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From The Feminism, You're Doing It Wrong Files: Jezebel Tells Moms That It Would Be Better, Maybe, if They Just Shut Up

Modersohnnursing

Ah, Jezebel: you vex me so. Sometimes, your feminist take on popular culture and current news is worthy of all the kudos I can muster, and, then, sometimes, your quote-unquote feminist take on popular culture and current news demands that I do things like say quote-unquote when I refer to your purported feminism and, also, causes my head to blow off.

Last week's story, for example, about mothers writing memoirs, which is actually a story about the problem of mothers writing memoirs and, also - even though this is not spelled out explicitly - the problem with mothers blogging. Because, you know: mothers. Why can't we just shut up? Don't we know that every time we talk about the challenges of motherhood or womanhood - or, you know, life in general - our children will need another year of therapy and, also, somewhere, an angel loses its wings?

The catalyst for the story is Ayelet Waldman's piece on NPR about how her online community saved her life. In it, she discusses her former blog and how, in particular, after blogging one especially dark moment - she was, she says, 'holding enough pills in her hand to kill herself - her online community actually did save her life, by reaching out to her and, quite literally, talking her down from the ledge.

But the writer of the story isn't interested in how blogging, or writing memoir, as in the case of Augusten Burrough's mother, also addressed here (for the record, I do appreciate that the writer here didn't distinguish between blogging and literary memoir), can provide a life-saving outlet for the writer and for readers sharing similar experiences. Her concern, rather, is for the children: "(these writers') insistence on maternal honesty has us wondering: is this a legal form of child abuse, or a beautiful form of self-expression?"

The story comes pretty clearly down on the side of the former. "I can't imagine," the writer says, "what it would feel like to be her child and read, in real time, about how my mother was trying to kill herself." Of course, in Waldman's case, her children were preschoolers and, presumably, not on the Internet reading mom-blogs - preschoolers are known to prefer playing World of Warcraft and reading Cracked than surfing blogs - but that's neither here nor there: her kids could have been reading. And they would have been upset!

"What would/will the children think?" is, of course, a much-discussed question in the parenting blogosphere. Most bloggers and other memoirists take very seriously the issue of how their stories might be received - in the moment or in the future - by their families. But here's my quibble, and it's a big, angry quibble: those bloggers and memoirists and writers aren't just mothers. Why single out mothers?

The writer's primary question - "when does airing familial dirty laundry cross the line between art and mass destruction?" - is one that can and should be asked of memoirists in general. But that would include, I presume, Augusten Burroughs, and not just his mother. We might also ask it of David Sedaris, or, reaching further back, of Boswell or Rousseau or Libanius. The genres of memoir and autobiography have been dominated by men for millenia: why single out women for finally lifting the veil on their worlds - worlds that have long been expected to be kept shuttered and private and hence excluded from public discourse - and then shit on them for it?

FAIL.

Source







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Comments

sweetney

oh hai, my head just 'sploded. FEATURED POST YO.

Susanna K.

Well said.

Momo Fali

Big, angry quibble indeed.

Mary Wallace

Jezebel is forgetting that the best thing we can do for our kids is explain what is going on around them. Kids intuitively know, they just don't know context. I'd rather have a kid aware that something is critical with a parent than be told lies. Blogging, writing, talking in a coffee shop or appearing on TV are all ways of living in this new age. Any form of communication serves to get the poison OUT of us, into the mainstream where it can dissipate and be processed. I'm thinking Jezebel was put off by the intimacy but really doesn't believe that the whole act is wrong.

Neil

That post is nonsense. If you are writing a memoir, then you are writing about your life. I'm actually more uncomfortable with those who write work-place memoirs, such as those who are lucky enough to get some glamorous job in publishing or law or government, and then write a book mocking their famous bosses and contacts, knowing full well that it exactly this celebrity connection that sells the book. This is borderline exploitative, showing others in a bad light, even embarrassing others, for your own profit and story-telling. But if you want to expose the truth about yourself... or you own family -- that's your business.

Neil

Uh, I mean the Jezebel post was nonsense, not yours. I don't want to get on your bad side and have you write a memoir about me writing that comment.

Mr Lady

I just cannot understand why everyone suddenly decided that we're supposed to paint happy rainbow stories of our lives for our kids. Why we can't be honest about the people we are and the struggles we face. As humans, not just mothers and fathers. To me, it seems like we are creating tragically unrealistic images of what it means to be an adult when we filter for our children.

I for one pray I have the balls to be really, honestly upfront with my kids about myself once it's time for them to see me as a person, and mot a superhero. Maybe they'll share those struggles I face, and maybe them knowing that I understand, that I know exactly what they're feeling, maybe that will save them someday.

zchamu

I'm starting to realize that "motherhood" actually getting "respect" is truly the last glass ceiling. For whatever reason (probably simple sexual discrimination) society has marginalized motherhood, kept it under wraps and silenced. Now that women are talking publicly about how hard it really is, people don't want to hear it. Until they are living it, and all of a sudden, they get it.

ivymae

I wonder what they think of (feminist hero) Anne Lamott's honest and excellent book "Operating Instructions"? It's a kind of blog before their were blogs (entries taken from her journal from the first year of her son's life) and has been my gift to many a new mom who have told me ion hushed voices "This is so hard. I didn't realize it could be so hard."

