Where do you draw the line when blogging about your family?

My old, now closed family-focused blog, Casa de Kaloi.

Cat recently wrote a fascinating piece on Offbeat Home called My door is open: why I'm pretty public online about my home. In it she discusses the transparency with which she blogs about where she lives and what she does. Cat's digital reach in the home-focused community is pretty far — she runs two websites (the other being Hipster Housewife) about homes, and tweets many, many details about her life every single day. In fact, within another month or so I might have her whole TV schedule worked out. (I KID! Kind of.)

The idea of blogging about your home, or in a more Mama-centric context, about your family is nothing new — millions of people do it every single day, and we've talked about it on Offbeat Mama before. Most of us are probably at least familiar with the Big Time Parent Bloggers (Dooce, Girl's Gone Child, Finslippy, etc.), and I know for a fact many of you have your own family-focused blogs you're writing. In fact, the abundance of parent bloggers is one reason our submission policy contains a no overly personal information clause — there are some things we feel like readers of this site don't need to know about you and/or your kids.

I spent nearly three years blogging about my own family before closing the blog this year. My blog started as way to update family across the country about my pregnancy, and quickly grew into something larger than I ever anticipated after the birth of my son, Jasper. Jasper had to contend with a month-long NICU stay and a genetic condition that took eleven months to diagnose, and at the time I thought nothing of talking about all of this — his very personal medical information — on the blog. And… usually in excruciating detail.

One day it hit me: while I was blogging about something that was impacting our ENTIRE family, what I was doing the most was talking about something that was part of Jasper's life. To me, it's important that he has the right to reveal this information about himself when he chooses to do so, to whomever he wants, whenever it feels right. It's not something that's obvious from seeing him, and if you didn't know about it you'd (probably) never have a reason to think anything was going on at all.

But then you have something like this:

I want to share SOME of this info, though, because I like the idea of extending my online community into the real world. I've been fostering online friends since my first chatroom in 1996. I got to know my husband on ICQ. Most of my friends are online. I have more conversations with my best friend on Google Chat than in real life. And many of the people I know online I will never ever meet but I feel are a very real part of my social cohort. I think of us as living together in a giant small town. IN THE FUTURE.

Stepping across that boundary between "real life community" and "digital community" means putting a lot of trust in strangers in general, even in small ways. I have to assume that when I go to write for the internet I am not going to be met with a wall of hate comments — otherwise I wouldn't do it. Expecting to get through a day without insult is a pretty basic tenet of trust that gets taken for granted in the real world — and that can happen on the internet, but takes more troll-vigilance.

In fact, I've found deeper pools of trust in the digital community than I have IRL. Like so many people my age, we've barely met any of our neighbors EVER, for a variety of reasons, so we haven't gone to neighborhood meetings with them, bought Girl Scout Cookies from them, or helped them with a repair. — My door is open: why I'm pretty public online about my home

… which is TOTALLY valid. And by totally, I mean maxiumum validity.

When you think about it, whether you're talking about your house or your child, it's not really that different. Even though on one hand I was blogging about my son and his medical condition, at the time I was also reaching out to the truly beautiful community of people I met through that blog. Many of them were legitimately invested in Jasper's health — in fact, one person (who is also an incredible woman and friend) emailed me to say that within the first three days of Jasper's life her husband came home three hours late one night because he went to donate platelets so he could potentially help infants like my son.

We were living in the Pacific Northwest, far from our support network in Alabama, and people who read our experience and sent out love, prayers, and positive thoughts BECAME our family of sorts. If we had a hard day, I knew I could blog about it and someone would find a way to lift us up. Our good days were joyously heralded, and I think our blog readers were second only to Sean and I (and our family) in happiness when Jasper finally came home from the NICU. In short: they, the readers, meant something to us, and we meant something to them.

So here's what I'm wondering: at what point is blogging about your family too much? When do you decide you've let too many details out, and who makes that decision? Basically: what's your comfort level when it comes to revealing info about your kid?

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  1. I talk about my little ones in passing. I don't have any set in stone rule about where the line is, but I don't know that I'd want to reveal much more than I would say to a stranger in a checkout line if their names or images are attached.

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  2. I guess my general rule (or maybe my goal because I don't always live up to this) is to be telling my story and not telling my kids'/husband's/neighbor's story. That is, I try to be clear that I'm writing from the perspective of ME and no one else, and that other people may very well tell a different story about the same set of events because they are different people than me.

