I was intrigued by Lisa Belkin's article on "mommy bloggers" -- particularly Heather Armstrong of Dooce -- in last week's New York Times Magazine. I found the question of how much it is wise, or fair, to reveal about one's family particularly compelling.
It’s true that the most-trafficked personal bloggers appear to have few boundaries, in part because so many found their followers, and their voices, in times of crisis. Yet the most successful of the genre, the women who manage to turn this into a living, or at least part of one, pull off the neat trick of seeming to share more than they do.
And lately she writes far less often about her oldest daughter, Leta. In a post last summer, Armstrong explained (without actually saying so directly) that Leta was acting like a door-slamming, eye-rolling teenager — years ahead of schedule.
“I think it’s a combination of reasons why I’ve started writing less about her. One, she expressed displeasure at having her picture taken several months ago, and now she actually runs out of the room when I break out a camera. Two, I didn’t expect our relationship to become so complicated so early in her life. In fact, I thought that some of what is going on in our house wasn’t going to happen for another 10 years. But here it is, and the level of complexity is not really something I want to talk about publicly. . . . For the last several months, if I have mentioned Leta here, I have most likely asked her if I could do so, even if it has been something totally innocuous. I intend to practice this going forward, so I guess maybe I am censored to some extent. Ha! Look, Leta! You’re more powerful than Verizon!
Yet we now know, from this article, that Armstrong's daughter had a meltdown after losing successive Wii games to a friend and that she has a strong emotional response to the prospect of public attention, among other things the child may not want revealed.
I write this not to judge Armstrong, but to recognize how difficult it is to know when we are crossing a line in this sort of personal writing. At least one reader believes I have crossed this line myself in writing about my 16-year-old son and his girlfriend, and has pointed out that the fact that they have both vetted the posts in question is irrelevant because they have not attained the age of consent.
I'm not sure I agree with this--it seems to me that these posts reveal a great deal about my worrying process, and very little about what the kids are actually doing. But like most people, I am not the best judge of my own actions.
And I know I did cross the line once, with Ben's blessing, because I had unwittingly allowed him to participate in a dangerous activity, one with potentially fatal consequences, and I thought it was important to share what had happened with parents who might one day find themselves in similar situations.
As I contemplate all of this, two questions keep coming up: How is it possible to tell our stories truthfully while protecting our loved ones? And is it possible to contribute meaningfully to a parenting blog without at least sometimes delving into our darker corners?