I don’t regret a word I said, polarized a lot of my friends and family for a while. We were told we were insensitive, were hiding our child, that we thought we were better than everyone else. It was rough but I stand behind our decision to not post our children on social media. My husband works in information security and we are very private people to begin with but he had a hard line from the beginning. Since then we have loosened the reigns a little bit and will post photos from years past that don’t show our children’s faces because yes, we want to share the love and joy that we have and share with them but it’s a scary world out there and we want to do what we think is right for protecting our children.

    I was shocked to hear about what happened to you, such a terrifying experience. Being in the public eye such as you are you have to do what is right for you and your family. Sending so much love and support your way. Thanks for all that you do and share for your community.

    9.3.21 | Reply
  8. Christina wrote:

    Dear Jess, so glad to read your note and so glad you took your daughter off Instagram. I know we all like to share with good intentions on our sites but being a mother of 2 I do not share photos of my kids. They are grown up but still it would feel like invading their privacy. I really support your decision because Marin does not have a voice in her young age to maybe say “no”. As you experienced not all people are as honest as you and it would freak me out in a small town to have people know about my personal life. All the best for you and your beautiful family💞💞 christina

    9.4.21 | Reply
  9. Maura wrote:

    Nothing is more important than the safety of your baby. You did the right thing. Our 2 are in their late teens and we rarely share pictures of them on social media. Not because they are in the public eye but because it is their life, their right to have a say in what is posted about them. It’s also nice to run into people that haven’t seen them in awhile and see how surprised they are by how much they’ve grown. They show genuine interest in asking how they are doing because they haven’t had a play by play of their daily lives. Good job trusting your instincts.

    9.4.21 | Reply
  10. What a tough ordeal to go through! I’m glad you all are safe. I think it’s completely right to keep your daughter off the internet. I have a three-year-old son and only post (rare) photos to my very locked-down private instagram account for friends and family to see. It’s strange to think how he’ll be able to log in in the future and see everything… I want to make sure that he knows that we were protecting him, too. Looking forward to listening to that podcast episode!

    9.5.21 | Reply
  11. SK wrote:

    Years ago before I had kids I read about some very disturbing situations with innocently posted children’s photos lifted off social media and blogs. It scared me and I refused to post images or details about my children once I had my own kids. A few years ago many of these discussions weren’t really taking place so I had some push-back from people that seemed to think the decision was either pretentious or paranoid. But as the years have passed I have started to see more and more people speaking out about the safety risks and I really applaud bloggers and influencers for being open about this topic.

    I deleted my social media a while back and that decision ended up being the best thing I have ever done for my mental health. With all that has been going on in the world I noticed social media seemed to be polarizing diverse societies more than it brought people together and that really troubles me. I want to see vastly different people coming together better and finding common ground. But I still have an interest in how social media works economically, socially, psychologically, etc. because it has become so ubiquitous in our world in such a short time. That is why I heard your story on Jo Piazza’s podcast. It took real courage for you both to talk about this subject because there is nothing more sensitive or upsetting to a parent than their own child’s safety.

    Have you listened to the podcast, “Your Undivided Attention” by The Center for Humane Technology? I stumbled upon that podcast recently and I feel like this story is an important topic that you and Jo Piazza could discuss there. Social media has so much promise and potential for good, but it does seem like it became so big so quickly that our society hasn’t had a chance to really talk about balancing the great potential with the risks. How do we use this huge gift of instant communication to make our world a safer place for all?

    9.8.21 | Reply