An Analysis of Motherhood in Three Mommy Blogs

I am studying professional communication in my Ph.D. program, and as part of these studies, I have been examining mommy blogs.  I see them as a way of professionalizing motherhood.  The women who write them have the potential to make money from home, while sharing their “expertise” about mothering.  This makes blogging a place where women can professionalize. I also see mommy blogs as sites of rebellion and community.

Today, I’m going to look more closely at the mothering techniques in three of the top ten mommy blogs.  These top ten are identified by Babble.com.  Below is an infographic outlining some of the interesting facts and statistics about these top ten blogs and about mommy blogging in general.  For my analysis, I’ve chosen the blogs Girl’s Gone Child, Dooce, and The Girl Who.

In Girl’s Gone Child, mothering is portrayed as a taming influence in a woman’s life.  The author, Rebecca Woolf, has written a memoir titled Rockabye: From Wild to Child, and on her about page, she describes her marriage as rocky after marrying quickly and young and having her first baby.  However, they “fell in love again” and had three more children.  Her blog is devoted to these children.  She frequently includes stylish and colorful pictures of these children.

Her mothering techniques are somewhat realistic.  She discusses guilt over not planning a large, fancy party for her daughter Fable’s birthday, but a few days later, she includes a post showing pictures of a successful princess party.  The children are dressed somewhat haphazardly in princess costumes, and the décor consists of a few posed princess dolls on the table.  It’s not one of those children’s parties you see on Pinterest, but instead, it looks much like a party you’d find on any street in America.  It looks fun and planned, but not perfect or catered.

However, the photos on her blog are highly artistic and perfected  (See some of them here).  They show these everyday happenings and her beautiful children, but it tends to be through a rose-colored lens of an extremely expensive camera.  Her life is real, but the depiction of it is too pretty and neat for me to see myself in her musings on motherhood.

Girl’s Gone Child does focus on realistic mothering issues.  I already mentioned guilt, but she has also recently tackled birth control, depression, menstruation, feminism, formula feeding (she has twins), and giving birth.  She doesn’t shy away from sharing these details.  Because she shares this information freely, her mothering style also tends to be open and authentic.  I find myself drawn to her posts and relating to what she says.  By the comments on her blog, I can see that the rest of her audience feels the same way.  They are quick to offer her encouragement and advice when she admits to a shortcoming or feelings of inadequacy.  However, the perfect photos are what distances me from her.  This perfection in the visual aspect of her mothering is similar to what Emily Matchar explores in her Salon.com article “Why I Can’t Stop Reading Mormon Housewife Blogs.”  She says, “Their lives are nothing like mine . . . yet I’m completely obsessed with their blogs.”  She mentions their beautiful photography, their admirable sewing projects, and their delicious cupcakes.  This type of blogging has some similarities to Girl’s Gone Child, but without the religious aspect.

The second blog I’ve been analyzing is Dooce, written by Heather Armstrong.  I find this blog fascinating because it is controversial.  I can’t tell much about who she really is as a mother, but I do get a sense of what she wants me to believe as a reader.  Motherhood is a performance on her blog.  She tends to be competitive with her children and their abilities.

Heather Armstrong, from Wikimedia Commons

A specific example is a post with a picture of her oldest daughter, who just turned eight, with a short description of who that daughter is.  The photo showed her daughter standing up tall, with her chin up confidently.  (See the photo and post here) The caption said:

“She gets herself dressed, makes her own breakfast, packs her own bag. She can write paragraphs of dialogue and read hundreds of pages a week. She shows her little sister how to dress her dolls. She’s memorized a concerto on the piano.

Somewhere, somehow in the last eight years I raised a human being.”

There are some underlying issues here.  First, there’s the bragging.  Every mother is proud of her children, but this is what prompted me to describe her mothering style as competitive and performative.  This description is an issue because it may not be entirely true.  I spend a lot of time around eight-year-olds, and I know that they don’t write paragraphs of dialogue.  As an accomplished pianist, I can also say that they do not play concertos on the piano, unless they are Asian, ha ha (see my Tiger Mother post).  Concertos are two-part pieces, and one usually plays them with an orchestra, and if not with an orchestra, then with an accompanist.  I played my first “real” concerto by  Haydn for a sixth grade competition, in which my teacher accompanied me.

