Boundaries in Blogging

“You’re going to blog about me, aren’t you?”

If you haven’t gotten this question from you friends, family, coworkers, or random strangers at Target yet*, it’s just a matter of time. From the moment that I made it known to my friends and family that I had set up my own digital space to tell my stories, people in my life have wondered when, exactly, they would make their grand entrance on my blog and immediately start receiving their residuals.

*Hey, it could happen.

Almost four years into my blogging stint, my friends and family now know that I would never write anything personal or sensitive about them, and even if I did, I would vet the post with them first. None of us lives life in a vacuum, so it’s important for us to exercise discretion when we share our world on our blogs. The truth is that there are other lives in the mix, lives that may or may not appreciate being read about.

Being a parenting blogger, I’ve struggled with the question of boundaries ever since my daughter was born. She’s a toddler now and only associates my blogging habit with me drinking gallons of coffee in one sitting. But I know that, eventually, the day will come when she’ll want to read what I’ve written about her. And since she’s going to hate me anyway when she’s a teenager, I’d rather it be because I wear God-awful jeans that come all the way up to my boobs and not because I shared too much about her on my blog when she was small. The older she gets, the more I try to write in broad strokes about her and avoid the embarrassing, personal stories that aren’t really mine at all to tell.

What about you? What boundaries do you have in place when you write about your family or friends?

Comments

  1. I wrote in a journal – a journal for each – (before blogging!) on every birthday until my daughters were 21. I never shared what I had written. My oldest daughter just turned 30, I wrote one last entry and I sent her the journals on her birthday. She has told me that she has read them more than once. I think she she has a better understanding of how much I love her, and how very special it is to have her in my life. She is now older than when I started the journal and she is able to get a glimpse of who I was when I was her age.

  2. The most embarrassing things I share are the ones that happened to me. There’s a surprisingly large amount of material from which to draw. Anything else I check first with those involved. And Oreos, I write a lot about Oreos.

  3. It’s a fine line – I don’t use names of most people (or, if I talk about other bloggers, I’m careful to use only the name they use on their own blog) and am careful to only talk about things, like you said, in broad strokes, unless I know the person very well and know they won’t mind if I go into a little more detail. There are things you want just for yourself, and there are things you want to share, and sometimes those things dovetail, and that’s tough – how much is too much? And then there are people who think you owe them everything from your life – luckily, I haven’t run across many of them, but I have had some readers who’ve contacted me either outside of the blog or in comments asking some pretty personal questions that I purposely *didn’t* address on the blog.

    These are the things people don’t tell you about when you start blogging – and it’s all kind of like feeling your way around an unfamiliar dark room while wearing a blindfold.

    1. Amen to that. Sometimes I miss the days when approximately zero people read my blog because then I didn’t have to worry about what I said or didn’t say. I still get kind of a bee in my bonnet when people ask me what C’s full name is.

      1. What a silly question! Cindy, obviously! (Yes, that’s my name, so I’ll claim C as a namesake, just ’cause she’s so adorable. I’m pretty sure living vicariously through children is every parent’s favorite occupation. 😉 )

  4. I also write about my daughter but the topic is limited to the books we share together so I’m not that worried that I’m sharing too-personal details. I do however take greater care of which photographs I use to illustrate my posts, selecting shots which only show abstract body parts or the back of her head so that hopefully she is not too embarrassed by my blogging when she is older.

  5. In my early and mid 20’s I dabbled in overshare. Actually, too much of it, so calling it dabbling probably isn’t fair. Anyways, I learned that a) people don’t actually want to hear what you think of them, and b) people don’t want other people to know what you think of them. Break it all down and blogging can feel a lot like gossiping. And gossiping erodes relationships of all shapes and sizes. In my mind I was venting some well earned frustrations and sorting out my childhood issues. In theirs, I was airing dirty laundry. We were both right. And the outcome was to be expected: hurt feelings. I realized (far too late) that while my story is partially tied to their stories, I still can not tell their stories. That isn’t my job. My job is to own MY bullshit. Not make them responsible for their own. I know I’m speaking of a very specific sort of blogging, but I also know it’s very tempting for a lot of people who have things to deal with and finally an audience encouraging them to deal with it. Yes, the blogging community at large makes it feel safe to start questioning things you’ve experienced in life, but at what cost? We joke about blogging being therapy, but therapy is different because it’s private, quiet, and safe from the eyes and ears of the people who harmed you. So, as someone who had to learn the hard way, don’t overshare your personal family/marriage/relationship battles, unless doing to in ABSOLUTE anonymity, and maybe not even then. Talk to friends in person. Or a therapist. Or a pastor. Or a support group. Even if you’ve been done wrong. Wrong enough to sort of justify the public flogging of those who’ve wronged you. Don’t do it. You won’t win. Not that way.

