Emotional? Oh yes. Why Ellen Widdup must close the door on her 3.4 Children column
PUBLISHED: 17:00 01 April 2017 | UPDATED: 08:20 02 April 2017
Over the past five years, Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children column – later 3.4 children – has been described as a “wonderfully accurate portrait of family life” and “a breath of fresh air.” While her critics have labelled it “thoroughly irritating.” And one went as far as saying “this woman is both crass and nauseating”.
This last one was my husband’s favourite. “I will have it inscribed on your gravestone when you die,” he said. “Here lies columnist Ellen Widdup – crass and nauseating.”
Most of the emails I receive from readers, and the comments they write in response to my articles, are lovely of course. Occasionally there is something poisonous. Like in the months after we moved to the Suffolk coast and received a Christmas card – glittery, colourful, and no doubt expensive – with the words “F off back to London” neatly scrawled inside. So kind.
But I’m a thick-skinned hack, so I laughed it off. Besides which, give me loathing over disinterest any day.
If I haven’t annoyed someone with my forthright opinions, I am not doing my job properly. Fact: we can’t all be right all the time.
“When I get my Saturday paper I always turn to your page first,” a reader once told me. “I either agree with you wholeheartedly or you enrage me,” she added. “There is nothing in between.”
To have one’s ego boosted and bruised in one fell swoop is quite something.
Now, I hate goodbyes. I’m fairly useless at them, actually. But choosing April Fool’s Day to announce that this will be the last column I write is proving particularly tricky.
After all, it’s the annual onslaught of awkward gags, outlandish campaigns and preposterous pranks – perhaps I’m pulling a fast one...
Last year we heard about the launch of wasp honey, Google unveiled “Cardboard Plastic” – a transparent box you strap to your face to enable “Actual Reality” – and Sainsbury’s launched Taste the Difference No-Yolk Eggs. Meanwhile, plans were announced to relocate Nelson’s Column from Trafalgar Square to the North Norfolk coast in time for the anniversary of the death of the county’s most famous son.
Yeah. This is nothing like that. Although I’d love to see the look on my Secret Santa’s face if I did reveal it was one big ploy.
“But you love talking about yourself,” my husband said when I told him I was pulling the plug. It’s true, I do. Yet when I started this page so many years ago, I was nervous.
I had spent my career managing tight deadlines, responding to the odd disgruntled reader and churning out copy on a host of news stories. But I knew that writing about my own life week-in-week-out would be far more difficult than writing about the lives of others. You have to give a lot away. You can’t sit on the fence. You have to be brave.
I’ve told you my deepest secrets, my most embarrassing memories, my struggles with parenthood, my frustrations at the way mothers – and women in general – are treated, and treat each other.
You followed me through pregnancy, saw the first pictures of my son, heard his first words.
I’ve shared my pain – family illnesses, death, depression, a cancer diagnosis – as well as my joy – my husband and children, their quirks, talents and achievements. But it is this which led me to quit.
I am what has been dubbed a “sharent” – the mums and dads who blog, tweet and post pictures from their children’s lives – often simultaneously. Yes, I like to show off my kids. To rejoice in them. To make an indelible note of things I want to remember forever. To record what made me laugh. To laugh at what might otherwise have made me cry.
But while every word I write is out of love, I’m aware I can be embarrassing and it would be insensitive indeed not to do something to minimise the impact of that on my nearest and dearest. My kids are getting older and are entitled to their privacy.
And the truth is that, without them, my weekly mumblings would be dull indeed.
You know it. I know it. They know it.
“Do you remember when you lost me at the swimming pool and found me hidden stark naked inside a locker?” my son said as we looked through my cuttings the other night. “Yes. I probably shouldn’t have written about that,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Nah,” he said. “I’m glad you did. It’s like you kept the best diary in the world.”
Five years, 264 articles and in excess of 250,000 words. It’s been a blast. Thanks for having me.