This sort of competitive spirit in motherhood reflects the ideas of new momism, described by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels, in their book The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women: The Mommy Myth, as “the insistence that no woman is truly complete of fulfilled unless she has kids, that women remain the best primary caretakers of children, and that to be a remotely decent mother, a woman has to devote her entire physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual being, 24/7, to her children.  The new momism is a highly romanticized an yet demanding view of motherhood in which the standards for success are impossible to meet” (p. 4).  Dooce seems to buy into this, despite the fact that I see many mommy blogs as a reaction to this.  Women are blogging in order to overcome such unrealistic expectations and to let loose online.  I think most of us are “fed up with the myth” (p. 3).

Secondly, and in perpetuating the new momism, there’s a sense of insecurity in Dooce’s mothering style, as seen in her last line.  I see this statement as a way of garnering sympathy from her audience, and perhaps, despite the confidence in her daughter, she has little confidence in herself.  She may have let the new momism get to her more deeply than she realizes.

In other posts, she has a nostalgic side.  She describes time with her children as slipping away.  She highlights her youngest daughter’s “burfly” (butterfly) shirt that is almost too small and laments the fact that there’s no younger child to hand it down to.  She also recounted her oldest daughter’s recent illness as a way of getting to spend time with and cuddle her daughter.  She sees her children as quickly slipping away and seems to relish the time she gets to spend coddling them.  Again, I think this is a performance.  Given the fact that her children, who are still young, have asked her to stop writing about them on her blog (she admitted this in a New York Times article), I would say they are weary of the performance.

The last blog I’d like to tell you about is The Girl Who.  The author, Monica Bielanko, is a self-admitted rebel, who married a guitar player three months after meeting him at a concert.  In a recent post, she’s expressed upset over the release of a video they made in the privacy of their bedroom.  Somehow, somebody got a hold of it.  I won’t say who I think that was, but, as the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Well, onto her mothering style as depicted in her blog.  She focuses on the absolutely real, to the point of being shocking.  She tackled breastfeeding and posted a picture of herself doing so. She also wrote a hilarious post about shopping with children and Wal-Mart.

Most interesting to me so far is a post called “Psychological Warfare” in which she depicts parenting as a horrific experience, and then ends with “HELP ME.”  She sees mothering as something to be escaped, and I’m with her a lot of the time.  Being a mother, or parent, is hard.  She describes the horror of giving birth and sleepless nights and emotional stresses of discipline.  She’s looking forward to elementary school and the days when crying won’t be the only form, or most frequent form, of communication.  She describes mothering as hand-to-hand combat and says, “I don’t think I ever really thought it out and realized my own role in it all and how difficult, emotional and heartbreaking (and yes, rewarding too) it’s all going to be… and, well, it’s just so overwhelming.”  This is a realistic portrayal of motherhood.  She’s not pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes or performing for her audience.  She is laying it all out there for everybody to see, and honestly, I relate to it.  She describes what I experience on a daily basis, and she does so with an authentic voice that resonates with me.

The ideas in this post show us an ambivalence in motherhood, a feeling that I suspect is common, especially given the prevalence of the new momism.  As Ivana Brown said, in her article titled “Ambivalence of the Motherhood Experience,” “Being a mother is conventionally associated with happiness.  For many mothers, however, mothering is filled with conflict, anxiety, and ambivalence.  Yet maternal ambivalence often remains unacknowledged” (p. 121).  This is where mommy blogs can assuage that anxiety and ambivalence.  Women like Monica Bielanko can address these issues honestly and participate in a sort of consciousness raising, a rhetorical tactic made popular during the second wave feminist movement of the 1970s.

Adrienne Rich, images from Wikimedia Commons

Adrienne Rich, famous poet and activist, wrote in her 1976 book Of Woman Born about this ambivalence.  She describes it, from a journal entry, as “the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness” (p. 21).  She sees motherhood as a constant site of conflict because of her feelings that swing back and forth from “Anger and Tenderness,” which is the title of her chapter on the subject.  She acknowledges maternal ambivalence and suffers guilt for it.  The Girl Who addresses the anger in her post, and Dooce and Girl’s Gone Child focus on tenderness and guilt.  A further examination of posts from all three blogs would, I’m sure, reveal frequent examinations of anger and tenderness in the mothering experience.

