What Is Your Exit Plan?

You are obviously going to snap a picture of yourself when you’re pregnant—or of your wife when she’s pregnant—and share it with the world through Facebook or Instagram or your network of choice. You know the picture: standing in profile with the shirt pulled tight so we can see the bulge of the belly and reply, “So excited! Can’t wait to meet the baby!” It’s a new tradition, and a good one I think. We get to rejoice with those who rejoice.

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And then you’ll have to snap a picture of mom in the hospital with the newborn baby nestled on her shoulder. And one of the proud dad. And one of the baby in her car seat as she prepares to come home for the first time. The first time eating solid food. The first time trying to take a few steps. The obligatory bath picture with the new brother or sister. The first day of school. These are all moments to share with your friends and followers so they can celebrate with you. It’s one of the great joys of life here and now.

It’s not just the photos, either. It’s the things your children say and the things they do. It’s the adorable words they mouth, the words and phrases they butcher. It’s the streaking and the temper tantrums and the unintentionally brutal insults that are hilariously exasperating parts of childhood. You love to capture or describe these and share them with the world. So do I.

But I wonder: What is your exit plan? Do you have one?

I want to give you two things to think about. One is a heart-level consideration and the other a practical-level consideration. Let’s start practical.

Our children begin their lives as an extension of us. They do this in a very literal and physical sense, but also in a social sense. For a time, children experience life alongside of us and through us, almost indistinguishable from us. But they grow and keep growing, and as they do, they become their own people. They turn 8 or 9 and develop social consciousness and awkwardness. They turn 13, and get their own Facebook account, and suddenly some of what was so cute to us is a liability to them. The cute photo of your toddler in the bath—do you really want that photo there when she turns 13 and her friends start looking through her Facebook account? Or when she is 16 and applies for a job and the prospective employer immediately does an Internet search for her name? Will she really want that photo there?

The thing is, sooner or later your kids will become their own people, and have their own network of friends and followers. And when this happens they will find that for the past 13 years you have been building their online profile. It used to be that only the children of monarchy or celebrity had their picture taken and shared from the moment of birth. Now it’s all of them. What kind of profile will they walk into when they are old enough to care?

And now that heart-level consideration. Because our children are an extension of ourselves, we often take pictures of them and share anecdotes about them because of what these do for us. A great photo of me with my child makes me feel better about myself, and makes you feel better about me. Win-win, right? But our children start to get it. At least, mine did. They started to understand that the photos of them—some of the photos of them, at least—were really for me. I was not considering whether my children wanted to be displayed before hundreds or thousands of others—I was considering only whether I wanted them to be displayed there with me. And they had to ask me to stop. “Dad, I don’t want everyone to see this. Don’t put this on Twitter.”

At some point you need to evaluate when and why you post those pictures, and who they are really meant to serve. At least in my case, I know that so many of them were meant to serve only me. I could portray myself as a great dad or a good Christian, and use my kids as little more than props. They were props, not people, and it revealed something ugly within me.

I say all of this only to make you think, and to help you ask the simple question: What is your exit plan?

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