Blog-at-home moms form online communities; now some are making it work for them
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 14, 2008 - Kim Lowell writes on her bed, surrounded by mountains of laundry from her 9-year-old son and 3-year-old triplets. She writes about voting, her non-tattooed husband, their lives together and their four children.
She writes from her St. Louis home while the kids are at school. But from that place, she connects with moms around the country. Her posts, and those of other women who blog about motherhood, ring with humor and exhaustion.
The writers and readers become friends, lean on each other for advice, cheer each other on and keep each other from an isolated insanity.
"It can be lonely to be home with your kids," Lowell says. "And it's a way to reach out."
The world connected through that computer is reaching back: 36.2 million women blog or read blogs every week, according to a study by BlogHer.com, a major blogging hub. Issues vary, but parenting makes up a good chunk. These women aren't just writing about first steps and sweet sleeping babies, though.
For many of them, the raw surprises of motherhood got them online. But blogging and the opportunities to make a little money doing it have changed over time, offering not just a place to find community, but a place to find opportunity, too.
August 2005, Kimblahg.com: "during today's ultrasound, there were two technicians present and they were constantly muttering to each other and i heard 'was it like that last time?' so i figured something was up. my doctor came in and said my cervix is continuing to change. this made me sing 'ch-ch-ch-ch changes' by david bowie in my head while he continued talking about continued, stricter bed rest and home monitoring. apparently, i get to wear a belt around my stomach that measures any contractions and sends the results to a nurse via the phone line. my belly gets to send faxes -- wow, i'm so high tech."
Lowell started years ago just reading blogs by other moms. Dooce.com was a favorite. After finding herself pregnant with triplets and frequently on bed rest, Lowell really started blogging on her own. Kimblahg.com became not just a way to share the new members of her family, but a way to cope with their premature births and all the changes they brought with them.
"I had to write all that down about what we were going through, or I may not remember enough now," Lowell says. "It was so traumatic."
Ashley Harward of theredheadedlefty.com also blogged a little before coming a mom. But then her daughter was born.
"It was like, Oh my God,'" Harward says. "I need help."
Both women often found themselves exhausted and isolated. Harward regularly put the ice cream in the pantry instead of the freezer.
So she started blogging.
"It's sort of like therapy for me," says Harward, who also lives in St. Louis.
They wrote through experiences and heard back from other moms going through those same things. Both women love to write. Lowell worked in public relations before being laid off, then deciding to stay home. Harward is a social worker who also stays home.
Both also found they connected with others in ways it can be hard to duplicate face to face.
"I think you communicate differently online than you do in person," Lowell says. "Especially if you have small kids."
Rather than trying to open up and talk to another mom in the swirl of playground chaos and distraction, blogging gives moms a chance to think, quietly, and then communicate.
"When you write something down," Lowell says, you can actually sound like you're semi-intelligent."
And the mommy bloggers (they don't all like that term) find something other than community, too. They get validation.
Before having her daughter, Harward thought the idea of staying home with the kids seemed a little bit Stepford. That changed for her, but she thinks the value society puts on being a stay-at-home mom has diminished.
Not online, though. Many mommy bloggers, regardless of what you call them, have gone on to get book deals and radio shows. They're paid to run ads on their blogs, and they have followings of people who connect with their voices and their stories.
"This community is full of influencers you've never heard of," says BlogHer COO and co-founder, Elisa Camahort Page in an e-mail. "Not just commercially, but politically as well. MommyBloggers have helped galvanize a lot of women politically."
On her blog, Lowell wrote about teaching kids what voting was all about.
"I won't say one word about the election," Kelly Wickham wrote on her blog, Mochamomma.com, on Nov. 3. She included several photos of Barack Obama.
Harward wrote about her pro-choice feelings on Oct. 30. After that post, she says, she lost a lot of readers.
But while women were very involved in blogging about politics this year, it's not possible, Camahort Page says, to consider mommy bloggers to all be of one mind or one party.
"It's not accurate to paint a one-dimensional portrait of all mommy bloggers as a monolithic bloc," she says. "Women do not think, act or vote the same."
ONE TO MANY
Oct. 11, 2008 at 8:30 p.m., Mochamomma.com: "I've been busy bonding with my 21-year old daughter whom I placed for adoption years ago. Oh? Did I not mention that to all of you?"
A lot's changed in Wickham's life lately, and her blog, Mochamomma.com, keeps readers updated. Wickham has two teenagers, an older daughter, and was recently reunited with another daughter she gave up for adoption.
She writes about that and much more in her life as an assistant principal at a Springfield, Ill., high school. But she doesn't write about everything, including the divorce she's going through. Wickham thinks she'd be fine with it, but her kids, who read her blog, might not.
"When something is raw for other people," she says, "I can't write about it."
Mommy bloggers decide their own boundaries, such as whether to use names, to post pictures, to mention where they'll be. Regardless of how much they try to guard privacy, though, they know if someone wanted to find them, they could.
Lisa Bertrand of Midwesternmommy.com, doesn't write about things until they've happened. She doesn't mention when her husband will be out of town with work or get specific with where she lives in St. Louis.