  6. Great topic! I write about caring for and living with my elderly in-laws and mother over the past few years. I found that there was a learning curve to blogging. While I use my real name, for everyone else I either do not use names at all or I change their names. It is a thin veil though, as any one who know me also knows who I am writing about. I try to be respectful about what I share, but there have been times that I have gone off on a rant that I should not have published. I found that using an editor helps to keep me on the straight and narrow. She is a filter for when mine seems to be missing.

    1. You bring up the really important point that having someone from your “real life” filling an editorial role is so important. I have a couple of friends who are writers themselves who I often run posts by before I put them up and the feedback I’ve received from this has been invaluable. Thanks for reading and commenting, Lori!

  7. Great topic. It’s the same issue any memoirist has. Sometimes I read things like the essays of David Sedaris and wonder how his family feels about the light he shines on them. But if he wasn’t so specific, his writing wouldn’t be as strong…or his career as successful. It’s a fine line.

  8. I almost never write about my two older kids because the could easily be embarrassed. Occasionally they give consent (or even ask me to write). The youngest is teetering on the edge of implied consent. He is in kindergarten now and more aware of things than he was when I first started. Sadly, he is even funnier now than he was then, so I face a dilemma. I may take my blog in a whole new direction at some point just so I don’t have to answer this question.

  9. Reblogged this on a little bit of everything and commented:
    In a very little span of time, I enjoyed blogging a lot. But when it comes to sharing it to the people I know, family or friends, I have this feeling that I need to keep this blogging thing a secret from them. Not all of them really know what I have been blogging about, and I intend to keep it that way. For me, the people who are close to me and don’t know what I’m doing means I’m worry-free and carefree from their judgemental eyes and minds. It also means I can be myself without thinking what they can say or think about me.

  10. Good morning. Lovely to meet you and so looking forward to seeing you talk in Portland. My wee blog is about my life on a farm and is very perstinent so your question did make me think. ( And in fact I have deleted and rephrased my comment about a hundred times already as i try to truthfully answer). OK I have written stories (the funny and the sad) about my life as a child growing up on the beach.These stories have included my sisters and brothers, sometimes my own children -( I was a very young Mum). But I have never had anyone complain. I have devised a code for most names though most do not care if i use theirs. But there is a whole raft of stories i would never tell.. if nothing else I am sure it would only embarrass my readers anyway. I think if we add kindness to the equation, the boundary line becomes very clear. See you in portland!. c

    1. Hi Cecilia! I am actually going to be at the Phoenix event so it looks like we’ll be missing one another, but say hi to all your Portland cohorts for me!

      You raise a good point about changing people’s names. I have always referred to my daughter as “C” or “Cee” and my husband by his first initial.

  11. We are very much on the same page. I write less and less about my kids as they get older…or maybe I refer to something they may have done generally, without mentioning they specifically did it. As far as family and friends, I have written “tribute” pieces to a few, but who wouldn’t want heaps of praise for all to see? 🙂 Other than that, it’s pretty much off the table for me. Risking my relationships isn’t worth all the likes or shares in the world. I never want people I love worrying that something they do or say around me is up for grabs in my writing, even if it “disguised” with the whole “names have been changed” disclaimer. Never.

    1. And one of the things I love about your writing is that it is more about parenting than it is about your kids. Remember that meme awhile back with the little kid saying “You worry about yourself!”? That’s what *you* do, and that’s what makes your writing super-relate-able.

      1. You are the best and the sweetest and the yummiest (because you are full of Pop Tarts). Thank you, friend…and you know those are the very same reasons people keep coming back to your writing as well. And that is the best meme evah!!!! In fact, we quote it on a daily basis at our house, always mimicking her: “Worry ’bout yo’self!” I think I may have even put that you tube clip in a blog post at some point. It has pretty much changed my life.

  12. I don’t usually share anything TOO personal about my friends or family online, but some of my friends have actually asked them to write about them/things we do together. They read the blog, so they want to see their name in print!! There’s definitely a boundary, though, like how I would never discuss work things in a negative light.

    1. How fun! Some of my family members have asked me to write about memories from our shared pasts, too. I love it when this happens because it’s an opportunity to bring the people exactly what they want!

    2. My daughter is old enough now to LOVE seeing her picture on anything, including the internet. 🙂 If she had her way — at least at this stage — I’d write about her every single day, all day long.

  13. I am struggling with boundaries now that I am a mom. So far, it’s been all about me and sometimes my husband, and he gets to be a consenting adult. But my boy? I have to make the hard choices for him…mostly, I am afraid I’ll regret some choice I make now.

