The practice of mothers sharing their stories online continues to grow, with corporations taking notice. Hereā??s one Columbus mommy bloggerā??s inside look at this virtual parenting world.
My nightly ritual of calling my mom with a story vanished with her sudden death. Sometimes, I dialed her number anyway, and after the voice on the recording stopped reminding me the number was disconnected, I would speak into the silence: "The boys held a lemonade stand today, but drank all the lemonade themselves. They sold frogs and bugs, instead, and earned over $10."
My dad has never been the type to want to talk on the phone, so my attempts to replace this ritual with him didn't pan out too well. When I finished a story, he would laugh, but simply add, "OK." Then, "I'll talk to you tomorrow." I had hoped he would say something engaging like, "That reminds me of the time. . . ." My dad is a proud grandfather, and while he did want to hear about the antics of his four grandsons, I needed to find a way to draw him in, while reminding him of the stories in his own life.
I also stopped writing business and technical documents as a freelancer a few years ago so I could spend more time with my sons. Yet, I still harbored the urge to engage an audience and spin a story. I began to create and forward elaborate e-mails to friends whenever I figured out something innovative-"Always hide the kids' presents under their beds; they'll never think to look there." This was after my boys had found theirs hidden in garbage bags in the garage.
I could have continued sending the e-mails, attaching the photos and adding my dad to the distribution list. However, a blog would allow me to display the photos right along with the text, like a page in a book. Plus, my friends-and my dad-would have 24-hour access to my stories and tips. In November 2006, I published my first blog post on susiej.com and immediately found something seductively creative and powerful about publishing on the World Wide Web. More than 800 posts later as a mommy blogger, I am still hooked.
The mommy blog wave hits Columbus
I'm not alone; there are a growing number of Columbus moms who reach a global audience with the stories they publish on their mommy blogs. Some of them can be found at amommystory.com, doobleh-vay.blogspot.com, momo-fali.blogspot.com, pepperpaints.com and thiswomanswork.com. Overall, there are more than 200,000 family and parenting websites available on the Internet.
Unlike glossy women's magazines, women come to the mommy blogs to get the unsugarcoated realities of life with kids. Reading about another mom's struggles makes her realize her own traumas aren't so bad; just as the header at momo-fali.blogspot.com so aptly states, "forget your troubles. come read about mine."
We've learned that parenting is hard, and not what we envisioned. As Worthington blogger Amy T. Sharp writes on doobleh-vay.blogspot.com, "I imagined a baby on my hip and toddler in tow at fabulous dinner parties. I saw three nights a week out and wine tasting with my girlfriends once a month. I hoped for impromptu holidays, whirlwind shopping days, and Saturday coffee klatch. Not happening." Still, she writes, "I am a happy woman." Moms relate, and they come back for more every day.
When you become a parent, it's hard to find another mom to meet you for lunch or to chat on the telephone at the precise moment when your child is not napping, not fussy or not at a library storytime. Now, my friends check in on my blog, at their convenience, and catch up with me via the comment section of my posts.
Blogging is easy for moms' busy lives. Lacie Shipman, a Columbus mom found at www.lifedownourlane.com, writes, "Blogging has been a great way for me to record all the pictures and events in my kids' lives. It allows me to share these things with friends and family members who don't live near us."
Scrapbooks may highlight the golden moments, the trophies, the anniversaries and the milestones, but the blog celebrates and commiserates with the everyday-and the second we hit the publish button, we've created a connection with another mother in some other part of the globe.
In Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, he refers to mavens who are trusted for their opinions and pass along information. As natural social networkers and community builders, mommy bloggers provide an instant forum for women to share opinions, debate issues and create social change.
Mommy bloggers bring home the bacon . . . and the Wii
Mommy blogs are full of economic power. Mothers in the U.S. are estimated to spend $2.1 trillion annually, controlling about 80 percent of household expenditures, according to BSM Media. A March 30 report in Adweek reveals that 87 percent of women use the web regularly, according to comScore.
