I am angry today. A fellow mother writer (guys, I still refuse to use the diminishing, irritating, patronizing moniker “mommy blogger”), Christie Tate, wrote about why she won’t stop writing about motherhood and she is being slammed big time all across the internet. And it has me furious today.
When I saw my On Parenting from The Washington Post email digest in my inbox last week, I bookmarked her piece to read later, as the title alone resonated with me immediately: “My Daughter Asked Me to Stop Writing About Motherhood. Here’s Why I Can’t Do That.” I’m not going to pull quotes from her piece– take three minutes and read it now. If you’re a parent who is also a writer, there’s no way this topic hasn’t come up for you. I’ve discussed it innumerable times in writing communities and online courses, and with friends who also write about their motherhood experiences.
Her piece struck a chord with me for sure, as I have been writing about motherhood online for nearly seven years. Basically, Tate’s 4th grader found articles and pictures of herself on the internet after searching her mom’s name, and was outraged at what she discovered. She asked her mom to take it all down and stop writing about her. I had a similar conversation with my oldest child after she did a Google search of me this year. Fortunately, her reaction was much milder—she has supported my writing and knows I write about my experience as a parent, not to mention produce a show (Listen To Your Mother Boulder) dedicated to stories about motherhood.
Although I have her tentative “blessing,” I’m sure her feelings about my writing topics will evolve over the years. In the past two years, I’ve already significantly and mindfully modified the amount and details I feel comfortable sharing about my children, who are now much older than when I was writing about tantrums and poop explosions. I am extremely sensitive to protecting their privacy.
Many mother writers have struggled with this balance, and a number of us have embraced the grey area of “writing about our motherhood experience, rather than writing about our children.” You can see the challenge here, as the overlap is undeniable and complex. There is no clear-cut, graceful way to do it.
I would like to think that if my children cried and begged me to take my entire blog’s worth of stories about them off the internet, I would acquiesce. But I am beyond empathetic with Tate’s plight. Writing about motherhood is a huge part of who I am. Motherhood is what gave birth to my own creativity, it is what reignited my love of writing. Writing about my ambivalence, my frustration, my delight and heart-exploding moments, my grief/relief at their growing, my self-doubt, laughing about the absurdity of our daily lives—it has saved me in a thousand ways.
But it’s not just about me. Writing about motherhood means you are willingly extending a lifeline to any other person who needs it. To other parents who feel isolated and confused, to other women who are second guessing themselves, who are hurting, or who feel unimportant. Writing about motherhood is how we come together in community. It is powerful and healing. In the seven years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve created a community of readers and moms who support each other and find comfort, validation, knowledge, and entertainment by reading my blog. And I’m of course not the only one; I’ve also joined the communities of many other mother bloggers, and I too gain insight, support, and lots of humor from reading their work. Their words save me, too.
As I’ve read the criticisms of Tate’s article, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve been disgusted and horrified. Let me break it down for you.
Enough with the “selfish mom” business
The response articles I’ve read were filled with harsh personal accusations. Of course “SELFISH” was one of the first words I saw blasting Tate’s article. Not just her, but all “awful mommy bloggers.” The trolls came out in full force, throwing their stones, the usual variety: designed to shame, humiliate, and cause guilt. Guess what? Mothers don’t need any more of that in their lives. At all. We are used to being called selfish all the time. We feel guilt daily. These commenters are hitting this writer where it hurts most: in the guilt spot.
But I believe that Tate’s open, honest writing about motherhood—and not just her, any and all of us who share our parenting experiences—serves a higher purpose of connecting mothers and alleviating a sense of isolation and failure. She is not selfish, and her decision to keep writing about her motherhood journey was not undertaken hastily.
I also believe that her daughter, in time, will come to understand and respect what her mother is doing, rather than require immediate therapy as one snarky commenter suggested. Our kids go through phases. If my kids suddenly insisted we stop sending out holiday photo cards with their pictures in them, I would probably tell them “too bad.”
