Mommy blogger wars: Moms who blog endure backlash, bullies

2010-04-19T08:45:00Z Mommy blogger wars: Moms who blog endure backlash, bulliesGeorgea Kovanis - Detroit Free Press Daily Herald
April 19, 2010 8:45 am  • 

Melissa Summers has two adorable children.

While she loves hosting birthday parties and makes great Halloween costumes, she also dislikes school vacations -- they mean she doesn't get a break from her kids -- and admits that sometimes what she wants most in the world is quiet time with a cocktail.

"I am a person who doesn't sugarcoat things," says Summers, a 36-year-old work-at-home mom who lives in Royal Oak, Mich., and writes about motherhood on her blog, suburbanbliss.net.

Which is why people she has never met those who accuse her of being a bad person, and even worse, a bad mom.

"It really makes me angry that somebody can be a bully and do this," Summers says. "There is a lot of anger about mom blogs and I haven't really been able to understand why."

Mommies far from dearest

If you think high school is tough, with its cliques and mean girls, you probably haven't visited the ever-widening world of mommy blogs, where women bully and bad-mouth each other in posts that are more personal and more spiteful than you're likely to find on sports or entertainment blogs. Or on blogs written by dads.

Through the anonymity of the Internet, women accuse each other of hating their children for revealing that being a mom isn't all milk and cookies. And of breaking an unspoken rule of motherhood -- that a mom is supposed to be her child's biggest booster, confidant and protector, not write about his or her private life in a venue all the world can see.

All of this is occurring as mommy blogs are growing in visibility and in legitimacy.

No one knows how many mommy bloggers inhabit the blogosphere; there is no central clearinghouse for them. But BlogHer, a platform for thousands of blogs by women, says parenting is its most popular subject and accounts for more of its blogs -- 5,819 -- than any other topic.

Their reach is vast. Ree Drummond writes about life on an Oklahoma cattle ranch with her husband and four children on thepioneerwoman.com. Her blog -- which includes anecdotes about her kids, the ranch, recipes, tips on home schooling, lists of her favorite beauty products -- gets 22.4 million page views a month, according to Federated Media, which specializes in advertising for blogs. Published last year, Drummond's cookbook, "The Pioneer Woman Cooks" (William Morrow, $27.50), became a New York Times bestseller. And just recently, her life story -- to the delight of her fans and dismay of her detractors -- was optioned for a movie.

As a result, advertisers are taking more notice of popular blogs and are upping the amount of money they spend on them -- $283 million on all blogs in 2007 and a projection of $746 million by 2012.

And advertisers' real darlings are mommy blogs. Because women make about 80 percent of their households' purchasing decisions and because, according to studies, moms spend about $2 trillion annually.

Telling it like it is

For many women, a huge part of their self-worth is tied up in their mothering abilities and skills.

"The No. 1 thing, I don't care how successful you are, you can be the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. If you're a mom, the No. 1 thing in your life is to be the best mom you can be. That trumps everything for most," says Gina Robison-Billups, founder and CEO of the Nevada-based National Association for Moms in Business.

Adds Meredith W. Michaels, a philosophy professor at Smith College who studies motherhood: "How you are going to be judged as a mother is rooted much more deeply in your sense of self than it is for a father."

"A father's responsibilities are more circumscribed," she said. "For women, they're judged on the basis of how well their children are doing and the degree of their commitment."

For eons, moms have judged each other. They've whispered about who is breast-feeding, who is baking cookies, who is providing the best after-school and summer vacation options, who is the best mom. Except judgments are no longer whispered. They're shouted out on the Internet.

"I recently wrote that I don't want to share my chocolate chip cookies. It's a whole post about how moms are human, too," says Jacqueline Wilson, 41, who lives in East China, Mich., and writes a blog, jackiewilson.blogspot.com.

"When I write things like how I don't want to share my chocolate chip cookie, I get people who unsubscribe to my blog, I get e-mails. They're like, 'Wow, have you ever thought you shouldn't be a mom?"'

"I don't know why we can't lift each other up and be a support system."

All-out slugfests

Michele McBee describes herself as a good person and a good mom.

