Do We Overshare When We Write about Our Kids?
Written by
She Writes Fridays
November 2010
Written by
She Writes Fridays
November 2010
Ever since their conception in a petrie dish, Deborah Siegel has felt the urge to write publicly about her children. She’s a writer. They’re her material. She can’t help herself. But is it fair? The first few times, I did it without thinking. Like most parental musings conducted during that groggy first year, my early blog posts were more about me and the idea of them. But now that my twins are one, no longer blobs but sentient beings who may one day Google themselves and find my words, I’m obsessed with the mother of all writing condundrums: How much about one’s children is it kosher to expose? “[S]tories belong to those who live them,” writes SWer Ilie Ruby recently in the New York Times ("My Right Not to Tell"). Ruby, the author of The Language of Trees, a novel, adopted her three children from Ethiopia and has opted not to tell her children’s stories—especially in print. “It has taken me some time to realize that explanations as to their origins, their histories, their relationship to each other, and how we ‘got’ them, are not obligatory. When it comes down to it, stories belong to those who live them,” she says. It’s true. Stories do. But my children are my story too. And so it is that I’ve come to realize how very much the obligations of a mother and the imperatives of a writer are at odds: the one lives to protect, the other to reveal. We betray our kids when we write about them in ways that may one day embarrass them or invade their privacy. We betray our writerly selves—if we indeed choose to write personally about our lives as parents—when we withhold the very details that authenticate our tale. So what’s a Mother Writer to do? A few years back, Slate’s Emily Bazelon explored different writers’ ground rules for writing about offspring in an Internet age. Some thought it was okay to write about them until they reached a certain age, and then swore they’d stop. For others, certain topics were off limits—until they became good to resist. For many, the line seemed drawn in the sand, the boundaries continually reformed. There’s no consensus, and the ethics remain unclear. Before I had kids, this all seemed quite simple. As an essayist, the dilemma of deciding how and what to write about family members is not new to me, just newly inflected. In the past, having decided my living relationships were more important than any particular truth on the page, I shared my writing with those written about before I went to print. In an essay appearing in my anthology Only Child: Writers on the Singular Joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing Up Solo, for instance, when I wrote extensively about my mother, my father, and my ex, I gave them conditional veto power. To their credit, all three of them honored my telling, even though it wasn’t all complimentary. Then again, my parents are shrinks. They’re into the great reveal, flattered by the sheer experience of being written about. My kids may not feel that way at all. Okay, okay, Dr. Freud, let's go there! The reason I’m obsessed with the question of what and how to reveal about people who cannot yet read? Growing up in a two-shrink household (did I mention, as an only child?), I felt over-exposed. Not to the world, but to Mom and Dad. Feelings were a central topic at our dinner table--mine, theirs, the dog's. I grew up oversharing. To this day feel like I’m holding back in my relationships if I don’t completely divulge. I want my children to have a sense of privacy, boundaries that I respect, and a sense of distance between what is mine and theirs. Yet I remain compelled to write about them. I simply can’t hold back. Thomas Beller nails it all with a kind of biblical beauty in his essay in Andrea N. Richesin’s anthology What I Would Tell Her: 28 Devoted Dads on Bringing Up, Holding On To and Letting Go of Their Daughters when he writes: “Who gets to tell the story? Who is allowed to? Who is obliged to? Who wishes not to but cannot help themselves? Who wishes to but cannot bring themselves to do it? Who is lost and spinning around, looking to the heavens, asking, ‘What is the story I should be telling?’ A question for which there is no answer, unless maybe a two-year-old blurts it out.” My babies are still one. So for now, I’m experimenting. Last week, I posted a picture of my twins—backs turned to the camera—along with this post. It felt good and right and fair. Harder, though, is figuring out how turn their backs to me when that camera is the page. How do others solve the mother/writer conundrum? What writerly or maternal codes do we hold ourselves to--or break--when we write about our kids? RELATED: Through the Maternal Looking Glass by Deborah Siegel Motherhood Books group Mother Writer group

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  • Kristen Caven

    Great topic, great post, and great discussion. In college and afterwards I felt very self-conscious about my mother's published perspective of me and my brothers. It was all positive, mind you, and her book The Winning Family was a tacit brag about what great kids we turned out to be with such high self-esteem. Meanwhile, I was the questioning one, the curmudgeon, the sarcastic cartoonist who poked holes in things, the comedian. I plotted to write my own book someday, and set the record straight with satire, showing the many imperfections of what I secretly called "The Whining Family."

