You don’t have to be a die-hard mommy or daddy blogger to write about your family — it’s difficult not to share the hilarious yet harrowing story about your three-year-old’s decision to chop off her hair with safety scissors so she could look more like SpongeBob. (We hear the dishtowel necktie was pretty cute.)
But where are the boundary lines when writing about children? What don’t you share? What happens when they’re old enough to read your blog? What about comments critical of your parenting? What about posting photos?
We gathered six bloggers who focus on their families,
helicoptered them to WordPress’s volcano lair, asked them some very polite questions, and got them to spill their secrets. In Part One, they share their take on the evolution of parenting blogs, the parenting blog community, and writing about sensitive or controversial topics that may embarrass their future teenagers; part two will focus on what they share (how much detail?) and how they share it (photos? social networks?), and part three on their top tips for new parenting bloggers, from honest writing to picking a good blog title.
Please say hello, in your nicest inside voice, to:
- Emily, of The Waiting
- Jerry, of Mommy Man
- Ann Marie, of Dear #$&%! Baby
- Acey, of Dadgitated
- Jeni, of Joy and Woe
- John, of Twinfamy
Has your blog changed since you began it ? Did your approach to blogging shift as you got more involved?
JENI: Style wise, Joy and Woe is funnier than I thought it would be. But life with two small children is approximately 11.8 million times funnier than I thought it would be, so it fits.
ACEY: I actually started with a fly fishing blog. My full-time dadding stopped me from doing much fly fishing, and I found that most of my posts were about the many exciting ways my family kept me away from the water.
EMILY: I think a lot of people start blogging when they find out they’re expecting a baby so they can chronicle the adventure of spawning, but then they’re like, “Hmmmmm. I kinda also want to talk about that time I accidentally drank a beer when I was nine.” Then they have a blog identity crisis but feel like stories that deviate from the parenting theme will bore their readers.
I was no different. I ran out of things to say about morning sickness and baby registries, and my blog became a place where I could also talk about parenting and traveling and my unbridled fear of horses (get it? HA). And people liked it! More importantly, I liked it too.
ANN MARIE: I expected my pregnancy to be a trainwreck, and decided to blog to vent my frustration at the fetus. Unfortunately my pregnancy was easy and I loved it, so more often than not, the tone did not fit the “@!$!# Baby” schtick. Then he was born… and now I’m shifting the other way.
JOHN: I’ve stuck to my initial approach — to tell the best stories I can tell, stories that find “epicness” and humor in everyday family experiences. When I wrote my first post I was a sleep-deprived new dad, and even the smallest victories felt huge. I ran with that and write with a lot of exaggeration.
How does what you write about (and how you write it) change as your children get older?
JENI: Both of my children are still quite young –- closing in on four, and two. Kindergarten starts this fall; I think that’s going to be the single biggest change. I’m not sure how that will affect what I write, though I’m pretty sure that it will.
JOHN: When I first started writing, my kids were four months old and couldn’t really do much of anything. Our interactions didn’t always translate well to writing unless I went heavy on my own internal monologue and sort of guessed what they were thinking. I prefer to let dialogue drive a story, so since the Twins weren’t speaking The King’s English, a lot of early posts involve other people. As the Twins grow they’re increasingly able to speak and act for themselves, making them much better “characters.”
ACEY: My writing style has pretty much stayed the same, but what I write about definitely changes. As they age, they go through all these different stages keeping everything… let’s see, how do I put a positive spin on “in utter chaos”? Fresh.
JERRY: Right — I’m just a well-meaning dad who’s fumbling through his kids’ development. What I’m fumbling through changes as my kids get older. A cross-country move. Giving up pacifiers. Potty training. Heading to preschool.
I always worry that my blog will only appeal to parents whose kids are exactly the same age as mine, but I get so many comments that say, “Oh yes, I remember that stage!” or “Thanks for preparing me.”
I want to get at the heart of why I love her, so I find myself writing a lot more about the tiny moments that give parenthood its luster.
