Guilty of over-shar­ing about your kids? Re­mem­ber poor lit­tle Christo­pher Robin

The Herald on Sunday - - WEEK IN PERSPECTIVE -

POOR Christo­pher Robin. To­day’s par­ents could take a few lessons from his story, not that of the fic­tional char­ac­ter in AA Milne’s Win­nie The Pooh books, but of the real boy, the son on whom Milne based his tales. All of us, not just au­thors and jour­nal­ists but the blog­gers, Face­book­ers, YouTu­bers, In­sta­gram­mers and any­one else tempted to pub­lish their thoughts on or images of their chil­dren on the web. For the truth about the Win­nie The Pooh sto­ries, as is partly told in the new film biopic Good­bye Christo­pher Robin, is that Christo­pher Robin Milne came to hate not only the books but his father, who wrote them.

That wasn’t al­ways so, of course. Aged four, when the first book was pub­lished, the real-life Christo­pher Robin seems to have en­joyed the fame it brought him. He played his role well, painstak­ingly writ­ing replies to fan let­ters. He even per­formed in a pageant and an au­dio-record­ing of the books. Yet such was the de­gree of his ex­ploita­tion that his cousin once de­scribed it as “the un­ac­cept­able face of Pooh-dom”.

His par­ents’ ap­proach of treat­ing their son’s life as if it were some­thing to plun­der, while ro­man­ti­cis­ing and de­light­ing in it, isn’t that far from the at­ti­tude many of us ex­hibit to­day. Our chil­dren are ours. We can post what­ever we like about them on so­cial me­dia, share funny anec­dotes, cre­ate through them ei­ther a por­trait of ide­alised child­hood or a wart­sand-all shar­ing of the re­al­i­ties. And why not? They’re re­ally cute – and it brings pleasure to all.

But shar­ing con­tains per­ils. By the time Christo­pher Robin was a young adult, strug­gling to find a job, he be­gan to feel that his father “had got to where he was by climb­ing upon my in­fant shoul­ders, that he had filched from me my good name and left me with noth­ing but the empty fame of be­ing his son”.

Of course, the dam­age done to Christo­pher Robin wasn’t all at­trib­ut­able to the mere fact he was put in his father’s books. At nine years old, lit­tle Christo­pher Robin was packed off to board­ing school where he found him­self taunted. Mean­while, Alan Alexan­der Milne, never the most nat­u­ral dad, de­serted the fic­tional Christo­pher Robin. Wearied by Pooh and trou­bled by the books’ suc­cess, he wanted to get back to writ­ing for adults.

Christo­pher Robin’s story re­mains rel­e­vant to now. For in the over­share cul­ture of the 21st cen­tury, we too know how to climb on our in­fants’ shoul­ders. As a jour­nal­ist I’ve been there, tee­ter­ing like an over-sized ac­ro­bat. I’d hope that my chil­dren haven’t strained un­der the weight of me. But if I’m hon­est, it’s hard to know. As with all things about par­ent­ing, the dam­age we do of­ten takes a while to catch up with us.

Mean­while, one per­son’s ex­ploita­tion of their chil­dren is an­other per­son’s hon­esty. One reader might see over-share, an­other art. There’s a long his­tory of au­thors, artists, pho­tog­ra­phers and blog­gers who have been dis­par­aged for the way they used their chil­dren: Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Sally Mann, whose naked pic­tures of her chil­dren caused controversy; UK au­thors Julie My­er­son, whose The Lost Child was a mem­oir of her el­dest son’s child­hood and teenage drug habit, and Rachel Cusk, whose Af­ter­math is an ex­cru­ci­at­ing, yet elo­quent, de­scrip­tion of her mar­i­tal break­down in which her chil­dren are shad­owy fig­ures yet acutely present.

THESE days most of us are AA Milnes of the in­ter­net: writ­ers, blog­gers and so­cial me­dia posters. The “mummy blog­gers” of to­day adopt strate­gies that range from dis­guis­ing their chil­dren’s iden­ti­ties to telling blush­wor­thy tales us­ing real names. Ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent an­swer to what is over­share. Hur­rah For Gin au­thor Katie Kirby re­cently de­scribed to me her keen­ness not to re­veal her chil­dren’s names. Last year, blog­ger Eliz­a­beth Bas­tos con­fessed in the New York Times that she had de­cided to stop writ­ing about her chil­dren af­ter her own father rang up, trou­bled by a blog in which she’d de­scribed her son’s first signs of pu­berty.

What is too much to share? I don’t pre­tend to know the an­swer. We hu­mans need to con­nect with each other through­out all ex­pe­ri­ences. But, as the life of Christo­pher Robin at­tests, we can be poor judges. We are bad at know­ing when we have taken things too far. In the buzz of telling our own story, we for­get that it is our chil­dren’s, too.

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