Let's make the fourth wave (is that what we're on?) of feminism the one that encompasses the mother. To me, birth is a feminist issue. I am not frail, I can be included in my medical care, don't tell me I can't do it. To me, motherhood is the bravest thing I can do in this world, raising little humans to be decent people.

Barbara

I have a mother who never complains. She doesn't discuss the difficulty or isolation she felt for years when she lived in a remote mountain town with 6 children and no car of her own. In her mind, nobody likes a complainer, so why complain?

What my mother, and perhaps many of her generation, doesn't realize is that I need her to tell me. I now have little kids in a town with no family and I need my mom to tell me that she understands. I need to hear how tough it was for her. It would help to know that I'm not failing just because there are days I want to run away or just have a drink at 11 AM. Just knowing that she felt the same way and got through it without laying her emotional struggle on us kids would give me the inspiration that I can do this without damaging my kids in the process.

My point is that Jezebel is wrong. This kid would be helped if her mother was a bit more revealing.

Tracy

I don't have much to say that the post and comments haven't already said beautifully, so... Amen, Amen, Amen!

ballerinatoes

Well said Catherine and I so totally second what Barbara and everyone else posted. Bravo. I would love to know if my Mother of Grandmother had the same feelings of the blue that I battle with.

deirdre

Let's include Freud on that list of people who got away with bashing their mothers publically and no one seems to be putting up much of a fuss.

rebecca

After going through (and being open about) Post Partum Depression, I can see a lot of PPD behaviors in teh way my mom acted during my childhood. And I think that if she had been open about what she was feeling, what she was going through, I would have spent a lot less time thinking she hated me.
We need to see the cracks in our parents. It helps us understand them, and ourselves.
I am NOT impressed with Jezebel this year. At least they aren't bashing rape victims this time.

Summer

Ugh. That whole "lets not talk about the bad things, the kids might hear" crap is why so many asswipes still back fondly on the 50s and completely ignore the insane amounts of teen pregnancy, abuse, and emotional torture women suffered back then. What's so wrong with the kids finding out that sometimes life sucks?

cagey

Eh. Both of my grandmothers were from the repressed generation, which yes, led to its own host of problems. But my mom? Was of the 60s hippie generation who was all about being honest all the frocking time. Yeah. Whatever. I did not need to know everything about her. I did not need to know how sad she was when I was a baby, how she hated staying home during her maternity leave and that she couldn't wait to get back to work. Gee thanks! That made me feel AWESOME as a child. I did not need know all that stuff as a kid, sure maybe when I was older and mature. In the meantime, I just needed to be a kid. I am so grateful my mom did not have a blog.

As such, my kids will not be reading on my blog about my darkest days from my PPD. They will hear it from me when they are older and more mature. I am forever grateful that I have a supportive network of friends (both online and offline) that kept me from spewing all that crap on my blog in a public forum.

This is just me, not judging here. We all want different things for our children and I felt the other side should be heard, too. I did have one blogger who acted as if I was being dishonest by "hiding" my PPD from my primary blog (I did talk about it briefly on my breastfeeding blog, where it was topical in nature). However, not everyone wants to treat his/her blog as a deep personal online journal. I certainly did not.

There is a middle road.

rednexmama

Oh man, Barbara, you're breaking my heart. So I guess I'm split. It's all in the context, I guess. Yes, children should know, but I think we all need to tread lightly in regards to what our children are exposed to, when. Just as we need to ask ourselves when, how, and how much violence or sex or whatever our children should be exposed to, so should we be cautious about the scary details of our own lives that we choose to share. I DID know an awful lot about the gory details of the home I grew up in and it did NOT make it easier to understand. It made me feel embarrassed, isolated, and like the floor could fall out from under me at any moment. I knew why my parents did what they did, but I didn't WANT to know. As a child I didn't have any of the tools necessary to deal with this information. Though, had I gotten the same information as an adult it would have been a totally different ball game. It could have provided insight into a very difficult time. As it was I felt overwhelmed and exhausted... and I was a KID. And this is what we need to avoid. It's not the idea of putting our thoughts, experiences, fears, and trials to paper. It's not making them public. It's WHEN. And more importantly, when we make them public. A child is not capable of understanding depression, anxiety, suicide, abuse, substance abuse, etc. And now I'm out of words...

rednexmama

Just to clarify, I do NOT think that my childhood would have been great if certain things had been kept under wraps. All of those problems would still have existed. But on top of dealing with all of that I was never allowed to just forget about it and be a kid. Instead of thinking my dad was "sad" I was informed that he was suicidal. I was informed that "something" could happen at any time. I was 12.

Her Bad Mother

Cagey - I totally agree that there is a middle road. To be clear, I'm not coming down, here, on one side or the other of the issue of whether telling family stories can have a dark side (I have mixed feelings about that) - my complaint in this post is that the criticism is JUST being directed at mothers. Literary history has a long tradition of memoir, mostly written by men - why would anyone single out mother-memoirists in asking the question, 'does memoir hurt its subjects?' Unless one were looking silence mothers in particular, that is.