This experience of ambivalence is shared through the “mothering” that is accomplished on these blogs through the community of commenters.  When Girl’s Gone Child blogs about her guilt from not planning or throwing the world’s most fabulous birthday party for her daughter, the audience chimes in and assuages that guilt.  They relate their own experiences of motherhood and help to calm any sort of ambivalence that may be lurking there.  On The Girl Who’s post I mentioned above, her audience also comments and relates to what she is saying.  They validate her voice and reiterate the fact that mothering never gets easier, but that it can be got through.  These other mothers create a polyvocal community in which mothering is discussed and dissected.  They also mother each other through their conversations and advice.

These three blogs have different styles of mothering and different styles of presenting their mothering.  They all do it differently, and a limitation may be the performative aspect.  Knowing that their readers are reading and that an audience is watching their “every” move as mothers must affect the way they mother or at least the way they write about it.  It likely also affects their children.  I mentioned the truth of this with Dooce, but in each situation, the blogger may be prone to think, “What can I say about this on my blog?” instead of being in the moment and giving full attention their kids’ needs over the need for a good story or a sensational blog post.

The messages in these posts are different in each one, but the message I’ve gotten from Girl’s Gone Child and Dooce is that I’m not as good as they are.  I get that from the tone of the posts on Dooce, and I get it from the beautiful photography that makes motherhood and life look extra beautiful on Girl’s Gone Child.  My life is not that beautiful, and my children are apparently not as smart or as talented.  I get a sense of competition, which seems to negate the sense of community created by the comments section.  This is a limitation to the format of blogging, that despite a community of commenters, misunderstandings and overt messages negating that sense of belonging can come through in the writing.  The consequences of these messages is a feeling of inadequacy and a feeling of being left out for the readers.

Overall, I feel more of a connection to The Girl Who because of her raw honesty and frustration.  This may have to do with the fact that she’s describing a time of life that I am currently living.  I have a two-year-old and every trip to the grocery store is a nightmare.  I call these Daphne’s “Uncle Kevin moments” because my dad’s brother is famous for his temper tantrums at the grocery store as a young child.  I now have more sympathy for my grandmother.  And The Girl Who’s posts have helped me to have more perspective on parenting a toddler.  I feel like I can face another trip to the store because this honest blogger is out there doing it too.

So, I’m wondering if you follow any mommy blogs?  What is your opinion of their mothering techniques?

Are you a mommy blogger?  If you are, would you be willing to let me interview you?  If so, please send me an email at januarypetersen@yahoo.com and we can work out the details.

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28 thoughts on “An Analysis of Motherhood in Three Mommy Blogs

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  1. I LOVE this post. I’ve stopped reading some of my friend’s blogs because I feel like they’re not being authentic. I can’t relate to or understand someone who doesn’t appear to struggle through life. Maybe some women think admitting they struggle would be the same as saying they don’t love their children. That is obviously not the case. Our feelings about the difficulties inherent in motherhood are, really, unrelated to the children. Even if we had different children we’d run the same gamut of emotions. Being able to share those feelings in some forum is important. Having them validated is even more important. Mommy blogs where life is too rosy is not the right forum for me.

  2. I work in communications and have worked with mommy bloggers. I really, really like hearing your observations about the world of mommy blogging. They are a complex group and each one approaches their parenting and blogging very differently. Frankly, I’ve been trying to find more research into blogger behaviour. I’d be very interested in reading your final results.

    1. I hope to share my results! I’d love to know what suggestions you have, if any, for my research. I think blogging creates so many opportunities for women, but I also want to explore power issues and see if certain groups are left out or if egalitarianism is really what’s happening.

  3. So funny that you used this graphic – H&R Block is a client of mine and I worked on getting media interest for this infographic! 🙂

      1. I think it was based off of already existing lists, which were turned into graphic form by the company. But those lists, in turn, are based on traffic, blog honors received and engagement, if that helps.

  4. This is really interesting – I have a two year old and a blog myself (though he isn’t the only subject I post about) and I certainly agree with what you’ve observed about competitive parenting. I don’t talk about every aspect of our life in detail for a variety of reasons but I hope what I do include is a balanced snapshot. Sometimes its hard to be objective when you’re feeling proud and frustrated at the same time! I’m guessing that you’re in the US and looking at American bloggers, but I’d be happy to talk to you about the UK equivalent.

