While our definition of what constitutes 'oversharing' has softened over time, posting pictures of our kids on social media continues to ignite fierce debate.
Last month, midwife-turned-blogger Clemmie Hooper, who posts as @motherofdaughters, felt the wrath of Mumsnet, as users criticised her for 'cashing in' on her girls by using them in promotional Instagram posts. The vitriol was so extreme that Clemmie temporarily quit social media. She's not alone in having a change of heart on sharenting. Earlier this month, Kylie Jenner deleted all the images she'd posted of her five-month-old daughter Stormi. And it's not just mums taking umbrage.
Seriously throwing their toys out of the pram are the teenagers suing their parents for invasion of privacy for sharing photos of them. In 2016, French authorities advised parents to stop uploading images of their kids because of a potential violation of their privacy and security rights (punishable with a £40,000 fine and up to a year in prison).
In January this year, in Rome, a mother was forced to delete all images of her son from Facebook and threatened with a £9,000 penalty if she shared any new shots as part of divorce proceedings.
But all the legal warnings aren't stopping the majority of us from putting our kids online. A survey by a baby photo agency found that, on average, a baby has his or her image uploaded to social media within 57.9 minutes of being born. By the age of two, 60 per cent of children have a digital footprint and, by five, the average parent will have posted more than 2000 shots. I'm one of those sharers.
Within a week of having my son Grey, I'd set up the account @mamalovesgrey, dedicated to my journey as a mother. Over the four months since, I've posted about my struggles to breastfeed, learning to cope with lack of sleep and suddenly having 34G breasts – as well as how my appreciation of my own mother, who was a single parent of two, has grown.
While my main personal account is all shoes, fashion shows and fancy holidays, I didn't want to glamourise my experiences with my baby. So, I've put up pictures of balancing a laptop beside my sleeping baby's head, when holed up in bed but still trying to meet a deadline to talk about the pressures of being a working mum. I also posted a picture of my 13-week-old son bawling in his bouncy chair. I knew it would be divisive but, if the standard stream of styalised parenting shots usually shared on social media is to be believed, babies don't cry.
Like many new mums, I live a long way away from any family (my mum is in France and my brother and dad are in Germany). And, because I got divorced at 30 and lost a circle of friends, I don't have any close mates in London with older kids. So it's basically just me all day until 6.30pm, when my boyfriend gets home. Me trying to work out why my little boy is puking/screaming/ writhing in apparent pain (he has reflux). Without the support I received from my Instagram followers, I don't know how I'd have coped with those brutal early weeks.
But I did think long and hard about how I was going to feature Grey on social media. I didn't want my personal account to become baby spam and wanted at least one space where I wasn't knee-deep in nappies. Also, as I'd struggled to conceive and had found it difficult to see all those gorgeous bassinet and bump pictures on social media, I really wanted my followers to have the choice to 'opt in' to this new content. And yet, when I did become a mum, I realised that if we omit our kids from our online lives, we're obscuring the all-encompassing nature of motherhood and creating false expectations for other new mums.
As founder of jewellery brand Lei Van Kash, Leila Kashanipour, says, 'My son is now the most important part of my life, and while I don't want to overdo it, I also don't want to hide that I'm now a mum.' Fashion stylist and blogger Alex Stedman of @thefrugality explains she's featured her daughter Peggy on her platform because, 'I'm currently spending 24 hours a day with her, so I'm sharing my journey as a mum a bit more than when I go back to blogging full-time.' However, she decided to steer clear of brand collaborations for now. 'I've promised myself so far that I won't use her in sponsored content and I'd definitely never want to rely on Peggy for likes (even though she gets way more engagement!).'
As for how Grey will feel in the future, I hope he'll understand that I needed to reach out to others going through the same things – something I believe has helped me avoid post-natal depression – and that my posts helped other women fee les alone in the long, sometimes intense days with their babies. I also hope he'll understand that by 'cashing in' on social media, I've been able to care for him full-time while providing for him. I haven't done any sponsored posts with him yet, only shoots, but I have a couple coming up soon. My policy for any collaboration involving him is that if there is something I think other women will benefit from discovering, I'd do it. Also, as with my personal account, I would always clearly state that it was a paid project.
Money is so tight when you have young children that however you make ends meet should surely be applauded. Clemmie, for example, works for the NHS and has four mouths to feed. So she posts a few pictures of her kids online and gets paid for it – so what? How is that different from parents allowing their children to be used in ads? I'd also argue a lot of the venom directed at mum bloggers is really about envy – because which mum isn't looking for the kind of work-life balance that social media businesswomen have achieved?
The key, as ever, is restraint. While I may share images of my baby crying to honestly reflect what we're experiencing. I wouldn't post naked pictures. I'll always consider how he might feel in the future about things I post – crucial when you think about challenges ahead, like bed-wetting. I'll also avoid anything that could compromise his safety – especially geo-tagging. But if when my boy is older he doesn't like the pictures and asks me to remove them, I will.
Equally, I would never judge another parent for deciding to keep their child off social media. It's a personal choice. But for me, the advantages of being part of a community of supportive people – virtual, yes, but still people I feel connected to – outweighs the dangers of sharenting.