Ariel

I'm glad mothers write about their lives because it makes me feel less alone. This is a tough wonderful crazy making job I'm doing and it helps to know that others have good days and bad days...
And I don't get why it's okay for a kid to write about how shitty/great their childhood was- but not okay for a parent to write about how parenthood is was for them? The child's perspective is always right?
I'd personally LOVE to read about what my mother was thinking when she married her second husband, but I'll never know.

The Other Dawn

Because crapping on mothers is a great National pastime. I'm reading "Perfect Madness" right now, and it's a prevalent theme of the book.

We're just supposed to sit down, shut up, and play with some playdough or something. Our experience is less valid somehow, for reasons I don't fully understand. After all, doesn't nearly everyone have a mother? And isn't there a load of tedium with any job? Are we wrong for calling that tedium out? Are we wrong for being human beings who need connection and empathy from other mothers who can relate?

I see it even in my own marriage. I am free to complain about my working job, but not the second shift. So frustrating. Such a double standard.

Ninja Mom

That's why I don't use real names or pictures of my family in my blog.

Barbara

In re-reading my comments I failed to mention that I'm not all for kids while they are minors knowing all the gory details of their parents' emotional struggles. I knew that there were tough times for my parents on the occasion that the shit really hit the fan.

But now, as an adult, it would be great if I could chat with my mom about how even the daily stuff can get a mom down. It seemed for a long time as though my mother just handled those days better and I was somehow failing because I hadn't found a groove, or was knocked off my groove by a bout of the family flu. Now I see that she surely struggled, but just can't bring herself to discuss it for fear of sounding like it's a complaint. THAT'S where I think mom memoirs can help their kids. It's all about knowing when to reveal the ugliness. Preferably once the parent is past it and the kid can relate to it.

verybadcat

A few things.

#1: Anytime I have been hurt or disturbed by my mother's behavior, it has comforted me to discover her perspective and reasoning, even if it was screwed up and/or scary.

#2: I have decided that I own my story, and that means blogging about it, but also taking the fallout for any discovery issues. Which means that it's between me and them and not the people at Jezebel.

#3: What if kids were actually served by reading their parents' memoirs? I have horrible, damaging memories of hurts and slights from my childhood. Whenever I've gotten any info that has shed some light on the surrounding circumstances, not only have I felt better about my experience then, but it has deepened my awareness of myself now. And my mother.

#4: Am really tired of the debate itself- ie- do mothers have a right to their blogs and their stories. Yes, they do, and can we just STFU about who else it's good for? Guess who gets to decide what's good for the kiddos? MOM DOES.

Grr.

Amy @ Milk Breath & Margaritas

I completely agree with you!! I think it's changing, and mother's are turning the perception around slowly, thank goodness.

I certainly read blogs where I certainly hope the mother's reflections are kept from the child until they are an adult. But, as an adult, I think it has the potential to be tremendous help in understanding what was happening in the past with their mother, who is after all also a wife, a daughter, a writer, and a million other things too. You know - a person.

Sarah

Bravo.

Well said.

AnonForThisOne

David Sedaris wrote a lovely and heartwrenching story about the impact his storytelling has had on his family - I think it's in the Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. The essay is "Repeat After Me." The one time I saw him speak someone in the audience asked him how he justified making his living off his family's personal history. So there's that.

I think it's rather ridiculous to imply that a personal blog that you write for your own benefit will also somehow someday help your child. You would need to be able to 100% control the year, day, and minute in your child's life when they found their way to your content. And that no one else who knew them found it first. Finding your blog too soon in life, or too late, either way, will be painful. And the odds are, that's what will happen. That doesn't mean you don't have the right to write it - of course you do - but at least have the respect for your child to say it's something you do for yourself, instead of for them.

Joy

Hmmm... head exploding here, too.

I do not understand the continuing devaluation of children in North American society. One could argue that it's about the marginalization of motherhood, or sexism, or whatever, but really, it's about the lack of value placed on children - their care, their upbringing, and their education. Consider this - teachers are typically not as well paid as they should be. Child care workers are definitely not paid well, hence the shortages everywhere. And let us not forget how almost no value is placed on motherhood, and mothers caring for their child full time. Because children are not seen as that important really, at least not other than another demographic to whom marketers can advertise and exploit.

If society was to start accepting that motherhood is often difficult, many times isolating, and mothers are generally completely marginalized, then society would have to first accept that children are important enough to deserve to have caregivers that have time off without begging for it or having a breakdown first, that are financially remunerated (tax breaks, wages paid, whatever) and add value to society through the raising of future generations.

To have people so irate at mothers writing memoirs, and likening it to child abuse, reeks of condescension toward children and their mothers, and completely obscures the reasons why mothers write memoirs in the first place - to share their experience with others who can understand it, and thus validate their experience of motherhood. Their mothering experience will not be forgotten, now. It will be remembered by other mothers who will bring a piece of that mother's experience into their own life.

If society truly deemed children to be worthy of anything other than consumerism, then the problems, and experiences, of motherhood and the resulting memoirs, would be applauded, respected, and studied, and the troubles that they highlight would be swiftly addressed to the betterment of children and their mothers.


Sorry for the essay, people! Thanks for the chance to rant. ;)

Her Bad Mother

Anonforthisone - I certainly wasn't implying that writing a blog or other memoir was *good* for children. I simply don't think that it can be determined either way - good or bad. And in any case, if it's 'bad' for women to write memoirs, then shouldn't we be noting that it's bad for everyone?

