Private Matters

Your children trust you with their confidences, their difficult disclosures, their bad behaviors because they know you will love them through thick and thin. As a parent, are you free to discuss what they consider private matters?

Your spouse or loved one trusts you with his body, his sorrows, his shortcomings, his latest manipulations at the office. As a partner, are you likely to share his words or actions with your best friend? What about on the web?

Where do we draw the line when it comes to privacy? Not only when it comes to writing on the Internet or updating Facebook, but in our real lives?

Do we reveal too much or just enough? And when it comes to writing or comments, do we change a name, revert to a pronoun, tweak a detail, or gloss over particularly ugly remarks? Do we describe our happy, intimate discoveries – without considering the reaction of others involved? Do we tell about those which are not ours to reveal?

I learned long ago that specifics make for better writing and more satisfying reading. But as a woman and a mother writing from my life – not “telling all” mind you – I purposely choose to avoid the very delicate details that may, at times, result in a superior story. I err on the side of discretion.

That is my choice, a compromise I make willingly, and I understand that others choose differently.

Privacy, Secrecy, “Tell All” With Good Intentions

In a recent Motherlode article, an essay on teen sexuality was shared, and many took exception not only to the content, but to the use of names and details to do with those involved.

  • What do you think of a mother who discloses intimate information about her daughter?
  • If the intent is educational rather than sensational, isn’t this more than appealing to audience appetites?
  • If the teen gives permission, do you believe that makes it acceptable?
  • If the subject were anything other than sex – including the pleasures of oral sex – would anyone take offense?

I have revealed myself in bits and pieces through my writing; without knowing me – at least to some extent – how would you trust my authenticity? What would be the source of my credibility?

Yes, you “sense” me as time goes on, and you perceive the consistency of perspective – albeit on a variety of topics. Yet I frequently trade specificity for generalization, knowing the writing is weaker, but those I love – more ably protected.

Disclosures, Parents, Trust

I wrote about teenage sex not long ago, referencing conversations with my sons and attitudes in this household. I have also shared anecdotes to do with my children, including an amusing incident over condom confusion in which the joke was on me, and my own ignorance.

But do you know any details about my kids or their personal lives? Have I overstepped a boundary – with or without realizing it?

I hope the answer is no. Because I would hate myself if I felt I violated my sons’ privacy.

I recall putting up walls around my mother so she wouldn’t butt in, so she wouldn’t eavesdrop, so she wouldn’t strip my adolescent experiences from our conversations, mining them for her own purposes. She was a woman with no awareness of where she left off and I began. She considered any aspect of my life available fodder – for gossip on the phone with friends, or to reshape into an entertaining story that might be dropped into dinner table conversation. My embarrassment aside, I felt that I couldn’t trust her. Over time, I ceased to ask or tell of anything significant in my life.

She didn’t respect my need for privacy about matters that concerned me. I imagine that is one of the reasons that I believe my sons are entitled to “own” themselves and their feelings. I observe, I ask, I try to draw them out when I sense a problem. But otherwise – they’re both older teens – I believe they have a right to privacy.

Privacy On The Internet

How does that translate here?

It’s a matter of altering certain details, knowing when to change pronouns, recognizing what to gloss over – and also, what to leave out.

With or without permission, I hope I exercise good judgment – as it feels appropriate to this family, in our situation.

As for the mother and daughter I referenced initially, it’s worth noting that the woman is a fine writer, used her full name in the originating contribution on teaching teens the joy of sex, and used her daughter’s name as well. Frankly, it is a poignant essay and a beautiful one. I find their relationship admirable, the content reassuring in many respects, the dialog that follows fascinating, and yet – I would’ve taken a different route.

Changed names. Used third person.

A 17-year old (or 20-year old for that matter) may feel one way about private matters today, and quite differently tomorrow. Especially with everything permanently etched on the Internet.

What do you think?

© D A Wolf


  1. says

    Working with teens for decades has given me a sense of discernment with regards to my own. There are so many times when I am tempted to speak boldly about my kids and their antics, exploits, issues; however, I refrain from it almost completely.

    If I were even to develop fiction based on something in their lives (something I wouldn’t do – that, in my estimation, is part and parcel to their creative juices later on), I would not do so without collaboration/permission. My life is my story to tell. My children will always own theirs to do the same.

  2. says

    There may be a difference between privacy and secrecy; alchemy requires a hermetic (Hermes, god of boundary crossing, money, travel and craft) sealing of things for transformation to occur. Secrets imply shame and can be toxic.

    Sex can cross all boundaries, partly fueled by the forbidden as erotic, partly wholesome and natural, partly something that requires the right things at the right time (across everything from development to any specific instance of sexual experience).

    As for telling “all,” I don’t think we ever fully know ourselves, much less each other (yet the discovery process gives life so much of its richness). Perhaps it serves us to contemplate our true intention before we write, make love or take any action (or non-action). Perhaps a consciously loving wish to do no harm, to align ego with the deeper soul-Self and our collective situation will open our hearts to hear the whispering of our own true paths?

    And when hurt happens, at least we can take responsibility, apologize and recommit to moving forward in less harmful or hurting ways. Maybe this heals us as well as those we love.

    And we can try not to judge others but, as you do with the writer you reference in this post, respect their choices (even if they are not what we would do).

