I started reading ‘Mom blogs’ way before I got pregnant. At first, my reading was secret and covert. Alone in the house, I browsed the 1000 or so pages of blogs ranked by readers on the Top Baby Blogs register the way other people privately peruse porn. I found my burgeoning Mom Blog obsession deeply embarrassing for reasons I’ll come to in a minute, so I constructed a lie to tell myself about what I was doing so that I could keep doing it. The lie was premised on the idea that what I was really doing was engaging in an ironic brand of voyeurism, research for some analytic article I never really intended to write. What I was honestly doing was becoming more and more wholeheartedly absorbed in the lives and thoughts of a host of women, many of them American, who were articulating – sometimes beautifully, sometimes clumsily, often with heartbreaking candor – the many challenges that new mothers face in this contemporary circumstance.
Today, I’ve been following the lives of a dozen or so mothers for so long that many of the women I first ‘met’ when they were expecting their first child have already had second babies. I experience daily that overwhelmingly adult response to time passing – ’oh, my, look how big you’ve grown!’ – familiar to so many children from family gatherings, only the children I am observing aren’t family. I don’t know them personally. We will never meet. Yet they aren’t strangers. In fact, I probably know a great deal more about the day-to-day lives of these kids and their mothers than I do about the lives of my closest friends.
On one level, the sheer propensity for the (over) sharing of intimate detail on Mom blogs is what makes for such compelling reading, and this is certainly the aspect that hooked me in to begin with. I am deeply interested in the lives of other people. While indulging in the vast array of novels that explore our human condition is one fundamental manifestation of this interest, its uglier counterparts are a penchant for gossip, a love of reality television, an abiding commitment to Facebook. Let’s just say that I find the lure of other people’s diaries strong. Anything to get close to the lived experience of others, to comprehend, even briefly, the outer boundaries of their lives and selves. Mom blogs offer all this on a platter. They are in no way literary, but nor are the majority of them as cynical or constructed as most reality television. Though there are those that have clearly been set up as businesses of sorts, the best Mom blogs in my opinion are those written by ordinary women as creative outlets, as a means of alleviating the crushing isolation of the home, as attempts just to survive each repetitive day. Mom blogs are not only records of particular childhoods but, more crucially, they are public broadcasts: conversations from and about the otherwise largely private, even silent space of the stay-at-home experience.
What I find so captivating about Mom blogs in this context is that they provide a platform for celebrating the many small joys of parenting and the important – but largely unacknowledged – labour done daily in the home. Simultaneously, they provide a means of voicing the disappointments, isolation and anxiety that seem to be a part of committing to such challenging, repetitive and exhausting work. Often, the more difficult aspects of parenting are not addressed overtly on the blogs, but come through painfully between the lines. That the difficulties experienced by Mom bloggers act as subtext to their triumphs renders them all the more poignant, at least to me. To take one example, Abigail – a young English mother – writes in passing on her blog Abigail and the Future:
I’ve been trying really hard to motivate myself to get out the house and do fun things with Theo, on my own … Because Rob has to work every Sunday now I have made a conscious decision to make myself do something productive, so I don’t feel down that everyone else is out doing ‘family’ things together, and I’m not.
The sense of loneliness and hardship in this post is palpable, but so is the blogger’s determination, her courage. In the space between these two feelings, in their intrinsic relationship with one another, lies the emotional charge that makes Mom blogs worth reading.
Why was I so anxious then about owning – and owning up to – the fact that I read Mom blogs? On the surface, the answer seems obvious, a combination of my particular social positioning and conditioning, and the very domestic (that is, supposedly low-brow, unworthy) content of the blogs. I am lucky to have been gifted the privilege of higher education and the many freedoms of choice it endows. But implicitly entwined with this privilege, as I have experienced it, is the message that women can and should do more, desire more, than ‘just’ becoming mothers. I was subtly schooled to understand that motherhood was a far less pressing pursuit than creative or professional fulfillment – an assertion I don’t have the space to unpack here. Suffice to say, from that ideological place it is easy to find something a little bit twee and shallow and easily ridiculed in the fact that literally hundreds of women are posting daily and earnestly about their children’s eating habits and toilet training and trips to Pottery Barn. It is easy to snicker, to disregard.
Mom blogs are arguably challenging – easily viewed as illegitimate, even trashy forms of writing – because they also affirm the tired assertion, all too often bandied about most often in relation to literature, that ‘women writers’ only ever write about small-scale domestic matters, leaving men to write on more important, worldly and universal subjects. Combined with this, the platform –blogging – holds a peripheral, disposable place in the spectrum of legitimate publishing ventures, while the untrained and ‘ordinary’ nature of the writers – who are, after all, ‘just’ women, and most of them ‘just’ stay at home mothers at that – allows easy dismissal and derision of almost every aspect of the Mom blog.
I think Mom blogs deserve more penetrating assessment and consideration. The capacity for readers to engage with these bloggers, to comment on their posts, provides invaluable encouragement and validation to otherwise largely isolated women, a vocal, global community of support. In return, in posting their domestic material, Mom blogs importantly allow not just voyeuristic access to otherwise private spaces, or even fundamental insight into the rigors of parenting. What they ultimately provide is touching, everyday discourse on what it means to be human: to love, to be challenged, to do one’s best in the world despite the odds.
Alice Robinson lectures in the Bachelor of Writing and Publishing at NMIT. She blogs on books and reading at www.critrature.blogspot.com