The XX Factor

Dear Mom: I’d Rather You Write About Me, Not You

Coming from a family of writers, I am all too familiar with the delicate issue you raise, Bonnie, of whether and how to write about one’s family . But I don’t think it’s fair to assume that just because Anna aired her problems with her mother’s marriage to a con man on the web, she hasn’t also had the “heart-to-heart talk” you wish for her with her mother. Nor do I think her piece came across as entirely “disapproving,” as you called it. There’s an interesting power dynamic between this suddenly giddy and irrational mother and her skeptical, now-protective daughter, and it’s one that Anna, as one half of the duo, has the right to hash out in print; provided, at least according to my family’s rules, that her mother get a chance to approve, veto, or tweak the final draft before it’s published. (As Anna wrote in a comment on Bonnie’s post , her mother did read and make corrections to the piece.)

For me, the most uncomfortable part of having a writer for a mother isn’t when she writes about me. She always shows me those articles first, and they’re usually not surprising-I knew her thoughts on our mother-daughter book club or my sister’s and my visible bra straps before reading the drafts. The unsettling part is when she writes about herself. With those personal essays, I feel like a bunch of strangers are learning things about my mother right along with me-her struggle over whether to get tested for polycystic kidney disease ; her feelings of vulnerability when she lost her sense of smell . I had a particularly bizarre experience the other day when I e-mailed my mom to check in on how my grandmother’s doctor’s appointment had gone, and she wrote back with a draft of her piece describing not just the cardiologist’s advice (open-heart surgery) but her difficulty coming to terms with her mother’s mortality .

As hard as it may have been for Anna’s mother to read a piece about her own love life, it might be even more unnerving for her to read one about Anna’s love life.