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Writing about your kids: a few thoughts on parent blogging

Aug01

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When Henry was four, I wrote on my blog about a meltdown he had at Ikea, and what I felt were the insensitive comments of the strangers around us. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next: readers and bloggers on other sites mocking Henry, wondering if he was autistic, if he needed medicating, or if he was just a brat.
Ouch.
It had honestly not occurred to me until that moment that anything Henry did in that scenario would be up for public scrutiny and evaluation. Don’t other kids have temper tantrums, after all? Aren’t parents always encountering jerks who stress them out when their kids need their full attention? I could see my behavior coming under attack, but Henry’s? Who would call a four-year-old names?
Plenty of people, it turned out. And I realized then that I had crossed a threshold, that there was a certain amount of information I now had to keep private from the Internet. Henry was no longer the universal Everybaby; he was becoming his own quirky little being, vulnerable to attack just as much as the rest of us. I had to protect my son–for my well-being probably more than his. After all, he couldn’t read yet. He didn’t feel like tearing the heads off of the people who diagnosed my kid based on a single blog entry.
I asked some other writers how much they feel comfortable revealing about their kids, and—what do you know—other parenting bloggers also think hard about these issues. Above all, they all agreed, we have a responsibility to protect our children. As Danny Evans from Dad Gone Mad put it, ” Parent first, writer second. ” (I would add “spouse” somewhere in there as well. Probably fighting for second place with “writer.”) What story might open your child up to criticism? What might embarrass them down the road? These are questions that parenting bloggers have to ask ourselves with every post.
That said, the universal stuff that kids do is, by and large, considered fair game for material. After all, no child is going to be upset that you revealed that he cried a lot as a newborn, but if you talk about the time he was five and he [REDACTED] with his [REDACTED] all over his [REDACTED]? Even if it was comedy gold, you’re now officially violating his privacy. It is the sad truth of the blogging parent that the more entertaining your kids become, the less license you have to use their stories. What material might push your child’s buttons down the line, however, isn’t always clear. As Mir from Woulda Coulda Shoulda says, “Sometimes what happens here has to stay in the cone of silence, because I feel strongly that sharing would be painful for the kids, down the road. (I’m fresh out of crystal balls, too, so I’m always guessing. Always. And this is why God invented guilt, and therapy.)” Chris from Notes from the Trenches may have already mildly traumatized a kid or two : “I try not to embarrass my children, which let me tell you becomes much more difficult when they ‘re preteens and teenagers, since the very fact that I EXIST is cause for embarrassment.”
It’s a tricky dance to execute, but the concerns about embarrassing your kids are often outweighed by the rewards they might reap from your writing. There are amazing moments I have tried to capture, that otherwise would be lost forever. And if I share the times when I’d like to leave him outside with a packed suitcase and a sign that says “free boy,” I really believe that acknowledging those feelings is going to benefit him in the long run. As Rita from Surrender, Dorothy puts it, “…I think my love for [my daughter] and my pride for her comes out in my writing, but also that I’m just a fallible human being, and she should never ask herself to be any more than that.” Susan from Friday Playdate concurs: ” I don’t think I really saw my mother as a person until I was grown up and had left home, and now I am endlessly curious about her life when she was my age, and when my brother and I were Henry and Charlie’s age. My kids won’t have to wonder, because it’s all right there.”
Kyran from Notes to Self has a different perspective, having grown up as the child of a prominent writer: ” I lived among artists and writers who often drew inspiration from their friends and families. …As a kid, it was actually pretty wonderful. I felt that my family was special. Our friends, our lives, seemed interesting and noteworthy. I might have engaged in a little “poor me-ing” about it when I was in my early teens, but I was being entirely, age-appropriately disingenuous. If I hadn’t been whining about how hard it was to be my father’s daughter, you can bet I’d have been whining about how hard it was to be somebody else’s daughter.”
It will be interesting to see what happens down the line, as our children grow up accustomed to being the subject of someone else’s narrative. Right now Henry’s aware that I write about him sometimes, but he doesn’t think about it too much; he seems to think that all grownups write about their kids. Beyond that, we don’t talk about what I do for a living. (He told a friend of his that I’m a dentist. He seemed pretty sure about it, too.) He knows that, whatever I do, it doesn’t make enough money. “Maybe some day your web site will be successful, Mom,” he said to me the other day. Some day, son. Now go do something funny for Mommy.

