To Tweet, or Not To Tweet? (How many is too many?)

P519

I’m a frequent participant in the #SWSCMedia Twitter debates. The subject of the debate on 29 January was interesting, namely: Should parents blog in detail about their children’s private lives?

The jumping off point for the debate was this short @swscmedia blog:

http://swscmedia.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/mommy-bloggers-and-childrens-right-…

…which in turn referenced this longer blog: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/12/2012122765931208414.html

…which examined some controversial elements of “Mommy Blogger” writing, including admitting to having (and naming) a favourite child; parenting while drunk; fantasies of abuse and a specific blog entitled “I am Adam Lanza’s mother”, in which the blogger likened her son to a mass murderer.

I tweet frequently about my children and blog occasionally about them, so the question and its exploration interested me and I engaged in the discussion.

Although there’s lots to worry about in the examples outlined above, I generally think parents blogging about their children is pretty harmless and that we can exaggerate the harms of social media. My tweets into the debate were along those lines. For example:

@itsmotherswork: @SWSCmedia

Q2: No, I don’t think “need for honesty” trumps children’s privacy, nor do I think privacy is always the trump card.
#swscmedia

And here’s a flavour of some more:

@itsmotherswork: I think that the “worrying (parental) behaviours” that are exhibited in some examples are not new or confined to social media.

@itsmotherswork: Not all sharing is bad. Not even all “embarrassing” sharing. (E.g. Parents showing baby photos to the boy/girlfriend.)

@itsmotherswork: It’s also quite likely that most children, most of the time, will publish more embarrassing, intimate, risky detail about themselves than their parents are ever likely to publish on a blog. So we’re left with a small number of bloggers who do something pretty extreme, which probably is a manifestation of a deeper problem. And it’s probably /that/ we should pay attention to, rather than generalising too much about parents who blog. (Series of 4 tweets)

I won’t re-blog all of my tweets here, but I guess that the point of view I have and the one that I was expressing was that there are some harmful extremes out there which would be worrying to anyone, but that generally parents blogging about their children is harmless to the children and may be helpful or fun for other parents.

What I didn’t contribute to the debate is the detail of how I tweet/blog about my children. I’ve chosen what I think is the right level of privacy / exposure, but I recognise that this is a subjective judgement and I don’t necessarily hold up what I do as a benchmark. At the same time (obviously) I wouldn’t do something I believed to be to the detriment of my children.

I expressed this in a tweet in the discussion:

@itsmotherswork: I think I’m respectful of my children, but some people, of course, would view that way that I reference them as problematic.

#swscmedia

And received a kindly, and also reassuring, response from another contributor who also seemed to judge that I was getting it about right.

And then, as I continued to enjoy the discussion on the hashtag, I came across this tweet:

@[Tweeter1]: #swscmedia sorry but I found very strange when 1 Tweep on here tweeted a running commentary on here the whole time her kid broke her arm.

Which attracted this follow up comment:

@[Tweeter2]: @[Tweeter1] #swscmedia oh that’s outrageous behaviour but not the norm social medias not the problem #commonsense

My 5yo broke her arm about 10 days ago, and it seemed likely that my tweets from the time were the subject of this exchange. So my tweets were now being described as “outrageous behaviour” and “not the norm” and (by inference from the use of the hashtag) not “common sense”.

The anonymity of Twitter is both a pleasure and a pain – it seems unlikely that such direct judgement would have been passed to my face had the Tweeters known that I was involved in the discussion too. At the same time the benefit of such directness is that it gives a chance to explore an honestly-held different perspective.

I decided to out myself and to find out what I’d done that was so “very strange” or “outrageous” that it merited inclusion in a discussion about people naming favourite children, fantasising about abuse or comparing their children to murderers.

When I explained to the Tweeters that I thought they were referring to me and that I didn’t think I’d done anything outrageous I received these replies:

@[Tweeter1]: @itsmotherswork @[Tweeter2] maybe the distortion of twitter, but the tweets read as if the 1st reaction to her arm snapping was to tweet.

I knew that my first reaction to my daughter’s fall had been to administer immediate first aid (a sling), then to organise my three other children to go round to a neighbour, get my husband clearing snow off the car to take us to A&E, and switch off the dinner cooking in the oven. My first brief Tweet after the fall was just as we were leaving for the hospital so that Tweetmates who are used to chatting with me on a Friday evening would have an idea why I’d gone silent. (Much as I might have texted pals who’d expected to spend the evening with us, perhaps.) None of this action, of course, is visible to the recipient of the tweet. I said as much:

@itsmotherswork: @[Tweeter1] @[Tweeter2]
Probably rather stating the obvious but if you follow someone on Twitter, all the actions before a tweet will be invisible to you, cos a follower is not there where the real action is happening. (Pair of tweets)

Tweeter1’s reply to this was somewhat sympathetic. At the same time, it became clearer that the problem with my tweets was the sheer volume.

