I have read a flurry of posts recently about how much we should write about our children online. This is a fascinating question, and probably one with a different answer for each blogger out there.
I remember way back in journalism school, I took a class on magazine writing from a woman who said it took her about six months before she started using her baby as story fodder.
At the time I was a little bit aghast about her rampant exploitation of her child. But, hey, look! Now the only difference between me and her is that I exploit my children probably far more often than she does and for a lot less money.
There are a lot of reasons why I blog—self-expression and community being two of the biggest. But I also have specific reasons for writing about my kids the way I do. I see this issue through the lens of six smaller lenses (think fly eyes with lots of compound parts—or just six compound parts): safety, privacy, legal issues, advocacy, history, loooove.
I’m vigilant about my kids’ safety. I have an alarm on my house. My kids don’t walk places by themselves (yet). I make them wear seat belts. I keep them away from swiftly moving water. I teach them about getting lost (and getting found). I am, repeat, vigilant about my kids’ safety.
I don’t think I would be less vigilant if I didn’t write about them online. I think most threats come from people in the real world. And statistically, most threats would come from people we know, so…
The way I write about my kids is very conscious and deliberate. Although I take precautions by keeping major identifying details out of most of my posts, I am aware that it wouldn’t be that hard to track me down in real life based on what I write. I’m not sure who is motivated enough to do such a thing, but I’m not going to say they’re not out there.
I use my kids’ real names and photos. I use my full name, although I only use my maiden name when I write, partly because that is the name I have always used when I write and partly because it is not the same as their last name.
Here’s the thing about the safety issue: I will always be vigilant about my kids’ safety. I have weighed the dangers of writing about them online and have deemed it an acceptable risk.
There is a lot of talk about how our kids are going to hate us when they’re teenagers because of the things we write about them now, or that what we write will prevent them from getting a job in the future. These arguments do stop me a little bit. I don’t want my kid to be teased because I wrote about potty training him. I also don’t want him to not get a security clearance when he’s job hunting because I wrote about how he wore a plush duck head as a hat for a year and that shows history of mental instability.
Again, I don’t use my kids’ last name. But that doesn’t mean that no one can find me. People I know in real life have already just stumbled across my blog while looking for entirely unrelated things. I can’t assume that Googlers of the Future (be sure to say that in a spooky voice) won’t be able to find my funny little musings on the time that Sam smacked down a three-year-old on the basketball court and decide to not hire him because he’s not a team player.
Again, here, I’ve decided that this is an acceptable risk, mainly because I follow one very important rule when I blog: When I am writing, I imagine that the person I am writing about is reading over my shoulder.
It doesn’t matter if I’m writing about Alex, my kids, or the neighbor down the street who doesn’t even know I blog. If I wouldn’t say what I am writing to their face, I don’t write it. Because here’s the thing: that person may very well stumble across my blog, put two and two together, and come to me about it. I want to be able to stand behind my words instead of go for the cheap, snarky shot that I can’t defend. That’s not to say that all these people reading over my shoulder will be happy with what I wrote, but I do consider their feelings before I put hand to keyboard.
As my kids have gotten older, I have written less and less about them, because I do think their feelings about being written about as an older child are different than when they are young. I don’t want to write something that will make them upset or that will potentially come back to harm them in future years. And, yes, they do know about my blog, but I’m not sure they totally get it.
I also don’t tend to write other people’s stories. Sometimes big things happen to people close to me and I don’t write about it. I write about me and my family. That’s not because I’m a narcissist (well, not just because I’m a narcissist), but because it’s not my story to tell. That’s also why I blur other people’s faces unless I’ve explicitly asked them if I can put them or their children on the internet. Those aren’t my choices to make.
I have kids with special needs. When you have kids with special needs, there is always a chance that you will end up in a court of law or in a legal wrangle over special education services. I don’t want what I write here to hurt my children or stop them from getting what they need to succeed.
On the other hand, I have an accurate, real-time record of a lot of the major things that have happened to my children.
These sorts of legal issues can also be a factor in divorces and adoptions, neither of which I plan on experiencing anytime soon, but you never know.*
I loooooove you, Alex.
A big part of the reason why I write is to make the world a little better for my kids. I want to share with people what it is like to be part of a special needs family. I want to teach people who might not know otherwise that there are a lot of things about autism that they might not expect.
I want to help other parents who are going through what I have been through. I want to tell them that it’s okay. I also want to hear from parents who can help and support me. This doesn’t just go for autism either, this can apply to marriage, parenting, antidepressants, or being infested with zombie squirrels.
I feel that real, honest writing can help people be more comfortable and accepting of who they are. I hope that normalizing some of the hard parts of life makes people realize that they’re not alone.
I truly think that giving our children these stories about them, especially if they are so obviously full of love, is a gift. What we give them with our words is not just insight into us as their parents, but their younger selves. I don’t have strong memories of my childhood, certainly not as detailed as what I put on my blog. I would love to have that for me. I hope my children feel the same.
I also, as someone whose father died when she was seven, would love to have day-to-day stories of what he was like. God forbid my children ever need anything like that, but no matter what—death, divorce, illness—they will know my husband and I and what our relationship to each other and to them was like. Hell, my mother is still around and I think it would be fascinating if she had kept a record like this.
I think having a picture of me as a whole person will be great for them when my kids grow up. I also think they will relish the stories of them that I share and will like to see how our family meshed when they were children.
I also hope that this blog will give an adult Jack some insight into who he was as a child with autism. Maybe that can help him as an adult with autism.
In fact, I print out everything I write and put it in a three-ring binder so they will be able to read it like a book when they are ready.
I don’t feel like I have a lot of history. I wish I did. I am giving that to my kids through this blog.
My blog is a love letter to my kids.
By writing it, I get to brag about them, poke fun at them, be exasperated by them, show my astonishment at the wonder that is them. All of these pieces put together is my love letter to each of them about how much I adore the whole entirety of their beings.
So when someone suggests that I am harming my children by writing about them online, I consider what they have to say and then I think about all the good that comes from it and the love that oozes from every keystroke.
I know that how I write about my kids online is the right thing to do for my family.