    1. That’s a tough position to be in, and I empathize. On one hand, you don’t want to post anything that they’ll be mad at you for later; on the other hand, I want my kids to be proud of every part of their lives, even when adolescence hits! Sigh, internet — you complicate things sometimes! 🙂

  14. I have to say that it’s personal anecdotes are what I really WANT to write about. I don’t write things that I think will make people mad, but I quote and recount events as I remember them with little hesitation.

  15. My posts often deal with uncomfortable subjects so I’ve had this dilemma. It’s hard to tell my story without telling parts of someone else’s so I try to focus on me, my feelings and my lessons. I find that telling too much gets in the way of the heart of a story and that readers want to know how I got to where I am, not all the excruciating details.

    As for my kids, I don’t use their names but I do use photos. They’re at the age where I can tell funny stories that involve them but the focus is still on me.

  16. What I could blog about my three boys would be supportive and positive since they are all capable and self sufficient. Their accomplishments should be acknowledged and celebrated by their peers as we, the parents add a nod of approval. My blogging is to bring to light the forces that diminish their lives and livelihoods. That is what is important to me as a parent now. At this point in ther lives,

  17. Easily solved…my family does not read my blog. 🙂 Just kidding. They get that it’s about a dog and his pet therapy adventures with my, ahem…strong opinions regarding certain topics (and probably are grateful I don’t scrutinize them endlessly. Still this is exactly why I do not have work colleagues nor every former high school mate as Facebook friends. Some things are just better left unsaid and not everything needs to be the subject of some form of social media. Selectiveness is it’s own virtue. 🙂

  18. The only time I’ve run into this question was when I posted the three-parter about my family of origin’s journey to America. I did not want to offend my many cousins, so sent the first installment out by email to them for permission. Thankfully, they loved it! 😀 But I would not have posted it if any of them had objections.

  19. Reblogged this on Love the Everyday and commented:
    This is something that I am not at all good at. I write from the heart, and sometimes I feel like I have word vomit all over the screen. I am careful about writing about coworkers and family members, but my own stuff is just all over the place. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the internet is forever, and nothing really goes away. Every thought, every story that is told, every single post should be thought through before posting…. but where do you draw the line?

  20. The playing field gets much trickier when your kids are older. I’ve read many bloggers that talked (not in broad strokes) about their younger kids and wondered how that will play out when those kids are old enough to say: stop! I started when my oldest child was already 21, her brothers 19 and 15. They have been clear in their boundaries from the start, and I’ve had to wrangle that from time to time… balancing what I want to write about, how to express myself (when so much involves them) and how to respect their privacy and personal boundaries– versus my writing and personal boundaries. It’s a real balancing act! I found that when I started writing regularly for the HuffPost, I got much more discerning about what I say. I don’t want my kids identified for lots of reasons, including their safety, when I write about Israel, or some other topic that pushes people’s buttons.

    Great post, Emily! This is a topic that all writers should really look at…

  21. Great topic, Emily.

    Most of the people I know in real life aren’t at all tuned into my blog. I mention it sometimes, because it’s important to me, but I don’t think they can relate. None of them blog. I recently started writing a column in the local paper and that is much more concrete to my friends, because it’s in a form they can see and relate to. NOW I’m getting the comments, “are you gonna write about this?” I think most would be secretly flattered if I did.

    My family doesn’t live near me, so they can’t relate to the column. Some of them read the blog so I have to watch what I say. One of my sisters has cancer and I have to be extra careful how I mention that in my non-snarky posts. She doesn’t mind if I talk about it, but she rarely visits or comments. She just doesn’t want to think about it.

    On writing about your daughter, I would write what you want because when she grows up she probably won’t read your shiz at all. We parents couldn’t possibly do anything interesting, especially in their teen years. We are merely a (hopefully) stable platform from which they launch their own lives. That’s what I usually think. Then the other day my just-turned-23-year-old daughter said how impressed her girlfriend was with my blog. I was shocked. Also touched when it occurred to me that it was possible that my uber-cool kid was showing me off because she was proud of her old mom.

    So, yeah. Better watch what you say.

  22. Being a travel blogger I get this ALL the time. And honestly, I do blog about people I meet quite often because their part of that journey. Recently I decided to feature other travelers on my blog and vlog. It’s been amazing.

    One slippery slope I’ve found personally is family. Those who you know so intimately are the most likely to be bothered or offended by what you write about them. But those around me know who I am. I write the way I speak and that tends to be from the hip with little regards to filters. At times this has caused a bit of a rift but it’s my truth same as theirs.

    A concession I’ve found is changing of names. Doesn’t work well when I say brother, mother, or granny though. lol

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