— Emily, The Waiting
EMILY: Figuring out how I’m going to talk about my toddler as she matures is one of my biggest challenges — it’s easy to write about dirty diapers and her penchant for sticking her entire forearm in my glass of water, but constantly resting on the comedy of errors eventually gets monotonous and formulaic. I want to get at the heart of why I love her, so I find myself writing a lot more about the tiny moments that give parenthood its luster.
ANN MARIE: I swear more now; that’s about it. I always think I want the kid to move on to the next phase of new skills so it’ll be easier. But it just gets more annoying, and then I write about it.
Does writing your blog and being part of a blogging community influence you as a parent?
JENI: Blogging allows me to be snarky near the kids without actually snarking at the kids. I hope they appreciate it and send all my readers neatly scribbled thank you cards.
JERRY: I’ve received so much encouragement from readers and other bloggers that it helps me feel more confident as a parent. Even if I write a post confessing that I have no idea what I’m doing, people will write and say, “Yup, that’s pretty much how I felt at that stage.” It’s also nice to get comments from people who say, “Wow, I thought I was the only one having a hard time with this.”
ANN MARIE: Reading other parenting blogs makes me feel like a better parent. Not because these other bloggers are terrible and I look good by comparison, but because we are all going through the same struggles. Sometimes it feels like my kid is the only genius who decides banging his head against the wall is the best game ever, but then I get online and read about other kids’ antics and I calm down.
JERRY: When my parents were raising me, Dr. Spock was pretty much the only game in town. Now you can find people who have philosophies similar to yours, and when current events have an effect on your family, you can see instantly how other parents are responding.
I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, and neither do you.
— Jeni, Joy and Woe
JENI: Yes! Reading other blogs makes me feel better about my constant state of cluelessness. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, and neither do you.
ACEY: Blogging has definitely been a calming influence on me — I’m usually wound pretty tight. I use my blog to release steam and as a way to find humor in upsetting situations.
EMILY: I live in a fairly small community where most of the other parents work for a particular industry that my husband and I aren’t included in, so we’ve never really been able to make friends who completely share our lifestyle. While my daughter has playmates, I need the support of parents who understand the ins and outs of my life.
JOHN: It’s made me aware of multiple people’s perspectives on parenting, which I think is always good. Even though in the end you have to do what feels right for you and your family, it’s nice to have so many ideas out there to pull from.
EMILY: My blogging community is made up of all types of people, not only parents. They’ve taught me that there is more than one way to raise a child.
JOHN: I also think it was especially helpful when I first started staying at home. As infants, the Twins were not all that great at meaningful conversation, and our house at the time was a half hour drive from friends, family, shopping centers, and civilization in general. Blogging helped me keep my sanity.
How do you respond to commenters who are critical of your parenting decisions?
JENI: This hasn’t happened. Am I doing it wrong?
If you’re going to put an opinion out there, be prepared to defend it. I read every comment and I take them all seriously, and if someone has a truly divergent point of view, I’m willing to engage in a discussion. That process will either refine my arguments or open me up to a different way of thinking, and neither is a bad outcome.
It doesn’t matter how odd your viewpoint might be — just share it. It’s the internet. You’re not the craziest person on it.
— Jerry, Mommy Man
EMILY: When the trolls come out, I get upset for a second (or the entire morning). Then I remind myself that they are either trying to get a rise out of me for the hell of it, or having a bad day and taking it out on the random woman on the Internet who appears to think she knows it all. For both A and B, I press “delete.” I care more about what my mom and my mother-in-law think about my parenting than I do random Interneters.
JERRY: The one time I really get a sense of what people think outside of my little blogging bubble is when something of mine gets reposted on a site with a very different audience. I’ve had a couple of conservative overseas news outlets pick up my post on talking to your kids about same-sex parents, and that’s when the anonymous homophobic trolls come out of the woodwork, and a couple of them trickle over to my blog.
Still, you need to be honest about your opinions. That will help you connect with people who appreciate your viewpoint, and they’re more likely to become loyal readers. If you try to appeal to everyone, you won’t appeal to anyone and you’ll be incredibly boring. It doesn’t matter how odd your viewpoint might be — just share it. It’s the internet. You’re not the craziest person on it.
