It’s quite the catch-22 we mommy-bloggers find ourselves in: if we write about ourselves, we’re self-indulgent, and if we write about our children, we’re violating their privacy. The contradictory nature of these attacks suggests that the oft-expressed discomfort with mommy-blogging arises from something other than the content of the blogs (which, after all, is so diverse as to defy generalization), that it arises, indeed, from the mere fact that mothers are writing.
As I remarked in a comment yesterday,
I think what really freaks people out is the idea of mothers inhabiting the spotlight AS MOTHERS. Aside from a few ultra-conservatives, most people have gotten used to the idea of women in the workplace, women having public lives even after they have children. But the fiction that makes that system work is that their motherhood gets left at the doorstep: while at work, a woman functions as a childless, androgynous WORKER, not as a mother.
The thing about blogging that seems to take people off guard is not just that mothers are writing, but that they can write as mothers about not just their children, but themselves, their politics, their goals: it's the refusal to compartmentalize in the socially prescribed ways that allow our culture to preserve the 1950s ideal of motherhood while simultaneously requiring those mothers to work full-time jobs (and, in the case of the U.S., to return to those jobs at only 6 weeks postpartum).
Having developed that theory in response to Andrea’s post, I was gratitfied to have it confirmed today by this Time Magazine article, entitled "Too Cool for Preschool." The writer, James Poniewozik, takes aim primarily at the new, hip model of parenting espoused by websites like Babble. "Goodbye Baby Mozart; hello, Baby Ramone," he quips, citing Rebecca Woolf (of Girl’s Gone Child) as an example of this new "punk-rock" approach to parenting. All joking aside, however, he assures parents that he does not require them to forgo their own lives: "Subordinating one's self is especially fraught for women, who historically often lost their identities in marriage and motherhood. Moms and dads can be unique, creative individuals after they have kids. It's being a unique, creative individual through your kids that's disturbing."
Having so magnanimously acknowledged that women are entitled to their own lives, Poniewozik explains that the key is to respect the boundary between the woman’s "self" identity (in which she is entitled to be unique and creative) and her "mother" identity (in which she is still required to conform to a cookie-cutter model which precludes things like blogging).
The idea seems to be that parents check their individuality at the door: they can continue wearing their favourite fashions, but their children ought to be dressed in whatever is the socially prescribed Baby Gap uniform of the day. The article is illustrated with a photo of a scantily clad mother (of course it would be a mother, even though the article focuses at least as much attention on Neal Pollack’s Alternadad). The real dig, though, is at the baby, who is garbed in the same plaid uniform, though not in the matching black leather lace-up boots:
Clearly, it would be ludicrous to lament that infants are becoming fashion victims: babies are entitled to love, attention, food, and warmth, but not to a particular style of clothing or music. As if aware of that basic flaw in his argument, Poniewozik changes tacks. What is really wrong with cool-blogger parents who refuse to keep their individuality separate from their parenting is that they are violating their children’s privacy: "I sympathize with the parents. But I sympathize more with the toddlers whose bouts of playing with themselves, feces hurling and projectile vomiting are being recorded, page by gigabyte, for posterity. Someday, one will write his or her own memoir of growing up in public."
Rather than respond to the charge that we are violating our children’s privacy (which is addressed, with brilliant clarity, here), I’d like to point out what a change of topic it is: one can blog about one’s children without embracing the punk-rock ideal touted by Babble, and one can be an "alternadad" (or mom) without having a blog. They’re separate issues, and conflating them is simply Poniewozik’s way of retreating to safer ground. What outrages him (through most of the article) is not the violation of a child’s privacy, but rather the violation of our culture’s norm (touted in every single parenting guide and magazine) that there is one right way to parent – right for all babies, right for all parents – and that the right way is a form of self-annihilation. Mothers can have their own lives, of course – so long as they park them at the office. As soon as they return home, though, to the embrace of their adoring children, the leather lace-up boots come off and the June Cleaver apron goes on. After all, every child is entitled to the same kind of mother, selfless, devoted, and insatiably fascinated by Mr. Potato Head.
Individuality and parenting are a dangerous mix: if we start thinking and writing about parenting through the lens of our own beliefs, values, and personalities, the very foundations of society might shake. The economic impact alone would be shattering, as the sales of Baby Einstein, Dr. Sears, and Baby Gap start to plummet. Just imagine the ramifications if instead of following rules, we developed relationships - if instead of reading about the "7 Ways to Boost Your Baby's Brain" we started communicating with one another about the anxieties that underlie our competitive parenting. First, the mom-tinis – then the deluge.