    Well, here I am writing about my own son's imperfections in my blog about ADHD, Life in the Fast Brain, and he never seems to mind; in fact he feels proud (especially of the name I chose for him), and even did a guest post

    And my mom and I have become full writing partners. In her books, I now shape her storytelling about psychological topics, seeing the power of these stories in helping others. And I can't wait to see what stories "Enzo" has about me. (Thank God, I mean mom, for my high self-esteem.)

  • Carol Apple

    I use code names for my kids when I write for the public and tend to stick to the part of their stories that intersect with mine. When they are young that includes everything, but now that they are older teens, I do not go into detail about their private lives. Of course, they are some of the people I know most intimately and the substance of their lives is rich in writing material. This may be one reason I shift to fiction for some stories. 

  • When my children were small, I was writing a humourous column for a local paper.  I wrote about family happenings but I didn't include names (except for my dogs - no problem there).  My children didn't have any problem with it and actually thought it was funny.  I never wrote about anything that I thought would actually embarrass them or reveal anything I knew was too personal (eg. boy/girl problems).  They are all writers themselves, so I guess I could be on the receiving end one day as well.  That is a good deterent.

  • Bethany Saltman

    This is something I have wondered about a lot, as a columnist for a regional magazine where I write about my daughter, but more specifically my experience of being her mother, every month ( I have talked with people about this, those who read my very frank column, and I am so often happily surprised when I hear that in fact, they think of my reflections as a gift to my daughter. And that as much as I struggle, I do so with so much love she will undoubtedly feel it.

    As she gets older, though, it is important to keep certain areas of her personal life off limits. Totally! In fact, since she started kindergarten, I abbreviated her name, to at least make her feel like she has some privacy, even though everyone at her school and in our town knows she's A.

    It's a good discussion!

  • I used to struggle with the same issue. However, I've come to peace of mind by viewing my entries as a living testament to all the joys, struggles and adventures we experience together as a family. I have never convicted my children of anything outrageous or that one would consider abnormal behavior-wise, but rather have used their behavior--good or not-so-good--to address issues that resonate with the parenting community at-large. Thus, I have nothing to hide from them--for now--and would like them to read this "online journal" with an open mind and heart when older. Perhaps as they mature and enter into puberty and more "sensitive" issues such as teen mood swings, romance, sex, body changes, etc. emerge, I will be more selective in choosing my topics and how I approach them.

  • Tami Lynn Kent

    Just to be clear, my post was added from my own personal reflection to this topic with out reading Sian's post, and after posting I read her own very wise words that deserve acknowledgment. I agree that it isn't whining but rather truth. And in writing, RESPECT is the key--as with so much of life...

  • Lanita Andrews

    Sian - as someone who grew up in a home full of addiction and all the dysfunction that accompanies it, I get that instinctive urge to label your feelings as "whiny brat" mode, but I think your points are more than valid, and have not been addressed thus far in the conversation. I was mortified for you at the thought of your mom writing about your first period. It is a monumental moment for a girl, filled with complex and contradictory emotions. I remember feeling just as overwhelmed at the onset of mine as I did when I lost my virginity many years later. It is a huge deal. It would seem like common sense to me that it would be an off-limit topic, but then I don't think there really is such a thing as common sense.

    While my family is always at the forefront of my concious with anything I consider putting on paper, and I think about how having my life in print will affect them, I have to say it never occured to me that by writing about them, I may loose their faith in me as a confidant. This may only be because my girls are young, and what I've written about them is for the most part anecdotal, but I'm glad that you pointed it out, because it's something I will take very seriously. Keeping that bridge of communication open in the tween-teen years is difficult enough, and the last thing any mother would want to do is compromise it. So thank you so much for your comment.

