Falling in and out of love with mummy-blogging

Each time I blog on littleeandbean I think: ooh, I’ve not been here for a while. My elusiveness isn’t out of habit, or coincidence. It’s not even about how crazy-busy I am. It’s a little bit about me being fickle, and quite a lot about me moving on.

I started blogging as a way to record life with the boys. In the heady newborn days and the months where every new ‘first’ felt like it might blow me away, this blog was a gift. I adore the record I’ve created here and I’ll keep adding to it for as long as it feels right, but it will be intermittent (as it has been for a while), because my writing has changed.

The reason I’m on here less is partly to do with Little E getting older. He’ll start school this year. He’s a little boy. And he’s so full of ideas and desires and questions that it’s made me realise how carefully I need to tread when sharing his life online. As a passionate feminist I spend a lot of time thinking about autonomy, particularly about how girls and women have their independence and self-governance stripped from them. But it dawned on me recently that I also need to be invested in the autonomy of my boys. How and what I communicate has implications for them, and (as I see it) part of my role as a mother is to allow my children to choose how to present themselves in the world. The fact is it was never their choice to be written about here, which is why I now blog more about me than them.

Another reason why my mummy-blogging* has gone off the boil is because writing about parenting doesn’t capture my imagination the way it used to. I still have beautiful moments with Little E and Bean that I want to remember forever, but I don’t have the time, or feel the need, to share them the way I previously have. The posts I have darting around in my head, the ones I’m desperate to make real, are for my other blog, a space that I intentionally separated from Little E and Bean. It’s where I write about women’s rights and feminism, where I reflect on making it out the other side of oppressive sexism, and where I offer a narrative that seems to be helping women and girls faced with similar situations to the one I was in.

* I’m really not so sure about the term ‘mummy-blogger’ anymore (Annie got me thinking about it after commenting on my last post…which reminds me, I still haven’t replied to my comments. I. Am. Rubbish) because:
1. I feel restricted by it. I’m not just a mummy-blogger. Yes, I’m a mummy and a blogger, but I’m also a feminist and a blogger, a teacher and a blogger, a woman and a blogger. I don’t think my mother identity is necessarily more valuable than the other parts of me.
2. The word ‘mummy’ is often used to trivialise and patronise mothers. I don’t want to be part of that.
3. I could go on. Oh how I could go on. Actually this asterisked bit should totally be another blog post one day.

I do lots of gushing about blogging (because I LOVE it), but my experience hasn’t been entirely positive – there are people who would rather I didn’t share my thoughts on RMR. I’ve had online trolls and exasperated comments from a family member. And despite the fact that it’s helped me heal and grow and learn after a painful experience, my blog often generates uncomfortable silences from the people who matter to me. And then there are the several members of my family who have disappeared from my life altogether since I started writing about my past. But thankfully my creative process is no longer about searching for validation or catharsis. I write because I know my truth counts, because it helps others, and because each time a woman writes to say “I’ve been there”, or “I’m living through this too, and your words are helping” I know it’s worth any judgement.

So, littleeandbean, my ‘mummy-blog’, was a seed of creativity that’s grown into something I never anticipated. It’s directed me to a place where I feel stronger but also a little terrified, and not just because of the judgement and hostility. It’s taught me that parenting and adulthood are full of choices I should be proud of. It’s taught to make no apologies for the spaces within which I talk. It’s taught me about confidence and creativity. And now, what’s unfolding away from the pages of my ‘mummy-blog’ is teaching me that I’m probably capable of more than I realised.

I’ll be back at some point, in-between navigating the new stuff. In the meantime, here are the boys I love so much.

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Feminism and wanting more from mummy blogging

Did you read Kiran Chug’s post last week on feminism and the power of mummy blogging? You should. I found myself nodding and “mmmhmmmimg” and mulling over her words for a few days.

What we are doing, while doing all of this, is talking, writing, shouting, recording, pleading – all in our own voices. They are not the voices of our family or our men or our bosses or our teachers or our children. They are ours. Mummy Says

As I went on with my week Kiran’s words stayed with me. I thought about the way mummy blogging has transformed my life, how empowering it can be, and how it has helped propel women’s domestic lives into public and political consciousness. These are things I’m very grateful for, but as a feminist, and as a woman from a community of women with identities that fit like square pegs into the round hole of popular mummy blogging culture, I want more.