(Thanks for reminding me of Sedaris' essay.)

Michelle

Such complete and utter bullshit. Bravo Catherine for calling attention to it. In my opinion, blogging, sharing stories is a way of creating a community that we somehow lack in our modern world. We live so far apart from each other, most of us don't live with our families and many don't even live near our families so when we tell our stories to each other, in some small way, it recreates that connection. It allows us to learn from each other, to support each other, to empathize and understand... how is that a bad thing? How would that damage a child?

Ms. Moon

Frankly, I think there must be a balance struck. And I hasten to add here that the blog I read which most disturbs me as to "what the children would think" is written by a father, not a mother.
But that's another subject. Or maybe it's not.
I think that some writers and some bloggers have a complete to-be-true-I-must-be-honest outlook. And I admire that. But for me, knowing that my children (who are grown, by the way) DO read my blog, I keep certain things out of it.
What child wants to read about her parent's sex life, for instance? Would I get more readers if I wrote about sex?
Probably.
But that's not me.
Everyone deserves to be able to say anything they want on any topic they want whether in a blog or a memoir. I believe that and by god, I wish the internet community had been there for me when I was a young mother with four children at home. It would have been a huge relief to be able to write about what I was going through as well as to read about what other mothers were experiencing.
But as positive as I think this outlet is for women, I also think that we all need to remember that words have POWER. How we use that power is in our own control.
And everyone must remember that ALL children, even the preschoolers, will one day be as curious about their parent's blog as I was about the contents of my mother's dresser drawers.
And those blogs will be discovered and will be read.
With results that will vary between good and bad and indifferent.
I am watching this phenomenon with interest.

Kelly

There is a lot of guilt floating around within my family about motherhood failures. A lot of the choices I make as a Mom seem to pick at those open sores. I write about my experience to hopefully end this cycle of regret and blame and drama. Unfortunately, my honesty is viewed with suspicion now too. I am also confronted with a healthy dose of archaic, familial, artistic code (The XYZ Family does not sell out), but that's another story. I haven't had enough traffic yet to be criticized by the public at large, but I'm looking forward to it!

ScientistMother

I've never understood the Jezebel. Reacting to their story would actually give it credence. Motherhood is hard. Life is hard. People deal with it differently. End of story.

Carrie

I would completely disagree with the author of that NPR piece, in suggesting that writing about the ups and downs of motherhood is, in some way, a form of child abuse.

Writing, for whatever reason, be it self expression, be it to air one's feelings, be it to entertain, is just that. What? Mothers aren't supposed to have VOICES simply because we have children? Give me a break. That is ludicrous.

Women have been writing FOREVER about how they feel, are we to shield one another from the not so pretty parts simply because there exists now a medium in which our words can be read faster and vaster than ever before? Are we to shove our feelings and words into a shoe box and stuff it on the highest shelf in our closet because, good god, someone might actually read them one day? Really?

Just how far have we, as women, come if there are still those who believe things like this?

Shame on her.

Goldfish

I strongly agree about the public/private sphere question. Motherhood in itself remains undervalued and largely invisible. Those of us who eschew "public" (ie, employed) identities are frequently seen as being less-than-fully-actualized. If we are seen at all. Perhaps bringing the private/feminine sphere into the public is fundamentally threatening?...

I blog in part to quantify and legitimize what I do as a stay-at-home-mother. "What I do" is not always easy for me to identify in our cultural context, and it helps me to write about it in a public platform. As a mother who writes about her children, I feel it is my prerogative to decide what is appropriate for public consumption. I am an adult and a parent. I can be trusted with this decision as much as I can with any other.

And, finally, steering away from the question of mothers as writers, is just me or is there perhaps a little hyperbole in comparing inappropriate familial disclosure with mass destruction?

Carrie

Okay, now that I've said all that.

There is a line I will not cross in my own writing, absolutely. But I cannot and will not make that judgement for another person.

We should not be policing words.

duh

"I do not understand the continuing devaluation of children in North American society"

Get over yourself.

NewfoundlandGirl

Ok - motherhood sucks sometimes, and we all know it. Our mothers knew it, our grandmothers knew it. Any woman who thinks it's not going to be hard is delusional, and perhaps ought to give much harder thought to becoming a mother.

That said, I understand the need to reach out and share, and hopefully gain some perspective. But at what cost? Children in todays society have way more pressures than ever before, and it's harder and harder for kids just to be kids.

Is it fair that moms make this harder by letting the neighborhood, the school, their friends and their friends parents in on all the rotten little secrets that exist in every family? Is it fair for kids to be laughed at and made fun of because their mothers cannot differentiate between private family matters and fodder to drive stats up? Does a child not have a basic right to privacy?

