Image by image, we’re collaging idealised selves for our children to live up toby Hephzibah Anderson / January 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
For most of civilisation, becoming a parent has meant muddling through as best you could. Then came the dawn of “parenting.” According to the OED, the noun first cropped up as a verb in 1918, but it took until the 1970s for it to become popular. The gender-neutral gerund has since grown to encapsulate the myriad ways in which “child care,” as the commonsensical Dr Spock always referred to it, now resembles an additional career—and one in a highly competitive field, at that.
But as a verb, parenting also does something else that its homelier antecedents like “child-rearing” didn’t. It elbows the kids out of the frame and puts the focus squarely on the parents themselves, underscoring the self-consciousness that now pervades a stage of life previous generations simply got on with. Hence the rise of the motherhood memoir and the gender reveal party. Hence “sharenting.”
A gargoyle of a word, even by the stooped standards of the portmanteau, sharenting refers, of course, to the practice of parents Instagramming their children’s infancy, blogging about their potty training, or scoring viral hits with videos of epic tantrums.
A histrionic justification
It’s not exactly a new phenomenon, but it hit a fresh low at the start of this year, when lawyer and “mommy blogger” Christie Tate wrote an essay for the Washington Post describing what happened when her 10-year-old daughter got a laptop for Christmas and discovered that her mother had been chronicling her childhood. Defiant in the face of tween outrage, the piece is a histrionic justification of Tate’s decision to blog on—albeit giving the girl some veto power.
“I’m not done exploring my motherhood in my writing,” she explained. To quit using her daughter’s life as material would be akin to “amputating parts of my experience,” and doing that, “feels as abusive to our relationship as writing about her without any consideration for her feelings and privacy.”
Leaving aside her staggering self-absorption, Tate is but an extreme example of a practice many of us dabble in. As far back as 2010, a survey found that more than 90 per cent of American two-year-olds had an online presence.
Over here, we’re divided—in 2017 Ofcom reported…