Why Do We, As Parents, Write?

Filed Under (Ethics, Writing) by Estee on 03-07-2009

If “to be a writer is to violate a trust” – be it in friendship or with family, then, says Claudia Mills, “a writer must be ready to violate it.” (Friendship, Fiction and Memoir: Trust and Betrayal in Writing From One’s Own Life, The Ethics of Life Writing, Edited by Paul John Eakin, pp.101-120).

I must admit, as a newly separated person and a mother of an exceptional child who is growing older by the minute, I’ve been terrified of writing about the nitty gritty details of my, and my family’s personal life. Let me be honest here, for the purpose of life-writing is to tell the truth; I’ve considered what to tell and how to tell it. Now that many lives are important in an of themselves, and also fodder for my writing, I’ve hesitated. And for good reason.

I’ve started a series of posts about writing about children. Many of us who read these blogs are also writers. Many readers are also parents of autistic children. There is obviously a reason why we read each other’s work. Be it at the local café or online, in order to share our stories, we have to tell them. What benefit does this bring? In order to begin writing, I’ve had to consider the following questions:

1.    What does writing about our children give us?
2.    When is “telling the truth” too much telling?

3.    Why do we become uncomfortable with writing about our lives?

4.    Why is the cost/benefit of life-writing?

5.    Do we appropriate or impose an identity upon our children when we write about them and they later      read about themselves?

5.    Why do we tell stories?

6.    How and what kind of life-writing has contributed to positive change and,
7.    Is life-writing necessary?

I think the first question, “what does writing about our children give us? is worthy of conversation here on this blog, I hope.

In 2005, my then husband encouraged me to start my blog which I called The Joy of Autism, because at that time, no one dared to put the words together in the same phrase or sentence. Already a writer, he thought that I would flourish by using this kind of an outlet. And he was right. I haven’t stopped writing about autism and my life since. I had already been writing a book about autism for two years prior to even starting the blog. While Adam was in therapy sessions or at nursery school, I would grab my two or three hours, study-up on autism and then writing about our experiences with the new frontier of therapists was an outlet for me. It enabled me to express my discontent for how a system was set for autistic children. It fuelled my impulse to work to have Adam treated as a person, not a client – to be viewed in all his human glory instead of a person with impairments and deifiencies who had to be made better than he already was. For Adam was my joy. He remains so. I still feel that the best thing I ever did in my life was give birth to him.

So in effect, writing for me became a way of finding myself in a mirage of “suffering.” According to the experts, I had to be suffering. I certainly was, but not because of Adam. I believe I was suffering with the disconnect between how I felt about Adam and how others tried to influence me in the way I ought to feel about him. If it hadn’t been for writing through the process, I may not reached the level of clarity I’ve reached today. I’ve made new friends and alienated other people with my determined stance not to succumb to misery and pity regarding autism. The stories I told between 2005-2008 were extremely important for me to write. I needed to respond to how others responded to Adam and to us. As Victor Frankl said in Man’s Search for Meaning, suffering becomes more bearable when it has some meaning. We can only derive meaning when we tell our stories.

As for my readers, I’ve received many emails tha the reason why people read my blog is because they relate to my viewpoint and they do not feel alone. Feeling as if we are “not the only ones” is an important part of writing and reading. Others have expressed that they too are frustrated in a system of dooms-dayers regarding disabled children. While we have many challenges, most of the people who write to me are united in feeling that there is more to life than just complaining and that we are determined to live good lives no matter if others say we must live otherwise. Are we nonetheless united in challenges? Most certainly. I believe the craft of writing with compassion, as I’ve lived and learned about disability and many views over the past five years has helped me to realize that we can align ourselves with other’s experiences even if we also disagree. In other words, while I may not enjoy Dr. Phil’s renditions of families and disability (in fact, his sensationalism makes me cringe), I can also relate to the challenge that families have when they have special needs children.

I suppose I also write when I get this kind of feedback. As a writer or an artist, or any contributor to the world, the most important aspect of creating art, or in telling our stories is in the sharing and continued dialogue that writing and sharing promotes.

What does writing, or reading, of life-stories give you? Please contribute to the discussion in the comments section.

Next Post: Question Number 2.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.