Thursday, June 5, 2008

Writing about your kids (in public)

As regular readers know, Slate's Emily Bazelon stimulates many a blog post here. Her offering today hits home because I have been asked the same question by so many: when is it OK to write about your children and family on the Internet (or I guess in a whole book)? Bazelon expresses a nervousness about her writing but also a knowledge that the activity of writing itself is a pleasurable one. Pretty much all of the issues she deals with are ones I can appreciate. Been there.

But there are ground rules. Protection is number one. The material I write about is censored. There is stuff I worry might embarrass someone today or in the future (e.g., it has crimped my writing about my views on lots of things that go on at school). But there is more than that. The only name that appears on this blog is my own. The same is true of the book. That was a decision that the children's mother and I made right at the start. When someone who knows us puts in a comment that mentions them, it is deleted.

Even that has raised issues. The first few readers of Parentonomics worried about all of the alternative expressions I chose. For the children, it was Child No.1, No.2 and No.3. They asked: why not make up a name? I just couldn't do that. To do so would feel odd to me. Besides, I see them as 1, 2 and 3 and so the names are actually good internal ones. (Indeed I can't count how many times I call them by the wrong name in real life!)

What is more awkward is "the children's mother." It sounds like we are divorced or separated or something. But I have never liked the alternatives like "wife" or "spouse." So I am stuck there because, in that case, I do internally see her by her unique self. It is only some of the time that she is our children's mother.

That said, my name is out there and so there will be some time where one of the children will be teased or upset by something I write. It is a risk that every single person who enters this field takes. What they don't see is that writing about it all actually helps me be a better parent. So I'll try and explain that when the time comes. But I can tell you now, as they get older, if they aren't happy, this will end. [And they can point back to this public pledge to make it so.]