I’m certainly not going to question the rise of the Mommy blog. It’s a given.
One of the first really successful sites was TheMommyBlog created by trailblazer Melinda Roberts who, in 2002, documented her family life online. Her candid stories, full of humor and obvious love for her family, attracted thousands of readers. And of course, she earned a lot of money. Her blog led to a book deal, appearances on Oprah and many more writing opportunities. Others took note, and in the intervening years, the mommy blog has become an established, maybe even ubiquitous, phenomenon online. Today there are over 4 and a half million mommy bloggers in the U.S. alone. This form of blogging is a firm favorite with educated millennials in particular, who have lived their lives online and for whom the transition to documenting their family lives feels natural.
There is a lot to admire in a mommy blogger. The successful ones are entrepreneurial and hard working. Often their backstory is one of finding themselves in a position where new motherhood has brought, not just a very welcome bundle of joy, but a very unwelcome change in income and a new lifestyle that can feel lonely and isolated. Creating a mommy blog allows a mother to earn money from the home and means she can be at home with her children but also feel part of the working community. It allows for an independent schedule and self-employment, with all the freedom attached.
For the reader, a blog can provide much needed reassurance, advice and an opportunity to connect with like-minded mums with similar issues. Being the sole person responsible for little lives can be surprisingly lonely and occasionally downright frightening. To discover that others are having similar experiences can be hugely therapeutic. There are forums where questions can be asked without shame or embarrassment. Friends can be made. Human contact, albeit online, can feel like a lifeline when you are elbow deep in diapers and dummies. I’m sure I’m not the only mother who has turned to google at 4am when my child has a frightening cough, temperature or rash. To learn how another mother has coped is extremely comforting and can save a worrying wait for a doctor’s appointment and, of course, the cost of it.
So, what’s the problem?…
I think the fundamental principle of mommy blogs is good, even laudable. A website where mothers can be encouraged, seek reassurance, look for evidence based medical advice, ask questions without shame or judgement, and read about products that have been used and tested without bias by other mums. What’s not to like?
It turns out there is quite a bit.
In my mother’s photo album, there is a photo of me as a 2-year-old on a windswept beach, all sepia tones and seventies swimsuit. The remains of an ice cream is smeared over my cheeks and dripping down my arm and my toddler belly is comically protruding. As part of my Dad’s wedding speech, he projected this ‘cute’ photo onto a giant screen for 100 people who know and love me. And, honestly, I had a hard time getting over it. I know he did it out of love, but I felt hurt – a mixed feeling of exposure, a violation of my privacy and a lack of respect.
How would I have felt if he had posted the picture online for millions of strangers to see? And if he had done it for money?
Recently, I come across a number of articles online written by regretful mothers who have given up their mommy blogging having realized that the lives they have taken liberty with are not their own. Their children have grown older, become aware of their own online presence and have expressed unhappiness. One article describes how a child was at school and watched herself on the screen in front of her whole class when the teacher inadvertently pulled up one of her Mom’s blogs from the internet. Another blogger admits that as her children get older, she will have to consider their feelings about what she posts. I agree she has to consider their feelings, but I also feel that she may be missing the point. Just because a child is too young to be aware of their online presence doesn’t mean it’s ok.
Of course, the child might like the exposure. And that’s a whole other concern. Can it be psychologically healthy for a child to grow up chasing likes and subscribers and followers? And what does this teach them about what is ok to share online?
Can we go as far as to say that it is exploitation?
The children involved have not given consent, at least not consent that is legally meaningful. Are these children working? If I spend a day filming my kids, making them do retake after retake, maybe even giving them a rough script to follow, and then earning money from them. Who has earned the money?? Certainly, if they had been acting in a real movie, the money would be theirs.
It is a lucrative business. In August 2008, the first mommy blogger to earn over 6 figures a year did so with her blog 5DollarDinners.com. I think we can assume she doesn’t have to flow her own advice anymore. Whatmomslove earns 30,000 dollars a month. While most early blogs started out earning very little, innovations like the launch of google AdSense in 2003 allowed for even those with small audiences to start getting paid.
