“What are you writing?” My seven-year-old asks, walking into my bedroom while I sit propped up against pillows, my laptop balanced on my thighs.
Working from home has its own unique challenges, like having to work from your bed because it’s the only quiet place in the house, and then being interrupted by your kids anyway. But there’s also the challenge of navigating conversations with your kids about what you write about, especially if they’re included in your writing.
“Oh, just grown-up stuff,” I reply, because I’m writing about marriage, and my kids aren’t included in this piece, at least. But I know that answer won’t be sufficient enough for my inquisitive seven-year-old.
We chat some more, and then I broach the topic, the one I have been struggling with for the last little while. Even if I only include cute anecdotes, and avoid sharing anything vulnerable or heavy that involves them, I still have been feeling this uncomfortable weight in the pit of my stomach lately.
Every time I write about my kids without them knowing, it feels like I’m sharing a piece of themselves that they’ll never get back. The internet can be a scary place, especially when you’re publishing material that you can’t delete if you change your mind. I value teaching my kids about consent, and agency over their bodies is a topic we discuss often. How am I devaluing that message if I don’t give them agency over their own stories too?
“Are you okay that I tell stories about you when I write?” I ask.
“Yeah, I like it. It’s like I’m famous!” my daughter answers. “Just don’t write anything embarrassing,” she adds.
I smile, feeling slightly better, but not much. I still know changes need to be made, even if my kids don’t feel uncomfortable, yet. I decide to talk it over with some writer friends, and my partner, and come up with some boundaries around social media. I know there’s a spectrum of opinions on children, social media, and their privacy. From Instagram stars that document their every move, to parents who won’t even post their child’s face on social media.
I’ve always fallen somewhere in the middle, willing to share a bit, but holding the more private moments closely.
I also can’t exactly say nothing about my children, because I’m a parenting writer, and my work would be pretty boring if I couldn’t personally relate at all. Elizabeth Bastos wrote a compelling piece in The New York Times about her decision to stop writing about her children. On the other side, we have Christie Tate who writes in the Washington Post about her daughter asking her to stop writing about her, and why Tate can’t do that.
A line in Tate’s essay stuck out to me, as I explored my own beliefs on this difficult topic: “Certainly, my daughter is old enough now that I owe her a head’s up and a veto right on the pictures or on portions of the content, but I’m not done exploring my motherhood in my writing. And sometimes my stories will be inextricably linked to her experiences.”
I felt that tension. As an artist, how do I stop creating my art? And what am I willing to give up?
I eventually decided to place some specific boundaries around my kids and the internet. I quit my local newspaper column, because I felt we were getting a bit too close to home (people would recognize my kids at the park - and that really freaked me out). I decided not to post photos of my kids’ faces in any online publications.
I also stopped referring to them by name, something I don’t know is necessary, but feels like like a white flag moment. I will protect you, I’m saying, with this decision.
For now, I’ll continue to write, and continue to check in with my kids on how they feel about my writing. I want them to know they’re valued, their privacy is important, and that I want their consent in what I do, and don’t publish. Even if it’s something as small as a picture of my daughter doing gymnastics at the park, I still check-in.
"Can I share this on Facebook?" I ask. "Who can see it?" She replies. "Just friends," I say. And then she nods, and does another cartwheel, and I put my phone away and enjoy the moment.