By now you’ve probably seen that Time cover — the one where a mother is proudly breast-feeding her enormous 3-year-old son for all the world to see. My first thought was, “Wow! That mom looks a little like the girl who plays Amanda on the TV series ‘Revenge,’ which (sadly) is getting stupider by the minute.”
And my second thought was “Wow! No matter how superior that kid will be because his mother breast-fed him forever, dude’s seriously gonna wish he’d never been born once he hits junior high school.”
How do I know this? Because I have five sons. And if a similar picture of them had surfaced when they were teenagers, those boys would have immediately signed up for the Federal Witness Protection Program. Here’s the deal. That Time cover shot isn’t going away. Ever. The image of a 3-year-old male standing on a stool in his sporty camouflage pants in order to suckle at his attractive mother’s bosom will live on in perpetuity, thanks to the Internet.
OK. I want to make it very clear right now that this particular column is not an examination of breast-feeding as extreme sport. We women can and should choose how to nourish our infants. And then we should get off each other’s backs about it.
What I find more compelling here is the issue of a child’s privacy — especially in this day of blogging and Facebooking and tweeting. Frankly, I love to look at adorable pictures of my friends’ kids and grandkids online. I love to read entertaining stories about them, too. Domestic lives — yours, mine — always interest me.
The problem is that parents, without realizing it, sometimes view their children as extensions of themselves. The woman breast-feeding on the cover of Time is comfortable with her decision to go public. OBVIOUSLY. And (also obviously) she therefore assumes her little boy must be, too. Why shouldn’t he be? He’s her son after all.
Children, however, aren’t always on board with their parents’ willingness to share — especially as they grow older. I know this from direct personal experience. Over the past 25 years I’ve written A LOT about my family, including the time one son got suspended for throwing snowballs at recess when he was in grade school. I found myself in the awkward parental position of having to support the principal’s decision in front of my son while on the inside I was going, “YES! BRING IT, BABY! I LOVE SNOWBALL FIGHTS!
I turned the whole thing into a pretty good column.
Or so I thought.
My son came home from school one day, upset. “Alex said you wrote a story about me in the paper.”
“Well, yes,” I said. “I guess I did.”
“Don’t do that anymore.”
It was one of those moments when I remembered I wasn’t just writing about my own life, I was writing about someone else’s life, too. And that someone wasn’t happy about it. Until, of course, I said I would buy him a pizza every time I told a story about him. And then he was all, “AWESOME!”
The point is this: We each have different levels of comfort when it comes to sharing personal information. Some readers, for example, may think I tell too much, while others might wish I were more candid. What an extreme example like the recent Time cover does, however, is remind us that the Internet and whatever we put out there is forever.
Which can be a good thing!
But only if we’re smart about it.
Ann Cannon can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/columnistcannon.