Many New Yorkers spend the first part of their lives perfecting their “I don’t care” attitudes. The light is red? I still walk, I don’t care. The guy is peeing on the corner? Just don’t come near me and I don’t care. You don’t like me? I really don’t care.
But the protective urge kicks in when you have your first child, and completely takes over all previous nonchalance. You want to give your baby everything and it’s horrifying to imagine that you might somehow stand in their way.
Or, your online history might. Whether it’s getting along with your new mommy friends or getting into preschool, the past that a parent might want to keep secret can easily come up in their search results.
It might not be anything too scandalous. My own Google not-so-secret is that for years I maintained a politically conservative blog, which then led to paid employment as an outspokenly conservative politics writer. I was never one of those Republicans who pretended to be a libertarian or something. Having been raised in Brooklyn with the mantra “be yourself,” I was always fearless about it. I’m proud of my politics and I can defend my positions. I also never talk about politics in social situations unless someone engages me, and figured I’d continue in the same vein after my daughter was born.
But having a child puts you in a new, awkward social situation. It’s the first time in a long time that you go out of your way to make friends. It’s like starting at a new school or moving to a new town – but the stakes are higher because you care for this little person so much more than you ever cared about yourself. You don’t want to hurt them by association.
What I found is that I’d shy away from telling the other moms on the playground what, exactly, it was that I do for a living. I didn’t care if they judged me – I’ve got enough friends already, thanks – but what if they didn’t want their children to play with my child? What if my daughter was shunned? What if the preschool decided they didn’t want to accept the child of one of those conservatives?
In the über-competitive world of New York parenting, it becomes difficult not to care, at least a little. Google results that might not have mattered when you were a freewheeling non-parent take on a much greater meaning when you have a child.
Take Toby Bochan, now a senior editor at Yahoo!, and previously of the poker guide at About.com. An avid player, she also authored The Badass Girl’s Guide To Poker: All You Need To Beat The Boys. Mildly edgy, sure, but nothing embarrassing – so far.
Unfortunately for her, some site lifted her explanation of one particular poker game. No, not Hold ‘Em, or Omaha, but, of course, Strip Poker. That page turns up near the top of her search results. And, yes, stripped of its About.com context, it seems Toby spontaneously elected to codify the rules for how to lose your clothes while playing a card game. How does that play to a school admissions committee?
For other parents, such matchmaker Lori Zaslow (co-founder of Project Soulmate and star of Bravo reality show “Love Broker”) the problem is less about judgmental parents than about curious children – their own, perhaps several years down the road. “Being a matchmaker means talking to people about life, love, sex. Sometimes topics like sex toys. I want to be the best role model for my kids.
“I don’t care about what the other moms think, but I worry about my eight-year old Googling me someday.”
(For her matchmaking clients facing a Google past of their own, Lori’s strategy is to arrange truly blind dates, where the daters don’t know each other’s names or phone numbers. “There are three sides to every story,” Lori says. “This way they’ll give each other a chance without believing what they read on the Internet.”)
Other examples are less sympathetic. Take Daniel (not his real name) in Brooklyn. These days Daniel is a reputable business owner and upstanding father of two. Back in 2001, in his mid-20′s, he was involved in some financial malfeasance and served a year in the Federal Penitentiary. Eleven years and one Occupy Wall Street movement later, his first Google result is the charge from the Security and Exchange Committee.
“Before having children I never considered someone would Google me and find out about my past. And if they did, I can’t imagine I would care. We’re leaving my name off the school applications,” he said.
Still, some people shrug their shoulders at buttoning up just because they’ve had a child. Writer JR Taylor, whose work spans from the semi-respectable Playboy.com to significantly seedier websites, isn’t worried about being judged or how his kid will be viewed if he’s Googled.
“I’m pretty proud of my lowlife work, and it’s still how I make my living. I’ll want some samples online – so my kid will have to rebel by becoming a normal human being.”
Follow Karol Markowicz on Twitter at @KarolNYC.