When Boston humorist and author Steve Almond unplugged his Baby Daddy blog last month, he posted a goodbye note saying he and his wife had never planned to post beyond their daughter Josie's diaper years. But he also cited a few ethical concerns with writing the blog, which ran on the hip parenting site Babble.com.
For one, Mr. Almond, 41, had grown uncomfortable with the idea that Josie may eventually read the details of her baby life - even seemingly innocuous goings-on such as explosive feedings and red-lipstick messes. And while he was no stranger to reader vitriol elsewhere in his professional life - one essay, Blog Love, in his latest book (Not that You Asked):Rants, Exploits and Obsessions skewers, then forgives, the president of the Steve Almond Haters Club - inviting it into his family domain had started to feel masochistic.
"It stopped being so much fun, and nasty people started commenting about our parenting style," he said from Boston. So he and his wife decided to take back their privacy - and Josie's.
"I loved that so many people liked the blog and connected to it," he says. "But we also want the family to have experiences that are inside the family."
It's a dilemma many parent bloggers have begun to confront: Is it ethical to blog about my children? The attendant questions range from issues of safety - whether to use a child's real name or post photos - to more abstract quandaries: At what point does a child's right to privacy kick in? Then there's the biggie: Is blogging making me a worse parent?
"I have pulled out a camera to capture a temper tantrum rather than deal with it straight away," wrote popular Toronto blogger Kelly Graham-Scherer, a.k.a. Don Mills Diva, in a recent post.
The post began as a criticism of New York columnist Lenore Skenazy's decision to send her nine-year-old alone on the subway, suggesting it was more a stunt than a depiction of a naturally occurring parenting choice. But Ms. Graham-Scherer, a film administrator, then questioned whether her own blogging was losing footing on a "slippery slope" toward exhibitionism.
"It was me giving myself a little bit of a reality check," says Ms. Graham-Schere, 38, who started her blog soon after giving birth to connect with other parents.
She has some personal ground rules: She uses her child's real name, Graham, but she's careful to post certain images - such as shots of him in the bath - with innocuous taglines that won't attract creepy voyeurs. She also declines to discuss her and her husband's sex life or squabbles.
Still, she wonders if her motivations have morphed. "Am I mining his life a little bit too much?"
Catherine Connors sees her daughter and her blog Her Bad Mother as intimately intertwined. "In a way I think of her as my property, my work of art," she says from her home in Bowmanville, Ont. "She's a work in progress that I'm involved in. To that extent, I have some licence to be public about having her as my muse."
A recent post about her nearly potty-trained daughter urinating in a cup and carefully emptying it into the toilet was humorous, charming even. But critics and fellow soul-searching parent bloggers have asked: Does Ms. Connors, 37, have the right to share it with a potential audience of millions? And how much family therapy will be in order if her daughter's future schoolmates discover her mom's blogging adventures?
Her concession to privacy is a pseudonym for her daughter. (Ms. Connors uses her real name.) But as "Wonderbaby" has, along with the blog, crossed the two-year mark and the due date of Ms. Connors's second child approaches, she is pondering a change.
"A great part of the power of blogs is their openness and authenticity. I share photos, why not share her name?"
Still, the problem with using her real name, Ms. Connors acknowledges, is "she then becomes eternally Googleable. It makes her history that much more accessible and she's never agreed to that."
The question of consent and story ownership was one of the reasons Toronto blogger Jen Lawrence wrapped her popular blog, T.O. Mama. Her children are now 2½ and 4½ and, Ms. Lawrence, 36, says, "their stories are now their own." Not to mention the stories of their playmates, their friends' parents and other characters who may not appreciate showing up as characters online.
For some, giving up blogging is more knotty than just giving up a forum to vent. One of the top parenting blogs, Dooce, written by Salt Lake City mom Heather Armstrong, has been the target of criticism for both its frankness and its evolution into big business. "Dooce" is trademarked and filled with big-money ads - some observers have pegged her earnings to as much as $40,000 (U.S.) a month.
Such income is hard to abandon, says May Friedman, a PhD student at Toronto's York University who is writing a book on the parenting blogosphere. It can be especially complicated for someone such as Ms. Armstrong: Her audience has come to expect her irreverent, potty-mouthed writing, with occasional moments of disdain for her child, Leta.
"She doesn't really have the option of pulling the plug the way other people do," Ms. Friedman says.
Ms. Armstrong, 32, has started covering less sensitive topics, such as a raccoon living in the family's chimney and a picture-hanging home decor project. But it may prove a Catch-22. Mr. Almond has various other literary and teaching projects, so dropping the blog isn't a major dent. But for those who are only known for their blogging, raising the privacy quotient late in the game may drive away readers, Ms. Friedman says.
As more baby blog stars become toddlers and talkers, Ms. Friedman expects the bouts of introspection to rise.
At the same time, Ms. Friedman, a mom herself, says she hopes the bloggers she reads don't all shutter their windows at the toddler stage. Watching this first generation of blogged babies come of age will be "beyond fascinating," she says. And reading about a parent's ups and downs may be cathartic for a kid.
"Knowing that our mothers had a hard time and loved us anyway isn't the worst thing that can happen to this generation.
"But they may only believe that in their 20s. There may be some very angry adolescents along the way."