Struggling with how much to divulge, Deborah Siegel harnessed the She Writerly hive mind and came up with rules to write and live by—for now.
Last week, over 50 of you responded Friday’s post, “Do We Overshare When We Write about Our Kids?”
, and a bunch more when the post was reposted on the homepage at BlogHer ("When the Writer Becomes a Mommy"
), prompting a dialogue and debate that we could continue having here for months (and please, seriously, let’s!). Among my favorite comments, however, was this one from Lisa Preston
: “There seems to be a contingent that's saying, ‘My experience with motherhood can help other mothers.’ To me, that's quite valid. But it feels selfish, a bit whiny to say, ‘I'm a writer.’ Almost as if we can't help but put them into print. Are we immortalizing them or ourselves?”
At the same time as your comments cumulated, a heated exchange took place at The Wall Street Journal
, one in which Erica Jong
spoke out against attachment parenting ("Mother Madness"
) and her daughter, Molly Jong-Fast
, subsequently wrote about being written about by her mom as a kid ("Growing Up with Ma Jong"
). Suffice it to say, talking about how writers who are mothers do it, why they do it, and how their kids feel about how and why they do it, is in.
While I’ve struggled with the narcissism from the get go (see “Through the Maternal Looking Glass”
), I share the modus operandi voiced by Jane Roper
, now working on a book for St. Martin’s about the first three years of raising her twins: writing about these little people will be an integral part of my raising them. As someone who writes to make sense of the world, and who is an utter novice at raising kids, there is no other parenting principle of which I’m more certain than this. It takes a writerly village, and I’m determined to learn from ours, She Writes, as I begin.
A few quick caveats: The question of how we write about our kids is not, as Barbara Fischkin
notes, “a one-size-fits-all question.” Different rules (no rules, perhaps) apply for private writing. These are simply my rules for writing in public. Ok, here we go:
1. I shalt not refer to my children by their given names.
(I’m leaning toward “Baby Girl” and “Baby Boy” for now, though I like the way Rita Arens
refers, sometimes wryly and sometimes sweetly, to hers as “the little angel”, the way Veronica Arreola
calls hers “the kid,” and the way Ilie Ruby
dubs them “kiddos”)
2. I shalt not post pictures of their faces
. (Many of you did, then felt “sick” when you saw the clip or post later on and resolved not to do it again. I’m taking your cue.)
3. There shalt be topics that are off limits.
(I sense I’ll know them when I see them—topics that would obviously embarrass them later. I’ll try to imagine them reading what I’ve written as adults, and try hard to save us all exhorbitant family therapy bills.)
4. I shalt try to write about life from my perspective, not theirs.
(Writes the wise Linda Lowen
, “I try hard not to write about things that they've told me about their lives; instead, I focus on experiences I share with them.”)
5. Similarly, I shalt not write in a way that assumes I know their inner truths.
6. As soon as they’re old enough to comprehend that mommy is a writer, I shalt read them what I’ve written before I publish
, just as I’ve done with my husband and parents. My children shalt have veto power.
7. As shalt my husband.
He shalt help me keep my ethics in check and be my second pair of eyes.
8. Since I’m a trained cultural critic/researcher first and only more recently a blogger/essay writer, I shalt often be writing about culture and context, referring to anecdotes about my kids in the service of a larger, cultural point
and Peggy Orenstein
are so my writer/mother heroines here).
9. Except when I’m not making a larger cultural point
. In those cases, I shalt probably be writing about my kids because I’ve decided to reveal something honest or embarrassing or conflicted about myself.
10. Lastly, stealing a page from wise Erika Schickel, I shalt always regard my children as my beloveds first, material second.
So there we go. My starter set of rules. As Hope Edelman
assures me, my rules will change. “I imagine that your thoughts about it will morph and evolve over time as your children grow and start having opinions of their own,” she wrote. Nancy Rappaport
calls this “an evolving journey of protection, privacy and our need to write about what we care about most.”
Thank you, She Writers, for your wisdom. I'm off to write a post.
(the She Writes group)