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Recording parenthood

Of the many forms of nonfiction and essay writing that writers regularly engage in, writing about parenting can be one of the most challenging. Parenting is a deeply personal experience, and many parents feel, rightfully, it is their experience to write about. For readers, honest, raw writing about parenting can be a salve. It can help parent readers know they’re not alone with their points of challenge, confusion, and joy.

Writing about parenting, as valuable it can be for both writer and reader, also comes with specific challenges. Mainly: when you share your story as a parent, you’re also sharing your child’s story as a child. That may be fine now while they’re too young to read, but it’s important to remember that some day, that child will be older and they may well read your writing about the experience of parenting them. For that reason, there are some specific things to keep in mind when writing about parenting that you don’t necessarily have to think about in other forms of nonfiction writing.

Remember to tell your story.

The only story you should really be telling is your story. That means that while it makes sense to write about your experience of parenting, it doesn’t make sense to write about your child’s experience of being a kid — unless they’ve expressly told you you should. What does this mean in practice? Well, if you’re writing about a meltdown your kid had, focus on how you processed the situation or how you reacted as a parent, instead of pretending to know why your child acted the way they did, what they were thinking, or anything else. In this way, writing about parenting is a bit like being a reporter at a public event. You can report what people said or how they externally reacted, but you can’t quite get into their thought processes or the motivations behind their words.

Think about what you want to reveal to your (future) kids.

Writing can be therapeutic for a lot of people. Writing something, releasing it to the public, and having readers say, “I experienced this too, you’re not alone” can be a gift to a writer who perhaps felt alienated by their own experience before writing about it. It’s important to remember, though, the relationship a child may have to their parents’ art. Like writing about other family members — say, your own parents — you should think about what your children might think when they read your writing, even if reading your writing isn’t something they’re capable of at the moment. When you think about a particular piece of writing you want to take on, ask yourself, “Will I reveal something here that I don’t want my children to read?” If the answer is yes, then maybe consider framing it differently or finding a different way to process the experience.

But try not to be too precious.

Some parents feel as though they’re meant to portray parenthood in a way that is particularly sunny or only expresses the good parts of parenting. While that may be fun for your children to read someday, it may be fairly boring for present-day readers to read. Parents know that writing about parenthood that portrays it as a perfect journey is disingenuous. Therefore, it’s important to fight the urge to sugarcoat things too much. If you want to write about parenting, considering doing so in a way that feels honest to your own experience.

Don’t shy away from joy, though.

It’s not sugarcoating to acknowledge, embrace, and write about the actual joys of parenting, of which there truly are many! Though many people tend toward focusing on challenges when they’re writing nonfiction essays, there’s value in sharing positive experiences, too. That can mean talking about a time when you felt particularly fulfilled as a parent, or working through some processes or approaches that helped you and your family. That kind of writing can really help a reader by giving them a window into your world and what worked for you. For example, you may want to write about:

  • How you transitioned your baby into eating solid foods
  • How you picked a pre-school or daycare center for your child
  • What it felt like to transition your kid from early childhood into kindergarten
  • What activities you like to do with your children when you’re home
  • What vacations you have taken with children and what was particularly challenging or fulfilling about doing so
  • The ways you instill your own values in your children and what it means to you to be able to do that

Writing about parenting is a challenging, but ultimately very fulfilling, endeavor. If you plan to do it, do so with an open heart and an open mind, and be ready to connect with readers in ways you might not have expected. And most of all, enjoy the process! Writing is a beautiful pursuit, whether you’re doing it in your journal or for the public to read.

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Lauren Harkawik
Author

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is a journalist, essayist, and fiction writer based in Vermont. You can read her writing on her website.

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