Thursday, December 13, 2012

Navigating the “Mommy Blog” World: A Primer for the Newly Initiated

Note: This post has taken forever for me to finish, mostly due to the fact that the more blogs I come across the more I want to read and reference, and the more I realize how unqualified I am to summarize the genre! So just know, dear readers, that this post is a work-in-progress, and that I may fall prey to passing quick judgments here and there in my haste to find the blogs that I personally resonate with the most.

Recently I stumbled upon a list via the parenting site Babble, which names their “Top 100” mom blogs for 2012. Eager to wrap my head around the scope of this genre, I've spent a fair amount of time scanning through this list (as well as the list from the year before). Who’s popular, what’s been done and said, and when did the propensity of mom blogs reach such a critical masse that the term itself was created? I’m not sure, but they seem to have taken off in the last decade.

I’ve only just joined the “mom blog world” myself over the last two or three years (if you count pregnancy). I wasn’t a mom when I started my blog in 2008, but gradually as my identity as a mother took over, it naturally followed that most of my posts began to be centered around motherhood. And thus, a “mommy blogger” by default was born.

A 2010 New York Times article says that, “According to a 2009 study by BlogHer, iVillage and Compass Partners, 23 million women read, write or comment on blogs weekly.” And just how many mom blogs are out there? It’s hard to know exactly. Digital Mom Blog claims that in 2010 there were 3.9 million mom bloggers, with a projected 4.3 million blogging by 2013. But an article in the Washington Post points out, the term “mommy blogger” has “spread to encompass blogs that were never intended to be explorations of one’s inability to find time to shower. The term now covers pretty much any female writer who has ever mentioned her own child and who, even occasionally, writes about an issue that relates to parenting.” 

In any case, it’s safe to say there are a lot of moms writing and reading blogs on the Internet. Up until recently, however, I hardly knew of any except for a few written by people I know. Mostly, I’d just stumble across links to a post here or there through my Facebook feed, and promptly forget about the blog because I rarely fall in love with one post enough to immediately sign up for regular updates. (Call me a luddite, but I’ve never figured out the whole RSS feed thing.) Anyway, I give enough of my time to Facebook as it is, so I’m not exactly starving for more Internet reading, but I am curious to know what I may be missing. Babble’s list has helped introduce me to the lay of the land. It also divides the rankings into categories like “Best Writing”, “Funniest”, “Most Controversial”, etc., which helped me become more aware of all the styles.

Personally, I am drawn to blogs with good writing and intelligent, contemplative, compassionate voices—in other words, blogs with a bit of meat and depth. I also follow a few thought-provoking, research-based blogs that are focused on child development and parenting that respects a child's rights and humanity (like Janet Lansbury’s ‘ElevatingChildcare”, whose posts on raising infants and toddlers are always illuminating; as well Core Parenting out of Portland; and Abundant Life Children, mostly focused on preschool age development). Those aforementioned post links daily via their Facebook page to other great sources and articles. I also follow Lu Hanessian's Parent2ParentU on Facebook, where she links to her insightful articles about how we learn and grow as we parent.

Sure, I like a good laugh now and then and I admire a woman with a sharp wit, but from my initial scanning it seems like there’s a propensity of those kind of voices in the mommy blog world—recounting their daily foibles as parents, calling on moms to lighten up, embrace their imperfections, admit to their vices (like drinking on the job), or otherwise confess to their less than ideal parenting moments. (You can often spot this type of blog by its graphic of a 50’s era housewife holding a cocktail.) It is my suspicion that this is the kind of voice that spearheaded the popularity of the genre, giving isolated mothers an outlet to vent through and laugh with. Virtual communities often form by their readers, offering them a place to chime in and “confess” their own mommy issues or vices.

These voices are refreshing when you compare them to the holier-than-thou, striving for perfection, competitive parenting culture that pervades our culture, but once you’ve read a few of these blogs, a lot of them start to sound awful similar. A few of the super popular ones that have been around a while, no doubt for good reason, are: the Bloggess, ScaryMommy, and Dooce (who gained notoriety after being fired from her job in 2002 after blogging about her co-workers, and was later dubbed “Queen of the Mommy Bloggers” by the New York Times due to her massive following, not to mention income garnered from blogging). All of these aforementioned women, by the way, have gone on to score book deals.

Then there’s a sub-genre of mom blogs I’ll lump together dedicated to crafts, cooking, or fashion and design (i.e. the perky, “useful” blogs, for the productive mother in all of us). I mostly skip these. I enjoy cooking (when it doesn’t interfere with my other goals for the day) and I feel happy when I remember to pull out the paints and engage my toddler in art for more than five minutes, but I doubt I’ll ever be one those moms who goes out of her way to buy special materials for some seasonal craft project, following step-by-step instructions from someone’s blog. That’s too much effort for me, why I love Cedar’s art-oriented preschool teacher preschool. As far as my interest in fashion or home decor go these days, if I can make a solo trip to Value Village every few months, give away the things that don’t fit once a year, get a haircut twice a year, and fix or replace necessary items within a few weeks of them breaking, then I’m doing just fine. But if you lean towards the crafty/styly/culinary side, I won’t hold it against you.