    This is especially true for my daughters, and I've written quite a bit about this on my family oriented blog, because they are adopted and even though they were infants when they came to me they did experience life without me and are connected in significant ways to people I have not ever met. So when it comes to writing about them I don't tell the internet anything about my girls' that I didn't personally experience, and I especially don't reveal details about their first mom or her situation on my blog. I try to keep to the same boundary in person as well, though it is more difficult.

    I think it can be as simple as avoiding intimate details that don't belong to me and when I discuss my family members I don't present my observations as fact or innate truth but as my experience. For example instead of saying that my daughter J "is outgoing/happy/cranky/whatever" I say that I am experiencing her that way. Hopefully that leaves some breathing room for someone else to assert a different experience of the same situation.

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  3. I don't have children… yet, but I don't plan to share photos of them online publicly. It just scares me personally to have what my child looks like available since I do have local readers.
    I'm just verrrrrry cautious. I don't even use my real name when blogging. Everyone is different.

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  4. I actually recently posted about this, because I have a personal blog and a mama blog on our local networked site. Because people know where I live on the networked site (and its a small town) I've struggled with how much to share. I'm not sure how I will do it in the future, when my kid is old enough to read about himself and our family, but for now I am mostly concerned with his safety.

    I don't use his name on any of my blogs. Growing up during the time of "stranger danger!" I feel like having his name on the internet where people can find out what he looks like and what smallish town he lives in is akin to putting his name on his backpack, and as the stranger danger generation knows, that is a no-no.

  5. I've been thinking about this topic lately in relation to my own blogging style! I'm quite open on my blog about things that I think a lot of other people would not share. It's an important outlet for me, and sometimes I'm torn between the need for privacy and the need to put out there everything I'm thinking/going through at a given time. I sometimes wonder if I'm too open, but at the same time I think, why should I have anything to hide?

    I don't share last names, or names of friends/family I might sometimes talk about. I don't post pictures often, but when I do I never post ones of anyone outside my immediate family. I talk very openly about my life, but you won't pinpoint exactly where I live by reading my blog (city, yes, actual location in that city, no). I get the need for safety and privacy.

    I understand the concern around not wanting to share things that might not be ours to share, but I try to just focus on my own thoughts and feelings, and if I need to put them out there, that's what I do. I've made connections with people that I wouldn't have if I wasn't so open, so I have no regrets.

    As my son gets older, however, I may have to rethink what's on my blog, as he might not want his life so far being on display like that, if that's how you look at it. I understand that, but at the same time…I don't know where to draw the line.

    I also don't have anyone from my every day life reading my blog (out of my entire family, only my husband knows I even have a blog!) so while there is a small chance someone 'I know' could happen upon it, it's not likely, so I don't worry too much about censoring myself. Maybe I'm strange, but I think I would feel more self-conscious about my writing if I knew my whole family was reading it (even though ultimately I don't say anything they couldn't read – it might upset some people sometimes, but none of what I write is really a secret!)

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  6. I kept a live journal since 2001.
    I used to blog openly about my struggles with bipolar and other PSTD issues that stemmed from childhood trauma, and past military service. Throughout the 7 years that I blogged publicly, I managed to forge into a corporate design job, and be open about my issues, as well as find comfort in the camaraderie.

    What I didn't realize, was that by having my blog, and a budding ebay business in the same name, could generate things like stalkers… from a unhappy sales transaction, or say… a 1st date that didn't work out (for me). And the strange online weirdo's who got fueled by every single online post that I ever made; eventually tracking down my home address to send me harassing mail, and even creating a 'parody' blog of lil ol' me and my 'issues'.

    Closing the blog, locking up all of my online activity, and moving away has helped… but the lessons still remain.

    With a wonderful offbeat wedding, happily married going into our 4th year, and expecting our first baby, I often miss that unity of the online masses. However, the dangers are really too darn spooky for me to ever put us in that sort of danger again. Especially my baby to be.

    Please don't think it can't happen to you. Someone out there may disagree with your passionate opinion, and open a door that you wished had remained sealed, boxed, locked under the sea. Be careful, and be safe.

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    • I think everyone has made some great points that I agree with! However, yours have especially resonated with me, Jenny. I am so sorry you experienced such bad with the good: calling it 'lessons' sounds empowering, as is your being so honest about the dangers (or, at the least, downfalls.) I, too, was very involved online early on but gradually whittled down my online presence to a bare minimum these past few years. (No social networking site accounts, for example.)