    1. I’d love to get your perspective. I don’t yet know how culture will play into my research. Send me an email and I will contact you when I’ve got the details worked out. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on authenticity versus privacy. It’s a fine balance.

  5. I’m fascinated by the time spent on blogging vs the time spent on mothering..How do mothers find that time? Do they sleep? Probably a narcissitic urge to exist makes them virtually find it. They must have cleaning women, gardeners, cooks, even perhaps.. and helpful daddys…or darling grand-parents to take over at some point in order to be blogging so much…(sorry for such cynicism I must be jealous! 🙂

    1. I’m jealous, too! I know that some of them have help. They have teams of people working on their blogs. But that’s if they get big enough. Maybe more middle-level mommy bloggers need blogging the way I need interests outside of my kids. It may be a way to maintain their identities outside of motherhood, despite the fact that they write mostly about it.

  6. Thanks for the great post. The one thing I see lacking in the blogging world, besides honesty, is that lack of blogs for those of us who have teenagers or are almost empty nesters. I am a grandma, so I do enjoy some of the post on cute crafts for little ones. However, where are the post helping moms who have done the very best they could and still have to deal with drugs, shopping lifting and teenage sex? I am a Utah religious mom whose child has made bad choices. I know that one or more of these problems exist in the majority of familes but we keep quiet about them and suffer alone. How great would it be if there was a place where we could offer comfort and support for these issues.

    1. What a fantastic point and idea! You should start the mommy blog for mothers of teenagers! And you are so right. The mommy blogs tend to focus on young children. I think you have the next great idea and I am sure so many people would appreciate a community like this for support and advice! I’ll be able to say that I knew you when… 🙂

  7. I don’t have children but I am a proud Auntie. From this perspective I find that most of the mommy blogs that I’ve seen leave out the whole team – like proud Aunties, and especially the Daddies & Uncles and male supports from the portrayal of parenthood. I think it’s a serious lack. I checked out the 3 blogs you listed and aside from one, in which there are pictures of Daddy, it appears that these mommies are doing it ALL themselves. Are they? Are they really?

    …and this begins my rant on the dismissal of single women & all men in the society of raising children. …. …. … from which I’ll spare you.

    1. No, please, indulge me! I think you have a good concern. Why can’t aunties and daddies be part of parenting? Why can’t mothers rely on these resources for help? You also have a new form of blogging you could start: the auntie blog!

  8. Hi Emily,

    Love your post! Can I ask…Are these blogs that you personally follow or did you discover them on a list like the one at at Babble? If the latter, most of these lists skew toward the most popular and widely-known mommy bloggers – which is okay. I do respect each of these women because they are pioneers in an industry that is quickly becoming watered-down with freebie, coupon and giveaway blogs; but I also think much of their weight is in their exceptional writing – storytelling to an extent.

    In my opinion, some of the best mommy blogs on the planet are those that are lesser known and/or relatively new – they are pure and extend beyond impeccable writing skills. Take for example Hollow Tree Ventures and The Orange Rhino. They are about as real as you get. I also started a mommy blog on July 1 of this year. I needed an outlet, and I’ve always enjoyed blogging. Some of my posts are good, others are quick brain dumps of goo. But it’s my outlet; my story that I’m sharing with the world. If you like it, great. If not, there’s a Scary Mommy for you. 🙂

    With some of these bloggers, you need to be careful. You might “think” they mother a certain way, but it’s part of their personal brand or persona. This is especially true of the larger, more well-known bloggers. My advice is to check out some of the smaller mommy bloggers. Their stories are genuine and real.

    All the best,

    Crystal

  9. I guess my blog is what is called a Mommy Blog, but I like to write about lots of things. I try to be humorous (laughter helps keep me from crying sometimes) and I write about real things happening in my world. For me, it is a time to reflect, remember and even just vent about issues that affect my children. I love your take on these blogs and on mommy blogging as a whole. Sometimes, these “super” blogs make me feel inadequate, but I have to remember that I am not blogging for others. I am writing for me. Thanks, Emily, for this post! 🙂

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