About the author

Alice Bradley

http://www.finslippy.com
Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


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15 Responses to “Writing about your kids: a few thoughts on parent blogging”

  1. suburbancorrespondent Aug 01 at 9:11 am Reply Reply

    Kid tantrum? In IKEA? Gee, I can’t even imagine. What kid doesn’t love being dragged around a huge home furnishing store for hours? There must be something wrong with your offspring. Or maybe you’re just a lousy parent.

  2. suburbancorrespondent Aug 01 at 9:12 am Reply Reply

    Ahem – that last comment was in a humorous vein. I would hope that would be obvious, but I’ve found that facetiousness often doesn’t convey well in blog comments.

  3. Rita Arens Aug 01 at 11:08 am Reply Reply

    Ever since you asked about this, I’ve been thinking about it. I think it could be the subject of 50 hours of conversation. And I also think that different kids would respond to it differently. I operate with rules for my kid, and since I only have one, it’s easier. The child that I have pretends to read Sleep Is for the Weak by telling stories about herself because I told her that I wrote about her in that book. The look on her face when I told her I wrote about her because I love her and she is important to me was something I will remember for the rest of my life.

  4. amy Aug 01 at 11:24 am Reply Reply

    I love to sit among the scraps of written word about me in the letters and baby books my mother kept for me. I love to have these fragments. I wish I had more. I find myself perhaps recreating memories like Piaget said from old fuzzy photographs. Well, our kids won’t need this..they will have a well documented life to look back on when they are older. They will have a lovely parenting learning curve to swing from and find connection with… Yr son and many many others may be annoyed during the teen years- but when they are older or parents they will treasure all of this amazing historical brilliance. Leta Armstrong will no doubt have big fat tears running down her face someday as she reads the gorgeous letters her mother wrote to her. She will know how lucky she is. I have no doubt.

  5. caramama Aug 01 at 11:33 am Reply Reply

    I don’t think this is a new issue, although it’s dynamic has changed. I like the analogy of being a writer’s kid, and how writers use real life situations as inspiration in their writing. It seems to me that blogging is just another form of writing non-fiction, like columnist would write in a paper or magazine. I’m sure columnists and writers of books and non-fiction all struggle with this issue.
    Heck, I struggle with it when I’m telling stories about my child to my friends. I remember being in room while my parents told embarrassing stories about me to their friends! But I got over it and will inevitably do the same to my kids.
    The biggest difference, of course, seems to be the pervasiveness and availability of the internet. In theory, when my kid is older and has friends who are online, they could read the embarrassing stories. That will suck for her. As will the naked baby pictures I show to her future boyfriends. hehe.
    But some things do feel like should be off limits. I have no good answers here about what, and I think the struggle will continue to have new boundries as my child grows. And I will likely continue to hide behind a pseudonym out of respect for my husband’s wishes and child’s future. But that’s my decision, not others.

  6. Dana Aug 01 at 11:43 am Reply Reply

    So what’s the advice on how to deal with the jerks out there? How do you deal with the people who think they already know your kid better than you?
    My blog is still in it’s infancy…I’ve only had to deal with one rude commenter so far who thought they were funny, but were just being mean and ugly.
    But I can’t imagine having to deal with an attack on my child…

  7. kim Aug 01 at 11:43 am Reply Reply

    Hmm, this is timely. Actually, it would’ve been even timelier a couple of months ago when I started blogging. I’m feeling torn between the desire to go tearing through my blog, looking to see what I’ve written about my daughters, and the fear that my employers will become aware of my blog and think I’m an idiot. Oh d-d-d-dear.

  8. oh amanda Aug 01 at 1:36 pm Reply Reply

    People who embarrass their kids online will do it in public. I try not to embarrass my daughter anywhere at anytime. I purposely think of ways to encourage her and boost her confidence. If it comes out wrong, well, it just comes out wrong.
    I’m w/the camp that says, “I’d love to see my mom’s blog when I was a kid.” If only the late 70′s were online…
    I hope my daughter appreciates the writing I do for and about her.

