Are you in the mom (or dad) closet?

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josh-pam-tilden-835-300dpiNataly Kogan, a former venture capitalist who very recently flew the corporate coop (yeah Nataly!) to co-found a company called Work-it Mom, recently wrote a blog post calling for perspectives on what she calls the “coming out of the mom closet.”  It was spurred by a conversation with a potential contributing writer to her site who said:

“I really like what you’re doing but I try to not be associated with mommy sites. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a mommy blogger.”

Nataly was kind of surprised by this comment, as she didn’t expect this to be an issue in this day and age when women are such an integral part of the workforce, and being a Mom is not exactly something that carries great social stigma.

She called for perspectives on this topic from working moms, including me.

I have to admit that when I read the post and the initial quote by the reticent writer, my first thought was:

I totally understand where she is coming from.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore being a Mom, and am very proud of it (not that I take any credit – the whole thing is a freaking miracle, if you ask me).  But when it comes to including lots of “mom stories” in my work, I walk a careful line.  What drives all editorial decisions for what I do or don’t write is a strange, intuitive compass that says “this topic would be of interest to my audience.”  A lot is based on emails I get, or feedback from my monthly calls, or work with clients.  But underlying that data is a kind of “hunch” that I need to write or share something on a given day.  And “mom” stories raise a particular flag inside me for some reason.

The connotation, fair or accurate or not, is that “mommy bloggers” spend most of their time writing about the appropriate kind of snack to pack for a field trip, how to get spit-up stains off your suit, or the varying consistencies of baby poop.

There are some wickedly funny and smart “Moms who blog” like Mimi Smartypants (VERY rated R sometimes, but if you don’t mind well-used profanity, you will enjoy this blog) and Mom-101, who gives an eloquent breakdown of the “mommyblogger” debate here.  Excerpt:

“I have never once called myself a Mommyblogger, not without a heavy dose of irony. I admit in fact to cringing when I hear myself described that way. I tend to say instead, “I have a parenting blog.” And yet, I often feel the need to offer a disclaimer. “I have a parenting blog, but…”

But…it’s funny.

But…I can also discuss Bush’s heinous disregard for the Kyoto treaty and the potential impact for generations to come.

But…hey, do you like Journey? Wait til you hear my new ringtone!

Saying “while I write about my child, I think really what I do is look at social issues, politics, pop culture, and my own feelings about work and the world through the eyes of a new mother” is a wee bit verbose in most contexts. Mommyblogger it is. Blech.

It’s not that blogging about our children is such a horrible thing. I mean, Dooce can make washing a bottle more interesting than most women could make a menage-a-trois with George Clooney and Johnny Depp. But in my opinion, the diminutive, mommy, automatically demeans whatever it is the author has to say. That no matter how many degrees she holds, how many times she uses words like ostensibly and onomatopoeia, she’s still writing something trivial.”

I know that many of my readers have families and are often driven to an entrepreneurial lifestyle so that they have more freedom and flexibility to actively participate in their children’s lives.  Or they work from home, so can relate to some of the challenges faced uniquely by work-at-home parents (which I wrote about.)

The rule of thumb should be similar to showing your vacation pictures to friends and relatives.  Sometimes, we get so carried away by the excitement of our vacation that we forget it is much less interesting to friends who weren’t there.  By the 42nd “and this is another castle in the countryside of Switzerland!” photo, they are madly racking their brain to think of ways to  leave your living room, including feigning a heart attack, since being subjected to 45 minutes more of your deathly pictures would be worse than being carried out on a stretcher by emergency medical technicians.  Such is how some people feel about “parenting” stories.

General “to disclose or not disclose” guidelines could be:

  • What is the purpose of your blog?
  • Who is in your audience?
  • Is the fact that you are a Mom (or Dad) of relevance or interest to the work you do?
  • Is it part of your brand?  Work-it Mom, webmomz, and a thousand other sites have chosen niches that specifically appeal to mothers.
  • Are you sharing because it is a bit self-indulgent, bordering on vacation picture behavior?

