You know, I’ve never been a fan of mommy-blogging. Part of that is because I don’t have kids. The other part of it is the violation of the children’s privacy. I expect parents to be tentative, at best, when it comes to broadcasting photos and anecdotes about their children. Safety is only one reason.
I remember frequently reading about child actors who grew up disowning and/or firing their parents. The parents capitalized off their child one way or another, and the child benefited very little from the transaction. The stories always had a ring of “exploitation” in them. Think Lindsay Lohan, Brittney Spears, McCauley Caulkin.
Making a business of motherhood through blogging about mothering is a business built on shaky ground. First, your main commodity is a free-thinking human fast approaching an un-cute state. When you find your mommy blog topics start with “Isabel found her first armpit hair,” odds are, your business as a mommy blogger is close to finished. Second, your marriage (or other relationship) will be dragged into the spotlight. Third, you will be criticized.
I read some mommy blogs, Dooce.com, one of the “biggest mommy bloggers of all” being one of them. I remember when I first discovered her and I thought, “Damn, that set-up could derail in a hurry.” She blogs about her kids, dogs, and husband, her marriage, their day-to-day life, her struggles with depression, her toddler, and her adolescent daughter’s struggles with something like OCD I guess. Her entire family is her commodity, and their inextricable entanglement in it is part of its strength. It is also the core weakness of her business. On the one hand she makes a ton of money off of our voyeuristic nature. On the other, they are doomed to a life of performance if they want to keep afloat.
This week, Dooce and her husband announced their trial separation. I suppose the only beneficiaries from this are their critics, oh, and in a financial sense, Dooce as readers flock to her blogs to read the latest update. It is sad news, but it is saddest because of the kids. The thing is, everything that is ever said on the internet remains on the internet, somewhere. One day, (or even now, since the oldest is able to read) the kids will read about the unravelling of their parents’ marriage. They will be helpless, all over again.
One night when I was 14, my father and I talked about his high-school years. As a kid dad had black hair and blue eyes, a dead ringer for his own strikingly handsome father. I imagined my dad to be a class clown and a bit of a “man about town”, completely overlooking or just forgetting that polio left him with only one functional leg. I chided him a little until he smiled, shrugged, and said, “no girl wants a cripple.”
I was devastated and powerless. It’s a memory that even now upsets me. Growing up we expect our parents to be strong, infallible, a source of security. In that statement from my father I saw him as me — an insecure, awkward teenager, afraid and very alone. It was unbearable.
I immediately burst into tears. I was enraged. Who would dare reject a crippled boy (who happened to be my father)? Who would cast him out, knowing he was an innocent victim of polio? Who would mock him if they knew what he overcame? Who would DARE to hurt MY dad?
I was helpless. I wanted to fix everything that was ever wrong in his life. I wanted to go back to a time before I was born or even imagined, and tell everyone on the street, “look at him! He’s smart! He’s capable! He’s brave!”
I wanted to go back even further in time and undo everything bad that had ever happened to him. I wanted to make the difference between him being an outcast, awkward 14 year old “cripple” to being the confident, happy, outgoing person that he deserved to be.
The difference between me and a child reading the words of their separated parents is that I knew I was helpless. As frustrating as that was, it let me off the hook a little. I also didn’t have to contend with endless commentary. I never questioned whether I had anything to do with trajectory of my father’s life.
Children of mommy-bloggers don’t have that security, and the burden of their parents’ unhappiness is increased with every blog post. Whether a kid feels responsible or not for their parents’ separation, they surely feel they play a hand in their parents’ happiness. I’ve often wondered at what point mommy-blogging turns harmful to the kids, moreso than just by capturing their awkward moments and capitalizing off of them. Ironically, I think it’s when the mommy-blog shifts its focus to the painful realities of parenthood.