The Line

Well, here’s a question I’m asked near-weekly:

How do you navigate the balance between your child’s privacy and sharing your perspective of motherhood? And how do I? How should we? What about the kids?

It’s my favorite question. I love it for a slew of reasons. I love it because we’re being mindful. I love it because we’re caring for the kids, for our own kids and for other people’s kids – they’re all the same, after all. I love it because we’re worried, and worry grows from concern and concern grows from experience, from observing, from watching and learning and thinking, Wait. Is there another way?

There is another way. There is always another way.

Here’s what I know to be true:

  1. Our stories matter.
  2. So do our children.

When we split the two: a parents’ perspective vs. a child’s experience, we’re only peering into half of the room. The ideals are not mutually exclusive, not in the slightest.

Here’s what I think:

We can talk about parenting without talking about parenting our children.

We can talk about the crushed Puffs in the backseat, about the Target tantrums, about the good and the bad and the Legos. We can talk about what it’s like to learn as we go. We can share tips – Nordstrom has the best nursing room! Stock up on Aquaphor! The zoo’s best on rainy mornings! – and we can be honest about it all. We can say that it’s hard. We can say that it’s beautiful. We can say that we’re grateful and that we’re tired, that we feel overwhelmed and also, oddly, emptied.

We’ll get to tell our kids someday, after all, if we’re lucky.

I once read a story about a pastor who scanned his sermons for a “Punchline Check.” When telling funny stories about other people – his kids, his wife, his friends or family – he’d carefully review his words to make sure the punchline was about him and no one else.

The joke’s gotta be on me, he’d say. It’s not fair to share somebody else’s faults at the pulpit.

I don’t mind sharing my faults at this tiny pulpit, here in my buzzing corner coffee shop, steaming mug nearby. But I mind sharing somebody else’s.

And so, often, a Punchline Check.

I was emailing with one of you a month or so ago, a memoirist and songwriter who is working out this very topic in her own head. Where’s the line? she’d written. How do we know when we cross it?

You’ll know, I wrote. You’ll hear it in the punchline.

I’ve done this wrong, and I’ve done it right. I’ve written volumes before 7am, only to promptly delete them after the Punchline Check.

Can we resist the temptation to tell someone else’s story? Can we allow the joke to be on us? Can we sit with our own faults, fears, anxieties, doubts, long enough to write them down on a screen and let them be? Learn a little about ourselves? Leave the rest to each other?

Every now and then, someone kind and encouraging will offer praise for those who write parenting blogs. Your little girl will have such fond memories of herself, such colorful stories from childhood! they’ll say.

And it’s true, almost. But not entirely.

Instead, this: She will have such fond memories of her mother, such colorful stories of motherhood!

Bee’s memories and stories won’t come from this blog. Those are hers to own – to share, or not.

But someday, she’ll get to read a bird’s eye view from someone observing her bloom. She’ll get to peer from another perspective as she reads each fault, each fear, each anxiety, each doubt.

And she’ll blink, and she’ll pause, and she’ll know instinctively that this wasn’t the flower’s story.

It was the bird’s.





(p.s. Thank you for these photos, Ruth!)

  • Thank you for sharing, thank you for leading, thank you for realness.In vulnerability we quite often become better for it. Long time reader, forever reader, I hope. :)

  • Thank you for writing this! I unfortunately don’t have children yet, but I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. I really appreciate your take on it.

  • Holy Moly!!! This is so so good. I love the punchline check…you could use that in so many areas of life. I love the birds eye view. I think as a child, I would have loved to hear my own mother’s stories of how wonderfully hard parenting is. I think that is exactly why I love your posts on parenting so much, I realize I’m not alone in all these contradictory feelings. It gives me hope. I think Bee and your future children will be so grateful to have this keepsake. You’ll give them the gift of honesty and hope and love all wrapped up in these stories and pictures. So So amazing! Makes me want to start a blog for my own kids!

    • Thank you, Jana – your words are so kind! Life is such a study in contradictions, isn’t it?

  • I’ve often been grateful that this online thing was nowhere to be found when my girls were little. I don’t think I would have navigated it well … too much time spent at the screen, too much information given, too much energy invested in doing so.

    It was hard enough to be a parent … blogging wouldn’t have served us well as a family at all.

    • “too much time spent at the screen, too much information given, too much energy invested in doing so.”
      — I totally agree with this! It’s easy to get swept into the rabbit hole of the screen, of checking in to see what others are doing. I keep strict work hours to compartmentalize my day, so when I’m home, I’m present. No energy given elsewhere. It’s a great balance for me, but man, I know what it’s like to tip the scale (and it’s a mess for me!)!

