How Much is Too Much to Share About Your Family Online?

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My mother says that I used to be funnier, a whole lot funnier, when it comes to what I reveal about my family online. But it’s hard to be funny when you’ve been muzzled.

When I first started writing online, my children couldn’t read. The youngest was still in diapers. I felt free to blog and write columns chock-full of the frustrating-yet-colorful details about my experiences as a writer trying to balance work with the needs of my twin kindergarteners and their younger brother.

The battles over potty training and the struggle to get my youngest to sleep through the night became meaty fodder for my child-rearing-in-the-trenches material. When the children were but mere curious toddlers and ate stuff that would make you gag (you don’t want to know, seriously…) I chronicled their exploits online and in print, making ample sport of my multitude of parenting shortfalls.

Then my eldest two not only became literate, but also learned about this thing called the internet. And Facebook. And Twitter. They also had classmates who, surprisingly enough, had also heard about this internet business. When my kids got wise to what I was posting online, they started explicitly admonishing me to zip it. Thus, the material I’d been mining for years, was cordoned off into a “do not write” zone.

Little by little, the anecdotes that would’ve made for amusing blog posts were off-limits to the writer-in-residence… hence my mother’s complaint that my writing had become stingy when it came to juicy family tidbits. I certainly don’t want to embarrass my children or make them the subject of schoolyard gossip because of something I posted online, but at the same time, I have struggled with how to write about the personal experience of modern parenting when all I have available are a few stray scraps of stories that the kids have authorized for publication.

As a huge fan of writers who craft laugh-out-loud but sometimes unflattering pieces about their family members, I wonder how these folks still have friends and relatives who’re willing to speak with them without worrying they’ll be the subject of a future essay or post. Likewise, as a frequent reader of blogs and Twitter feeds, I’m curious as to how people are able to continue to write about their families as their offspring age without those children objecting to having their parents “invade” (my kids’ word) their privacy by writing, for example, vivid accounts of their adventures in puberty that their friends can also read on their iPhones or Facebook pages.

I don’t know if there is a single, right answer when it comes to writing about one’s family or, for that matter, about one’s spouse. Which should win out in this age of personal blogs, Facebook updates and Twitter accounts: Vibrant and entertaining observations or your family’s privacy?

A recent study found that one-third of the divorce filings in 2011 mentioned an estranged spouse’s Facebook or social media postings. Obviously not everyone is thrilled to be the subject of a blog post, Tweet or Facebook update or else they wouldn’t use it as evidence in their divorce proceedings.

For the sake of harmony in my own house – or as much harmony as one reasonably can expect when raising two teenagers and a tween — when it comes to the authentic, raw details of life, I’ll let the fictional mom blogger who’s the lead character in my new novel, Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing, do the oversharing. It’s a lot safer that way.

Meredith O’Brien’s debut novel, Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing, (http://www.mortifiedthebook.com/)  is available on Amazon. Follow her on Twitter @MeredithOBrien.

You can read an adapted excerpt here.

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