  3. says

    I think it has to do with one’s comfort level. I appreciate those who “tell all” but I wonder what the consequences are with those they love. I feel I’m able to minimize the out-of-control feeling by reserving very personal issues for either my journal or non-blog wiriting or for private discussions with the party(-ies) involved.

  4. says

    I suppose that being the open book that I am myself, I am just the opposite when it comes to my children. I boast about accomplishments and things they do that make me happy. I tend to clam up when it is something I am more concerned about with them. Only speaking with close friends and even then, omitting details. I want to protect my children always. I do think that we learn more from the ‘open book types’ like myself. But their story is not mine to tell.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      It sounds like you’ve found a balance that works for you, NAS, while still respecting what needs to remain private in the ways of your family culture. Yes – the “open book types” are part of how we learn. Like you, I’m grateful for that.

  5. says

    According to my husband, I’m not the one to comment about this topic. I’m “very private” according to him. I’d like to think that I respect boundaries. But I’m with you on the “changing names/using third person.” You said it best, but what is OK now, may not be OK later. Once on the internet, forever on the internet. Many have learned this the hard way.

  6. says

    I think I respect my children’s boundaries, although my teen is likely the only one old enough to truly understand and care. I know what’s personal and private to him and I leave that out. Other items are up for grabs. I’d have to go back and double-check but my sense is that what I share is not significantly personal to them.

  7. says

    Good questions, all important, none have easy answers, all are highly individual. My boys are still so young, it seems like their lives hardly warrant any secrecy at all, but sometimes I wonder about that, and I think about how it will unfold as they grow older. I certainly never write about my husband, and I have written, albeit only a few occasions, about family members. But I always try to do that from a place that matters to me, how their actions/issues affect my life. Am I doing a good job of it? Who knows. I think, though, for argument’s sake, as our lives have in some ways become more “visible” and “open” so too have our misconceptions about how interested or meaningful they are to others. Sometimes I think we overestimate their importance.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Good points, Christine.

      One thing I will say about the first article on Motherlode – the essay by Ms. Miller, is that it juxtaposed a recent experience of death with the vibrancy of her daughter’s first real love relationship. That, unfortunately, has been diminished in the discussion that has ensued. And it’s an important lesson – how precious life is, and how we should seek to celebrate it, and celebrate love when we encounter it. (My interpretation, anyway.)

  8. says

    These are insightful questions. The answer wholly depends on the individual. I agree that privacy should be protected, but at the same time if we write, isn’t it to push boundaries and to elevate? If we don’t write what matters to us, then we can’t expect our readers to invest either. I write about grief and my father, but have left certain pieces out that other family members don’t feel comfortable divulging. I reserve those pieces for my journal or other pieces of writing. It is certainly a hard call with no easy answers, but I think as writers we must have our own personal litmus test. I ask myself, before I hit publish, “Will I or people I love be affected adversely by reading what I published years later?” Usually the answer is no, and in limited circumstances, when it is yes, I hit save draft and file it away under personal.

  9. says

    Very interesting post, D, and on a topic I think about a lot as a writer.

    For me, there is a big difference between fact and truth. From your essays here, I feel like I know your truth, even while I understand that you (and I, at my own place) might change a fact or two to protect the people we love.

    One line of your post really stood out to me: “She was a woman with no awareness of where she left off and I began.” I know parents like this and it’s a dangerous road to walk, I think. As much as I love my kids, I hope that I will maintain my own identity while giving them control over their own. Not using their names and occasionally obscuring information about them on my blog is one way I remind myself to do so.

  10. says

    It’s not so much the biographical nakedness that interests me (in reading or writing), but the emotional nakedness. Just enough story, but full disclosure, or apparent full disclosure, of inner life. In this regard, a pen name helps. I like what Bruce says–the self is so elusive. That’s what I really want to get to.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Yes to pen names. Yes to nakedness. Yes to the intersection of both, in pursuit of the elusive self.

  11. says

    Just because we can tell all, doesn’t mean we should tell all. I marvel at those who can write and share from raw emotion, without any filters. But I do wonder at what cost is their openness? When it comes to minor children, I think the extra mile should be taken to protect their identities, and I think you balance these issues very well. You write from a nakedness that draws us closer to you, without compromising your children. But for those who know (and love) bloggers, they must realize everything has the potential to become blog fodder! 😀

  12. says

    I don’t think I would share my child’s intimate information. In fact, my 10 year old asks that I share less and less about him. I can’t imagine him okay-ing something so personal. And if you use your real name (to build up a freelance career, especially), not using the child’s name isn’t enough. It’s definitely a fine line — but erring on the side of caution is always the best solution.

  13. says

    BLW, I completely understand your reasons for protecting information, but as a reader I often wish I knew what your fight with your son was about or what the specific issue was that prompted your post.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I totally get that, Ms. HalfEmpty, and the first 6 months or so that I was writing here, I felt freer as a writer to express what I wanted in large part because I was more anonymous. Remember that whatever we say on the internet stays on the internet. Some of us have exes with axes (to grind), and kids (or their friends) who may choose to read. So it’s a fine line to walk – the desire to be clear (and helpful to others as well), sometimes in direct conflict with protecting my children – and myself.

      I will add – compared to the other parents of teens that I know – we’ve had far fewer fights in this household. What disagreements we do have tend to be around money, providing clearer communication, following through on responsibilities, or forgetting those responsibilities and the consequences to others. Don’t know if that helps; probably not specific enough either…

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