But Bertrand, who has a journalism and PR background, does share what she's going through, even if she's sometimes nervous about it. Recently, she posted this about her son: "In May, a doctor confirmed what I'd (and a few of his teachers) suspected for awhile -- he has ADHD. We had put off going the medication route but we finally agreed to try it out. ..Someday he may ask me to take down this post. He may feel it an invasion of privacy. But for now it will stay. There's nothing to be ashamed of. And I want others to see that too."
Keeping some distance and privacy makes that openness more possible for moms who blog, she thinks.
"They really let you into their lives, and I think it's kind of easier to do when you don't have your last name on it."
AND FROM THIS CORNER OF THE BLOGOSPHERE
Sept. 3, 2008, onedadslife.com: "I have failed in many ways as a dad. I know this just from looking back on my early dad years. It's not like my kids are grown and out of the house or anything. Yet, I can get all retrospective even now. My youngest just turned seven (7), and my oldest is twelve (12). However, even in the heart of that whole 'raising the children' thing, I can already see a couple of areas where I have completely not passed the test."
Gregg Mueller started out reading a local mommy blog, then commenting, and soon realized maybe he had a lot to say. So he started his own blog.
Onedadslife.com is about, well, his life. The St. Louis electrical engineer and software manager found room for his voice with his blog. A lot of room, actually.
"I kind of joke that there's millions of mom blogs, and there's five dad blogs, and I'm one of them," he says.
But the issues they're writing about aren't so different, and most of his readers are mommy bloggers, Mueller says. Regardless if someone is working or stays home with kids, life is busy.
"People have to have that connection with others," he says, "and I think this has become a great way to do that."
Another underrepresented group are moms of color, says Kelly Wickham of mochamomma.com. The population has been ignored, she thinks, but again, the issues are the same.
"Moms of color are moms, too," she says. "They have the same issues."
When black women feel there's a bubble of exclusivity around traditionally white mom blogs, Wickham says, they don't feel accepted and go off and create something of their own.
But, Bertrand says, among the many changes she's seen in mom blogs is an increase in dads who blog and in race and ethnicity among the moms.
"There are micro-communities of parents raising children with special needs, parents who are homeschooling, parents of multiples," Camahort Page says.
You name it, there's probably a blog for it.
WATCH THEM GROW
On a recent post, Lowell has two photos, one of her son in a pile of leaves at 2 years old, and the next, in a pile again, at 3.
"One year for an adult is nothing. Our faces and bodies don't usually change much and last season's clothes aren't suddenly two inches too short (again, usually) but kids grow into completely different people in that time."
Growing up with their kids, the mommy blogosphere has changed too, lost some of its baby chub, gotten smarter and better at staying on its feet.
When Bertrand first started reading mom blogs, there was no advertising, and most were in a two-column layout. BlogHer and other ad networks got ads on those blogs, targeting the ever-mouth watering household budget decision makers.
"The market has been waking up to the power and influence of women, online and off, so there is currently a perception of Mommy Bloggers as the under-the-radar movers and shakers of the blogosphere," Camahort Page says. "They are being courted by more and more companies, brands and marketers."
With ads and product review blogs, there's money to be made by women who were doing this anyway. In fact, Bertrand has her blog, midwesternmommy.com, plus a product review blog. Lowell has her blog, plus she's St. Louis city editor for the blog saintlouis.savvysource.com, where she writes about things to do with kids in the area. Wickham, of mochamomma.com, runs ads and promotions, and after blogging about her unhappy part time job search, Harward was contacted by BlogHer and offered a part-time job as an editor. Now, she edits about 400 other mommy blogs.
None of the women are able to make full-time money, but the opportunities keep increasing, Bertrand says.
"Many are using their blogs (and their blogging experience) as a spring board. Some use their knowledge of social media to gain corporate or nonprofit gigs," she wrote in an e-mail. "Some end up with book deals, screen plays or radio shows. Others are able to freelance or write columns in traditional newspapers or magazines."
Newspapers and local networks have hitched on to that wagon, too. At one time, blogger Dana Loesch wrote her popular mamalogues.com for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; now Post-Dispatch reporter Aisha Sultan writes the Parents Talk Back blog. Other media outlets have www.stlmoms.com linked to Fox News and stlouis.momslikeme.com partnered with KSDK.
Like the advertisers, the media realize women in the demographic are potential readers and viewers and providing them with a forum is another way stay current.
Bertrand expects opportunities to keep coming. To help with the growth spurts, she's is a co-founder of the St. Louis Bloggers Guild. What started as informal get togethers has become a place of support and information for bloggers, a place to ask questions, Bertrand says about ethics, design, direction, covering events as citizen journalists, setting up podcasts and tons more. The group had its first conference in September, with 25 different sessions. Mueller says between 5 and 15 attended most sessions. In the future, Camahort Page expects some women to make careers out of blogging, some to become advocates for issues that matter to them, and many others to keep track of their lives for their children's benefit.
"It's an unmatched cultural record," she says. And whatever you call them, she expects mommy bloggers to keep leading the way.
"While there still may be some who dismiss this kind of life-blogging as trivial," Camahort Page says, "most people now see the true value of this community."
Kristen Hare is a freelance writer in Lake St. Louis.