Marketers have responded with a surge in online advertising as television has become less effective. PricewaterhouseCoopers reports U.S. Internet advertising revenue at $23.4 billion in 2008, a 10.6 percent increase from 2007. Elisa Camahort, co-founder and chief operating officer of BlogHer, an independent blogging network of 2,500 blogs that receives more than 14 million unique visitors each month, says, "Companies know they need to join women where they already are-on their blogs."
While moms are building online audiences, marketers are busy watching the visitor stats rise on their pages. The queen of the mommy bloggers is Utah-based Heather Armstrong of dooce.com. She is one of the first, and arguably one of the funniest, mommy bloggers. Armstrong reels in nearly five million page views per month, generating a speculated $40,000 per month from ad revenue, according to a Wall Street Journal story in 2008.
Many of the Columbus mommy bloggers are part of BlogHer, which negotiates marketing campaigns with companies such as Volvo, Nintendo, Snapfish and Procter & Gamble. BlogHer takes a cut from the top, while the bloggers earn a percentage of the ad revenue each time the page is loaded. BlogHer does not censor member blogs, but does take the deal-making details off the blogger's shoulders.
Yet, many mommy bloggers do it more for the fun and sense of community than for the cash. As it turns out, that's a very good thing. Money is extremely difficult to raise from a blog. Despite the fact that billions of searchers head to the Internet each day, there are millions of web pages competing for attention. Time is required to build an audience and page rank, as well as for Google to decide to accept your pages into its search engines. In my early months of blogging, my daily revenue hovered around .01 cents-I couldn't even buy a lollipop. As I headed into my second year, there was an almost overnight surge in steady readers, and with them came the accompanying offers for ads. Last year, after taxes, I made enough to cover my hosting and photography costs, plus gas money.
Manufacturers freely send us Wii games, jewelry, paper towels, bestselling books and videos in hopes we will give them our coveted seal of approval and broadcast our endorsement across the Internet. Because I have a son who is enchanted with The Nutcracker, BalletMet invites me to its special previews each season. Procter & Gamble invited bloggers to Cincinnati for the Pampers Mommy Blog Event last fall to coax them to tout their products. In addition, Tricia Higgins of baby care external relations at P&G, says, "To us, mommy bloggers are focus groups on steroids. Mommy bloggers know exactly what they want, and we use them to give us feedback as we research new products. We learn from the mommy bloggers."
Issues arise regarding endorsements, however. As self-publishers, mommy bloggers determine 100 percent of their content. I believe when they write reviews, readers expect honesty-even when the product stinks. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission enacted guidelines that advertisers disclose "material connections" with bloggers, among other things. Still, this is a tough line to walk. Washington, D.C.-based blogger Jessica Smith at jessicaknows.com currently is driving a Ford Flex for free for one year. Nationally recognized blogger Erin Kotecki Vest wrote a post called "I'm Calling Out The Carpetbagging Mommybloggers" on queenofspainblog.com. Her post generated 264 comments debating Smith's ability to remain unbiased. Smith responded to the backlash on her blog with a list of her "5 Things I Don't Like About the Ford Flex." Still, she writes above her list, "I'm still lovin' the Ford Flex."
Why it's never OK to lie and other advice
Rather than bore my readers with a daily account of my life, I began using susiej.com to offer parenting tips, like why you should never host a sleepover, especially when one guest arrives with a splinter, another with a headache and, above all, when the mob is about to use toothpaste to stuff their water guns.
The blog also can serve as a vital support network, linking moms globally who struggle with similar issues. Readers responded emotionally to Clintonville's Diane Lang when she wrote on momo-fali.blogspot.com about the time her son stopped breathing at the hospital, and the nurse stood over him and said, "Don't quit on me!" He didn't. In turn, readers flooded Grove City's Christina McMenemy with support, advice and guidance when she announced her daughter's autism diagnosis on amommystory.blogspot.com.
