Writer vs Subject: Mental Health vs Scarred for Life

By Kathy Cummins

I write this on the birthday of Bob Newhart, who said, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” For weeks, I have been trying to answer for myself and for this essay the question of why we blog, in particular, why mothers blog while raising their children and what effect the blog has on those children.

For thirteen years, I blogged — in the form of emails sent almost daily to family, since blogs didn’t exist back then — as aWoman writing way to deal with the craziness of running a household with children. Newhart puts it exactly right. We need a way to deal and move on, and blogging can be it.

Nurture Her Nature blogger Ali is my daughter. When she began telling stories about her girls being “strong-willed” and “a diva” and when Lesley wrote about Story’s misbehavior, e.g., spitting on the baby,  during her and Ali’s trip to the museum (“Mom Friends“), I was taken back a little, because when I was exposing Ali’s foibles to my audience back when she was a challenging teenager (aren’t all teenagers challenging?), she and her sister vehemently disliked my sharing their exploits.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my emails (from June 2000):

Ali’s Illinois standardized test scores … came in the other day. She got, not surprisingly to us proud parents, above average in everything, including a 100% in geometric concepts … and a 100% perfect score on the entire writing portion. We are so proud. Yet, there is always a dark side. Yesterday Ali … graduated from junior high … We shed a few tears of joy and then met Ali in the hall afterwards, where she proudly presented us with a bag containing her pride and joy of the year — her gym clothes that she had not brought home all year long. Pee-yew! They were supposed to have brought these home at least on Monday [this week], but Ali was going for the school record for dirtiest gym clothes, so she kept them in her locker until Tuesday, when they had to vacate their lockers. Then she sweet-talked a teacher into letting her keep them in a classroom until Wednesday, thus successfully winning the prize, to her unbounded delight.

What about that report? I could have blandly told my readers about the amazing test scores and left out the part about the disgusting gym clothes. I could have written the holiday newsletter version: “Ali graduated from middle school, winning three awards in the end-of-year assembly, including a STAR performer award.” How boring! The gym clothes information adds color and humor. It tells the reader something fun about Ali; the fact that it also says something about a mom who doesn’t keep track of whether those gym clothes are coming home once in a while for a washing didn’t occur to Ali (and is beside the point here).

Exposing the “dark side” of my kids made them mad, but putting each day’s themes, both positive and negative, into written words helped me move through the next day, and both my readers and I got upset if I missed a day of telling the tale. What was more important? Should I have worried more about the effect on my kids of my telling stories about everything they did, from the most wonderful to the most hilarious? Should I have backed off from my tendency to exaggerate and satirize their dramatic pre-teen and teenage behavior? Or was it the act of putting the stories into writing that kept me sane as a mother?

Have you ever worried about those kids who because of America’s Funniest Home Videos become known for posterity in reruns and on YouTube as the ones who skateboarded into a wall or tried to ride the puppy? Maybe laughing at these kids is okay because the kids see in the following video an adult doing something funny. Maybe the kids learn humility — and about humanity.

“Laughter gives us distance,” Newhart said. We need distance from the stress of parenthood in order to deal with that stress. Humor is a good way to do it. My kids professed not to understand the humor in my emails/blogs, but that may be because they did not see their lives as humorous — they were just living. Were they scarred for life by being the subject of the writing that I used to deal with my life back then? Both have grown up to be successful businesswomen and mothers, and neither is in therapy, so I doubt it. Most to the point, if Ali thought she was harming her kids by blogging about them, would she be doing it too? I’ve posed too many questions here, but I have settled on my answer to them all: Blog on!

Kathy Cummins raised two girls while moving from Indiana to St. Louis to Germany to Pittsburgh and then to Chicago during their early childhood. She’s now back home in Indiana and recently retired after 30 years as a professional manuscript editor. You can read her current adventures at outofworkeditor.com.