I have chosen to write a few posts around my motherhood experience, but keep it very limited. A wonderful, consistent blog reader (who happens not to have any kids) wrote me a note after one of my few “mommy” posts that started something like “when I started to read the post about your son, I groaned a bit since I was worried that it was going to be a “mommy” post…”  She ended up liking the article because it did have broader applications to the world of work, but this definitely reinforced my reticence to writing a whole bunch of posts about my experience as a mother.

Perhaps the other side of the coin is protection.  The world can be kind of scary, and sharing too much about my kids sometimes makes me a bit nervous.

Ultimately, we can all choose the amount of disclosure that is comfortable.

I am not shy to disclose parts of my personal life where it will help make a point, provide support or empathy to my audience, or add more interest and power to a story.  Then there are the times when I blog on a personal rant as cheap therapy, and I reserve that right, since I spend a lot of hours focused on the needs of others.  🙂

Ultimately, I think we should each respect our internal comfort level at disclosing any number of personal details in the work environment.  Be proud of who you are, and know how “open” is too “open.”

I’m curious for the parents out there as to where you fall on the “parental disclosure” issue in your work and writings.  And for the non-parents, what is your “barf-o-meter” when it comes to parenting stories in business blogs?

P.S.  And, yes, I did slip in a picture of my cute son for this post, since what the hell, I was taking a risk to write about Mom stuff anyway.  Thanks, Dad, for the great picture!

16 Responses to “Are you in the mom (or dad) closet?”

  1. A good and thoughtful post — to me the message is to consider whom you’re writing for, and why you’re writing.

    Funny how there isn’t really a “daddyblog” epithet (maybe it’s “fantasy sports league” instead?).

    In terms of personal blogs, I’m a candidate for the world’s smallest target audience. I created a blog for my parents, who are 88 and 94. They’ve been online for six years or so, but couldn’t get the hang of filing email and couldn’t always open (let alone retrieve) attachments.

    So I created a blog and put a shortcut on their desktop. Every morning, my dad turns on the PC, clicks the shortcut, and reads the latest “letter.”

    My children, who between them have nine blogs of their own, are authors on this one, so they too can write notes, post photos, etc.

    The point of this description: I carefully separate this highly personal blog from my more public one. I don’t give out the name of my parents’ blog, let alone the URL, and on the server I tell webcrawlers to skip it.

    …I do think there’s a big difference between “mom” and “mommy” (the same with “dad” and “daddy”). The diminutive is usually inappropriate in most business/professional settings — you wouldn’t want your adult co-worker to call you “mommy” or “daddy.”

    It helps, I think, not to think of yourself that way in terms of your blog (unless, of course, you want to).

  2. Tim Sullivan says:

    It’s funny, this same dilemma, I think, is faced by professional or serious-minded moms who fear that getting involved in their child’s school will immediately pigeonhole them as stereotypical PTA moms.

    Just as mom writers and entrepreneurs are far different today than days past, the most effective moms (and dads!) and schools are actually changing the volunteer model to fit a more modern lifestyle. No longer is it required to give 30 hours per week of unpaid volunteer hours to be involved at school. The key — just like with balancing “mom writing” vs “writing” — is to find the mix that works for your lifestyle and goals.

    Tim Sullivan

  3. Hey Pam – I’ve written up my own thoughts on this topic as it has become an issue on my blog lately as well. With a domain name like “eMoms at Home” I know that it has been harder to grow my blog than if I hadn’t had that word “Mom” in my URL. Additionally, since I don’t write about a lot of mom stuff, I’ve been doubly torn of late, especially when the content that I do write that cross over into mommy-land tend to be quite popular, but I, like you, am not sure I want to go there too often.

    I have no answers yet, either – but I sent a trackback your way. I’ve been very grateful to see your reader comments on this post, as they are a good gauge for me to understand perceptions without my own reader loyalties mixed into the reaction (hope that made sense).

    Anyway, I wanted to say thanks for bringing up the subject over here – and I hope the conversation continues as I’m incredibly interested in the evolution of the topic!