  9. feefifoto Aug 01 at 10:58 pm Reply Reply

    I’m careful telling stories about my kids; I usually ask their permission before I even think of writing about them. My daughter hates when I exaggerate for dramatic effect so I’ve been trying to explain the concept of poetic license. On the whole, though, the purpose of my blog (other than promoting my online store) is to tell of my own embarrassments; let the kids get their own blogs!

  10. sarah gilbert Aug 02 at 3:22 am Reply Reply

    I am a wide open book in my posts about my children, but I operate with them the same way I operate with any human: I write about them with love, and with honesty. I never (or at least this is my constant goal) blog angry. in every word I write, I consider the feelings of the subject, and honor those as best I can while remaining true to the story. I also consider writing my best and cheapest therapy; so whenever I’ve worried about writing something that’s too revealing, I remember that, through the writing is a discovery that will improve my motherhood.
    I’m currently in the midst of one of the first stories I feel is completely impossible to write as ‘public record’ for my children and others involved, and have decided the best way is to write it under a pseudonym and submit it for publication elsewhere. because in the end, I’m not really writing for my children but for the story, which transcends the individual.
    I can’t *not* write my story.

  11. Marcy Aug 02 at 2:55 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve wondered a few times, as I wrote some of my more brutally honest posts about the difficulties I had in the first months after my son was born, if he might one day read that and take offense, take it personally. However I feel that it’s more important to get that out there for the sake of sharing those experiences with other frazzled new moms, and possibly with my son and his wife one day as they deal with their own newborn. That good seems to outweigh the possibility of hurt feelings. And if there are hurt feelings, I hope I have a chance to also talk with him about it and explain, if needed.

  12. Lacey Jane Aug 03 at 2:31 am Reply Reply

    I remember when I was 12 and I found a baby book for my older brother. “Where’s my baby book?” I asked my mother. “I got bored and stopped filling that shit out after I got pregnant a second time.” I remember hating her for that. Had she chronicled my life- I would’ve loved it. Different kids different things though. My sister would have shot herself in the face. Even though she’s the good one and I’m the crazy one. Funny how that worked out.

  13. Ellen Aug 04 at 7:59 am Reply Reply

    I’m not so interested in seeing my mom’s blog (had there been blogging way back when) but my grandmother’s blog. Telling stories about my parents when they were kids. THAT would be worth reading!

  14. Karen Aug 06 at 9:30 pm Reply Reply

    This came up in the session I attended at BlogHer about special needs parenting, and I started to think about the kid-privacy issue in that context. In other words, do kids who are perhaps less likely to one day read about themselves in a public venue such as a blog require more protection than other kids, or are they more fair game simply because “what they don’t know won’t hurt them?”
    I don’t actually have an answer to that. I have 4 kids, one with special needs, and as youngest he’s also rife with blog-fodder. I seldom write about my oldest, but I tend to err on the side of being an open book with all of them. Paraphrasing what Sarah Gilbert said, I write my life. Period. All of it. I don’t think I am capable of really holding back. But I do take pause from the caution of other parents and wonder what the “right” answer really is, if there even is one.

  15. Mrs Embers Feb 23 at 7:11 am Reply Reply

    Seriously? I didn’t read the comments on that post about the Ikea incident, but I, for one, had nothing but sympathy for you AND Henry! Some people are just jerks, be they shopping in Ikea or commenting on blogs.
    As for how much to reveal… my oldest is only three, and he’s not yet at the stage where he’s constantly saying cute and/or hilarious things all the time that I want to write about- I tend to write more about my own struggles and the joys that come with being a mom. I’m sure I’ll be recording lots more specifics as the boys grow, though!
    After reading your story, I’ll think harder about what I post- I think it’s great that you wrote that Ikea post, especially since it helps the rest of us know that we’re not alone if and when the same thing happens to us, but I’d hate to have people insulting my kids, too.
    (Sorry for the lateness of this comment- I’m working backwards through your articles here.)

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