  • This is so, so, so good and something I’ve recently been processing through in my own heart. You put such perfect words to it, and now it all feels so much clearer in my head. I was working on a blog piece on my daughter and sharing cute/funny photos of her, mostly of when she was crying or upset about something…and it hit me that sharing these things about her was really not honoring or respecting her a person. I love the “punch line check” idea, and it will be a valuable tool for me in my own online spaces. Thank you!

    • Oh Alicia, I love your story here! Thank you for sharing with me; it’s a balance for everyone, and we all have different comfort levels. I love how clearly the punchline check helps us draw our own line! Big hugs your way. :)

  • This is soooooo sooooo good. Because it is so bad. Plenty of mothers don’t do any of this and are very happy and fulfilled. No one really gives a *#@$ except the 10-20 people who comment on it (positively enough to pass your filter). Trust me…the rest of your readership stats are just rolling their eyes. Delete this but believe it…youre just writing to yourself when its all said and done, and if you don’t convince yourself or change your behavior, then you’re not really influencing anyone.

    • I totally hear you, and agree! Plenty, plenty, plenty of mothers don’t do any of this and are very happy and fulfilled. It’s certainly not for everyone. :) One of my best friends clears her mind by baking, another plays the electric guitar, another gardens, another goes for a long run. Mine just happens to be sipping hot coffee and writing down whatever comes out (then choosing what to publish later).

      And you’re right – I am just writing to myself. I write to process, to think, to change, and I publish what I feel might strike a chord with what someone else could be dealing with. Settling in to sort out some feelings first thing in the morning is the best way for me to focus on a certain topic throughout the day, so the beauty is, I am changing my behaviors, little by little by little.

      I love blogging for that reason, but I do absolutely understand why it bristles some. Thanks for sharing your why with me!

  • Erin, thank you for writing this. I run a collaborative blog about motherhood and this is something we are all learning to navigate as we write online (and now as we start writing for our first book!). I love the idea of the punchline check. Thank you for your voice and example.

    • Oh that’s so kind of you to say – thank you! And good luck with the book writing!!!! So exciting!

  • As always I love reading your posts. So inspiring for me. Sometimes I think that parenting is about parenting ourselves first.

  • Love! And yes! Having recently started blogging I quickly came to the conclusion that the only way for me to speak truth was to make it all about me. My joys, my failures, things I’m learning. My prayer is that others can relate, but I mostly always use first person. It didn’t work for me the other way- I always felt icky and deleted those posts before publishing.

  • I’ve been blogging since the year my son was born, and have yet to share his images online. Every time I thought of it I just imagined some weird person seeing him and opted out of it. I think when he grows up, if he chooses to do so then he can.
    When I was growing up I never had to worry about all this, so my privacy was never shown online, not sure how I would have felt.

    • I love that boundary you’ve set! We’re super choosy about the images we share and we don’t share her real name, either. It’s all about your personal preference, that’s for sure. :)

  • Erin, this post came as a beautiful surprise to me. I am not a mother, and, so initially, I thought I would simply learn a thing or two about this issue and how mothers handle it, as a sympathetic observer…but then I realized just how much I could empathize, as a leader/supervisor, as a human. First, I have been preparing to share a “failure” at a work story-telling event, and one of the/my rules is that the story/failure must be your own. In reading this, I realized how I was justifying the story I was preparing as my own because I was involved in the project on the whole. But upon reflection, I realized the actual failure is not truly mine and sharing it could expose my colleagues to embarrassment and shame. I would be misusing the platform to express my emotions about the failure, share my “bird’s eye view” and I would not truly be taking responsibility and sharing my personal, flower-level learning. Thank you for this gift. I don’t want to tell other people’s stories and share the lessons they (should have) learned. Second, and I don’t know why I haven’t made this connection until now, I recently set a standard for myself that I wouldn’t consume stories the subject(s) didn’t help to create. Examples of this are “unofficial biographies,” OJ Simpson mini series, the first season of Serial. I just can’t reconcile consuming a story about a real person that didn’t consent to having that story told. Your post showed me how to take this conviction farther beyond entertainment gossip and other forms of media, into our homes, workplaces and relationships. Again thank you.

    • Oh gracious, Abi – I LOVE how you’ve taken this so many steps further than my original thoughts! What a beautiful perspective (I LOVE your take on consuming stories that a subject didn’t help create!!!). You’ve taught us all something so, so useful today – thank you for sharing such a wise takeaway. :)

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  • As always, you write in such a way that leaves me having learnt several new things and able to view the world, and the actions within, it in a whole new way. Thank you for sharing Erin! Now, let’s hope my memory allows me to remember ha.

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