      The home address bit is especially true: even if people do no list their neighborhoods or even hometowns, it is extremely easy to figure out locations. Most people will not have malicious intent, other than maybe a little Schadenfreude, but if "I" as an 'innocent bystander' can figure this stuff out, it's REALLY scary to think what someone with bad intents could — and can and sometimes will — do.

      You said it SO, SO well here: "I often miss that unity of the online masses." I absolutely know what you mean because I miss my participation — and support — in those online communities. It was also difficult at times realizing that some? many? of those friendships or acquaintances did not sustain themselves outside of their original platforms. (Or, most often, they did last but their look and feel changed, which is OK because we all change. So glad for those meet-ups and travels and experiences though — many of which still do continue offline.)

      Furthermore, the internet is a different beast than when we started and there are certainly 'generation' gaps in terms of usage and meaning amongst people close in age. (Again, what I've come to realize through my experiences, both personal and vicariously heard in discussions as an educator.)

      I respect people who share so much publicly: I love reading blogs, especially ones with lots of pictures. I think OffbeatMama has a nice balance of pictures and content so even articles without photos from the author — as nice as they are — still feel warm and personal! (A whole 'nother story but worth mentioning: I also realize that often the family life portrayed in personal 'mommy blogs' is a semi- or VERY fictionalized account of that person's reality — or edited at the least. I wonder if most people have realized this all along and are OK with it or if they, too, found it confusing even if it's really neither here nor there.)

      I miss seeing pictures of faraway friends' new babies on Facebook — that easy access and quick connectedness — but also now *really* understand why a different friend has not posted any pictures of her daughter online and never intends to. I will probably take the latter approach when I have children but wish all the best to — and grateful for — those who do share, here and elsewhere.

      I guess you and I, and many others, belong to the post-internet crowd in this internet generation and could really connect over this online. Oh wait!! 😉 But so is life and the decreased risk what we're putting first even if it can mean missing out on some really great stuff, too.

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  7. I don't write anything of importance on my public blogs about my child. I was listening to a radio show one day in which they were discussing the idea of children already having a digital footprint before they could even decide it for themselves and it sort of horrified me when I got to thinking about it.

    Then I thought about something else really interesting: We don't know how "internet laws" are going to play out in the futrue, so what about it 100 years from now, all old blogs/social networking/ miscellaneous internet accounts go public? Like what about if 100 years from now our great grand kids can read all our blogs, facebook statuses and tweets? Think about how interesting that would be if we could do the same with our great grand-parents!

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  8. I'm in a unique situation here, I feel – I blog about being a nanny, but since I do this without running it by the parents, it stays very non-specific. I don't mention places, and I change all names. I definitely wouldn't want to miss out on the outlet that is blogging (and the place to record great things 3 1/2 year olds say), but in a way I like the way this is training me to be hyper cautious – out of habit, I doubt I'll put personal information up even later, when I'm not working anymore.

  9. With regard to what I post about my son, I think to his preteen years and older. If what I'm writing would embarrass him at 13, I leave it out. I write about potty training but not the dirty details around a stomach bug. I try to stick to positive milestones, but basically he's still a baby… There are really no details about my own babyhood that would ever have embarrassed me. When he is older and more self-aware, I will consult him regarding what I post about him.

    I also post the positive in general, so if my kids' friends look them up in 10 years they aren't going to find much other than super cute baby photos. But mine is more of a lifestyle blog, focused on shopping and activities more than parenting itself. Sometimes I do read parenting blogs and cringe at the honesty, and especially at the honesty of those who complain about their kids. I would worry about that more. Even at 25, I might be upset to read a post where my mom is bitching about my 2 year old behavior.

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    • I think you bring up a great point – marking milestones and cute family stories, but leaving out the unnecessary and sometimes embarrassing details. Also, I'm sure it's a safe bet that your readers are glad you left out the details of the stomach bug. :)

  10. I'm 7 months pregnant and still sorting out how much family stuff I'll put on my blog. Right now it's mostly home-improvement oriented.

    I only post about things I feel like talking about with casual acquaintances, and to my surprise my pregnancy hasn't fallen in that category. I don't even feel like talking about it with most family members.

    I think most kid things will end up falling into that category as well – I don't really want great aunt whomever to walk up and ask "So how's potty training going?" Much less total strangers.