  • Tami Lynn Kent

    I've written about being pregnant with my children, the gender lines we encounter together, the mystical aspects of body/birth/mothering, and maintaining the feminine realm for my sons (three boys). When done with respect (and an open dialogue with our children as they grow), writing from the center of our creative lives as mothers and vibrant women repairs the division between work and home so that once again a creative thread defines the wholeness of life for ourselves and ultimately for our children who will carry on:)

  • Siân Porter

    I’ve just read all the comments here with my hands shaking and my stomach churning the entire time as this topic is quite a sore spot for me. It’s not something I’ve ever written about but I just feel compelled right now because with the almost-exception of Clarissa Long who commented here as a daughter writing about her mother, there’s been no comment from any offspring written about by their mother. I have trouble writing/discussing this without feeling like I’m regressing into a whiny brat but I would stress to any mother writing about their children, please please please seek permission from anyone into their ‘tweenage’ years or older and take any feedback they give you seriously, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal!

    When my mother was just finding her feet as a poet she wrote a poem about me getting my first period. Anyone who knew my mother instantly knew who she was referring to as I am an only child, the lack of my actual name was irrelevant. I found it excruciatingly embarrassing and showed an extreme discomfort about her using what felt like a deeply personal topic. She never asked my permission, ignored my grumbling and it remained part of a set of early pieces shown to friends, writers groups, anyone she could get feedback from. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but when you’re that age everything’s a big deal, right? Problem was, I got so paranoid about anything else of that nature ending up in her work that I started to become more secretive and got used to bottling a lot of things up. It seemed to do the trick as her work soon shifted to a more autobiographical focus. Who knows, it probably would have no matter what I did – youth in rebellion can actually be quite a dull topic anyway. But it meant that when I was bullied and then sexually assaulted (which left some permanent mutilation), I felt I had to deal with it alone in order to retain my privacy (mixed and matched with shame). It made me a little bit crazy and probably drove a bit of a wedge between us without my mother even being aware of the real problem. To this day the thought of discussing even the slightest details about my relationships or sexuality with my writer mother just fills me with a profound panic and I’m sure that’s not healthy.

    In addition, on the idea of whom a story ‘belongs to’, I think it’s important to remain considerate of how even autobiographical work will affect children, even if other people’s permission isn’t necessarily a factor - I say this because a few years ago I also had the unusual experience of suddenly finding out that I had two dead older half-siblings that I never knew about, a fact that was revealed a matter of weeks before the entire horrific story of their death was enacted on national UK radio as a tragedy for the listening public. That story was entirely my mother’s to tell, and while I was *immensely* proud of her achievement as the writer, that work also became an endless source of anger for me considering how many random people had been involved in the production over a five year run-up period while I had been oblivious to events that then completely shattered many negative/self-destructive assumptions I had held about my mother and my own origins since childhood.

    Hmm, yup, whiny brat mode achieved… but seriously, I think if you aren’t going to offer the courtesy of shrouding everything in a nice safe veil of fictional work, then every writing parent should try to be as open with loved ones as possible about what personal experiences are going to end up on the page in advance.

  • Debby Carroll

    Funny, I just blogged about this. Check it out and see what my readers think about blogging about their kids.

  • Tania Tirraoro

    I used to write about them on my blogs and mention them in facebook posts but they have now, aged 11 & 13 demanded that I stop. One exception is that it is ok to do so if the post is glowing - eg, this post about my son's appearance in Wind in the Willows But they do not want me to share amusing (to me) anecdotes or issues that might help others (they have Asperger Syndrome). So, I have to respect their wishes.

  • Hallie Sawyer

    My children are an extension of myself and it would be hard for me to completely exclude them. I don't write much on specifics as I talk about general issues usuallyl. It is a fine line but as bloggers/writers, we put ourselves out there, our lives magnified and scrutinized. I am not sure how my children are going to feel about being "exposed" when they are in their teen years but based on all of the social media obsessed kids I hear about today, I don't think they will be bothered. A lot of teens are "exposing" themselves way more on the social media scene than any parent's blog could. :)

  • Deborah Siegel Writing

    OMG She Writers! The mama writer hive mind is just too good here not to aggregate and share. I'm working on a follow up post, excerpting some of ya'll's expert and in-the-trenches advice. Keep it coming! I'll shine the spotlight on all the goodness soon.

    And Rita, as always, your wisdom on this front inspires the hell out of me. I LOVE how you write about your little girl at Surrender, Dorothy (one of my current FAVORITE blogs).

  • Rita Arens

    Obviously, I'd be a hypocrite if I said it was wrong to share about your child. :) Clearly I write about my daughter all the time, and I even wrote about her babyhood constipation in my anthology, Sleep Is for the Weak. Someday she may really want to crucify me for that one, but now, at six, she thinks it's cool that I wrote about her out of all the things in the world I could write about. At this point, she views my writing about her as an expression of my interest in her and her life and my love for her.

