What to Leave Out

In this week’s Chronicle Herald column I share my two cents on an Internet debate: last week a dad blogger shared that he liked one of his sons more than the other, and chaos ensued.

I don’t defend what Buzz Bishop posted, but from what I’ve gleaned online I would say he’s not a completely unreasonable person, nor the worst parent in the world. He obviously loves both his boys. He’s certainly not the first to have a favourite kid, and not even the first to admit it out loud.

But in singling out his favourite son on a well-read parent forum, I do think he crossed a line.

Maybe it’s not a line for him. Culturally speaking, we’ve grown less shy about telling each other and the entire world what we think about anything and everything. I’ve often said we live in the Too Much Information Age.

But as someone who writes about his own family for a newspaper with 100,000 local readers, not to mention on a blog where anyone in the world can see it, I wrestle with this line all the time: Should I really say this about my family in public?

I deliberated for weeks before I started this blog two years ago. And when the Herald asked me last summer if I’d write a parenting column, I thought long and hard before I said yes. I decided off the bat to give my kids nicknames, rather than using their real names, as a way to provide a bit of a buffer for them. (I do the same for my wife, whom I’ve purposely never named in the column.)

But I still ponder this before every column. I deliberate over topics, over lines to leave in or take out, over individual words. If I’m in doubt, I make sure my wife reads it and weighs in before I press send.

I try to ask myself two questions every time I write:

Will this be at all helpful to another parent? I won’t pretend for a second that my motives are completely altruistic. I like that a newspaper wants to print what I have to say, and that readers find it interesting enough to read. I enjoy when people say good things about it. And I like getting paid for it.

 But I do aim to be useful. I try to encourage my audience, give them what I think is good advice, and remind them that their own impossible child is not the only impossible child in the world and in the end it will probably be OK. I tell my daughter’s story because I want people to know adoption is a good thing—not an easy thing, but an option worth considering—and that having a kid with special needs is a blessing even when it seems like the hardest thing ever. And I’ve had people tell me that they find my column helpful. Or that they just think it’s a good read, which is OK too.

The second question I ask is this:

If my kids found this column, would they be upset to read it? I’ve made it obvious that we are not perfect parents raising perfect children. Our house does not look like a Pinterest account come to life. I think it’s important to be honest in our struggles as well as our joys. But I don’t ever want to embarrass my family either, and I know I’ll wrestle with this more as they grow older. If there comes a point where any of them says, “Dad, I really wish you wouldn’t write about me in the paper,” that’s when I’ll have to give it up.

One could possibly make a case for Buzz Bishop’s “favourite son” article under the first principle. Other parents might be relieved to know they’re not the only person who favours one kid… though I think the somewhat glib way Bishop went about it ultimately isn’t that helpful. (In his defence, however, he never set out to write a deep piece on parent guilt. He just said what he thought.)

But I think the article clearly fails the second test. If I’m Bishop’s youngest son and I stumble across his words five years from now, how would it not hurt? Maybe they’ll have a great family discussion about it and everything will be fine… but still, why go there?

This may go against the grain of 21st-century logic, but I believe not everything we think about our kids, or about life in general, needs to be said out loud. As parents, we owe it to our kids to have a filter.

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One response to “What to Leave Out

  1. Chad – you’re one of the main reasons I keep my daily subscription to the Chronicle Herald going. I’ve been there, done that, but wish I’d had your columns to read back then. Very entertaining, honest and insightful. I look forward to Mondays, even though I can read it on line too.
    Keep up the good work!

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