“What are you saying about me on social media?”
In my childhood bedroom, my mom sat, her arms tight across her chest. She’d asked me to come over to discuss a parenting column I’d been writing for The Root. I hadn’t told her about it ahead of time and she was angry. Particularly since it was a column about how I parented differently from her.
“Besides this column, where else are you talking about me online? Do you talk about me on Facebook or Twitter or other places?” my mom asked.
“Of course I do,” I said. “Sometimes. But it’s not often and it’s not a big deal.”
“I don’t want you talking about me anywhere online,” my mom said. “I’m not on social media for a reason, and I have a right to my privacy.”
I fully understood how she felt about discovering The Root column on her own. I should have told her about it in advance. But I tried to explain to her that unlike my parenting column on an actual news website, random social media posts don’t live long. I explained that I had thousands of Facebook friends, but very few of them would actually see anything I wrote come across their timelines. My mom was having none of it.
“I’m sure the people who do see what you write on social media know who I am. And I don’t like it—at all. I don’t want you writing about me online. Period.”
I thought about the dozens of posts and photos of my mom that were already online, posted by me, my siblings and other relatives. On Mother’s Day, for example, lots of people, myself included, post tributes with photos of their mothers, even when they are not on Facebook and we know they won’t see them.
Holiday celebrations are always social media friendly for most of my family. Last Easter, for fun, all the women in our family did our own version of Beyoncé’s “7-11” video. I showed the finished video to my mom and she loved it. I sent her a link so she could show her friends. But then I posted it to Facebook, and my mom didn’t even realize the video was out there. Should I have asked her first before I posted it? It never even dawned on me to ask.
When she retired after 25 years of teaching, dozens of her former students gathered to honor her. They almost all posted on their own Facebook pages with photos of themselves with my mom and special memories and sweet messages. Should her students have asked for permission to post the pictures first?
I think because so much of what I post about my mom is overwhelmingly positive, I assume that she won’t mind. But that’s not the point for her. She doesn’t want any attention on social media, which is understandable but still not really possible.
This whole situation reminded me of Alice Walker and her daughter, Rebecca. The writer is estranged from her daughter, partly because of the two memoirs Rebecca Walker wrote, calling out her mom as inattentive and far from a capable parent. Alice Walker wrote a blog post explaining how this made her feel, particularly when she found out that there was a Wikipedia page on her that she knew nothing about, and most of the content was populated from Rebecca’s writings.
I think my mom needs to understand that she can stay off social media. But unless she refuses to pose in family pictures and pointedly tells every friend and relative not to ever mention her, it will be almost impossible for the social media spotlight to stay completely off her.