A Christmas of change

December was a turning point for me. I got a much needed break from my stifling routine to take stock and realise, amongst other things, some truths about the world of mummy blogging that I so love. I think it was our unusual Christmas that really opened my eyes. After a year of financial problems that made us more vulnerable than we’ve ever been, we had the challenge of making Christmas special with far less money than usual. J and I weren’t able to buy gifts for one another and we had to cut down our spending on everyone else. Two stockings and one gift for each of the boys later and the job was done. Our self-imposed ban on couple-presents was a brilliant idea. For the first year ever the pressure was off. J and I didn’t have to ask each other cryptic questions, trawl the internet in search of inspiration, or get sucked into the never ending consumerist battle for the ‘perfect’ gift. We ate, drank, relaxed, and enjoyed the boy’s infectious excitement. It was our best family Christmas yet. But that’s only because I took a step back from mummy blogs.

We need to not compare ourselves to others and think that the grass is always greener on the other side it just deprives us of our happiness

If you spend a couple of hours sifting through mummy blog posts about Christmas you’ll find a veritable feast of wish lists, recipes, product reviews, present ideas and interior design suggestions. What you won’t find as much of are discussions about the grittier aspects of women’s lives. Reality, if you will. Talking about real life necessitates talking about diversity, inequalities and struggles. When I consider the women that make up my community and their experiences of Christmas, I see mothers struggling with the rising cost of living during a season of complete excess. I see lone parents spinning a multitude of plates, often single-handedly, at a time when society takes an ideological leap backwards to reclaim the nuclear family as the ideal. I see multi-cultural, multi faith families ‘doing’ Christmas in very different ways. But popular mummy blogging culture provides little platform for these discussions, at Christmas or any other time. The world of mummy blogging is, in parts, a place of half-truths and whitewashing.

Just how feminist is mummy blogging?

There’s a conundrum that regularly does the rounds on the mummy blogging circuit: can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger? Except it’s not really a conundrum because the answer is so obvious (it’s: duh, YES! by the way). The real question, I think, is how well does mummy blogging ‘do’ feminism? On paper the bare bones of mummy blogging reads like part of a feminist manifesto – finally we have a space to call our own, where we can choose our own identities, and tell our own stories, and speak with our own voices, to a supportive community. But a truly feminist blogging culture would celebrate and elevate women who write unashamedly and unapologetically about real life, in all its diverse and complex glory, and its narrative wouldn’t be so overwhelmingly white, middle class and consumerist.

Now, I’m not saying all mummy bloggers should write politically. I know there are lots of bloggers who would rather celebrate the good in life than dwell on the negative, and more power to them. I’m not suggesting that bloggers who write about interiors, clothes, beauty, or anything they love, should be made to feel bad about that. After all, one of the biggest joys of our blogs is that they’re ours, to communicate whatever we wish. But, my goodness, where are the other stories? Why is the rich diversity of women’s lives in this country so under-represented in the mummy blogging sphere?  Perhaps it comes down to this:

Blogging is a reflection of privilege.  I’m not talking about money here.  Writing for an audience becomes second nature to bloggers. We love the communication, collaboration and ideas that our words generate. So we repeat, ad infinitum. And at some point I think a lot of us forget what the process involves. Think back to the first time you clicked publish. You were excited/apprehensive, yes? It takes courage to start writing honestly to the world, but we make that initial push because we have the support, confidence, and resources to do so – those things are born out of a privilege that not all women have. It’s frustrating to think that the women most in need of a voice might be excluded from this empowering, transformative world, because of a lack support.

