I was at the library browsing for books and making sure my kid didn’t kick anyone, when I noticed a woman staring at me. I smiled. She frowned. “I know you from the internet,” she said. “I used to read that site you write for, but I don’t anymore.”
“It’s alright,” I said. “Its a big internet.”
She walked away.
I understood the implication. I don’t like what you do. I don’t take it personally. I don’t like doing taxes and rarely do I ever quiz accountant friends on the intricacies of their jobs. We all do different things. We are all made to be different people.
But recently, much is being made of, as the Atlantic put it, “The Ethical Implications of Parental Overshare.” The article questions the morality of parents publicly sharing embarrassing or difficult stories about their children. It’s an understandable concern, and the voices of criticism are getting louder as a result of the smorgasbord of parenting blogs. It’s a problem I’m a part of. Because, well, I write about my baby.
The author of the article in the Atlantic seems to think that the driving motivator of parental overshare is a need for validation and fame. I can’t answer for other bloggers about why they share, but I can answer for myself.
I didn’t set out to be a “parenting blogger.” I’ve been blogging since 2001, back when Blogger was still in diapers and Glen Reynolds was just a scrappy little lawyer and Matt Drudge’s hat was silly. I wrote about books, politics, feminism, pop culture and my love of Ray Bradbury. My blog, then called Deus Ex Blogina (subtitled: The Blog of the Gods), garnered a small level of infamy when I picked a fight with a much more popular blogger over using the “donate” button on your site. It was a dumb fight. I was not even 20. But I would like to say that almost 11 years later, it looks like I won since “donate” buttons are out of blog style. When I started receiving hateful emails and lewd messages, I shut it down. I was 20 then and not equipped to handle the darker side of the internet.
When I started blogging again, my blog was private and anonymous. That didn’t last long when family members with good intentions outed me. I was teaching then. And struggling with the private/public barrier. I didn’t want to write about my students or teaching. That wasn’t my story or my job. But there was so much I wanted to say that was my story, I didn’t know where to begin.
And then, I began sending fan letters to authors I loved. And some of them wrote back. Barbara Robinette Moss, the author of Change Me Into Zeus’ Daughter, wrote back with lovely emails full of wisdom and insight. Once, when I heard her on my local Public Radio station discussing her memoir, I dialed in to ask her how she knew if it was okay to tell a story. Her answer was simple, “If it happened to you it’s your story. You need to tell your story and let others have the job of telling theirs.”
That’s always been my guiding principle in everything I write.
In 2010, after some writing success, I relaunched my blog. I was also pregnant. And like every first time parent I was consumed. I felt like I had ceded myself and my body to my child. Her story was my story and it still is. So much of her life is about my life. So much of her needs and wants emanate and reciprocate through me. It’s consumed, exhausting, baffling and overwhelming, but it’s my life. This is my story. For now.
She’s already started to separate. Soon she will be two and tell me that she doesn’t need me. She will tell me this over and over until she has her own child and then, she’ll need me again. But by then, it won’t be about me. Parenting has it’s seasons. I write about my child (and my little baby inside) because for now their stories are mine. But soon their stories will be their own and as parents, we need to know that line. In a few years, I won’t be a parenting blog anymore. I will always be a parent, but I will begin to cede ownership of my children’s bodies and lives to themselves.
And that’s the debate, isn’t it? Where is the line when someone elses’ story ceases to be yours and becomes theirs? When does a parent let go? Memoirs about parenting seem to evade this criticism, probably because they take time and editing, which means better writing. Less punch-in-the-gut reaction, more thoughtful prose. Although, I imagine that there are enough children of authors who resent their parents too. Hell, everyone resents their parents, author, blogger or not.
I daily walk the line of overshare on this site. I try to be truthful and intentional. Loving and honest. I don’t always make it. I want my daughter to see that I loved her, even when I struggled. But I am a daughter, I know that she won’t always see that. And I’m confident that future employers won’t hold her toddler explorations and baby puke against her. I will not own her story by the time she gets old enough for it to make a difference. I am also lucky that I parent with someone who is more cautious than I am and who keeps me accountable. It’s his story too, after all. And yet, I never want to lie. I believe that the truth is more edifying than a carefully constructed protection. I never want to make life seem more beautiful than it is. Viola Davis wrote, “Motherhood is 50 million heartbreaking moments, and 100 million joyous ones.” I want to bear witness to some of that because that is my story too.
Why do you write about your baby?