Mother’s Day Musing: Why I Will Never Write About my Kids

(This piece was first published on the Huffington Post Come and visit me over there!)

It’s strange, given their intensity, how fleeting human emotions can be.   Feelings that are gut-wrenchingly powerful when they first hit, almost always disappear without trace as time passes.   My mind now can’t conjure up even a dim imprint of the bone-crushing despair I felt when my post-college boyfriend broke up with me on New Year’s Eve, 1994.   The intense devotion for a brewery salesman from Northampton that overcame me a few years later barely even registers as a memory any more, and even the husband-leaving anger that gripped me at 9 o’clock last night over ‘The Matter of The Tax Return’ seems, this morning, like an extract from the therapy session of an unhinged stranger.

But, for some unfathomable evolutionary reason, there is one emotion that doesn’t dwindle even the slightest bit with time, often maintaining total integrity no matter how many decades have gone by.    Seemingly the only human feeling that is experienced as keenly after twenty years have passed isn’t anger or love or elation.  It’s embarrassment.

There are petty humiliations I suffered in high school that still, when recalled in my late thirties, give me the overpowering impulse to shout “NONONONO!” and hide my burning cheeks under the duvet.  I’m confident that when I’m in the old people’s home, drooling in front of the Antiques Roadshow, my brain crumbling with dementia, the memory of the time I bared my 9 year old adoration in a note to Saul Berenstein in a Social Studies lesson and he laughed in my face, will still hold the power to make me crumple and blister with shame.

It wasn’t just the Berenstein moment.  I was pretty-much an all round awkward kid.  Nowadays, with thirty odd years of accumulated minor embarrassments of torturous haircuts and unrequited crushes lapping at my ankles, the only thing that makes it possible for me to forget, move on, and live a meaningful and productive life is the merciful fact that my mother never wrote a blog.

Me as a child. Glad no one blogged it!

When I was growing up, WordPress did not yet exist, and so thankfully there is no public record of my years of painful gawkiness.   Things will be different for my son’s generation.    It’s becoming more and more common for mothers to publish minutely detailed accounts of their children’s daily lives, part of a wider social trend which means that my son and his peers will be the most documented generation in human history.  There are an estimated 3.9 million mommy blogs in the US alone and their readership is greater than that of the print editions of the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune combined.   It’s a strong possibility that the mother of the next-but-three President of the United States is currently compiling a handy online resource for future voters to check out her potty training record and tantrums policy.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love mommy blogs.  I follow several, and at their best they can be moving, insightful, hilarious and uniquely honest.    It’s a meritocratic writing marketplace that allows the cream to rise to the top far faster than in the mainstream media.  I have often been tempted to start one up myself, combining one of my favourite pastimes (writing) with my all time favourite subject (my son.)  But so far I’ve resisted that temptation, because, at some level, I feel that to blog about my son would be to write a lengthy unauthorised biography of another person.

At 18 months old, he is unable to consent to such a project, and he has no right of reply or ability to present an alternative view if I get it all wrong.   In the future, any attempt to reinvent himself, to appear mysterious to a girlfriend, or hold back embarrassing information from an employer will be thwarted by my bulging archive of his early exploits.

I also know from my career making documentaries, that it’s not just the telling of the stories in the first place, it’s also the way you tell them.  A subtle shift in emphasis can alter the whole narrative, and different people’s perspectives on a single event can vary wildly.  What may seem like a cute or funny story to me as a mother, could be cripplingly embarrassing to him in the future, his own personal Saul Berenstein moment.    Many mommy bloggers manage to pull off the teetering high-wire act of balancing humour, insight and privacy with grace and finesse.  They are both better writers and better mothers than I am.  I’m just not sure I trust my own judgement enough to get the balance right.

For all of us, our stories define who we are as people.  I worry that if I tell my son’s stories for him, I get to decide the official version of not only what happened, but to some extent who he is.   And somehow, I don’t feel able to do that.

I want my son to be able to tell his own stories, in his own time, in his own way.    And having the privilege of watching the star of his emerging personality burn ever brighter, I know he’s going to have a lot of stories to tell.

What do you think?  Is this fair?  How do you manage to maintain your children’s privacy and still write insightful interesting posts about motherhood?  Would love to hear from people.

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7 comments

  1. Brilliant post.

    I’m a Mummy Blogger (as you know) and very guilty of putting up lots of pics and writing about my children. I try very hard to only write the positives about them although I do write about the negatives of disability (in the interests of honesty). I am always conscious I could embarrass them with certain stories so I try hard to think before I blog and if I’m unsure then I write about something else instead.

    I am in the process of printing out post’s from my old blog (and putting them in to a family keepsake journal), posts about day’s out we’ve had, family hols and special occasions etc. The kids all read it and my lot seem to love looking back over it all. It documents lots of special times in their childhood as well as some funny anecdotes about what they might have said or done. When reading some old post’s it helps them recall some early childhood memories they’d forgotten too. As my children get older and become teenager’s I will become very cautious what I write as I don’t know many of us who would enjoy seeing our teenager years documented in later life. I certainly wouldn’t.