There are some great bloggers who do it well, and their love and concern for their family is evident. But for every one who does it right, there are dozens who don't know when to stop sharing. Talk all you want about how hard you feel your life is, and how unfair motherhood can be. But why do you have to identify your kids to do so? Why is it necessary to refer to your kids by name to get a little validation?

elizabeth aquino

It would behoove people to read Andrew Sullivan's recent piece on blogging and community -- I don't have the link right now, but if you google The Daily Dish and just keep scrolling, I'm sure you'll find: Why I Blog. It's fantastic. And I'm bored to tears by people OBJECTING to things (like helicoptering, women who work and women who don't etc, etc.). I feel like it's the chatter of the elite classes and, ultimately, boring. Bravo to you, Catherine for beautifully articulating that women writers, blogging, writing, whatever, are just part of the chain -- a tradition that is long and good and hopefully got better by including the "other" sex.

Account Deleted

Dude. Fucking-A WORD.

So dead on it isn't even funny.

In other words, I totally agree with you. When men write memoirs young feminists don't get all up in arms about "what about the children?"

Fuckers.

:)

Dana

I think it comes down to the fact that the truth hurts. But I prefer the honest, raw truth to the perceived notions about motherhood.

I found my baby book the other day, the one my mother kept for me, and while she documents all my growth charts, developmental milestones and many stumbles while learning to walk -- she wrote nothing about how she was feeling or what she was thinking.

Sure she says how much she loved her baby and all the "amazing" things I did, but there's nothing that says, "Yes! Mothering is fucking hard sometimes."

I so wish she would have written those things, because maybe, now, as a mother myself, I wouldn't feel so freaking inadequate. And maybe, I wouldn't have this freakish desire to be perfect all the damn time.

I say fuck those assholes shitting on "momoirs." If they don't like it they don't have to read.

Backpacking Dad

Imagine if St. Augustine had been a father: his kids would have read about the most horrible, horrible personally defective act imaginable in anyone's life.

That time he stole an apple.

:}

There's been such of a move away from considerations of the blood in the last century, despite DNA research confirming a lot of what humanists have known forever: the sins of the father are inherited by his children. Or rather, the predispositions to sin are inherited by his children. When I think about my 20s, and how very, very little I knew about my own father during that same period of his life, I can't help but think that if I had known him better, known his flaws, I would have been able to see the signs of my own.

The pressure to save children from their parents is so strong that parents can't even reveal their souls any more, at least not directly.

We live in an anonymous world, where the Miller hasn't known us or our family for decades, and where our family histories are no longer written on our villages, just in our souls. If parents don't share those histories directly no one will, and a history whose repetition may have been avoided might repeat instead.

I WANT my daughter to know what dispositions exist in her family; what we're like, in our private thoughts and feelings away from the stage of the world, because that is where she will do most of her own hurting. I'm not going to refrain from telling her about the nature of her family because it might disappoint or disillusion her somehow, or send her to therapy. Fuck that. Therapy is an answer to the anonymous village, not a punishment. But if the psychological effect of the non-anonymous village can be replicated by passing on family histories directly then maybe she won't even need that answer to our very modern problem.

But all of that was an answer to a question you didn't raise: Is it better to family blog or not?

The answer to your actual question (WTF, kids, why pick on moms?) is that bullies go after people who give a shit.

Andy

Just wanted to direct you over to these two stories:
http://bitchmagazine.org/article/the-ambition-condition
http://bitchmagazine.org/article/aint-i-a-mommy

Mandy

As a retired English lit teacher, the Jezebel story smacks of the traditional Mary dichotomy; woman is seen as Mary Magdalene (whore) or the Virgin Mary (saint) and not much else in between.

It's about time women started telling their own stories, in their own words, with their own honesty... and adding a little depth to the Mary spectrum.

Tea

I couldn't imagine feeling more alone and isolated than finding my mother's (or fathers, whatever) very public accounts of how torturous my upbringing was for them. How they suffered, how they hated it sometimes.

I can now understand how difficult it was to raise me, how many sacrifices my mother made for me and my sister. Good to know when my turn comes.

What's NOT good is to broadcast that for all the world to see without giving the child a choice.

Btw I'm not saying we should censor those blogs or people shouldn't write memoirs. It's your life, man. I'm just saying I would never do it because I think it's selfish and serves to alienate one's children.

kittenpie

As most people have said above, I appreciate knowing that other women who I respect and seem together also have had a hard time with some of the things that were hardest for me. I'd like my daughter to have that peace of mind and comfort or support if she becomes a mother some day, too. I'd like to think I'd give that to her, as well.

But the other thing I think is being missed when people criticize and ask the "what about the children" question is the very fact that it IS about them. The fact that we are so much about them, that they are so on the forefront of our minds that they are what we write about is an act of love. Even more than that, if our children ever do read the blogs or memoirs? The love shines through so strongly, that even if we talk about the hard parts, it's always in the context of taking the challenge with the overall so-worth-it. In many ways, it's the most honest love letter ever written.

The Coffee Lady

yes, I do agree... but... but...

There is a difference: recording your thoughts, journaling, sharing your feelings with your children, a close community (online or offline) - all good. But writing a memoir and expecting people to buy it?

Being supportive about mental health issues and motherhood isn't something you SELL, it's something you DO, in your everyday life. When did people stop talking to one another about their problems and start selling them off instead?

So men write shitty memoirs. This is terrible, and I buy none of them. It certainly doesn't mean that women should write shitty memoirs too. Of course we CAN, but we should be better.