    I went from largely writing funny things that she did when she was a baby to now telling stories that present her in the light of learning and adjusting to the world -- which is what I find interesting about her now. I don't write of her occasional tantrums or her rebellions -- those are not that interesting to me. Watching her learn and grow -- that is interesting. And I think she will like to know -- just as I wish there were more home videos of me growing up so I could see what I was like as a child -- how I saw her when she was growing up. I see it as a gift to her -- to show her what I was like as a young mother -- because I know I will have forgotten everything by the time she really needs to ask.

  • Lanita Moss

    My daughters are only two of the muses I have in my arsenal of inspiration. There are times I don't write about them at all, but at other times when they seem to be in my face, I write about them at length. They both seem to be very proud when I write about them. At 12 and 5, they enjoy reading and hearing about themselves.

    I know there is a line in the sand I on't cross when it comes to them. I don't know where it is, but I'll know it when I see it.

  • Beverly McPhail

    I really appreciate all the opinions voiced and I do think as writers who are also mothers we need to be careful and cautious when referencing our children. However, I am concerned that we are willing to give up our power, our voices, and our knowledge and wisdom in the service of others and often only with the permission of others. It has taken me over half a century to find my voice as a woman and I want the freedom to tell my story, which sometimes means including the stories (as I see them) of others. I don't know what the "right" answer is, and clearly there must be a balance, but I want to speak my truth and I am tired of the traditional female role that says women must put our needs and sacrifice our desires once again on behalf of our children and our partners.

  • Jane Roper

    Excellent post (and discussion). These are questions I ask myself all the time. I've been blogging about my daughters ( since they were five months old, using their real names and photos of them. Now I am under contract with St. Martin's to write a memoir about the first three years of parenting twins. Like you, I feel like most of what I write about is about me, and my experiences as a mother. But obviously I'm writing a lot about them as well, and I do wonder how they'll feel about it when they're older. (Embarrassed? Exploited? Angry? Touched? Grateful?)

    What I think more about, actually, is how integral a part writing about my children has been in raising my children thus far. When something challenging or funny or significant happens, I'm very quick to think: I should write about this. And my readers are always out there, like a Greek Chorus to my parenting drama. It will be very strange, I think, when I stop blogging, to break out of this mindset. (When will that be? I don't know, but I don't plan to do it in perpetuity.)

    Sometimes I wonder if it's a bad thing, that writing and audience are so present in my parenting psyche. Then again, I'm a writer. I almost always see life through the lens of things I could or want to be writing about. And because I'm writing so frequently about parenting, I think I'm examining and reflecting on it more thoughtfully. And that can't be a bad thing, right?

  • Cindy La Ferle

    Just had another discussion with a nonfiction writer/psychologist who is "amused" by what she sees as our culture's obsession with memoir, blogging, reality TV. She calls this "the generation of over-examined lives" and told me it will be very interesting to see how people who've had their every move documented and chronicled will "turn out" in later years. As I mentioned earlier, my own son (now 25 and off on his own) was embarrassed by some of my columns -- and I pulled back at his request when he was in middle school. Later, in his twenties and interviewing for a position at a very large company, he was told the company would be doing an extensive background search, examining aspects of his character, etc. I thought my son was a bit paranoid when he asked me to remove some of the online material on him that was floating in cyberspace -- blog posts and old columns. Paranoid or not, it really mattered to him.

    As other writers are pointing out here, I think we need to deeply examine our motives. We're really talking about *publishing* material about our kids -- and getting paid for it. Writing about them in a journal, privately, is another matter, and certainly a good way to document family stories if that's all we're after...

  • Petula Wright

    I started my career as a journalist in the early 90s when my oldest daughter was a toddler. She's 19 now and I have three other children ages 7, 5 and 3. I've written about my oldest daughter since (almost) day one. When she was younger she seemed amazed at seeing her name, picture and my byline in print. Now, with 15 years as a freelance writer and editor under my belt, she's used to seeing my name around and accustomed to seeing herself talked about and pictured. She gets a kick out of it. Now that she's in college, I am choosy about what I write about her on my personal blog because I don't want to embarrass her and make her uncomfortable.

