We’re all aware of how the Internet has pretty much destroyed our privacy. Potential employers read our blogs, our retired parents comment on embarrassing Facebook photos, and Foursquare pings the world if we go to a bar at noon. (For lunch, I swear!) But that’s life these days: we live our lives online and overshare with strangers all the time. But it becomes slightly more problematic when we’re parents: what happens when our young kids are old enough to get on a computer, type in our names, and see what comes up? The problem with the Internet is it never goes away. And for someone like me, when that day comes, it isn’t going to be pretty.
Let me explain. I spent almost three years writing a sex column for Maxim magazine and then wrote a book based on the columns that was called — wait for it — Dirty Girls. I felt it was all very Carrie Bradshaw and wrote lines like, “Men have no idea how much women masturbate,” and “Sometimes we like to fantasize about orgies.” At the time, I didn’t have a child, nor did I consider a future in which I might have a child. The columns were fun, a bit dirty, and a decent-paying freelance job. But then I fell in love, got married, and now two years later, suddenly do have a child — a chubby, grubby toddler who genuinely loves his mommy. Not the mommy who wrote sex columns for Maxim, but the goofy one who makes up silly songs and gives him raisins and cheddar bunnies on demand.
The fact is, I have changed since my son Charlie’s birth. I don’t just write about sex anymore (sex? what’s that?) and am trying to focus on all sorts of different topics like parenting and travel. Still, I worry every day that he won’t love me as much when he’s 13 years old and reads online that his mommy once wrote, “I’d always suspected, but now it was confirmed that I was seriously slutty.” Will his friends bring my book to school and taunt him with it? Will he cry? I worry that the only impression my former job will leave is just years of therapy for my son. Am I making things worse by even writing this article?
— Naomi Odes Aytur
— Babble bloggers
— Lori Garcia
And if I wrote some racy stuff in my past, what about the kids of people like Playmate Kendra Wilkinson or porn star Jenna Jameson? They all have young children now and a sordid past that will never escape them.
Our own parents had it easy. Unless they were public figures, they could hide whatever bad things they did in their rebellious youth or anytime in their lives. My mom claims she was a folk-music-loving nerd who only drank coffee in college. My dad says he was a straight-laced athlete who studied hard and put himself through business school. (Neither of these claims are totally true, by the way, but I believed them because that’s the way you want to think of your parents.) But now we’re all public figures, and the jig is up!
I guess it’s easy enough to check your Facebook page for incriminating photos and only write happy, G-rated posts on your blogs, but that’s not a reality. Parents use their blogs to bitch about stuff. They use bad words on Twitter and sometimes don’t know when they’ve been tagged in a Facebook photo doing beer bongs in college. Everything is out there, compiled in a neat electronic file that our kids can easily click on — and then use what they find as ammo against you for the rest of your life. (Just imagine: “But Dad, you did that when you were my age!”) Sure, there are ways to bury and hide your online life from the public’s prying eyes, but that’s hardly realistic for the average person.
After months of fretting about the day my son Googled me, I’ve decided that it could be worse. I’ve never written anything mean about anyone else. (And never would.) And when I wrote about sex and relationships, it was always from a female-positive perspective, teaching men how to treat us well both in and out of bed. If Charlie someday learns that women’s bodies and minds are complicated and interesting from something I’ve written, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a reality, and will still be one once he’s older and discovering girls on his own. And though it would spare me some awkward conversations, there’s nothing I can do to change my past. That’s who I am, and every aspect of who I was, good and bad, has shaped the kind of woman I am today.
Charlie has a right to someday know exactly what I was like when I was younger. If I try to hide it and act ashamed of my younger self, then it’s likely he’ll be ashamed, too. But if I embrace who I was, who I’ve become, and what I’ve written, then I think that’s probably a good life lesson to teach: to live life unabashedly (ahem — within reason, just in case you’re reading this someday, son) and try not to care what others think about you. Who knows, maybe if he Googles me as a teenager he’ll actually think I was cool at some point in my life, instead of just an annoying old lady who listens to lame oldies like Coldplay and Rihanna. And I’ll be able to show him exactly what my kind of cool looked like.