:: You can choose to write nothing about your kids, which is a fine choice, or you can write about your kids with utter kindness, respect, and gratitude. And even then, you must be careful.
I have a deadline looming for my monthly column about motherhood, and I hit a roadblock. I realized that the only way around this roadblock was to handle the issues that have arisen lately about writing, writing about one’s kids, and especially writing about one’s disabled kids. For example, the Washington Post recently ran a piece in which a “mommy blogger” (which has become a horribly derogatory term, by the way, don’t use it), ruminates on writing about her daughter. I disagree with her assessments and conclusions, but I also think that if that piece had been written by a man, the world would have cut her a lot more slack.
In response to the WaPo piece, author John Scalzi wrote a blog post describing his own adventures in mommy blogging, except it’s not called mommy blogging when a man does it, it’s just called “blogging.” He talks about how his wife, and then later his daughter, had veto power over the posts he’s been writing for 20 years about his daughter growing up. Fine. Good.
In case you’re new to me and my work, I write a column called “Mom, Interrupted” for the magazine Catapult, about being a disabled mom with disabled kids. I’m working on a book on a similar subject. I have bipolar disorder and other neuroatypicalities. My kids are also neuroatypical, in ways that are similar to me and to how I was as a kid. I write about how being me—being disabled—makes me a better mom for them. And I write about how glad I am to be their mom.
Here’s my take on how to write about your kids without being awful, especially if your kids are disabled.
(1) If you aren’t sure if you can write about your kids without being awful, don’t write about your kids. You are not required to write about your kids on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media, or for magazines or in books. You don’t have to do it. And if you can’t do it ethically, with respect and love, then don’t. Period. Write about your pets, or an adult who can defend themselves, or literally anything else. Just not your kids.
(2) Don’t put pictures of your kids’ faces on the internet. This is a big one for me. “Privacy” settings mean nothing to me; I don’t put my kids’ faces on the internet. Occasionally, in a photo, you might catch a kid with a face partially obscured, but 95% of the time, you see them from behind, or with a hood on, or otherwise fully obscured. You do not see my kids faces on the internet, anywhere, ever, period.
(3) Don’t use your kids’ names. This is another big one for me. Google is forever, at least until the apocalypse comes. I do not want my kid to be Google-able by name. Picture Edna Mode from the INCREDIBLES, finger in the air: “NO NAMES.” Ever. Period.
(4) When possible, be vague. No school uniform details. No SCHOOL details (jeez). No details at all, if you can help it. Protect your kids’ day-to-day privacy as much as you can. I know this might seem counterintuitive because you’re also writing about their lives, but 2, 3, and 4 are here to keep your kids SAFE. Please, please, please: Keep your kids safe. What always strikes me as odd is that the same parents who lose their minds about their kids creating social media profiles will, without their kids’ permission, post photographs that include their kids’ names, ages, school info, and photographs all over their own social media profiles. With parents like that, these kids don’t need their own social media profiles to get themselves into trouble.
(5) When telling stories that include your kids, be sure that you’re telling the story because it’s about YOU. This one is about boundaries, and it gets to the heart of why people write about their kids in the first place. I try hard to avoid being judgmental, but I’m also very protective of children (as are most humans), especially disabled children who have normate parents. And, too often, when parents are writing about their kids, the stories the parents tell feel like someone else’s story. Rather than writing a story about themselves, in which their kid happens to be a marvelous character, in these instances the author writes a story that belongs to the author’s child. Ask yourself: Am I writing to figure out more about me and my life? If the answer is no, then don’t write the story.
(5) If it’s about you, be sure you’re not complaining—especially if your kids are disabled. Too often, parent bloggers and essayists use their platforms to write a particular woe-is-I genre about how hard it is to be a parent. That’s fine, I guess, when your kid is a normate. In that case, the worst that can happen is that your kid will grow up to hate you for bitching about them on the internet. When your kid is disabled, though, and you complain about how hard it is to parent them, you are feeding into the already bloated notion that disabled people are a drag on society. I mean, right?—not even their own parents want to take care of them. These “disabled kid complaint” narratives create sympathy for normate parents of disabled kids while further stigmatizing disabled people themselves. Don’t write these stories. Just. Don’t. Do. It. If you need to vent about how hard your parenting week has been, I get it. I really do. Just do it in private.
If you’ve read this essay before, you might have noticed that it is shorter now than when I first published it. That’s because I’m writing a book about being a disabled mom of disabled kids, and in that book I take some ideas that were here and really expand on them and rethink them. Leaving them here, now that I’ve grown in my understanding, wasn’t right for me or for you to leave these old ideas here.
Thank you for being a loyal reader, and I hope what I’ve left behind can help you still.
If you enjoyed this piece, you will enjoy my book, LIFE OF THE MIND INTERRUPTED: ESSAYS ON MENTAL HEALTH AND DISABILITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION, available at lifeofthemindinterrupted.com. Buying my books is a great way to support the online writing that I do for free.
I owe thanks to Kelly J. Baker for helping me talk through this issues when I was still wrestling with them. Thank you, babe. Go buy Kelly’s books.