Baby talk: Is mommy blogging a vital support system or a virtual overshare?

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Baby talk: Is mommy blogging a vital support system or a virtual overshare?

“I am not the kind of mom who scrapbooks,” said Taylor Harris, a Charlottesville stay-at-home mom, of her blog, sweetmilks.com. “This is a cool way to chronicle what’s happened. I’m a creative type and not organized, and I try to have some sort of organization with their lives.”

Blogging is Harris’ way of creating a sort of digital look book for her two children. With the click of a mouse, she can go back in time and read her own recollections of her first-born’s birth or the onset of her youngest child’s hysterical and endearing temper tantrums.

“Hopefully my kids will say, ‘This was mom’s way of showing what we were up to and she cared and she was crazy,’” she said, laughing. “And, maybe they’ll appreciate it, and maybe I’ll have some whack scrapbook to show them, too.”

Harris—like Mary Rekosh, Kath Younger, and Whitney Morrill—are typical Charlottesville mothers. They are active, health-conscious, and highly educated. But they also do something that makes them stand out: They chronicle their lives for public consumption.

Scarborough Research, a marketing research firm that recently conducted a study on the mom blogger phenomenon, has defined Mommy Bloggers as “women who have at least one child in their household and have read or contributed to a blog in the past 30 days.” According to the study, Mommy Bloggers make up 14 percent of American mothers.

Harris, Rekosh, Younger, and Morrill all have blogs dedicated to what motherhood means to them. They write about everything from how to deal with a baby’s colic and diaper rash to losing much-dreaded baby weight. Rekosh takes a silly perspective on her blog, poking fun at herself for her shortcomings and shortcuts; Morrill addresses heavier issues like postpartum depression and feminine identity; Harris uses her humor to write self-deprecating essays about her life as a stay-at-home mom, consciously crafting a narrative in her digital scrapbook that her kids will one day look back on.

And then there’s Younger, by far the most popular (and unpopular), who attracts an estimated 30,000 unique visitors to her site per month and has even inspired her own self-contained parody website. Younger already had an established and popular food blog called Kath Eats Real Food, where she would post as much as three times a day before her son’s birth in September 2012. She started babykerf.com after the birth and now maintains both sites.

Younger’s ability to attract traffic to her sites has afforded her the opportunity to sell Web ads, making her blog commercial, unlike the other women I interviewed for this story. Last time I checked, babykerf.com was running Web ads for Google Chromebook, gDiapers, Charmin toilet paper, the fashion line Jack Spade, and an ad in Spanish for an Alzheimer’s disease treatment patch. Although the numbers are a bit hazy, big-time bloggers can make $4,000 to $5,000 per month, depending on what they charge for their placements.

The point is that local Mommy Bloggers, like mommies, come in all different shapes and sizes, and bring a range of motivations to their online storytelling projects. As a young woman and writer who is unmarried and doesn’t have children, I often imagine how motherhood will define me and what I will write in the future. Instead of packing up my laptop to head to the office in the morning, will I find myself refocusing my writing efforts on diaper bag reviews and tales of the terrible twos?

The Scarborough study attempts to define who Mommy Bloggers are.

“Their social and political influence reach far beyond the confines of the playground,” the study says, a conclusion I find demeaning but sort of funny.

And: “Among other findings, the study shows that Mom Bloggers are much more politically involved and socially minded than their non-blogging counterparts.”

It also says that Mommy Bloggers are, in general, more concerned with social, environmental, and cultural issues, more turned onto eco-friendly and organic products, and 52 percent more likely than other American moms to have completed a college or postgraduate education. The last data point definitely matches up with the local bloggers with whom I spoke. Harris has a master’s degree in writing, Morrill a master’s in architecture, Rekosh a master’s in education, and Younger is a registered dietician.

The idea of women sharing their domestic activities, family matters, and social interests on the Internet may sound liberating and empowering, creating a domestic dialogue that never existed before. But the mommy blogging culture isn’t all sunshine and cinnamon toast. A whole world of snark has grown up around it that, in its worst moments, involves cases of Internet bullying and online voyeurism.

I set out to figure out what makes mothers blog about their lives. At least in part, I guess I’m trying to figure out whether I’m destined to end up like them, detailing the challenges of motherhood in a world where status and self-esteem have so much to do with professional identity.

Virtually family
After the birth of her first child nine years ago, Whitney Morrill started noticing two opposing cultural depictions of mothers: angry mommy memoirs and saccharine-sweet magazine articles featuring blissed-out beauties. Morrill was neither angry nor blissed-out. She was overjoyed with her new baby and completely freaked out about being a new mother.

