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Why blog about your baby?

February 2nd, 2005 · 11 Comments

I’m a bit under the weather and not sure I should attempt a dissection of this Mommy (and Me) piece from Sunday’s New York Times. Not sure I consider myself a mommy blogger either. And as Susan Mernit noted, the New York Times seems to be overdosing on blogs, publishing a blog du jour story which is guaranteed to ridicule the community and bore everyone else.

But the paper’s recent article on mommy bloggers portrayed parents who post as self-centered overgrown children, big babies unable to cope with their own little ones. The baby blog in many cases is an online shrine to parental self-absorption. The perspective taken by David Hochman disappointed some who had been interviewed for it. As Laura wrote in her letter to the Times

However, I was surprised by Hochman’s unfair misrepresentation of parent blogger as narcissistic, hyper involved in their children’s lives, attention-craving, opportunistic, and thoughtless of their children’s psyche and privacy.

Perhaps some parents desire to document each day’s diapers. Reports of baby drool and stool might seem more appropriate published from a lab than a blog. I agree that creating incessant commentary on children may be excessive, short-sighted and damaging. I’ll even agree that baby blogs can be narcisstic and boring: What is remarkable is that being a parent has inspired so much text and that so many people seem eager to read it..

The mystery is why 8,500 parents choose to blog about their children (I suspect this is a small number – David Sifry, where did you get this figure?) Indeed, who would choose to write such sap, and who would read it?

So, if you are a parent, why should you blog about your baby?

Why does anyone blog?

Last year Clive Thompson wrote in a classic entry

I’ve long argued that the Internet’s central effect on society is that it makes us weirder. All that writing — in email, in IM, on web pages — has an unconsciously therapeuti c effect on people. It’s like an id-release valve. Indeed, if you go to most therapists in a crisis, they’ll usually tell you to “keep a journal”: The mere process of writing — even if you don’t write about yourself — is inherently exploratory, because it involves constructing a new version of yourself and your voice in words. You’re taking part of yourself and making it external, on a page, and as any philosopher or poet can tell you, that’s a surprisingly weird existential experience. Even if you’re writing about synthetic motor oil, writing forces you to meditate on who the heck you are.


The Internet will go down in history not as a democratizing force, not as a revolutionary moment in commerce … but as the world’s largest uncontrolled experiment in mass therapy.

This “mass therapy” and exploration of voice and identity are valid reasons for anyone to blog, whether a teenage guy or an at-home-mom or a CEO. Parents have some of the same reasons to want to blog as anyone else.

…writing forces you to meditate on who the heck you are: a particular need for parents in our culture today, especially those who have decided to get off the career ladder for a while. In our culture, we are identified by our job, our career, our skills, our education. When we lived in Silicon Valley, I remember the first question people would ask when being introduced was “Where do you work?”.

Writing and blogging allow us to forge new identities or hold onto the pieces of who we once were. I know I have experienced both.

As moms we can feel mediocre, losing ourselves, our activities and interests, as we give our time and energy to our children. Jenny recently described her own experience of life changes from small pond to bigger pond to being a mom.

I am an average mom to 2.5 children. I drive a white minivan. I scrapbook, bake and head-up crafts at my local mom’s group. […] I know I have purpose and value, yadda, yadda, yadda… but it doesn’t change the fact I struggle with feeling bland. I’m not Sheri Oteri but not boring… not Martha Stewart but able to take on a glue gun… not Barbara Streisand but not tone-deaf… not Mother Teresa but don’t brandish a wire hanger… not Oprah Winfrey but have important things to say at times… Catch my drift?

Blogging gives us back a piece of our voice and slices of our individuality.
I’ve described how blogging has been saving my sanity in this time and space of life where I find myself.

Heather B. Armstrong of Salt Lake City credits her blog, Dooce.com, with saving her sanity, if not her life…[….]…”Dooce probably saved my life,” she said. “The writing and voice I had let me hold onto part of the original and old Heather, something that being a mother and the depression couldn’t take away.”

The other important factor in our culture is the isolation of parents. We no longer live in the same town our entire lives, at least many of us move. Some women even move mid-pregnancy – I did.

