Writing about your kids: a few thoughts on parent blogging
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.
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.