There are also blogs that I will call the earnest “chicken soup for the mom-soul blogs,” a.k.a. the nourish your spirit, motivational messaging version of the “form a supportive community with other followers” mom blogs. To be honest, some of these make me yawn. Take time for yourself, let go of imperfection, dwell in the moment, practice gratitude, set clear intentions… Don’t get me wrong, these are great messages and I do follow one of these via my Facebook feed (Awesomely Awake), but they aren’t the kind of blogs that get me excited to share and repost. I guess I’m just more interested in blogs that are more nuanced, personal, and literary. (This post from Momastery does a good job of striking that balance between conversational, personal, and meaningful.) I enjoy getting my dose of inspiration as a parent, not so much from a list of axioms or ideas, but rather from reading richly told stories or essays that reveal their underlying ruminations or messages in slightly more subtle ways. I enjoy well written blogs where the basic humanity, angst, joy, and depth inherent in being alive can transcend the seemingly “narrow” topic of motherhood to reach many.

For example, I’ve been blown away Emily Rapp’s stunningly honestly, brutal and moving account of watching her child, Ronan, die of Tay Sach’s disease on her blog Little Seal (Emily also has a book forthcoming about this experience in March). I also adore my friend Christin Taylor’s humble and insightful blog, where she reflects on themes like parenting, spirituality and faith (from an open-minded Christian perspective), friendship, starting over in a new town, and the elusive work-family balance. And from the Boggle list, I admire Alice Bradley's blog Finslippy and Her Bad Mother, both of which have been around for years, and can strike that rare balance of being intelligent, humorous, and political. (Incidentally, both Little Seal and Her Bad Mother earned a place in Time Magazines Top 25 blogs of the year—that’s ALL blogs, mind you, not “just” mom blogs.)

Realize, dear readers, that the blogs I mention here are a mere drop in the bucket, and I’m quite certain there are all kinds of gems out there that I’d follow if I knew about them. For instance, I loved this post I ran across by Fine and Fair- Twenty-Five Things This Mother Will Probably Never Tell Her Son, a kind of feminist rebuttal to another blogger’s post. I also like posts that examine the role of motherhood, like this one by Ask Moxie, in which she distinguishes how parenting is more of a relationship than a job. And I’ve also dipped into Dispatch from Utopia's "Writer with Kids" series in which mother-writers reflect on how they juggle both roles in their lives. But still, it's a rare blog that I fall in love with enough to want to read every single post. I suppose it's more of a gradual relationship you build, until overtime you realize you are a "follower".

Naturally, we all have our own tastes, and many of us are most drawn to voices which somehow reflects our own lives or sentiments. For instance, I’m drawn to the blogs where the moms are parenting a toddler; the writer is liberal and spiritual engaged (although that can mean so many things to different people); and where the bloggers are also writers outside of their role as "mommy bloggers."

Frankly, as a writer who is aware of the fact that the term “mom blog” (and especially “mommy blog”) somehow carries a slight derivative tone, I don’t like to think of myself as a “mommy blogger.” (Canadian blogger of Her Bad Mother has written a good post about this phenomena here:  "I Am Mommy Blogger, Hear Me Roar". ) To my mind, I don’t “just” write about motherhood, and even when I do, the underlying themes are more universal—(i.e. the ‘writing, paradox and love’ part of my byline.)  But I seriously doubt that many people who aren’t mothers or at least women regularly read my blog. Call it a hunch. And why would they? Who has time these days for extra reading that doesn’t feel directly relevant to their lives, especially when there’s so much to choose from? 

As I scan through all these mom blogs, I often go to their “About” page, because I am curious “who they are” or were before they achieved blogging notoriety. (Note to self: revise my About page to be more personable and spunky.) Did they start their blogs in obscurity, writing for a few friends and family, but then somehow (how?) expand and manage to reach thousands? How many of them perhaps had some kind of web background or marketing savvy that helped to launch their blogs above the amateurs from day one? I’m also curious how many of them have stayed true to writing about whatever they want to write about, versus who might have gotten caught up in their new popularity and thus felt pressure to somehow become more informational, prolific, or inspirational once their readership grew and their own myopic lens felt too, well, myopic? And then, conversely, how many of them have just gone on writing about their daily ins and outs with their kids and spouses and their readers like them for precisely this reason, following their lives like a reality show of sorts? Some mom bloggers no doubt saw their readership grow once they inadvertently stumbled into a new, more specific, profound territory in the midst of motherhood (i.e. a divorce, infertility, depression, a special needs child, or the death of a child) and ended up becoming a leading voice in this sub-genre of mom-blogs, thus “branding” or distinguishing their blogs from the masses, because that's where life led them.

