Mommy blogger brouhaha is the new Mary Kay

I must admit I was horrified. I read someone's long, long, LOOONG post about how she was not, after all, participating in a one-week PR mommy blogger blackout in August. She couldn't take it! Too horrible! She had to make money to feed the kids, after all, and one week down... oh dear. Her counter-proposal: a brownout.

Wha? To paraphrase: This is not my mommyblogging life... this are not my mommyblogging family. How did we get here? Somehow, the admirable aim of creating online journals about one's life as a mother -- as I see it, as a virtual scrapbook/therapy session/support group/community, a way for moms to solve the isolation we so often feel by reading others' stories and providing each other with valuable advice and feedback, the Red Tent of the 21st century -- has devolved into a Mary Kay party. And just like a "party" at which you are meant to make commissions from your friends' desire for a little companionship, all the reasons I felt special, invited, part of something are really just ways to make a little cash on my click. The so-called "mommy blogs" the FTC has down-cracked by suggesting disclosure rules are no more online parenting journals than Tupperware parties are festive get-togethers to entertain friends. It's all selling, and it should be treated as such; and I can see nothing at all wrong with transparency and sincerity.

I had long since stopped following certain mommies on Twitter. I didn't want to go to any of their "site warmings" for other mommy bloggers' revamped blogs (the better to sell to you, my dear); I didn't want to enter any of their giveaways for Swiffers; I didn't want to learn how to be a more resourceful mommyblogger by, I don't know, maximizing my Twittering while my husband reads my kids their bedtime stories. Mostly I like to Twitter as an outlet for that little voice in my head that's desperate to share my brilliance, and triviality, with friends near and far -- and to hear my friends' inner voices. When my challenged son has a bad day at school, I can complain to Twitter, and get empathy from other parents with difficult kids. Or drool over someone's recipe for thyme blossom ice cream.

And somehow I'd clicked on this post, thinking it was something of relative importance, and this is what I learn about her opinion of this MomDot blackout: "the problem with this for many of us - a week off of PR is like a week away on a tropical island where there is no WiFi, no mobile service, and possibly even no technology. It's just not going to happen. It would be not only biting the hand that feeds me - it would be gnawing off the hand that feeds my children [emphasis hers]." (Please send me to that tropical island.) (Hang on, I've got to go make dinner for my kids.)

I had just discovered that what I'd hoped was a fun community event (maybe a recipe challenge?), #yummymummies, was actually a lot of friends trying to win a $250 gift certificate for undergarments that expensively control one's mom belly. Yummy! Not. I don't want to be marketed to by my friends. I love to read their tweets, I do, but not when they get so excited about my participation in their Twitter-style chain letter. (And shouldn't we, instead, be telling each other that our bodies don't need to be expensively mushed in order to gain each others' approbation? Just because it's got a Twitter hashtag, doesn't make it any less troubling than the corsets of a century ago.)

I don't mind sharing stories, even if those stories include a little product placement. So, you love your Ergo, or you can't believe how great is this new flavor of Haagen-Dazs? Wonderful, that's kind of why PR reps started emailing mommy bloggers. They have an audience of friends, family, and newbie moms, hanging on their every word, enjoying reading these stories of real people, real life. It's a reality show without the pricey production crew.

But this is a job for these women, just as Mary Kay or Tupperware or Creative Memories are jobs; the devotion of endless hours of "work" to sell things to your friends. I no longer read "mommy blogs" which seem to consist mostly of salesmanship, with categories for reviews, giveaways and social media. I don't respond to PR reps unless it's something I genuinely want to check out.

Mommy blogs are not mommy blogs if they're marketing vehicles, just as parties are not parties if there's an expectation that you buy something before you say "goodbye." The suggestion that moms only write about their kids and their husbands for a week isn't shocking because it would be gnawing off the hand that feeds you; it's shocking because it has to be said at all.

I have a new proposal: stop calling them mommy bloggers unless they're truly blogging about being a mother. Then the FTC won't have to crack down on mommy bloggers at all. And eventually PR reps will learn this people-who-market-uproariously-online-and-happen-to-be-mothers machine is just a vicious circle, a calliope of Tweets and Stumbles and Diggs and I'll host a site-warming if you do a giveaway and we're all in this together! and really all any of us are here for is the free yogurt. PR blackout? Maybe the PR firms should be the ones blacking out. Do you see what this has become?

If it doesn't stop, I promise you, I'll take down my mama blog and re-launch it as a zine. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Sarah Gilbert has been journaling about motherhood online for more than six years without hosting a single giveaway. She is not a mommy blogger.

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