Powell blogger Kate Bunge, who writes at revelrypress.blogspot.com, says, "I think as mothers we all suffer from the 'guilt' and anxiety of doing right by our kids." Bunge wrote and pulled some posts from her older blog, eucalyptuspillow.blogspot.com, about the "immense guilt I feel for being a working mother." She notes that the writing "made me feel good to finally shed my emotions, because I had been bottling it up for quite some time."
Advice always is readily available on the Internet. When my family was babysitting a bunny that belonged to my son's third grade class, it died in our living room. My sons were sleeping. "How easy it would be to lie about the whole thing-just return the bunny to the teacher and tell the kids she died at her house instead of ours," I wrote. One wise reader reminded me that we would be telling this story for years, and I always would have to remember the way it didn't happen. So I told the truth to my sons: "The bunny decided to die in a place where he felt deeply loved." The words were carefully composed by the same reader.
Sometimes readers surprise mommy bloggers. When McMenemy wrote a post about her car breaking down, right after her husband was laid off and they couldn't afford to pay for repairs, she wrote, "A reader suggested her husband take a look at our car, and he fixed the problem for us, refusing to accept anything for their time and help."
Thick skin required
Blogging does require a thick skin, and Bunge learned this the hard way when she wrote about her feelings after her son was teased on the playground. Her readers felt she sounded too much like a mama grizzly bear. "I had been personally offended" by some of the comments and "I needed a break," she wrote. She took off 10 months before blogging again.
A thick skin is precisely what gives Abby Aldrich, Clintonville writer of sundayswithstretchypants.com, the freedom to write her opinions about laundry, her grandmother, religion and disgraced evangelist Ted Haggard. In addition to losing a couple of longtime Christian friends who disagreed with her posts, Aldrich also writes that she holds the "distinct honor of being disowned" by some of her aunts because of a few sentences she wrote about her grandmother. Quit? Never. The fallout leads Aldrich to follow her bottom-line mantra about blogging: "It helps me to write about it. And what helps me helps my kids and helps my marriage. And that, my friends, is priceless."
Fortunately, my kids like my blog and I believe they are quietly grateful when I have found a way to write an entire post about something they assumed I missed in their lives. Secretly, they might even be keeping track of the number of posts I've written about them.
The chances are realistically higher that my children could be stalked at the library or the grocery store parking lot than from my website. Still, my children's names are omitted from my posts, and my husband, except for his triathlons and Ironman races, is off-limits. I'm careful not to reveal my kids' most embarrassing moments.
Blogging brings you into the present
Friends often ask, "Where do you find the time to blog?" I can only say, "How do I not have the time to notice and celebrate the quirkiness of my own life?" Writing about how I mother makes me an instant observer of my own behavior. This observation brings me a renewed perspective that provides immediate impact. As the publisher of the Columbus blog carymilkweed.blogspot.com writes, "When it's been a hectic day of diaper blowouts and whining and one too many errands, I find that settling at the computer with a drink and an idea for a blog post is a fabulous way to decompress."
If anything, blogging seems to slow things down, as I'm noticing moments that might otherwise be forgotten. Given that I'm always searching for content, I take more pictures and pay close attention to what my kids are saying and how they respond to life. With four boys in the house, I rarely run out of content. Because every project is a potential post, I'm much more likely to pull out the craft box and get a little messy with the kids.
A friend once said, and rightly so, that my need to share my stories is precisely because I am the only female in a house with five males. After my initial attempts to pass on news via the phone with my dad, I learned that girls and women are better listeners and offer a kind of kinship that is missing in male relationships. But my dad does check in on my blog and calls me to say, "I liked what you wrote." The pictures, the stories and sometimes the videos pull him in, and the miles from Detroit to Columbus melt away.
While the stories on my blog have replaced that nightly ritual of calling my mom, writing also has helped me heal. When I do publish a post that is full of grief, friends call me that day to offer support. They're surprised to find me in a great mood, at peace with my sorrow. The writing has done its work.
Susan Owens is a freelance writer.
This story appeared in the August 2009 issue of Columbus Monthly.