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Let’s Give the Mommybloggers Some Respect

They may be sneered at in the New York Times and accused of endangering children's welfare by Kathy Lee Gifford — but parenting blogs are more popular than ever.

by
Laura McKenna

Bio

May 25, 2008 - 12:04 am

Kathy Lee Gifford, queen of all media, and the new host of the Today show, was more than a bit out of her element as she recently tried to interview mega-blogger Heather Armstrong, aka Dooce, following a taped segment that included interviews with other ‘mommybloggers.’

Kathy Lee started off the interview saying that she didn’t know anything about computers and concluded it with the suspicion that Heather Armstrong was endangering her child’s welfare by posting pictures of her online.

This from a woman who once made me watch her kid’s dance recital on network television.

I have three words for Ms. Gifford. Pot. Kettle. Black.

The incident was far from the first time the mainstream press has dissed so-called mommybloggers – with even more venom than is normally directed at blogging. The antagonism goes back as far as Jan. 2005, the New York Times told mommybloggers that they were narcissistic.

What is a ‘mommyblogger,’ you may ask? A common question – I’ve even met fellow academics who specialize in blogging who have never heard of us.

Simply put, the term have come to describe mothers (with the stray stay-at-home dad in the mix) who maintain blogs that chronicle and deal with raising their kids and their life after kids. These bloggers vary greatly in terms of tone and focus, but in general, they take a very intense and irreverent look at parenting. They discuss potty training in graphic terms. They talk about tossing back a beer with other parents. They show off projects that they are working on. They complain about the amount of homework their kids get and agonize over how many hours they are in front of the television or (ironically) the computer. They cheer on and encourage their fellow online parents. Some mommybloggers have particular niches, like parenting kids with special needs or moms with PhDs and form sub-communities revolving around those interests.

Many of them reside in the intersection of politics and parenting, like Bitch, PhD, Half Changed World, Electric Venom and my blog, 11D. Some mommybloggers have made the jump to full-time political blogging, such as MOMocrats. In this world, there is no separating the personal from the political.

Naturally, since most of these bloggers are women and they’re writing about kids and diapers and all, many guys write them off as marginal girlie stuff.

Marginal? Not according to the numbers. Dooce is number 41 on Technorati’s Top 100 blog list. She has more readers than most of the well known political blogs and she’s linked to more often than Andrew Sullivan or Michelle Malkin. In April 2008, she had 5.5 million pageviews and her comments number regularly in the hundreds. A recent post had 814 comments.

She’s not alone. Blogher lists 3,200 self-identified mommybloggers on its blogroll, but those numbers aren’t close to their overall numbers. According to a 2006 study by the Pew Foundation, many more bloggers are using their blog to record their personal experience, rather than merely sharing political opinion. 52 percent of bloggers said that the main reason that they blog is to express themselves creatively. Only 34 percent of bloggers saw their work as a form of journalism. 37 percent of bloggers said their “life and personal experiences” was the primary topic of their blog. Only 11 percent said that politics was the primary topic of their blog. Technorati is tracking 112 million bloggers. If half of those blogs are personal blogs, then 56 million are personal diaries.

It’s unclear how many of that 55 million are authored by parents, but it is certainly a large number. What’s the appeal?

Clearly, parents – in many cases parents who are very isolated from adult interaction for much of the day – are seizing the opportunity to form a community without having to abandon their household duties. In a post for her daughter in the future, Heather Armstrong writes, “I know I am not alone when I say that when I sit down to update my website I do it to connect with other people, I do it to reflect on the absurdity of everyday life with the hope that the people who read it will find similarities in their own routine. … this is a community of women coming together to make each other feel less alone. You are a part of this movement, you and all of the other kids whose mothers are sitting at home right now writing tirelessly about their experiences as mothers, the love and frustration and madness of it all. And I think one day you will look at all of this and pump your fist in the air.”

Because of these bloggers, there is increasing awareness of the work and rewards of parenting. The work of being a mother – and it is work – is no longer done behind the closed doors of suburban homes or in the enclaves of the local playground – the nitty gritty is out there on every computer for those who want to see. The mommybloggers are shouting, in essence: “WE ARE HERE!”

When their blogs describe in detail the hours that go into potty training, the lengths that a parent will go to get a picky eater to eat carrots, the insanity of projects sent home from school, the sleepless nights worrying about a child’s speech delay, that information not only provides respect and legitimacy for the work of parents. It may hopefully even provide more understanding in the workplace for the parent who needs to leave early for a parent-teacher conference.

Mommybloggers are also making it clear that while raising the kids is hard work, it’s rewarding work and a worthwhile pursuit. They lovingly discuss their kids’ accomplishments and post pictures of drooling tots. They talk about what they’ve learned and the skills they have acquired since having kids. They talk about the changes in their lives that have happened after having kids. The talk freely about how they miss the freedom of their old lives – until recently, a taboo confession – but yet sincerely adore their babes.

The mommybloggers also show us that being a mom or dad doesn’t have to mean the “Leave it Beaver” stereotypes. They are hip, tattooed, cursing, funny, quirky people. Or hard-working lawyers, organic food-eating homeschoolers, or even feminist Mormon housewives. They are real, flesh and blood people, not two-dimensional Hollywood mannequins.

The most popular mommyblogs aren’t at the top of the heap because they are the most ‘important’ but because they are the most entertaining. They showcase excellent writing and wit; many have important political and social subthemes. The best ones are anything but cloying. They discuss their kids and their lives with irreverence and humor. Millions read them because they offer universal truths about life, they provide a window into a world that until now has been largely hidden, and they have funny potty jokes. In the future, historians will undoubtedly view these blogs as primary sources for documenting private life in the 21st century.

In our own time, at least the corporate world has sat up and taken notice.

True, at the moment, corporate America’s courtship of mommybloggers is in its infancy – it still doesn’t quite ‘get’ them, as this rather comedic tale of public relations fumbling and damage control by Johnson and Johnson illustrates. But this kind of stumbling likely won’t last for long. Very soon, the mommybloggers will be an integral part of the marketing strategy of any company that wants to grab hold of the buying power and the ‘viral word of mouth’ that only they can provide.

As this mommyblogger points out, it has already made a difference.

“Consider Corporate America not recognizing that women make over half the buying decisions for the family. Consider Corporate America thinking our opinions don’t matter. Consider it going back to the way it was a few years ago, when male-written technology and political blogs dominated the blogosphere to the extent that major newspapers asked where all the women bloggers were.

Here we are, world. Here we are.”

Kathy Lee would do well to remember that the next time she wants to promote her next television show.

Laura McKenna is a political science professor who lives in New Jersey. She blogs at 11D.
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