Lauren Apfel has the kind of résumé you’d expect for a tenure-track professor at a selective liberal arts college—classics major at Yale, masters in political theory from the London School of Economics, and a doctorate in classical languages and literature from Oxford. In 2011, Oxford University Press published her dissertation as a book: The Advent of Pluralism: Diversity and Conflict in the Age of Sophocles.
But these days, Apfel isn’t lecturing to undergrads or researching the Theban plays. She’s a mommy blogger.
It’s a term that rankles many of us who write about parenting and women’s health, as we find it dismissive and reductionist (if Betty Friedan had written on the Internet, would she have been a “mommy blogger?”). But Apfel has no hard feelings about the label. A native New Yorker now living in Glasgow with her husband and their four children—who range in age from 2 (including 28 month-old twins) to 8, she regularly shares insights about her family on her blog Omnimom.
“Writing about parenting was a logical extension,” she explained in an email. “Becoming a mother is, without question, the most fascinating thing that has happened to me. The topics are endless. The emotion is high. The self-understanding it inspires is legendary. It’s the perfect storm for me, really.”
Apfel, with her multiple degrees and rarified background, is hardly an anomaly in the ever-growing and increasingly sophisticated parenting blogosphere. Women who’ve had rich professional lives are increasingly turning to mommy blogging in lieu of more flexible and part-time arrangements in the traditional work world, mining their personal experiences to connect with readers (and in some cases, sponsors and advertisers) across the Internet.
Take Devon Corneal. She’s been a lawyer since 2003, had two judicial clerkships, and spent eight years as a litigator. Last week, Corneal resigned from her New Jersey firm because, as she describes it, “I’ve never felt as engaged or as challenged as I am when I’m raising my son—or trying to write about the experience.”
So after 22 months of juggling her job as an attorney and regular blog posts, on everything from talking to her preschooler about marriage equality to wanting to have an “only” child, Corneal decided it was time to strike out on her own—and is, among other endeavors, eagerly awaiting the launch of her personal blog, Cattywampus.
But as the parenting platform becomes more crowded, and as more accomplished women choose blogging over other viable work-life options, will writers feel pressured to keep upping the ante, revealing more and more about their kids and their private lives? After all, there are only so many eyeballs for so many posts. And what does this mean for the kids who are the subject of all this blogging? How will they react (either now or in 10 years) to their mothers publicly sharing the natural, though previously seldom discussed, underbelly of parenting emotions?
For instance, Apfel caught some swift backlash for her May post on The New York Times parenting blog, the Motherlode, entitled “I Didn’t Want Twins.” Various commenters expressed dismay (and outrage) that a mother would share such intimate feelings of ambivalence about having two babies— and risk that one of her twins might read his mother’s writing one day and conclude he wasn’t wanted.
“Giving voice to what challenges us is a fundamental part of writing for me,” explains Apfel. “There is a liberation in coming to terms with your darkest feelings to the point where you can put them into words that satisfy you.”
When it comes to boundaries, Corneal says she never uses her 5-year-old son’s name or any pictures of his face, and she writes about parenthood (her experience), not childhood (her son’s experience)—a subtle but important distinction.
“The only time I really questioned a writer’s decision,” Corneal confesses,“ [was] after Sandy Hook when a mother wrote a post [I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother] about her mentally ill son and his violent tendencies and she used his name and picture.”
Indeed, where to draw boundaries is a highly individualized decision, says Katherine Stone, who’s blog, Postpartum Progress, just celebrated its ninth birthday, and is, according to Stone’s bio, the most widely read blog on postpartum depression and has spawned a national nonprofit Post-Partum Progress Inc.
But when Stone’s eldest child turned 10 last year, she decided that she wasn’t going to write about him anymore without asking. “The whole over-sharing thing is tough,” concedes Stone. “There’s no AP style guide to parenting blogging or a counsel of lawyers that says do this or don’t do this. At the end of the day, you have to think, when my kids are 17, are they going to be mad that I shared this?” For the most part though, she believes that mommy bloggers take the issue seriously and think quite carefully about what they want to share online.
Andrea Nair, a psychotherapist and parenting educator in London, Ontario, warns parenting bloggers that it’s incredibly difficult to earn a child’s trust back once it’s broken, and Nair believes that a parent can potentially jeopardize a child’s trust as early as age 6 or 7 if they are embarrassed or upset about a post.
“If a child says, ‘I don’t ever want you to write about me again,” says Nair, “then the parent needs to stop—deadline notwithstanding. The child needs to feel the relationship with him or her is more important than the blog.”
And children aren’t the only potentially problematic readers a mommy blogger might want to consider. The reality is, if a woman decides she wants to re-enter a more traditional professional path outside of the blogosphere one day, her posts are part of her online identity and can easily be misread by someone who isn’t as immersed or fluent in the parenting world.
“Though not everyone, you might be surprised how conservative some employers and people in leadership positions can still be in 2013,” advises Gail Cutter, a Columbia law grad with more than two decades of experience in law school career counseling, headhunting, and law firm recruiting. “Imagine a PR adviser sitting on your shoulder every time you share something personal or difficult to talk about, because it’s not just people in the blogging community that may ultimately read what you’re saying and make a conclusion about your judgment.”
Of course, 10 years ago there were no mommy bloggers. And who knows what the work world will look like a decade from now. As the first generation of parents grappling with just how much of our children and ourselves to share with the Internet, we’re all in unchartered territory, feeling our way, post by post.