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Blogging Grows Up (And So Do Bloggers' Kids)

Me, with my now-16 year old daughter back in 2005.

Back when I first started my blog, approximately 11 years ago, I never thought anyone much would actually read it. I really, truly didn’t. At that time, I had a regular column published in the local alternative weekly newspaper, and I knew that people read that, but I envisioned the blog I started up on a whim one day as a sort of personal journal for family and friends — an extension of the emails and letters I’d been writing them prolifically for many years.  Plus, no one read much of anything online in 2001, and nobody had ever even heard the term “blog.”

But after a while, people did start reading my blog; over more than a decade of me blogging regularly without ever taking a break of longer than a week, my blog’s audience has sloooowly grown. And now it’s pretty large, relatively speaking. Not Dooce large, certainly, but I  get couple of hundred thousand pageviews a month

Even though I know logically that this number means many people who don’t actually know me, and even some people who might really dislike what I have to say do now read what I publish there, something about writing on my own blog has continued to feel more personal, and more like a conversation with friends — old ones and new ones — as opposed to the sterile experience of seeing  something I’ve written published in a newspaper or magazine. As a writer who publishes in all kinds of media, my personal blog has always felt like “home” to me, and even today, I am always, always surprised when someone I meet for the first time tells me that he or she reads it.

But the reality of blogging for me has changed over time, even if I remained somewhat stubbornly unrealistic about that fact.  In particular, as my blog readership has grown, so have the children I first started blogging about 11 years ago, and so has our family. My three oldest children were (I think) 9, 5 and 3 when I started my blog — a blog nobody much noticed for at least the first couple of years — but now, my older children are 14 and 16 years old, while my oldest son would be 20 had he lived, and they also have two little sisters, ages 4 and 2.

Like any blogger who has chronicled parts of her family life over a length of time, I have had to make adjustments with regard to what I published as my kids got older, and I tried to be very thoughtful and conscious as I made these changes over the past 11 years. About seven years ago, I stopped using their real names and switched to just using their initials. I had no illusions that this made their identities totally private, but it definitely lowered their Google-ability and helped protect their privacy. Also, starting around 2005, I always checked in regularly with each of my three oldest children to be sure  they were still okay with me mentioning them in my writing at all, or with me publishing photos, and they always told me it was fine with them to keep blogging. ( In 2010, my son E even wrote a “guest post” for my blog about this.)

Then, in the past three years, I became even more cautious, and began asking permission from my older children (and recently, of my 4-year-old as well ) about every specific topic or photo before I published. And occasionally, since I started asking specifically like this, one of them has vetoed my proposed blog post, so that was that. It didn’t get published.

However, the biggest change has come in just the past few months; I have cut WAY back on blogging anything very specific about my younger children, and I’ve stopped including my two teenage children in my blogging almost entirely. This radical and sudden change came when I  became aware in the spring of 2012 that a particular website-slash-message board focused on critiquing blogs and bloggers had begun discussing my children, rather than simply discussing me.

The comments about my teenagers  on this website were specific, yet mostly inaccurate, and making matters worse, my oldest daughter — who for years has been occasionally recognized from photos on my blog, and who has generally really enjoyed hearing the nice things that the folks who recognized her would then tell her about how they like reading her mom’s blog — also became aware for the first time that she herself had become a subject of discussion on the website in question.  We both saw that some of her personal social media activity, and that of her 14-year-old brother — theirs, not their mine — was being picked apart and analyzed by the commenters on the site.

This freaked me out and definitely freaked her out. So although I’d felt comfortable that I was already being deliberate and cautious in the way I had  been including my teenagers in my blogging, after I saw this discussion online, and my child saw it, I decided that I’d immediately make some fundamental changes in the way that I blog, and I have.

I guess that this development was inevitable. Public exposure is public exposure, and if you invite it to even a limited degree, as I certainly have,  you have to expect that something like this might happen. I don’t blame anyone else, and I’m not upset about it. Neither are my kids now that we’ve decided to change their level of exposure in my blogging.  Things evolve, and that’s all that’s happened here. Our family understands that. We also all understand that nothing online is actually private, so the kids’ Facebook pages are “public” no matter how they set the privacy controls and even if their mom weren’t a blogger. That’s why both of my teenagers are demonstrably more circumspect in their online activity than many other teenagers I observe. We all get this.

But even if this development of my kids beginning to draw interest and commentary specific to them was inevitable due to my blogging, it’s also kind of sad — for me and for my children. For 11 years now, my blog has offered us a daily journal of our lives together. Even as my blogging about each of my children had already become increasingly more general and less detailed as they grew older, they were all still present on my blog.

But now, if you read my blog, you might not even know that I have four children living at home. You won’t know as clearly about what our family has been up to in any given week, or that I am really proud of something one or the other of my kids has accomplished. You might believe that my interest in and time spent with and love for my children is somehow diminished,as they’ve grown older, or that being their mother is no longer the central part of everything I do every single day.

And if you get that impression, it’s not accurate. It’s not authentic. But that’s where things stand,  given the context in which I am now blogging — with newly self-imposed constraints on what I am willing to write and publish about my life as a mother and as a member of a family.

I haven’t yet figured out what’s now totally off-limits as opposed to what I am still okay with mentioning in my writing regarding my children. I am struggling with that a bit right now — questioning how I can address issues that matter to me on my blog or even talk about how my day went without inviting inappropriate and misinformed interest in my teenagers, who don’t want to be discussed by strangers on an internet message board.  I have seriously considered shuttering my blog to just make this issue go away, but after talking with my family and friends and getting input from my teenage children, I decided I really didn’t want to do that.

For now I am trying to be okay with being unsure any longer what I feel like putting out there. I now realize that my blog is not “home” to me in the way I thought of it before, no matter how naive my view might have been, but it’s still very important to me, and I want to figure out how to continue enjoying flexing my writing muscles and connecting with readers there as often as I always have while also being more protective.

Some of you may quit reading while I find my (new) way, and I understand that. But I also want to say how much I appreciate any of you who are willing to keep sticking around while I sort this out.

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READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT MAMAPUNDIT (HER PERSONAL BLOG)

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