The XX Factor

When Writer-Mothers Cross the Line

Every few months, some new mother/writer crosses the line.

Ayelet Waldman , who infamously wrote that she loved her husband more than her kids. Julie Myerson , whose book on her son’s drug addiction prompted accusations that she was putting her career above his privacy or recovery. Rebecca Walker , who wrote that she loved her biological son differently than her stepson, and later added that she’d “die for” one but not the other. Amy Chua (no explanation needed). And, less famously, me: My essay ” I Did Not Love My Adopted Child ,” (please note the past tense in that title) about the difficult few months after we adopted one of my daughters won me plenty of criticism, some for the emotions I wrote about, but most for the fact that I  wrote about it. In public . Where my daughter will someday read what I wrote and hate me .

Now it’s Babble’s Kate Vietje’s turn. In her essay ” Mom Confession: I Think I Love My Son Just a Little Bit More ,” she went from the waffle-y title to a full-on declaration of something more than just a little favoritism:

There are moments – in my least sane and darkest thoughts – when I think it wouldn’t be so bad if I lost my daughter, as long as I never had to lose my son (assuming crazy, dire, insane circumstances that would never actually occur in real life). I know that sounds completely awful and truly crazy.

Now, there’s a reason the Sophie’s Choice meme hasn’t taken the mom-blog world by storm. Most parents-even Ayelet Waldman-don’t go there. We will reveal our hatred of our children, momentary or even otherwise (witness the author of Why I Hate My Bipolar Child ). But we do not contemplate their deaths. We do not consider the moment when the tsunami is racing towards us and we have only two arms and three kids-or if we do, we quickly adjust our mental disaster epic to include the presence of a handy rope. Vietje insists she wasn’t really thinking of death, but, say, divorce-what if her daughter went with her husband, and she took her son? But it’s too late. In the case of the Internet, it’s not the thoughts but the words that matter. What’s left is the question: Are there some things you just can’t say about your kids?

Yes, and this is one of them.

Vietje’s aside about ridding herself, in whatever way, of the lesser-favorite child didn’t add anything to the power of her already taboo confession-that she knows she’s been favoring one child over the other. And it hijacked the conversation she successfully started, by allowing people to set aside any thoughts they might have about their own favorite-child tendencies (many people have one, and it’s tough on both the favorite and the un-favorite kid ) in a burst of self-righteousness: I may have a favorite child, but I’m not as bad as YOU.

I don’t think Vietje has ruined her future relationship with her daughter. An old essay in the always entertaining Brain, Child magazine proposed a future college dorm drinking game: Whose mom blogged their toilet training? Drink! Fraught as the parent-child relationship is, our kids will be used to a much more public life than we were, and I suspect the way the fact that their mother offered to sell them on Twitter for a nickel, or even wrote a desperate, depressed blog post about her failure to love them both equally as toddlers, is going to mean less than we fear it will.

But that doesn’t let me-or Vietje-off the hook. When I write as personally as I do about my parenting struggles, I do it in the hope that I’ll make someone else’s road easier-and, of course, because I’m a writer, and so I write, and I would always prefer to be paid to do so. Controversy, honesty, and a willingness to go places that others do not are my stock in trade on certain topics, and it’s incredibly easy to take those things too far in the quest for readers and very difficult to take them back once you realize you’ve done so. I’m both the writer and the only person with a real interest in protecting my children from anything I might write. It’s a conflict I’m uber-aware of, but only because I spend a lot of time balanced on that line, and at least once, I blame myself for crossing it. I’ve learned the value of second guessing and second opinions. I bet Vietje has too.

Photograph by Polka Dot © Getty Images/Thinkstock