No doubt plenty of other bloggers are also not fond of the term “mommy blog”, especially those of us who (snobbishly perhaps) consider ourselves to be “serious writers” or those who find themselves lumped into this category simply because they are a woman, with kids, who blogs. Liz Gumbinner of Mom 101 has a great post "Mommy Blogs are Women Blogs" in which she sees and embraces the term in a more positive light, and if you go on to read the comments, you'll see that many of her readers are not moms, as well.

Certainly it is easy to understand how the early years of motherhood especially lend themselves to the previously uninitiated writers taking up blogging. Think about it. You are home all day with your child(ren), often feeling isolated and in need of more adult conversation. Perhaps you have chosen to leave your career for a few years or an indefinite amount of time to be with the kids, either because it makes sense financially to do so or because you want to, or perhaps you never found your calling in any “career” before you discovered motherhood. Regardless, you don’t have the time or ability (e.g. money) to pursue side jobs or hobbies outside of the home, but you do have little pockets of time during the kid’s naptime, pockets of childcare, or time after they go to bed—and you do have access all-day to the world wide web. You have plenty that you read or muse about each day “on your own” with the little ones, all of which is the perfect formula for creating a blog. Motivation to take your thoughts outside of your journal or mind, motivation to start a new endeavor, without any pressure to “succeed.”

As for the blogs that do go on to attract thousands of readers, and then get sponsorship, advertising, or post regular “give aways”, these commercial ventures turn me off, but then who am I to judge a mom who realizes she can make money and support herself off her writing? More power to them, I suppose, even though I can’t see myself going that direction-- and I don’t really need to worry about it seeing that my readership is mostly made up of friends and acquaintances.

Yes, I admit, there is a part of me that envies those with a larger following. It’s the same part of me that wants to publish more of my work, to be read, to be motivated to produce more, and ultimately to be a part of a larger dialogue and community. But mostly, I’m just doing this because I enjoy it. Writing a blog keeps me writing. It’s a personal outlet, a way for me to motivate to write more, and to be more articulate or explore a subject in greater depth than I would in my journal or in a Facebook post. If I can connect with or inspire others along the way, then that’s a huge bonus that makes my day.

Sure, I check my blog stats occasionally and experience a surge of delight when the numbers go up, but if I really cared about readership, I would probably make an effort to stop making all my posts so damn long. (Most people, not even my dearest friends, don’t have the attention span for a long post.) I would also post more often, and perhaps try to write an occasional post in the form of a list that are easy to read, pass on, and potentially go viral. And while I’m at it, I should probably include more photos, more eye candy, and update my whole “look.” In short, I should play to the medium which is about getting a quick fix during lunch or naptime.

Anyway, although I may grumble about how being a mother is just a part of what I write about, I will say that motherhood has given me an endless supply of new writing fodder (and also an endless desire to have more time to do so). Before giving birth, I often struggled to find a new blog topic that didn’t seem just way too terribly self-obsessed, steeped in privileged, or dull. At core, motherhood is anything from dull. And although blogs in themselves are a self-absorbed medium, the act of becoming a mother does a number to your ego and reframes your relationship to your life and outlook in a way that nothing else does. To me, and to many other parents out there, parenting is so many things: difficult, grueling, joyful, rich, rewarding, comical, and often profound—the mix of which, to my mind, makes for fascinating reading.  

So, you see, I’m frustrated by the cultural assumption that writing about motherhood— that is, writing about being a woman, about nurturing others, about gender roles, about education, patience, stamina, creativity, ritual, and leading the way in raising the next generation-- is somehow not considered “serious” in the way that writing about, oh, politics, destruction, or war might be. And I’m annoyed by the way we lump together all of the more literary, political, or thoughtful blogs about motherhood (and then some) into the same category as the blogs that are indeed just someone’s attempt to keep the inlaws up to speed. That being said, even if you are “just” a stereotypical mommy blogger who writes about her daily foibles with her kids or trying to find time to shower—who’s to say that these aren’t interesting topics? It’s probably safe to say that those who mock this genre are usually men.

I’m here to tell you that there’s a ton of fantastic writing out there about motherhood and blogs are just a part of it. A wealth of voices are out there-- from the raunchy to sublime-- and there still is room for so much more.  After all, as others have mused before, it’s only recently that mothers have had the time to actually write about their lives as they are unfolding—not to mention the access to an immediate audience of sympathetic readers. True, a lot has already been said and done out there in the “mommy blog world”, but it’s still not nearly enough.

Feel free to share with me some of your favorite motherhood blogs, regardless of the "sub-genre" and my "tastes". ;) I admire all women who have delved into this profession/obsession/hobby/passion, and I’d love to keep discovering more!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...