Although I have not studied anthropology, I would suspect that in many cultures, especially prior to the twentieth century, pregnant women and young parents were surrounded by others to help support them in their journey: the village. Instead, in our Western here and now we have big cities where new parents can feel isolated and drown in the anonymity. Doctors and experts tell us what to do but often our families don’t fit what the books dictate. Then what?

Blogging, to borrow my husband’s description, is a way of finding our tribe. We parents can again find that support group we would have had. In fact it’s better because we can choose our tribe rather than having our tribe (relatives) chosen for us. We discover that we’re not alone; we’re okay. If we do need validation as the article claimed, I believe this insecurity is due to the combination of isolation and expectations.

“If you only went by what the magazines and parenting books said or what your relatives told you, you’d think you were a neurotic freak who was doing everything wrong,” Ms. Smartypants said. (She declined to reveal her real name.) “Blogging makes parents more relaxed.”

Just as an employee who goes home and enjoys a private life with various other interests, whether it be tatoos or tiramisu, a parent who has a blog gives herself space to be someone besides a mommy. Reading and writing blogs is a bit like hanging out at a bar afterhours, swapping stories from the day and giving each other courage to get up again in the morning. I know for me, especially living on this island, it’s hard to get out and be with other parents in person. Kids get sick. We parents get sick. It gets wet or icy. Life is busy. I can’t often make it to the pub myself. But blogging allows us to take snippets of time and build relationships of support.

(Ayelet Waldman🙂
“A blog like this is narcissism in its most obscene flowering,” she said. “But it’s necessary. As a parent your days are consumed by other people’s needs. This is payback for driving back and forth to gymnastics all week long.”

Yet in the midst of their narcissism, parents should use caution and draw crucial lines of privacy around their progeny. I don’t want my kids to feel like fodder for blog posts. (see Jerry Colonna’s struggles). I don’t want my daughters to feel overexposed and underprotected by their parents. In my talk at Northern Voice later this month I plan to explore this distinction between public and private further.

Molly Jong-Fast, who has been a frequent subject for her mother, Erica Jong, said, “There comes that inevitable moment when parents who write about their children need to choose between their writing and their children’s privacy and honor.”

Blogging isn’t about audience size, as Dave Winer commented, contrary to the opinion expressed by one blogger in the following quote.

And of course the more parents blog, the less likely they are to get the attention and validation they seem to crave. “If every parent in the world has a blog, then maybe it really will be about the child rather than the parent,” Ms. Waldman said. “Because at that point the child is the only one who’s going to read it.”

If every parent in the world did have a blog, I think it would be a wonderful way to build tribe! But I don’t think it matters how many readers one has.

I hope my children read my blog. Not all of my posts are for my family, but many of mine preserve my memories of this moment in parenting. For some parents, a blog will be the way they can remember the years as they disappear. I’m finding it much easier to paste digital pictures into posts rather than print them and paste them into a book. Plus a blog is an easy way to share with other friends and relatives, to stay close despite the miles between everyone.

One aspect not mentioned specifically in the Times article is the idea of cross-generational pollination. Also the idea of being an example through blogging. By describing my parenting experience, I am (possibly) leaving an archive for future generations who will see some of the struggles and joys we had raising children in this beginning of the twenty-first century. Reading other’s diaries from generations past has given me wisdom and helped me appreciate what I have now.

By blogging I am not only communicating with other parents who have young children, but I also hope to dialogue with parents at all stages. By blogging I’m opening my life for commentary and critique. Others have helped me see in new ways from their perspective. I hope I’m open to receiving advice from those who have gone before me. And I hope too that I’m painting a picture for those who are thinking about becoming parents some day. Maybe I’m being an example of what to do. Maybe I’m helping others discern what they don’t want to do if they get to be in my shoes.

I blog not only for myself but for others. For example, when Michaela had surgery, I wondered how I could help other parents with what I had learned. Sure I enjoy the therapeutic benefits, but I hope others benefit here too.

Beyond the personal implications, blogs could be powerful tools for discussing social, political, religious issues that pertain to the family and to the future. There is potential for parent blogs to nuture movements or sponsor changes.