Maybe it's because I read that women's vomitworthy article a while ago about loving her husband, and his smooth round shoulders and their constant lovemaking, and it made me feel a bit ill for quite a while. Maybe that is making me even more concerned that there is going to be a whole book of this coming into the world.

Karen

As a daughter of a mother who had no scruples about telling me how fucking hard her life was after I was born, I have a slightly different perspective.

It is one thing to acknowledge that parenting is a job, and a hard one. To admit that the days of being a SAHM or SAHD can be isolating and lonely, and still be rewarding. To admit that juggling a paycheck job and parenting can be exhausting.

It's another to be vitriolic and sarcastic and nasty about one's kids, as I've seen on some blogs. My own mother made a point of telling me things like, "If my second baby had lived, YOU wouldn't be here, we just wanted two kids, and you filled the number," which, you know, was honest, but when I was eight? Made me feel very much unwanted. And telling me that she had to get a hysterectomy because of my birth, that it was all my fault (again, when I was NINE?) not very cool. There's honesty and then there's brutal honesty. Kids take a lot of thing to heart.

I think some of the concern about the mommyblogs is that kids are more sophisticated with technology these days; they'll be able to access those blogs when they're in grade school, or in junior high. That is not the time for Junior to read that Mommy couldn't bear the thought of sex with Daddy when Junior was six weeks old. Does that make sense?

Emily

Just as an aside for Backpacking Dad: I thought St. Augustine did have a son with the mistress that he later abandoned to become a Christian?

Regarding the article, I agree that parental disclosure can be a double-edged sword. I knew way too much about the details of the failure of my parents' marriage, but you know what? I can honestly say that learning from their mistakes has helped me at several critical moments in my own.

And the double standard is appalling. I used to work for two well-known memoir writers (a husband and wife). People often asked how the woman justified revealing the details of certain relationships, but no one ever asked the man that question.

I have a blog that I keep for my family, and it's mostly pictures and "Look what your grandchildren are up to now! And see what good parents we are!" I have kept journals for each child, though, that are honest looks at what our family life was like at various stages. They include our one disastrous brush with full-time childcare and other things that I think they might want an explanation for, or at least a little insight into, later in life. Would I publish them? Umm...no. But should I be able to without fear of any criticism other than that aimed at their literary merit? Absolutely.

BabyintheCity

I think you've answered your own question. The reason women, mothers in particular, are singled out is precisely because they are lifting the veil for the first time and the impact of their honesty, their very public testimony of intimate experiences of motherhood, is still unknown. We will have to wait for a generation of blogged-about children to grow up and let us all know. So, until then, we all discuss it and bite our fingernails, and wag those same fingers at each other occasionally.

I think it is interesting that so many comments to yuor post are not interested in your clearly posed question as much as the question of whether this kind of memoir is good or bad. I see that as a sign that many are still not clear or certain or entirely comfortable yet with this type of blogging - no definitive position has been reached, bloggers are still working out their feelings on it (you said as much too).

The reason 'family memoir bloggers' are still working it out is not too different from why journalists often single them out: its powerful, its important, and completely untested.

LAVENDULA

those jezebel girls know nothing of feminism...some days i stand gracefully calmly and with beauty and dignity on my mother pedestal but most days i'm barely hanging on..we are humans with flaws and it will not hurt for our children to know this.my children see me struggle with sadness and pms rages etc,and whatvthey also see is me dealing with my feelings and working it out!i think i'm setting a good example for them....

Anon.

"...why does everyone keep shitting on moms who tell the stories of their motherhood?"

Because, if they didn't shit on the moms, and devalue her experiences, they'd have to accept that mom's experiences are often difficult, lonely, and backbreaking work, not-withstanding the incredible love and pride that moms have for their children. And maybe, just maybe, they feel guilty (maybe because they have chosen, at some point, to not support a mom in her incredible work, who knows...).

Because maybe people choose to believe in the fairytale, and can't handle the reality of some moms.

Because, as the former teacher pointed out in an earlier comment, the Mary dichotomy still thrives.

Because people just don't want to have to think about things that make them uncomfortable.

Because other moms have traditionally just sucked it up, and never said a word (or said it very quietly), and are upset/jealous/whatever that someone else has had the guts to talk.

Dana

Wow, because, you know, children would have NO IDEA about their family's dirty laundry if not for their mom's blog.

Who is stupid enough to believe that? Then family grapevine is now online. Time for those women to move along and overreact to another topic.

I'm also tired of this absolutely BS double-standard that women cease to own their existences simply because they have children. Some people can't be coaxed out of the 1950s mentality to save their hides.

liz

Personally, I think our children will be HAPPY to have this proof of our personhood when they are grown-up and dealing with their own issues of parenting (or not). How many of us ask ourselves how our moms did it ("without bumbo seats!")?

Julie

Another year of therapy, an angel losing her wings, and don't forget about God killing the kittens.

Or is that only when we masturbate? I forgot.

This dovetails nicely with some recent occurrences around my 'hood. And by 'hood, I mean the real life one, where online and offline lives have intersected.

Denise Emanuel

I wish blogging had been around when my kids were little. They're 19 and 22 now and I was completely isolated living in a huge city with no family for thousands of miles. My husband came home at 9:00 at night and rarely ate a meal with us. I formed a community eventually with La Leche League moms, but mostly I was alone. Blogging moms would have made my life easier and thereby, the lives of my daughters. Blog on. We are no longer alone.

