This article in The Atlantic by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, “The ethical implications of parents writing about their children” is incredibly unforgiving of mother writers and bloggers. She sets the benchmark very low for the test of appropriateness with writing and it’s anything that may embarrass your children when they’re older. My god, I think the topic is way more nuanced than this writer is letting it be in her article.
Still, anyone looking to question the ethics of parental overshare faces a tough audience. The ubiquity of confessional writing has spilled over into confessions that implicate not so much the author as the author’s still-underage offspring. Readers are meant to celebrate confessional parenting-writing for its courage, perhaps also because it is a rare creative (sometimes lucrative) outlet for women who identify primarily as mothers. Yet these parents’ “courage” involves telling stories not theirs to tell. Confessional writing is about risk. An author telling of her own troubles risks her own reputation and relationships. But an author doing the same about her kid risks primarily his, not hers.
This is a particularly troublesome topic at the moment because of some high profile writing by mothers about their children with disabilities. People with disabilities already pay a high price for prejudice, can they afford to pay any more when their mothers write about their disabilities in very unflattering terms? However, mothers and carers also pay a high price for caring work that is grossly undervalued in society and poorly supported, can they not write about that penalty?
In reply to Maltz Bovy’s article I would say yes, this confessional writing about mothering is controversial for good reason (it’s a quagmire for all confessional writing), and yes, there are unequal lines of power in the relationship between parent and child, and yes, mistakes are sometimes made. But I have thoughts on both the blurriness of the line between what is my story, as a mother, and what is my children’s story and also some thoughts on the brutal hostility that is shown to mothers who dare to write about their experiences (and yes, I think in part that this is a gender issue).
Here, in my own article, “Complaining about motherhood”:
When mothers do complain about their children, particularly in public, they often pull punches in a ‘cereal all over the floor, those loveable rascals’ kind of way. Motherhood is so tightly scripted that even when someone appears to ad-lib they are very often reading rehearsed lines. Complaining about my children feels a lot like complaining about my job. The tantrums, the squabbling, the whining and the interruptions – these are the monotonous meetings, the jammed printers and the difficult bosses I may complain about to colleagues over drinks. But that’s not necessarily how the complaints will be received. The line between your story, as a mother, and your children’s is thin. Who owns this tale of woe and its right to be told? Unloading is liberating but troubling for a parent, all at once. Mothering is a role that will dominate my life for at least twenty years and there is plenty to say about that preoccupation but it is almost impossible to write about without treading on the privacy and powerlessness of my children.
Here in my post, “Too sexy for breastfeeding”:
There is something else worth considering about Furry Girl’s criticisms of Young, and that is the way in which she can’t distinguish between mothers and mothering. Yes, Young’s daughter can’t give permission for being included in her mother’s artwork, neither can mine give permission for my writing. But who owns Young’s experience of motherhood? Who own’s mine? Where do Young’s and my experiences of early motherhood and our desire to explore these all-consuming aspects of our lives end, and our children’s ownership of them begin? Can Young, who describes her devotion to her baby daughter so lovingly, not be trusted to know? Does being sexual as women (or even sexually objectified unintentionally) spill dangerously over into our responsibilities as mothers? Does it prevent us from good mothering? Because incidentally, I also attract readers here from time to time looking for something apart from feminist discussion, who are instead seeking ‘sexy breastfeeding’ stories and images. (And what a crushing bore they must find it all, once here).
There are boundaries, of course, but they need not impose the complete separation of mother from self.
Here with my post, “Reluctant blog material”:
There is something to be suspicious about whenever people jump on a bandwagon against a practice almost entirely pursued by women, which parent blogging overwhelmingly is. Feminism has a rich history in the liberation of making the personal political – of destigmatising ordinary but shamed aspects of womens’ lives, and the solidarity which can come out of sharing one’s own story with other women only to find theirs are touchingly similar. Indeed, much of my interest in writing a feminist motherhood blog arose from this idea. And yet, to be honest, like some others I’m still rather ambivalent about the decision to blog about my daughter.
When I started writing here it was with several purposes, among them was the desire to create something for my daughter to read when she was older. I’m imagining she’ll want to know more about who she was and how she came to be than I could otherwise recall without referring to this blog. Maybe she’ll also want to know who I was back then, too. But as my interests with the blog have developed, I find myself increasingly writing about other facets beyond the personal and I frequently wonder about their compatibility with the journal of a childhood. This is particularly the case when I write about contentious topics, posts which attract new readers from varying sources, readers I don’t have any kind of connection with, and readers who have an axe to grind. These posts, I know, can incite debate if not outright hostility, and they attract trolls too. And all the time, just above or below each contentious post is a cheerful little post about my daughter, with a photo or two of her. I feel like I am rolling over and showing the trolls my soft underbelly. See, right here, that would really hurt. I’ve tried to prepare myself for the inevitable attack when it comes, and I’m trying to be ready to see it for the stupidity that it will be.. but still, soft underbelly, very soft.
And here in my post, “Parenthood takes you to the edge”:
Mummy and Daddy blogs really get a hammering in the reputation stakes of writing, they’re all supposed to be sappy and mindless like parenting itself perhaps, but these two posts prove how much of parenthood is not sappy and mindless at all. Parenthood can feel like flirting with your own disintegration. These two posts tell me a lot about the experience of becoming a parent, about being pushed to the edge and holding it together, and about losing your very identity and forming a new one; stuff that I’ve never seen properly said in a parenting manual. Writing like this is so personal and yet universal all at once. There are many terrific reasons for blogging but the ability to liberate others through your own honesty is worthy indeed.
Cross-posted at blue milk.