Mommy blogs may have started out as a platform for mothers to connect, to relate to one another and provide well-meaning advice and information but the cynic in me can no longer believe that this is their purpose. There is just too much money involved. The earnings- often very extensive – are mostly made from sponsored posts, affiliate marketing and direct ad sales. There are sponsored conferences and gatherings – one of which, the Mom2.0 summit, describes itself as ‘an open conversation between moms and marketers and media’. Mom bloggers can attend such conferences courtesy of their sponsors of course. It’s almost impossible to find a blog that isn’t flooded with ads, filled with prompts to purchase products and increasingly, a “buy my book here’ link. The perfect family photos of the blogger inevitably showcase brands. So how can I be sure that the very favorable review of the baby stroller on my favorite mommy blogger site isn’t just straightforward advertising? The answer is I can’t.
And then there is the issue of mental health…
The beautiful photos of ideal, eternally happy families project an image that none of us can live up to. I am inevitably left with feelings of inadequacy after only a couple of minutes browsing these sites, even though I am perfectly aware that these are essentially fake lives. The envy and self -doubt sparked by these sites needle their way into our psyche and can lead to depression. Ten ways to having a wonderful family Easter’ may be a post full of well-meaning tips to a heavenly holiday, but even I follow these tips, my Easter weekend is not going to turn out like the video I’ve just watched, staged in order to earn money and only posted after 100 retakes.
It’s not just my mental health that is at stake. Baring your soul on the internet exposes mommy bloggers to the worst kind of trolling and shaming. Mothers can be scathingly judgmental of other mothers’ parenting technique and the internet provides the perfect anonymity to let loose. There are even blogs and forums that are entirely dedicated to criticizing mommy bloggers. There are plenty of mommy bloggers who have fallen foul of their followers and lived to regret their online life.
Misinformation, for me, particularly medical misinformation, is a particularly worrying issue. Because this is where it gets dangerous. There are no rules to what a mommy blogger can post so if this includes, for example, that vaccines are dangerous and encourages other mothers not to vaccinate, she can go right ahead and do this. Scaremongering with information that is not evidence based has played a large role in the recent outbreaks of measles.
Measles is a serious illness. It is one of the most contagious infections that exists – if one person has it, then 9 out of 10 people close to that person who are not immune will catch it. And the consequences can be catastrophic- encephalitis, meningitis and hepatitis are just some of the possible complications. Worldwide,18 people die every hour from it. In the year 2000 measles was declared eliminated in the US, but so far this year there have been over 700 cases reported.
Among the more outrageous posts I’ve come across regarding medical treatment include grape juice as a remedy for gastroenteritis, a fever in a child is never anything bad, and since asthma is caused by a drought in the lungs, drink water to cure it. Or how about a solution containing bleach to be used as an enema to cure autism? I know what I won’t be doing next time my child’s airways constrict from an asthma attack – treating it with apple cider vinegar. Yes, that’s out there too. Actually, the most effective use of vinegar to help with asthma – use white vinegar – is to use it to clean visible mold from your home, thus reducing asthma triggers.
And What Now?…
As times change so does the mommy blogger. The confessional type mommy blogger still exists but the trend is firmly moving to instagrammers and influencers as a more visual platform has become preferable. Beautiful, enhanced, filtered, staged pictures, sometimes even taken by professional photographers and posted online over time to create the illusion of family life lived to perfection, have flooded the internet. According to Time, Instagram is the worst social media for mental health leading to envy, anxiety and depression so I don’t think this can be called progress.
So, I for one tread carefully and approach with caution when browsing mommy blogs. Add in a healthy dose of skepticism, top off with some mild cynicism and the mommy blog becomes a fun place to spend some valuable ‘me’ time.
About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author
Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award-winning author.
Mommy blogs, bloggers, mental health, asthma, asthma triggers, sponsors, medical misinformation, vaccinate, social media
Mom 2.0 Website Click Here
The New Mommy Blogger: Instagram Famous, Highly Paid, and Sponsored By Minute Maid Click Here
9 Things We Can Learn from the Mom Blog Industry Click Here
It’s time to quit mommy blogging, for the sake of my children Click Here
My mommy blog ruined my life Click Here
Measles Cases and Outbreaks, CDC Click Here
US measles outbreak is largest since disease was declared eliminated in 2000 Click Here
A physician lurked on Facebook mom groups. Here’s what she found. Click Here