You know how movies have ratings like PG, PG-13 and R? Well, a lot of my writing tends to fall under R, as in REALLY inappropriate for children. Especially if those children are mine. I’m not ashamed of my writing (of course not, why else would I write and publish it!) but I don’t necessarily want my kids reading it. The problem is, they’re proud of their mom and want to participate in my writing life. They want to read (or be read to) from my essays and books. But what I’ve written just isn’t meant for little eyes and ears. How can I invite them to share in my work short of writing a children’s book just to appease them (and me)?
At a loss for words…
Dear At a loss for words….,
Well, you’ve got me intrigued! What are you writing that is REALLY inappropriate for children? Send it on over! I’m over 18.
You ask a very good question. I have often wondered what it must be like to be the child of a writer, especially one who takes on the more difficult or risqué things in life. All those things the “experts” tell people to hide from their kids lest it give them license to do the same, well, all those things are available for anyone to buy at the bookstore. All those cringy things we don’t want to think our parents ever did, well, there they are in chilling detail. And, perhaps worst of all, all of those frailties, failures and regrets are out there for critics to dissect in impersonal ways.
Of course you’re not ashamed of your writing! You should never be! I am a firm believer in telling the truth, with nothing held back. But, I mean, except when you talk to your kids. Your kids: “Mom, how come you have that chapter of your memoir where you describe making moonshine with a bunch of circus performers wearing only g-strings made out of beef jerky?” You: “That was just a dream Mommy had! How silly to think Mommy would ever do that!”
You don’t say how old your children are, but, at some point, of course, they will read what you have written and be freaked out and angry and mortified and, ultimately, most likely, moved and impressed and overwhelmed with how amazing you are. You don’t give up your amazingness just because you are a mother. It’s not like you had kids and lost your passion for anything but those kids. Because you are still you. Look in the mirror. Hi! Pass the moonshine!
Now, one thing that could make this a bit trickier is if the very subject you write about is your kids. I mean, don’t get me wrong, write about whatever you need to write about, but I’m pretty sure Sharon Olds’ daughter was not keen on her mother writing things like “Somewhere someone will be / entering you, his body riding / under your white body, dividing / your blood from your skin.” Still, that poem has every right to be in the world. So, yeah, it might suck to be the child of a writer, but parents find all kinds of ways to screw up and humiliate their kids. Maybe it’s really a gift to give them something tangible they can point to! So instead of whining, “I don’t know why I resent my mom…,” it’s “I resent my mom because she imagined me cowgirl fucking some dude and then she published it in a book.”
Fury did a quick “crowd source” (ask your kids what that is…) on our social media, asking what VIDA parents think about their kids reading their work, and the most common response we got was that their kids don’t really give a crap about their writing so it hasn’t been an issue. So, sure, lucky them, but really lucky you that your kids are so fascinated by what you do. I don’t think you need to write a children’s book, unless you want to write a children’s book. If you write untrue to yourself it’s going to suck and you don’t want to show sucky work to your kids!
But you can invite them to sit with you and work on their own stuff while you write. Or you can talk to them about what you’re writing in a way that’s age-appropriate (“This chapter is about mommy making apple juice with a bunch of friendly clowns!”). Or if you get stuck on a word you can ask them for suggestions. Or you can ask them to go find you a pen that works. And then you can thank them for being interested and proud.
You must be a great mom.