Not all posts have equal value. The mummy blogging community is commodified to such an extent that popularist blogs are more lucrative and desirable than gritty realness (that’s not to say these sorts of blogs don’t exist, but they go against the grain of popular mummy blogging culture). The simple fact is: when it comes to representing women’s lives, escapism and ‘pretty’ is what (still) sells. Which leads me onto…

The choice fallacy. I don’t think it takes long as a mummy blogger to recognise which posts ‘sell’, whether that be in terms of hits or media/financial success. On the one hand this is brilliant. The fact that women can become more financially independent through blogging is incredibly exciting. But a problem with this is that popular mummy blogging culture suffocates the alternative. I’ve spoken to several bloggers who feel unable to write about their views because they worry it won’t ‘fit’ the tone of their site. Lots of us have, at some point in our blogging journey, worried about blogging in the ‘right’ way, talking about the ‘right’ things – things mummy bloggers are ‘meant’ to discuss. I’ve certainly been there, and I know from my discussions with others that I’m not alone. It’s made me wonder – are our choices as mummy bloggers born out of freedom, or patriarchy gift wrapped as popular culture? Are we blogging in a particular way because we want to, or because we’ve internalised the messages that women should look, sound like, and be interested in certain things? The message being filtered down through the mummy blogging hierarchy (yes, there is one) is clear – success means conforming to a certain look, writing style and set of interests. We’re being encouraged to photo-shop our identities as well as our photos.

I’ve been putting off writing this post because I’m anxious you’ll think I’m being horribly critical. I hope that’s not the case. I love mummy blogging, it’s changed my life. And the mummy blogging community is incredibly important to me. But I think the lack of representation is something we need to acknowledge. To break up the cultural homogeneity requires not only embracing the diversity of women’s lives but actively reaching out for it and shifting the power structure within our community. I want to play a part in making this space even more accessible to even more women, so I’ve been thinking about hosting a regular session on my blog for women (bloggers and non bloggers) who don’t have the time, the resources, the support, or the confidence, to write honestly.

Dare I ask, what do you think?

By the way, if you’re interested in/irritated by anything I’ve just said you should definitely read these: 5 bloggers on race and erasure in the mommy blogosphere and social privilege and mom blogging. Both these pieces are a reflection of American mummy blogging culture but I think they also speak volumes about British mummy blogging.

Cutting myself some slack

I’ve not had time for this space recently. Shhhh, but I shouldn’t even be writing this post. The usual work mountain and lack of sleep are keeping me away. If my body could talk it would be swearing profusely. Rude. I don’t know if it’s the lack of sleep, or the too much work, but my skin, my hair, and my all-over-the-place-emotions are suffering. It’s not been a pretty sight.

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I’ve been run down and creaky, with a mouthful of ulcers, and a head full of resentment at working way past bedtime. I so want to be giving the writing a go. I keep thinking, if I could just snatch 30 minutes here and there to put pen to paper and fingers to keys, then maybe I can carve out my dream. Then I look at the clock and the time’s gone and I’m back to the grindstone.

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I’d been feeling a bit woe is me about it all, lots of: “I’ll never be a proper writer…I’ve no time to write…I’m so tired I could DIE…I still haven’t replied to my blog comments, people will think I’m so ungrateful…how on earth do other working mums do this?…why is my face so covered in spots?…waaaaah”. Thankfully for those who see me on a regular basis I’ve perked up a bit, and my days don’t feel as sludgy and unproductive. I think it’s because I’ve realised I can’t do it all. Such an obvious thing to acknowledge – that we can’t do it all – but so many of us are guilty of expecting way too much from ourselves.

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I was disappointed with myself for stalling over my book (I’ll save that one for another blog post), for not managing all the blog posts I wanted to write on this and my other blog, for not cooking enough home-made meals, for rarely finishing work before midnight, for not spending enough time with the people I love, for not getting enough sleep, for looking a bit like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards each day at work. And then it struck me: I’m expecting the impossible from myself.

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The reality is some weeks I’ll ace the parenting, or I’ll whip up some delicious home-made food, other weeks I’ll manage to squeeze in more than 5 hours of sleep each night. And my book IS going to happen – after completely dismissing it and revisiting each chapter and turning it inside out in my mind – I’m more sure of it than I’ve ever been. I can do all the things I want, just not by this Friday.

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So, that’s where I’m at right now; a place of happy acceptance and quiet excitement about the year ahead.

I thought I’d share a little photo update too. I love my other blog and all the honesty and catharsis it allows me, but it’s good to be back here, thinking about my beautiful boys. Littleeandbean is my happy place and I’ve missed it.

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