“Women are set up in a lot of ways to fail because there are so many expectations and I was experiencing all that,” Morrill said. “But being a creative person and artistic person, I couldn’t believe there was nothing in popular culture that really depicted that really difficult time in life with humor or music. There were no songs, no films about it.”

Whitney Morrill—part-time architect, freelance writer, and full-time mom—started her blog coconutgirl.com when her second child was 3 1/2 years old. The first post was a song she composed with her husband about the late night trials of her first-born’s colic phase. Photo: John Robinson

Morrill didn’t start her blog, thecoconutgirl.com, until 2009, when her second child was 3 1/2 years old. A full-time mom, part-time architect, and freelance writer, her first post was a song she wrote about her first-born’s colic phase, called “Coconut Girl.” Her husband recorded a guitar track, and she stayed up late one night to make a music video that captures the nocturnal existence of new moms. Then she clicked “publish” and set the tone for what has become a touching and humorous blog.

“Oh, I wish, I wish that I were far from home. No baby crying and no ringing phone. Oh, I wish, I wish that I were far from home just for a day./ But nobody knows my tiny babe like me, babe like me. She seems to only like me. Oh, nobody knows my tiny babe like me. Can’t tear myself away./ My body aches, my mind’s a flake, there’s dirty dishes, diapers all over the place. My man’s online, I’m always crying, there’s a tap root curling ’round me in the Dutailier.”

For Morrill, the act of starting a blog was a way to give back to a former version of herself, a way to help other young mothers answer the complex questions she asked over so many late nights.

“I made a commitment to remember that newborn time—to honor myself, and to honor other new moms who lack support,” Morrill said. “As it turns out, blogging is the perfect creative medium for me because my ideas run the gamut from writing to cartoons to videos to music. And parenthood provides an endless source of material.”

I reached out to Dr. Patrick Tolan, the director of Youth-Nex, a center started at UVA’s Curry School of Education to promote healthy youth development, for some perspective. As an expert in child development, he sees the importance of mothers being able to share information in the years before their kids interact with the school system of childcare providers.

“It gives that person a sense they aren’t alone and other people are interested in what’s going on, and also that they can learn from others,” he said. “It gives them strategies and emotional support for dealing with challenges they didn’t anticipate.”

Rekosh, a part-time children’s yoga instructor at Bend in Charlottesville, started her blog, mamasaidknockyouout.net, in early 2012. Like Morrill, she felt the need to have a forum that spoke honestly about what it was like to be a parent. On Rekosh’s blog you’ll find laugh-out-loud accounts of her teaching her children the correct terminology for body parts or cataloguing the ridiculous reprimands that have accidentally tumbled out of her mouth in the spur of the moment.

“Parenthood is stressful and challenging by nature,” Rekosh said. “If I can bring some unity and humor to other parents’ lives by reflecting on the absurdity in my own, that’s rewarding to me, and I feel like I’ve contributed in some small way to the community of parenthood.”

Tolan surmises that as people have come to live farther away from their families, spreading out across the country for professional opportunities, they lack a sense of support and community that at one time existed. The Internet, on the other hand, provides a virtual community, connecting women who discuss everything from baby bumps and breast pumps to bigger issues, such as isolation and their child’s education.

“Parenting is a very challenging task. We expect people to just be able to do it because they’ve been parented themselves,” he said. “We don’t really view anything in life like that.”

According to Tolan, people parent their children in an embedded network, which means that they don’t raise their children alone, but rely on family and friends as well. “These blogs and the Internet provide that to people who may not have their mom to call or be able to bring themselves to call their mom and say, ‘I don’t know what to do.’”

W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and associate professor of sociology at UVA, said that Mommy Blogs go beyond a supportive network for women, they also give women who aren’t in the paid workforce a sense of meaning and purpose, “online status.”

According to Wilcox, American women are disconnected from the traditions and people that used to make a vital domestic life: grandma, religious institutions, home economics classes, etc. Mommy Blogs, he says, supply women with the tools they need to create a domestic way of life fit for the 21st century.

“Announcing that you’re a stay-at-home mom in some Charlottesville settings can be met with an awkward silence,” Wilcox said. “Mommy Blogs, with their gorgeous depictions of ordinary home interiors, their celebration of family-centered living, and their recipes not only for good meals but also for good parenting, have moved into this gap with a vengeance, making stay-at-home momdom hip.”