    When I began writing for Campus Talk Blog's Parents' Perspective as the "first-time college mom," I made sure I cleared it with her and let her know that although I would say what school she's at I would not reveal her address, dorm room, etc. My name and quite a bit of information have been on the net long before it was "popular" because the publications I've worked for have posted things. I realize, like someone else pointed out, that finding information about you regardless of pseudonyms used, etc., isn't very hard at all. Often quite easy.

    Concerning my younger children (who still think it's amazing to see their photos "on the computer"), I don't think I write anything about them that they would be embarrassed or ashamed by - minus the vent about their father years ago (oops!) - and I hope, like my oldest, they appreciate what I do, enjoy it and embrace it. If, however, they asked me not to or expressed displeasure I would honor that up to 90 percent. The other 10 percent is a mother's right! :-)

  • LindaLowen

    My daughters grew up knowing that 'Mom' had a media platform far beyond most of their friends' moms. At first it was a weekly radio show, then a weekly TV show (both regional, both on public broadcasting, so I certainly wasn't a household name.) And now I write for a popular website, so they've been eased into the fact that their stories are being told to larger and larger audiences. On radio and TV, I infrequently referenced them and if I did, fortunately it was in passing and there's no record of what was said.

    But writing for the internet is a whole nother kettle of fish. If I write about them, I use their stories as a jumping off point and don't make them the entire focus of my work. 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. This automatically cuts out mentions of boyfriends, school friends, most social activities, and other topics that could embarrass them. I don't use their names -- I use pseudonyms. I've also been deliberate about having my professional name remain different from my legal name.

    Growing up in this media rich world, they are immersed in a culture in which their peers expose themselves all too readily through blogs, Facebook pages, Flickr and Tumblr accounts, Twitter, cell phone texts and photos, you name it. Because they've seen me protect my real world identity with great care, they are cautious as well and realize the ramifications of putting too much of themselves out there.

    Once in a while one of them will ask me to write about something specific, usually triggered by their own personal experiences. Depending on what the issue is, I may or may not oblige. I explain that whenever something deeply moves them (be it joy or rage) a cooling off period is important; our perspectives change and something written out of an extreme impulse often isn't in anyone's best interests.

    They have also been specific about things that have happened that they DON'T want shared in my blog or articles.

    I am cautious and always have been, and I must admit a level of discomfort with many bloggers who don't share my reservations and tell (and show) far too much of their children's lives. I always go back to what a friend told me just after my older daughter was born and I sent out a photo of her tucked into that year's holiday cards. She'd just had a bath and was lying on her stomach on a towel when she raised her head and gave me a big, toothless smile. It was a sweet moment but you could see her bare bottom. The friend called me up and said, "Cute photo, but how's your daughter going to feel about it when she's 16?" I really hadn't thought about anything other than the moment.

    Today my daughter is 19. Hates the photo, hates that I sent it out to friends and relatives. But I tell her that it was my Waterloo. I learned from it and from a thoughtful friend's reaction, and it saved her (and her sister, and me) from many a repeat episode (or worse) in the future.

  • Elizabeth Young

    I have 4 grown children and one son is famous so I am careful what I share about him. His family and personal life are something I don't think he would wish me to share much about - it's something sacred to him because everything else in his life happens in the public eye. Someone once asked his sister: "Are you ******* sister?" "No," she said. "He's MY brother!!"

  • Lanita Andrews

    I, too, have been struggling with this

    Regarding name usage - Have you ever googled your name? The amount of information out there is frightening. I've come across several of those people-finder type websites where one or both of my children's names are listed, also my address and even how much I purchased my house for. I can't even imagine where these sights get their information. So, if it is a safety issue a writer is concerned with, it is an illusion to think that simply not naming them in your writing is going to protect them. If someone wants to find their name, it’s really not that difficult. For this reason, it seemed nonsensical to make a point of not naming my children in my writing. I made this decision in September when I sent out my first three submissions. Only one of the three pieces I sent out discussed my children, and it actually contained an entire paragraph discussing youngest’s name and the meaning behind it. Since I submitted that piece, I received some really great feedback; one essay I wrote was almost published and it looks like another is probably going to be published. All of a sudden the idea of strangers reading the names of my children seemed a whole lot less abstract, and the fact that I had volunteered that information horrified me. I won’t be doing it again.

