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Respecting my kids' privacy

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

It's a fine line

Several years ago, Alfs was a very sick boy. A sudden critical illness overtook his body and we almost lost him. That is not an exaggeration. While we made it through to the other side with our family intact, it was a very difficult time. We continue to be thankful for Alfs' recovery every single day.

Emotional recovery from that time was and is tough, however. There were several years when Alfs did not want to talk about it at all, and didn't want me or his father to talk about it, either. With anyone, ever.

 

Alfs would get quite upset when he suspected I'd been talking about it – or writing about it. Sometimes I had been, sometimes not. I had some long talks with Alfs about the situation. I acknowledged that, yes, the physical event of being sick happened to him and him only, but the crisis of him being so ill happened to all of us, and we all have emotions that need processing around that. I told him that when I talk about it or write about it, I'm talking and writing about me and what I am going through, and never presumed to know what he was feeling about that time. I might answer questions about how he was doing overall to concerned family and friends, but his feelings were his alone, and it was up to him to share them or not.

 

While he didn't love my point of view, he did eventually accept it. I tried to be careful not to overstep bounds in this area. I wanted him to know that I respected his feelings and his privacy while addressing my own need to process the events.

 

I find myself in a similar situation with Alfs hurtling toward adolescence. While the physical events of adolescence are happening to him, the emotional experience of it is happening to the whole family, albeit in different ways for each of us. Now I am looking at how I write about Alfs and this stage in his life while maintaining his privacy and with respect for the process for him and for me. I'm finding it very challenging.

 

I've kept the kids involved with this writing project. They know it is happening. Indeed, Alfs and Woody chose their own nicknames. When I write here about the kids – and especially when I write at all about Alfs – I try to think about whether I would feel embarrassed if someone wrote that about me. If there's any question, I rewrite, or don't write at all. I try to make sure that I am writing about what I feel, what I am going through, and not presuming his feelings or experiences. Sometimes I have Alfs read what I write before it is posted. Most of the time he can see that I am using a detail to bring up a bigger issue; sometimes he doesn't like what I have written at all.

 

It's that fine line we're walking. My need to process and share what is happening in my life – of which my family is a major part, of course -– while understanding that my kids are individuals who deserve my respect for some privacy. I'm sure that some days I'll do OK, on balance. Some days I might inadvertently overstep. I hope that when I do accidentally overstep, Alfs and Woody and Sunshine will be able to understand and (eventually) forgive me.

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