Eva

Today I was thinking about the whole notion of privacy -- what it means to me, to my family, and my friends. My husband read my blog entry yesterday – a poem on Conner Pond – and was disconcerted by my making public reference to family members on the web. “Don’t you need to get their permission to do that?” he asked. I am concerned about it, too, but a part of me is willing to make enemies if anyone’s going to tell me that I can’t write what I deem acceptable to write about them. I like to think that if someone took the time to write about me in any way that was close to their heart, I would be at worst fascinated, and at best grateful. If I felt hurt and misunderstood, I'm not sure I would think that a valid reason for keeping it unwritten.

My mother is a private person. She has said she does not want me writing things she tells me without her permission.

That is a difficult thing to honor, and I feel it is a little unfair.

I am impatient of people who are possessive of what they deem to be their “private” selves. In the case of my mother, I must say I am suspicious of it. I feel the rebellious urge to, if not expose her, reveal myself in a way that will somehow punish her. On some level, I can't believe she really is a private person. It is, like so much else about her, a contradiction.

There have been times when I've asked her a question, and she’s taken great, almost pompous, offense. Told me it's none of my business, or that it's a private matter. Or, she’s suggested that I must have come by my curiosity illegitimately -- by eavesdropping or snooping. An example. I remember as a child being upstairs in bed quite late at night and hearing her and her brother make unintelligible sounds. I burned with curiosity to know exactly what was transpiring -- it seemed alternately exciting and frightening. But I couldn’t catch words or explicit meaning; just rustlings, exclamations, and the occasional voice raised above a whisper. So overwhelming was my desire to understand what was happening that I almost dared to get out of bed and climb onto my dresser to peek out of the internal window that gave onto the living room below. But I was too frightened of being detected.

The next day I asked my mother as casually as I could what she and my uncle had been talking about after I’d gone to bed. She stopped dead in her tracks and demanded to know if I’d been listening. She was angry and accusatory; I was always sticking my nose in other peoples’ affairs. And I can’t remember whether she told me never to breathe a word of what I’d heard or to tell her everything I’d heard, but in any event, I knew -- without knowing why -- that I had impermissably crossed a boundary.

I think I can be forgiven for being confused about what my role should have been in that situation. Because there were times when my mother shared secrets with me that made me feel like I was the only person in the world she could talk to who would understand. These moments were profound; I understood myself to have somehow gained that trustworthy status that I knew she valued above all in her life: a person to believe in and rely on. While I could sense that she would never betray my father or put my interests before his, she nonetheless sought my advice for ways to cope with his unpredictable moods. And she would cry and tell me that I was wise beyond my years.

So I’ve never been sure what rights I have as a friend and confidante with my mother. And for that reason, partly, I think it’s unfair that I should feel the grip of her censorship now, when I want to write publically about myself, and she is so much a part of that.

Jezebel asks "when does airing familial dirty laundry cross the line between art and mass destruction?" I think that question lies deep in the mystery of writing, and perhaps it is something that we must let the writer take a chance on, in good faith.

The post-modernists say it is impossible to discern an author’s views or intentions. Once written, the word is liberated from its maker and has its own, independent life. There is something so freeing about that theory (for the writer, anyway), even if it doesn’t really reflect the way people read literature. It seems readers are always trying to discover the voice behind the voice, and to find out if what they read is “true” or “real.”
Posted by Eva at 8:24 PM 0 comments
Labels: Her Bad Mother, Jezebel, Memoirs, Moms, Privacy
What Is Too Private To Write About?

Today I was thinking about the whole notion of privacy -- what it means to me, to my family, and my friends. My husband read my blog entry yesterday – my poem on Conner Pond – and was discomfited by my making public reference to family members on the web. “Don’t you need to get their permission to do that?” he asked. I am concerned about it, too, but a part of me is willing to make enemies if anyone’s going to tell me that I can’t write what I deem acceptable to write about them. They can defend themselves. I like to think that if someone took the time to write about me in any way that was close to their heart, I would be at worst fascinated, and at best grateful. And if I were hurt, it wouldn’t be because I felt myself impugned in the public eye, so much as misunderstood by the writer portraying me.

My mother is a private person. She has said she does not want me writing things she tells me without her permission.

That is a difficult thing to honor, and I feel it is a little unfair.

I notice that I am somewhat impatient of people who are possessive of what they deem to be their “private” selves. In the case of my mother, I must say I am suspicious of it. I feel the rebellious urge to, if not expose her, reveal myself in a way that will somehow punish her. On some level, I can't believe she really is a private person. It is, like so much else about her, a contradiction.

There have been times when I've asked her a question, and she’s taken great, almost pompous offense. Told me it's none of my business, or that it's a private matter. Or, she’s suggested that I must have come by my curiosity illegitimately -- by eavesdropping or snooping. An example. I remember as a child being upstairs in bed quite late at night and hearing her and her brother make strange sounds together. I burned with curiosity to know exactly what was transpiring -- it seemed alternately exciting and frightening. But I couldn’t catch words or explicit meaning; just rustlings, exclamations, and occasionally a voice raised above a whisper. So overwhelming was my desire to understand what was happening that I almost dared to get out of bed and climb onto my dresser to peek out of the window that gave onto the living room below. But I was too frightened of being detected.