    As far as what and how much to tell? This one gives me a headache just thinking about it. I've gone round and round so many times. The only cold hard rules I have (so far) regarding this are as follows:
    1) I can discuss my children only when it’s relevant to my own story.
    2) I don’t try to explain their feelings – it would be an invasion of their privacy, and more obviously, would suggest I actually know their feelings, and let’s face it, can any parent really say they know their children’s feelings?
    3) I always run it by my husband, anything he doesn’t approve of does not get submitted.

    Where I most seem to struggle with this is when writing about my youngest’s adoption. We have an open adoption, and everyone who knows us knows that my sister is her biological mother; friends, family, teachers. When we speak of this fact, we do so casually. We embrace and celebrate my sister’s role in my daughter’s life, in both of my daughters’ lives. To do it any other way, to allude to anything else, or to make a point of keeping it a secret, for me, seems like I am sending my daughter the message that this is something to be ashamed of. Maybe one day she will feel that way about it, but I can't let those feelings come from me. So, just as in my everyday life, in my writing I take a full-disclosure approach; if I’m discussing the adoption of my daughter, chances are, somewhere along the lines, I acknowledge where she came from.

    The other issue is where does the story end with mine and begin with hers? It’s grey area. So my rule of thumb is that, while she is still very young (3 now) and our interactions regarding adoption are little more than anecdotal on her part, I feel comfortable in sharing. When she is older, and can understand more, and her reactions become more complex, I will be far more cautious, and may even cease writing about the adoption at all. The one thing that is totally, completely, unquestionably not up for discussion is why. The reasons my sister chose to allow me to adopt her child are not relevant to my story. That is where a line is definitely drawn, and I will never ever ever write about them, for the sake of both my daughter’s and my sister’s privacy, until and unless my daughter is a grown woman and it is something the three of us do together.

  • Barbara Fischkin

    Last I heard, a couple of years ago at a dinner featuring Jeanette Walls who wrote that wonderful book The Glass Castle: Her mother was living in a cottage on Jeanette's property and traveling with her so that they could tell their story to other children at risk in the same kind of way. I don't think I have all the details on this exactly right. But I do have the soul of Jeanette's story. and a soulful one it is..

    My own son Jack texted tonight with victorious news of his hockey game - and advice for his brother who has autism and will play with the Long Island Blues at the Nassau Coliseum tomorrow. We think Bobby Nystrom will be joining them.
    "Tell Dan to keep his head up and his stick down," Jack texted.
    "Where did you get that advice?" I asked. (It was from his late and beloved grandfather),
    Ah but that is not what Jack texted back.
    "Confidential Sources,"he wrote.
    That was my second novel. Lots of hockey stuff in it.
    Ah, so Jack read it. And he is, yes, still speaking to me. He's 20.

  • Honeysmoke

    Well, I'm writing a book about raising my little girls. The parenting story is my story to tell. The ground rule I've set for myself is that when they are older and ask me not to write about them, I will honor their request. That's one of the reasons I prefer and feel more comfortable writing about my little girls while they are young. Writing about them is helping me think about and navigate race. It's part of my growth. I also help them later to read my words. I hope it will give them some sense of what I struggled with as a parent. Perhaps they can have that in the back of their minds as they raise their own children. I'd like to think when they are older and can understand the writing process, they will not hold it against me. That said, I do try to protect them. I don't write about everything, and I don't write about areas I think may cause them to wince. The bad news is I won't know whether I did the right thing until they are much older.

  • Ilie Ruby

    Clarissa, that is a great point! My mother found her way into my first novel, and now of course here she is popping up in my second novel. There, by the shroud and grace of fiction, she can appear and reappear rather easily. But with nonfiction, this is a hard question. I remember listening to the late beloved writer Caroline Knapp (so utterly and amazingly talented), who wrote "Drinking: A love Story." She said she knew she couldn't write that book until her father had passed away. I tend to agree. We need to be clear about what types of stories we're talking about: Are we talking about cute little anecdotes or are we talking about abuse our children have experienced? Are we "outing" someone (a parent) for abuse, neglect, etc. while they are alive? or are we simply talking about how they may have made mistakes along the way (as we all do). The Glass Castle is a good example of the latter, and perhaps former. I'd love to know how she felt writing it. This gets into a whole other discussion but one worth having, certainly.