Enough with the online hostility in general
Tate has been referred to as insensitive by her critics, but her actions pale in comparison to the shitstorm that has been unleashed at her. Tweets referenced in the article referred to her as a “terrible person” and “garbage human.” One article, titled “Christie Tate: 5 Fast Facts You Need To Know” (I’m sorry, but that is creepy AF.) is basically a montage of mean tweets about her. I was appalled by the complete strangers who felt compelled to attack this mother, cloaked in the power of internet anonymity. This horrifies me more than almost anything else. The ugliness and vitriol people spew without giving it a second thought. What are THOSE people teaching their children? “Honey, I respect your privacy so much that I’m going to verbally eviscerate this complete stranger whose beliefs don’t line up with mine.” The hypocrisy and ignorance is bone-chilling. If you disagree with Tate, so be it. But if you feel compelled to write hateful, ugly words to her in public, you might want to take a good, long look at yourself and your motivations. And if you have children, consider what you are teaching them about compassion and self-control.
This new era of parenting is no joke
As those of us with tweens know, navigating this new digital era of social media, the internet, and everything that goes along with it is tricky. It’s difficult to know how to guide our children, as it feels like some sort of grand experiment. But let’s not forget that as mothers, we are also charting a new course. We are the first generation of mothers grappling with the comfort and drawbacks of having the internet at our fingertips and raising our children in a much more public way than we grew up with. The struggle of writing about our children publicly is magnified by our social media and Google culture. The hostile exchange on this subject is the end result of living in this digital age that comes with so many price tags. Parents are also feeling our way through this mess and doing the best we can.
Bloggers or not, the majority of moms are regularly sharing details and photos of our children’s lives, whether to connect with other moms or celebrate proud moments, laugh at their own family chaos, or reach out for help. This is what we do. I have several friends who do not share their children’s names or photos anywhere on the internet, even in their private Facebook account. I completely respect and understand that. But the majority of my friends have at least dipped their toes into this new territory. And let’s face it, we are raising children whose lives are going to be far more public than ours ever were, for better or for worse.
Find the middle ground, find compassion
Is there a line? Yes, of course there is. As mother writers, we must evolve. We must consider our children’s needs and privacy and weigh in their wishes. But our children are also children. They are still growing and evolving, and like Tate, I believe there is middle ground while we sort these things out. Just because they’ve suddenly stopped liking PB&J doesn’t mean they won’t change their mind again in two weeks, and just because our children may squirm a bit knowing we are writing about them doesn’t mean they won’t see a bigger picture someday. But in the meantime, if they are squirming, we should absolutely stop and think about whether we are violating any boundaries or breaking trust. There is a way to do this; like I said, it may not always be graceful and it won’t be perfect, but it is ridiculous to imply that mothers should never write about motherhood.
When I announced my intention to write more about my personal health journey and women’s health in general, stepping back a bit from writing about my growing daughters, one reader slammed me for “selling out” and deviating from my original parenting humor and stories. I mean, we really can’t win, can we? While we certainly don’t owe anyone anything, there are countless parents who rely on the words and stories of other writers to help them feel less alone, to make them laugh, to help them understand something. I can’t imagine if that went away.
I stand with Christie Tate. Even if our philosophies deviate in minor ways, I respect her efforts and intentions as a fellow writer attempting to navigate motherhood. She is a mother doing her best, like the rest of us, and she does not deserve public condemnation. Let’s reexamine how quickly we turn on one another, and ultimately, what we want to teach our children about co-existing in this murky new online world.
I worried about writing this blog post. It’s obvious that anyone who disagrees with me could easily dig up a picture I shared five years ago of my kid riding in a car, covered with chocolate ice cream and picking her nose, and call me a monster. But I think it’s wrong for us to be afraid to speak up. I will always believe that connecting through shared motherhood stories is a beautiful thing, and I’ve had enough readers contact me over the years to thank me that I know I’m not the only one who believes that. So I’m going to stand up for that today, and for all the “mommy bloggers” who have been dragged through the mud. We are learning, too, we are doing our best, and we deserve compassion.
Stephanie, I applaud you for being transparent in an age where being vulnerable and open can be social suicide. I Iove that there is a community of mothers that have come to support one another. My personal challenge is that I am raising children without a mother with experience for whom I would question “how would you handle this”. I often wish I could talk or share stories with her or wish she would have left journals that I could pour through for reference but that is not the case. Therefore I appreciate your candor and to hell with the rest. Keep doing what you do! One day your daughter too will become a mother and she will know just how you handled it. With grace, realism and class!