The next day I asked my mother as casually as I could what she and my uncle had been talking about after I’d gone to bed. She stopped dead in her tracks and demanded to know if I’d been listening. She was angry and accusatory; I was always sticking my nose in other peoples’ affairs. And I can’t remember whether she told me never to breathe a word of what I’d heard or to tell her everything I’d heard, but in any event, I knew -- without knowing why -- that I had impermissably crossed a boundary.

I think I can be forgiven for being confused about what my role should have been in that situation. Because there were times when my mother shared secrets with me that made me feel like I was the only person in the world she could talk to who would understand. These moments were profound; I understood myself to have somehow gained that trustworthy status that I knew she valued above all in her life: a person to believe in and rely on. While I could sense that she would never betray my father or put my interests before his, she nonetheless sought my advice for ways to cope with his unpredictable moods. And she would cry and tell me that I was wise beyond my years.

So I’ve never been sure what rights I have as a friend and confidante with my mother. And for that reason, partly, I think it’s unfair that I should feel the grip of her censorship now, when I want to write publically about myself, and she is so much a part of that.

Jezebel asks when do we cross the line between airing dirty laundry and writing a legitimate, valuable memoir? I think that question lies deep in the mystery of writing, and perhaps it is something that we must let the writer take a chance on, in good faith?

The post-modernists say it is impossible to discern an author’s views or intentions. Once written, the word is liberated from its maker and has its own, independent life. There is something so liberating about that theory, even if it doesn’t really reflect the way people read literature. Readers are always trying to discover the voice behind the voice, and to find out if what they read is “true” or “real.”

Walking With Scissors

It seems to me that the sweeping assumption here by our pal Jezebel, is that the blog is the only thing the child will have to reference his or her mother's personality, feelings and love of him/her. Because, without the blog, the child would know nothing. The mother obviously isn't there parenting, loving, and living with the child in person. Duh.

Come on, Jezebel. Grab a clue. A blog is only a small part of a mother's life. She is, after all, busy mothering. Blog or no blog, I'd think that most children would understand their mother's love for them well enough not to have to run to therapy after reading about their epic tantrum at Best Buy.

keric125

Ivymae,
I found Anne Lamott's book shortly after my son was born, and absolutely fell in love. Everything she was describing about her feelings and her son's development was happening to me and my son, and it was so wonderful to feel like I had a friend standing by who was going through THE EXACT SAME THING. I went on to buy all of her books, including her fiction, and saw her speak in Spokane a few years ago. She is my hero!!!
Anyhow, kind of off-topic, but I was excited to see someone mention her name!!!

MommyNamedApril

how ridiculous. so mommy's are supposed to be these benign stepford beings with no emotions, so their childred won't be scarred??? seems like the healthier thing would be to show your kids you are real, your life is real and things aren't all gumdrops and roses. i think it's more detrimental to continually shield children.

anon

"Now that women are talking publicly about how hard it really is, people don't want to hear it"

No, now that women are making entire memoirs about the difficulty of living with a CHOICE you made to have a child - people don't want to hear it. (Besides, women have been speaking publically about the troubles with motherhood for ages - just not in blog, memoir form.)

I think there’s a difference there.

And I’m not saying that I agree – BECAUSE I DON’T – I think mothers should write whatever they want whenever they want in any form they want. I’m a fan of so-called mommy-bloggers and their memoirs. There’s a market for everything but I think saying that this is a product of sexism is not the whole truth.

Shawna

Funny, I look at my journal as something I do FOR my kids, not something I wouldn't want them to discover. After writing for over five years, I have every intention of printing out the whole thing soon and having three copies bound: one for me and one for each of my kids.

ANON

Right, tell them all the crap. I so disagree. All a young kid wants to know is things are alright. Or, perhaps you should tell your 8 year old that look, sometimes I just don't like you. You scream and cry. Stop acting like a child!
PS... this goes to Moms and Dads, not gender-specific. I do agree that age appropriate truth is required. When they are young, just say no, you can't have it. As they get older, perhaps something like... we can't budget $200 shoes for you.

The other part of this seems to be devaluing mothers somehow. I am not a mother (male here). Personally, I don't devalue any mothers; I don't look at moms who choose not to enter the paid workforce as something less. Since I am not a mother, I have never been or felt to have been devalued as such. So, I cannot speak to that... other than this.

Back in the beginning of my undergrad career, I had a writing class. We had various discussion session; it was a 2nd year course, so most of us were 19-22 I would say.

Well, one session was about future and life plans. One woman said her goal was to be a good mother to her future children and partner to her soon-to-be husband. She was attacked, sometimes viciously, by the other women. How could she settle for such 'servitude' when women and feminists had fought so she could be 'so much more'. Well, I was appalled. Wasn't the movement about giving choices? So, a woman wouldn't face inequity in the workforce? BUT... also, shouldn't she have the right to choose motherhood without a job outside the home and not face ridicule for that choice?

I have had a lot of jobs and am aware of many more. I cannot think of a tougher, more noble and honorable job than being the main (and too often only) parent responsible for raising a baby into a well adjusted (relatively) contributing good person.




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