@[Tweeter1]: @itsmotherswork @[Tweeter2] I understand that tweeting can break isolation on a night in hospital, but there were so many. Sorry

So. Many. Tweets.

By implication, too many Tweets.

This is a thought-provoking comment. I tweet and blog anonymously. I don’t name my children in my tweets or blogs. I don’t post identifiable photos of them. I guard their privacy (I think) fairly well. And I don’t blog about abusing them, favouritism or comparisons with killers because – well – I don’t think or feel those things.

But I do tweet about them a fair bit. Maybe a lot? Could it be too much?

I went back to review my Tweets from that night to find out. It’s odd to look back over a timeline.

The first thing I notice is that I tweet in concentrated bursts. In the run up to 5yo’s accident I’m tweeting politics mostly every 1-2 minutes up to:

RT @[Anon]: The @[Anon] , caught red handed exploiting unpaid forced #workfare labour http://t.co/eRQyvFp1 Fri Jan 18 17:19:43 +0000 2013

And then Twitter silence for about 15 minutes. And then:

Life in the shoe: Oh shit. Genuine drama here. Laters. (Fri Jan 18 17:35:14 +0000 2013)

No one on Twitter but me knows what a lot we packed into those 15 minutes – because I wasn’t tweeting, I was comforting; doing; organising; directing; coping. (So Tweeting wasn’t my first reaction, or my second, third or fourth. But 15 minutes in, it is what I chose to do. How soon is too soon to Tweet?)

And then we were driving. And then we were waiting. The next tweet is nearly an hour later, from A&E:

Thanks tweetmates. Reading alphabet books in A&E with 5yo. What japes! Fri Jan 18 18:31:59 +0000 2013

There’s a couple of @replies and then the next original tweet is 1hour 20 minutes later:

Life in the shoe: Waiting to find out how badly broken 5yo’s arm,is. Fri Jan 18 19:52:30 +0000 2013

Then 20 minutes later:

Life in the shoe: Classic “banana arm”. 😦 Fri Jan 18 20:09:17 +0000 2013

Then 2hours 40minutes later.

Life in the shoe: In over night. Classic “banana arm”. Pin & plate in the morning. Fri Jan 18 22:49:03 +0000 2013

By that time we’ve been admitted to the ward; 5yo has been fed, had something to drink, snuggled up in bed, more pain relief.

I do a couple more tweets in quick succession, including some replies to concerned pals. Twitter (and Facebook and Text messages) are a useful lifeline because using the phone is forbidden on the children’s ward at this time of night. If I want to ring someone, I have to leave my daughter. I won’t leave my daughter. So, I sit and tweet quietly beside her as she tries to drift off to sleep.

Excluding @replies, there are five tweets about the broken arm between 22:49 and 23:30. How many is too many?

Silence from me for a while as daughter has asked me to get into her bed. I’m wide awake, but anxious not to disturb her. This doesn’t work. We then move into the teeny parents’ foldaway bed next to her bed. And there, finally she sleeps. And I don’t. Once I’m confident I won’t disturb her, I tweet a pretty shameless cry for help at around 1am:

Life in the shoe: 5yo in with me in the little parent’s truckle-bed. Sleeping soundly at last. Me? #insomniacsclub Sat Jan 19 01:06:50 +0000 2013

A couple of Tweetmates keep me company – at 2:15 and again at 5:15 I exchange tweets with them.

How many is too many?

We get back home after her bone-setting at 4:15pm the following day. In those 11 hours I tweet 12 tweets about our “adventures” at the hospital.

Seriously. How many is too many?

I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question.

5yo was my priority throughout that period; she came first. But she didn’t need me constantly or perpetually. I didn’t know we would be admitted overnight, so I came out without a book, or any other quiet entertainment. And…tweeting about the children is something that I do so it didn’t seem odd to me to be tweeting the broken arm.

My timeline isn’t only for “children tweets”. A lot of it is current affairs and politics. For that reason I use “Life in the shoe” as a preamble to “children tweets” so that if they get too much they can be selectively filtered out by people who would rather not see them. Fair enough? I don’t know.

What are my reflections having analysed my own timeline from that night?

I think it’s an interesting example of how differently we all see the world. I’m comfortable with the way I tweeted that night. I’m anonymous on Twitter, as are my children, and I never post their photos. (Or liken them to serial killers). The judgement about my “very strange” “outrageous” “running commentary” is, as far as I can tell, a view that I had tweeted too much during and about that particular episode.

I suppose I feel a bit prickly that those tweets should have been brought up in a debate about how parents invade their children’s privacy with complete disregard to the harm that causes. I feel that way because, even after this period of reflection, I don’t believe that’s what I’ve done.

But I’m on Twitter because I’m interested in and open to hearing others’ opinions, including their opinions of me.

My reflection on that exchange is that it’s very easy to pass judgement on a person based on their blogs or tweets (or even based on someone else’s remarks about those blogs & tweets). But blogs
& tweets are never the totality of who a person is.

And realising that makes me a bit more open-minded about the “totality” of those other Mommy Bloggers too.

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