About three years ago, she began a blog -- pooponpeeps.com -- to take on mommy bloggers she has decided are challenging -- even changing -- the traditional notion of motherhood by admitting that sometimes, being a mom is hard.

"They make it a horrible, nasty experience," says McBee, 40, of Elk Grove, Calif. "I don't think that's what motherhood is. I know people say that finally, people are being strong and they have a voice and they're speaking the truth. ... I think they make motherhood seem so much harder.

"I worry about some of these kids," she added, criticizing some bloggers for revealing too much information about their children and about their own sex lives. "Kids can be horribly mean, especially when they find out something juicy."

One of McBee's favorite targets?

Summers, the Royal Oak blogger who says now that her children are older -- 9 and 11 -- she is careful about the level of detail she includes about their lives. "I don't write about anything that the kids are experiencing personally, says Summers. "When they were younger, I felt like they were kind of an extension of me."

McBee and her followers have criticized Summers' appearance. They questioned her husband's sexuality. (He likes to cook and decorate cakes.) They accused her of having a drinking problem. (The logo on her blog is a martini glass with a pacifier in place of an olive; she appeared on NBC's "Today" show in defense of moms who have a cocktail at playdates.) They say she spends money on herself when she should be spending it on her household. And accuse her of not loving her kids (years ago she joked about selling her son at a garage sale because he wasn't sleeping at night) and of being a terrible mother.

"Why ... did you have children Melissa?" McBee wrote in one post. "Why? Mostly why in the hell are you called a mommy blogger? Is it purely because you have children, so therefore that makes you one? Because there's really not much 'mommy' going on in your life."

Summers, who began blogging in 2003 as a way to meet like-minded moms and work through issues such as depression and the effects of being abused by her father -- doesn't take the comments as personally as she once did.

"It's frustrating, don't get me wrong," Summers says. "I say and I accept that you're not going to like me. And I say and accept there are consequences for that." But, she adds, "disagreeing with someone is much different than calling them an alcoholic who abandons their children at night."

In March, McBee shut down pooponpeeps.com, saying she needed to take care of her ailing mother.

Summers -- whose blog is growing in popularity and gets about 140,000 page views a month -- is confident another anti-mommy-blogger will take her place.

"I can be a person who goes out with my friends for happy hour, and I can also be the mom who races to school to deliver cupcakes for my son's birthday," Summers says. "There's a certain amount of duality that isn't allowed. There's a certain amount of women who bristle at that idea.

'Nothing's off limits' for some

When it comes to writing a mommy blog, how much is too much information?

It depends on whom you ask.

Experts suggest bloggers should balance the benefits of self-expression with the needs of their children.

"It's not a question whether a parent should reach out to other parents, it's what's the appropriate venue and which sorts of details are public and which should be kept private," says David Sandberg, a professor at the University of Michigan Medical school who specializes in child behavioral health.

"Since everything on the Internet, basically, is permanent, you can always find something that is up there."

Parents need to ask themselves how their child would feel if they were reading this when they're older.

Sandberg suggests parents write blogs anonymously, even though doing so may harm the credibility of the blog. He also suggests they password-protect their blogs so only people with permission to read them may do so.

"I'm an open book on my blog," says Melissa Brodsky from Farmington Hills, Mich., who writes a blog that gets about 7,500 page views a month called rockanddrool.com. "What I say on my blog is very much what I would say if I were to sit down and have a conversation with a friend. Nothing's off limits."

She has tackled topics such as having her son tested for a learning disability, his complicated relationship with his father and her sex life.

She uses her own name, but doesn't name her kids and password-protects her most private posts.

Blogging, says Brodsky, 41, "is where I found myself, I found my voice. I realize that I can say what I want and people aren't going to hold it against me, and if they do, I don't care. I've realized that my opinions do matter and that I can really say how I feel. I've become less shy from blogging."

But in the end, even with anonymous posts, the Internet can be a small place.

"In order to write about being a mother, you inevitably write about your children," says Meredith W. Michaels, a philosophy professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., who studies motherhood. "At what point are you crossing a line about your children's privacy being compromised? I think women need to talk about mothering, I do. I think that's a good thing. The question is how and where and to what end."

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