As Laura continued in her letter to the Times

Parent blogs showcase fabulous 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 the hidden world of parenting, and they have funny potty jokes. Years from now, historians will view these blogs as primary sources for documenting private life in the 21st century.

Thanks to Lisa Williams for bringing to my attention many of these links originally. And thanks to Lisa and many others, bloggers and readers, for being a part of my tribe.

Tags: blog

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Eve Winer // Feb 2, 2005 at 6:28 am

    I’m the grandmother that Dave talks about. But there is nothing grandmotherly about my blog. Although I don’t have a large readership I find writing to be a very liberating experience. It also helps me formulate and clarify my thoughts and sometimes drives me to act or emerges from action.

  • 2 Ed Cone // Feb 2, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    Nice, thoughtful post, Julie.

    At our breakfast table, my wife and I were more reactive, asking, Can this be the same Times that so often runs rare-childhood-disease-of-the-week articles (porn for neurotics) in its magazine?

  • 3 david // Feb 2, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    Nice and thoughtful and you’ve articulated a lot of the thoughts I had about that article that I couldn’t quite put into words.

    For one thing – where were the dads? And that ‘oh, aren’t those bloggers / suburbanites / non – New Yorkers’ tone that the NY Times Style Section takes grates on me. And I’m a life-long New Yorker.

    I agree with your husband’s point about tribes – since I’ve been blogging about my family I’ve come into contact with other dads that I’ll probably never meet but consider to be friends.

  • 4 Daisy // Feb 2, 2005 at 7:37 pm

    Hi there Julie! Great post and a lot to think about, especially because I start my students blogging this week. Writingblog has been down for several weeks now so I’m just getting back into the swing of things. Hope you are feeling better! Talk more soon–Daisy

  • 5 Paul // Feb 2, 2005 at 11:00 pm

    I think you’re exactly right: in days gone by, there were support networks to distribute the work of parenthood. In many places these have gone the way of backfence gossip but at my school, we’re seeing it re-emerge with the school as the focus, rather than the neighborhood.

    I made a point to keep my family out of my writing: I have mentioned them a handful of times in more than 2000 posts, and never by name. I don’t want to use them as blog fodder . . . .

    I don’t know that parents who keep a weblog are any more or less narcissistic than, say, tech bloggers or political ones. I would be inclined to say less — parents who do this are more like to be seeking catharsis or making observations, rather that passing along technical arcana or making policy arguments, both of which seem more in search of an audience.

    I guess it depends on whether your site reads more like a diary or journal or the op-ed page of your local paper: the former will stand the test of time more than the latter.

  • 6 jenny // Feb 2, 2005 at 11:55 pm

    Great post. I’ve been reading in other blogs about this article, but have not taken the time to read it myself. I agree with your perspective, and love Ted’s “tribal” observation. I mostly read blogs of other moms. They are a source of encouragement… I could sya more, but I think you laid it out perfectly in your post:)

  • 7 shmallowsdad // Feb 3, 2005 at 12:11 pm

    David asks:For one thing – where were the dads?

    I’m one. And I see my blog as a tribute to my daughter. Hopefully she read it later to get to know the wonderful person she’s becoming.

  • 8 kat // Feb 3, 2005 at 3:56 pm

    I blog because I type faster than I can write by hand. And I like how my site looks so far. And because I feel hip doing this thing online rather than having a journal. 🙂

  • 9 Jerry // Feb 4, 2005 at 10:06 am

    Julie, this is a beautiful essay. I think your husband is spot-on; there’s something extrodinarily powerful about finding members of your tribe from unexpected places. Let’s face it: it’s comforting.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah…it allows us to overcome the isolation of modern times (I don’t know that people were less isolated in the past. Reading the ancients leads me to think that isolation and disconnectedness are a function of modernity than a function societal values.) But there’s something deeper afoot here when complete strangers reach across space and give each other a gentle, mental hug.

  • 10 Douglas Reay // Feb 18, 2005 at 6:54 am

    “a way of finding our tribe” – not just one tribe. When geography is not an issue, you can be in as many tribes as you have time to attend to.


  • 11 Robert // May 27, 2005 at 10:34 am

    Great blog. I’ve been reading in other blog about this article.