JOHN: Every once in a while I’ll get a comment that might sound confrontational on the first read, but after rereading, I usually find that it’s just someone sharing how they like to do things differently. If I feel like comments are heated, I’ll respond with a ridiculous joke instead of engaging.
I have no interest in arguing with people I don’t even know on the Internet. I’d rather spend that time building a blanket fort.
JERRY: I set up a comment policy for my site. If someone has a legitimate, respectful response to something, I’ll be respectful in return. If they’re snarky about it, I’ll snark back. And if they’re hateful, nasty or abusive toward other commenters, I’ll delete and ban them. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you’re entitled to come in my home and start shoving me around.
Do you have personal guidelines for writing about serious struggles or potentially controversial parenting decisions?
JENI: I don’t use my blog as a “processing space” when it comes to parenting decisions. The few times I’ve tried to articulate decisions that may or may not be in the mainstream, like downplaying Santa, I’ve come to the same conclusion online and off: “Stay tuned, I guess.”
ACEY: Humor. I find it’s hard for people to get too offended or upset if you’re making them laugh, at you or with you.
JOHN: Humor shows you’re not taking yourself too seriously, which makes it harder for a**holes to be critical.
EMILY: I try to stay away from really controversial topics because there are eleventy billion bloggers who can tackle them with way more tact and fluency than I can. I’m a lot better at talking about how public changing tables make me want to stab myself. Everyone’s got a talent and that’s mine.
\When it comes to serious issues, I try to be candid and real. For me, writing is an extremely cathartic practice and if I tried to sugarcoat our extreme lows, I would just feel like I wasted my time writing something that wasn’t the whole truth.
What are the keys to balancing humor and honesty with not wanting to offend your kids when they read these posts in 15 years?
JENI: The short answer is that I make the screw-ups about me. (They usually are anyway.)
The longer answer is while folks who blog about parenting are somewhat in the vanguard –- the earliest blogged-about kids are just now entering their surly teen years –- offending kids is nothing new. I found my parents horrifying long before we got our first bleepy-bloopy modem.
I found my parents horrifying long before we got our first bleepy-bloopy modem.
— Jeni, Joy and Woe
The most honest answer is that it’s all a moving target. When my kids are old enough to fully understand concepts like consent, we’ll have conversations about what they do and don’t want me to share. Until then, it’s on me to exercise good judgment.
EMILY: I find that it’s best to describe our comic adventures in broad strokes. It’s a caricature, and the best thing about a caricature is that even though it has that glimmer of real life to it, you can still tell that it’s not a photo.
JERRY: I remember growing up and thinking sitcom parents like Roseanne were so mean to their kids. They always made jokes about how the kids drove them crazy, and I was horrified that my parents might feel that way about me. I still watched the shows, though, because they were funny and because I still knew they loved their kids.
I do mine my frustrations with my kids for laughs, but I think anyone who reads my blog knows how much I love and appreciate them. My kids may cringe someday at one or two of the stories, but I think the much louder message is how much their dad cares about them and wants to raise them well.
EMILY: I try to balance my posts so if she reads them, she sees that they were written out of love — but also as a response to the lunacy that is parenting. If you wrote out on paper the litany of traumatizing and absurd things that happen each day with a pre-logical human, I don’t think anyone would want to do it.
John: I don’t write under my real name (or my kids’), so the stories can’t as easily be linked to our real identities. They never asked to be part of my blog — in 15 years (or sooner) they’ll be their own people, so I don’t want to build a collection of “dirt” on them with their names attached to it so everyone can Google them and learn about them feeding their poop to the dog. Until they’re old enough to say they’re cool with it, I think it’s better to not compile digital ammo for bullies.
ANN MARIE: I figure the internet won’t even exist in 15 years, and my blog will be like MySpace.
In the next installation, we’ll take a closer look at the boundaries of parenting bloggers, including how and whether to post photos of your children. In the meantime, do you have any questions for our panelists? Any advice of your own?
Other posts in this series:
- Mommy and Daddy Bloggers Shoot the Poop: Part Two
- The Poop Hits the Fan: Parenting Bloggers’ Top Tips