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Those Little Hearts

By Justine Dorton

I don’t very often write publicly anymore. When my children were small, I felt I somehow ‘owned’ their lives and stories and they they felt like my stories to tell. I created and mildly curated a darling little life that involved funny anecdotes and poignant learning moments, with a proper amount of spiritual growth and marital fulfillment. I was careful as I filled up my social media feed and the small personal blog that I filled with photos. The care I took, however, was very selfish. I was careful to make sure I created something specific. The stories I shared and the photos that I posted were all chosen with purpose – would my family know we were successful? Would my friends see that I was very-definitely-never-yelling-at-my-kids? Would that one lady from yoga see that my kids were dressed nicely and stop judging me?

It took me so many – too many – years to recognize that my kids’ stories were not mine, that my sisters loved me whether we were successful or not; and that the yoga chick was judging me either way. I learned some of these lessons earlier than others, but it took me until quite recently to extricate myself from my children’s stories.

Being a person drawn to writing, my family was outstanding fodder and breeding ground for essays and personal writing. Kids are so funny and charming and create so many opportunities to jump into (and all over) their lives for the sake the narrative.

There came a point that one of my older kids pointedly asked me to stop publicly writing about them. They were embarrassed and worried that kids at school would see the stories and make her life ugly. I realized I had crossed some imaginary line without realizing that I missed the warning signs that said “age limit approaching”. I still don’t really know what that age is, but in an abundance of caution, I just stopped writing about all my kids at that moment, regardless of their age, and regardless of their own comfort with the stories being public. Protecting their little hearts was always my priority. This public life would go away to protect those.

I want my kids to remember these moments in their lives, and to know that there were these meaningful times that were worthy of ink and pen. But to break the invisible and safe barrier of our home walls to push those stories into the world – without telling them and without their consent – suddenly felt quite violative.

My writing has dropped off dramatically. Some of these new stories are gone forever, I’m sure, because I didn’t write them. I also existed in the moment of these stories more, though. These stories weren’t mine to curate and mold. I was just participating in these moments. Photos stay in the photo stream; stories stay in the journal. My kids do share a surprising amount – not at all the things I would share. As they grow up in this odd mostly public life, I’ve reverted now to protecting what I can, and keeping as many stories inside that barrier. I don’t know how their hearts will take the next few decades of increasingly public life, but I’m here for it to do what I can to keep those little hearts inside our walls.

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

3 thoughts on “Those Little Hearts”

  1. I really like this, Justine. I feel like writing about your kids is okay as long as they are fully on board–my son was telling me yesterday how glad I was that I didn't post pictures of his dances with commentary about how awkward he looked, like one of his friend's moms did. I asked if I could just post regular pictures sans commentary and he was fine with that

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  2. Emily, it's just so tempting to keep writing it all down in public! I also know there was a time that I felt more 'entitled' to post it all, to tell the embarrassing stories and decide for them what was public. So I've gone whole hog the other direction – no stories unless specifically requested by them. Then I'm safe from being yelled at about at least that one thing, haha!

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  3. The older I get, the less I share online. Ten years ago when I was a blogger, my children were much of my source material as well — I posted anecdotal stories, backyard pics, mother-poems ad nauseam. Time and life have tempered me. I've backtracked several social network sites to delete content (for sanity and privacy reasons). Our children & our privacy are sacred. Once shared/given, it can be hard to retrieve. I've made mistakes, I've learned: no blog/FB/Instagram/Twitter/etc post is worth it.

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