One of the hallmarks of the internet age is self-revelation or, as critics call it: over-sharing. People love to talk about themselves, and issues once limited to whispered conversations are now topics of public forums accessible to anyone with an online connection. Those issues include parenting. Today, on thousands of blogs, moms and dads share the most intimate details of their lives with their children, often with shockingly frank commentary. How is a grandparent to react?
Some grandparents don't like the trend. They are not only uncomfortable seeing online commentary about their grandchildren's foibles, they are also worried about the children's safety when parents write so openly about them. Parent bloggers often make no effort to disguise their kids' names, faces, hometowns, or schools. With so much media attention focused on child predators lurking online, any online presence for a child can seem like too much.
But not all grandparents object. "As a grandparent, I don't have a 'brag book' — I just tell my friends to go check out Trixie on the internet," says Becky MacNeill, 60. Her son, Ben, an at-home dad and graphic designer in Raleigh, N.C., publishes the groundbreaking parenting blog The Trixie Update. For several years, his blog detailed Trixie's every diaper change, feeding, and nap in meticulous detail. "I'm sorry, I know he's my son, but I really think his sense of humor is awesome," Becky says. "I particularly remember a post where he asked, 'When the baby's poop comes out the back of the diaper, does that mean it's too tight or too loose?' And I just laughed and laughed, and showed it to all my friends. And I felt so much a part of his life over there.” Other features of the site, like its Picture of the Day, also help her feel connected with her far-flung family.
Donald Klein's daughter, Stephanie, the author of two memoirs, also produces the blog Greek Tragedy. The site began as the tale of Stephanie's painful divorce, but it now relates stories about her husband and twins. Donald, 61, of North Hills, N.Y., respects his daughter's forthrightness. "I have always told Stephanie to tell the truth, never to lie," he says. "Her story would lose something if she could not put her truth out there, and the babies are part of the story."
Still, not all blogging families are necessarily happy families. Heather B. Armstrong, whose sometimes brutally honest blog, Dooce.com, is one of the country's most popular parenting sites, has been criticized for the way she discusses her daughter and for the pictures she posts of her. She's also written online about her discomfort with her parents' religion and the tension that it has caused.
According to Aaron Barlow, author of The Rise of the Blogosphere (Praeger, 2007), it's no surprise that there's a “digital divide” between generations. But he argues that the blog meets a quintessentially human urge to communicate, using a new medium. "Just because the internet is accessed in a new way doesn’t mean it’s a new world — it’s just an extension of the old world," he says, "a new place for human interactions, which follow age-old patterns.”
Yet, Barlow acknowledges that concerned grandparents may have a point when they object to excessive detail about their grandchildren appearing online. Parents should not dismiss those concerns. "The younger generation has explored the Web more," he says, "but the older generation has more real-world experience."
Blog-resistant grandparents have to realize that they and their children may simply agree to disagree about the risks of their websites, Barlow says. "I don’t think it would work for grandparents to say, ‘How would you like it if I wrote about your inner-most secrets?’” he says.
Each parent-blogger has to determine where to draw the line when writing about his or her children. For example, Becky MacNeill notes that as Trixie got older, "we realized she was a community child, and I loved how Ben kept some things private, like when he was potty training her and such."
The best way for a grandparent to understand the difficulty of drawing that line, and the temptation to over-share, is to guest-blog on their child's site. Donald Klein's daughter once asked him to sit down at the keyboard and type out his feelings about being a long-distance grandfather. "I was skeptical about doing it — fear of failure or of Stephanie's readers being disappointed," he says. "But I was pleasantly surprised by the favorable responses and kind words in the 'comments' section. I was touched by the people who told me how moved they were by my post."
To learn more about staying connected as a long-distance grandparent, click here. Elsewhere on grandparents.com, find out what to do if your grandchild is being bullied online. And join the discussion about whether you've shared enough about your own life with your grandchildren.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.