  11. This is actually a topic I have been thinking quite a lot about, recently, and many of the points being brought up in the comments have also crossed my mind. My boyfriend is a single father, with a three year old son. I have been considering starting a Stepmom related blog since, simply put, when I got thrown head first into the world that comes with dating a single parent, I had NO idea what to expect, and there weren't many places online where I was and/or felt accepted. I would love to be able to blog about my adventures, from MY stand point, getting to know this crazy little dude & his daddy, and finding my own way through this experience.

    The trouble with that is…

    a) I don't want to overshare any information about a child.
    b) I don't want to overshare any information about a child that isn't mine. (Though my boyfriend has already said I am okay to write what I like, as far as he is concerned)
    c) I don't want to overshare any information about the child & his relationship with his mother, even if it's pertinent to the situation I may be blogging about….

    Overall, I am just really unsure if I can successfully blog about something that, at the end of the day, has a LOT of private things to censor out.

    Does anyone have any advice about this sort of thing? I know name changing & what not can help, and not posting photos, but I'd still like to hear from someone currently going through this/blogging despite this.

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  12. Mostly I just don't want my address out there. I also suppose I have an unspoken rule against writing anything that I don't want my family to see, so, no details about my sex life. Lol. I haven't thought about it too much. When I was in the Army still I did not discuss my involvement in Iraq Veterans Against the War there, for fear I'd get in trouble. But that's about it.

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  13. I've been blogging since I was a wee thing, and I'm used to sharing personal, emotional, even financial matters with my various internet friends. I used to use my real name, tell everyone where I lived, tell them about sexual partners, etc. And I forgot to draw the line.

    I unthinkingly shared personal information about my partner with a close circle of friends on my blog. Because I write about my life, and things that affect me, and my partner's [massive personal life event] had affected me. When he found out he felt angry and betrayed. I learned to draw the line between 'his things' and 'my things' and I try not to talk about him at all in my blog.

    I've stopped using my real name; I no longer mention the city in which I live; I rarely post pictures of myself on there any more. I hope that I've learned to be more cautious and more considerate of people in my life.

  14. I usually don't blog too much about my personal life. Sometimes I'll share a difficult time I'm going through in order to get some support or a few solutions (if it's something that can be fixed) or to vent and feel better (ex. I recently posted on my conflicted feelings about a college friend's decision to stop cancer treatment in order to have a more natural death). I hardly ever release names of my family, or even what town I live in (I always just say Chicago). And I never post pictures of any young ones in my life, reveal my full name, work place/occupation, or where I went to school. If I mention people on my blog, I give them nicknames, like "Soup" or "the ballerina" to give them a little privacy and protection.

  15. This is such a tough subject. When my niece was born in November, she was also in the NICU for a month, and I struggled to keep from telling my online friends, after nine months of excitement about becoming an auntie. Ultimately, I knew that because it wasn't my own child, I didn't have a right to talk about it, beyond the details I just shared, but because I've moved so often in the last decade, my "real life" friends are all over the country, and blogging is the best way for me to keep in touch. So tough to balance.

  16. I dont have kids yet and I think that would put a whole different spin on it. However I thought I might share what I do with my blog.

    I have a blog which is about living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. This can go into so very personal aspects of my life – and because it effects my relationship I do write about some personal things relating to him. These are the things I tend to keep in mind:
    If it involves personal info about my relationship I run it by my fiancee first.
    I only use my first name and I use a nickname for my fiancee
    There are no details about where we live (except that its Australia) or any other personal details that can be used to trace us
    I do not put up photos
    I have a completely seperate email that this is connected to – there isnt a link between my blog and any other social networking online I use.

    That might seem a little extreme and honestly its not just about protecting us from strangers, since this is about a mental health issue I don't want friends and family who don't know about my circumstances to stumble across it. This probably wouldnt be an issue for a family blog – but if my friends cant trace it to me, than how would a stranger?

    All that being said, I have found a wonderful network of support through my blog and it has helped me in so many ways. It is a safe outlet where I can share those struggles and that can be very therapeutic. I can understand a mother wanting to use this tool to connect with others outside of her life. I think it comes down to a personal decision of what feels right and safe to you.

  17. I am so envious that you will have this written record of your family throughout your children's lives. I am just beginning and would love your input. Please look at my blog and offer suggestions on how I can improve and how I can get readers.

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