    I really liked the point you made about how you’d like your son to be able to tell his own stories in his own time and I completely agree. Two of my children write their own journal’s about our day’s out etc and they’re wonderful to read, they record how they’ve seen things from their point of view.

    Back to the issue of privacy though, my children all know I blog and often read my post’s. I always tell them if there’s something they are not happy about I will always remove it. So far so good and no complaint’s…but I do have the teenage year’s ahead.

    You are clearly a fantastic and very talented writer and I’m sure if you ever did blog about your son it would be done every bit as well as your post’s here. I can completely understand your choice not to blog about him out of respect for him. I’m sure also that you do every bit as good a job at being a Mum as those that do blog about being mother’s and those that do are no better writer’s or mother’s than yourself.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment, but I thought your posts made many very good point’s 🙂

    I hope you had a lovely Mother’s Day yesterday too.

  2. It’s a tricky one isn’t it. I do post pictures of my kids in the stuff I make (for them) and talk about them in a very general way. But, I don’t want to make my blog about my kids – partly because I’m not sure they’d thank me for it, and partly because this is my thing – my only thing, not totally about the kids. : )

  3. Excellode. He’s lucky to have such a thoughtful mother. If you want the Mommy Blog stories from our generation’s childhood you have to go to the source – find the mummy, sit down, perhaps over supper and listen to the stories, perfected and honed over years.

  4. As a sometime-mommy-blogger I’ll weigh in. There are some really well-known poets who write so much embarrassing stuff about their kids it could make you blush–Sharon Olds, anyone? One of the professors in my MFA program read a piece of writing once. The only phrase I remember is “His penis is a—” (I’ve blanked out what it was; maybe a mushroom; she was writing about her 2-year-old.) I am resolved never to write about L’s penis, or his crushes, or his heartaches, or his sexual proclivities once he has them. At this stage, though, the writing is more about us as a unit, our unified parental-offspring challenges; and I doubt my espousing on his disciplinary snafus or the cute things he says will ever be a source of embarrassment (and, let’s face it, I write far more embarrassing stuff about myself). But you have hit on a really essential point: as writers we have to respect the people we write about, not betray their confidences or exploit their weaknesses. It’s a challenge. I’m sure I will continue to write about my kid, but I’m sure the way I do it will shift.

  5. I enjoyed reading this.

    Made me think. I blog about my children kind of obliquely – they are always there – as part of me. But I don’t think I blog ABOUT them. I don’t put photos of them up and I don’t call them by their real names. They are Blue and Pink. I hope that when they read it when they are older they will appreciate that I am not telling THEIR stories, but to tell my story in which they feature.

  6. Thanks for your comments everyone.
    It’s funny- all of you who have replied are the ones who I think are doing a great job of balancing the whole writing/ privacy thing. It’s a tough one to get right and I think we all need to find our own way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. I think you raise excellent points. And I’m aware of the fact that, some day, my children may veto the continued existence of my blog and I may have to pull it down. (Which, by the way, is easy enough to do. Two minutes at a keyboard and I could have my blog either deleted in its entirety or password-protected so that only selected people could ever view it. So the fact that that information is up there now does not mean it has to be up there for all time.) I’m also aware of the need to be sensitive about what I write, and about the fact that, in years to come, I’m going to have to think twice, three times, any number of times, about blogging the stories of their fights with friends and other such personal details.

    But. Reading this post reminded me of something I hadn’t thought of in ages – namely, the reason why I started the diary that was the precursor of my blog in the first place. It was because, in the months after my father’s death, I passionately wished that he’d left behind something of the sort for us to read. I wanted a permanent record of his thoughts about the things that were important to him. I was thinking more in terms of his views on world issues there, true, but… I’d also have loved reading his experience of being my father. I’d have loved to know about the things he thought it was important for me to know. I wanted that legacy. So, years before my children were even conceived, I set out to provide it for them.

    All right, so since then it’s turned into a way for me to let off some steam about the details of my life and – it’s fair to say – get my fifteen minutes of fame in the process. But that’s how it started. So there is that side of it: Our children might, some day, *want* to read these thoughts from us.

    As for telling other people’s stories, I don’t think that’s ever possible to avoid doing. At least if I do it in a public forum accessible to my children as well as anyone else, they have an option of adding a permanent reply and refutation in a way they wouldn’t be able to if I was telling those stories in casual chats with family members and friends.

    So, those are my thoughts on the issue. Oh, and that I think that at least society has moved on to the point where we recognise the utter inappropriateness of ever, on public blogs or otherwise, subjecting our children to 70’s haircuts and/or National Health glasses. I like to believe that at least *some* human rights issues have improved over the decades.

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