    Warm regards, Wendy Piersall

  4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Mom (and a Dad)

    Back in January, I had a blogging epiphany. Traffic had been on a steady decrease for a while and it wasnt recovering from the holidays. I took a look at my stats and had a big duh moment. I saw that my blogging category was the to…

  5. Nikole Gipps says:

    I thought I’d come back and share this link:
    Dadpreneurs coming out of the closet!

  6. Nikole Gipps says:

    It’s weird, because I have to gage my “mommyhood” every time. With some clients, it is a bonding experience. With others, I feel like “I didn’t finish your project last night because my daughter had a fever” sounds really horrible and makes me feel bad. Most people don’t care that my child is sick, they just want their project done yesterday. It feels like such a constant juggling act. Thanks for bringing this to light and giving me hope that there is some balance between denying my “mommyness” and being a respected businesswoman.

  7. Pam,
    This post keeps churning in my mind. Part of me tries to be fine with women bringing all their identities forward, and wants to be supportive. Yet, I find myself glazing over after a short time of mommy talk.

    I’ve been digging inside myself for where this comes from, and after a few days of reflection some of the pieces are starting to get clear. I don’t have children, I don’t think I wanted them, but I was not in a relationship where it would be a good idea until I was 40. I was too busy doing other things, and then it was too late. Almost like I forgot.

    It’s not always easy being a childless woman, and while I feel mostly OK with it and certainly know I could adopt if I wanted to, I feel totally left out when I am with women doing Mom talk. It’s not that I don’t want to hear about it per se, I just don’t know what to say. It’s a foreign world, so there isn’t much to engage me.

    I guess the bottom line for me is I can embrace a small percentage of Mom talk in the business context, but it’s not an identity I can connect through. You seem to maintain a great balance, which works for me.


  8. PunditMom says:

    Excellent post. It is a great discussion (I’m biased, since I’m also writing over at Work It, Mom!)and using that opportunity to better hone who I am and what my voice is on my blog. There is a bit of the “mommy” identity in PunditMom, of course, but I’m hoping that it helps reach an audience, not just of mothers, but of anyone who is interested in political topics that impact our families.

  9. This is so sad really. It’s a holdover from the 70’s about being a ‘professional business woman.’ Would we have this discussion if a great blogger shared some of his ‘daddy’ insights? No. What is wrong about being a mommy, being a blogger, being an entreprenuer?

    As a former corporate person who has witnessed this split, lived this split…I offer this- if one discounts any aspect of their life, pushes it into the shadow then that life suffers, because you are not really being you. How then are you living an Authentic Life?

    I am a woman.
    I am a wife.
    I am a mother.
    I am an entreprenuer.
    I am a business woman.
    I am a writer.

  10. Who Are You??

    Who are you? Who, who, who, who?Who are you? Quick, what comes to your mind? Roger Daltrey and the lads or William, Marg, Jorja and CSI? Who are you and what characteristics do you want associated with Brand You? Just

  11. dave says:

    Isn’t it wild?

    “I am going to position myself online as a “home-based entrepreneur coach.”

    A few mentions about the kid’s play, a teacher’s meeting, soccer practice, your minivan breaking down, and all of a sudden you’re a “mommy blogger.”

    Can we position ourselves online? Or are we at the mercy of perception?

    Yes to a point and yes.

    Your guidelines nail it Pam! I’ve been reading your stuff for sometime and never once has the term mommy blogger entered my mind. (not that there is one thing wrong with mommy blogging that is)

    But, by injecting family and real life, you project that you are human. (my perception). I am thinking this is a real good brand trait.

    This is good stuff Pam. I need to think a bit more and out loud at my site.


  12. Mom101 says:

    Wow Pam, wonderful post and I’m honored to be included. As far as work, I don’t bring up “mom stuff” with clients – but funny enough, when I do, if the client is a new dad (or less frequently a mom) we often end up bonding over it.

    As far as blogging, I think your checklist is fantastic. Those who blog as online journaling have no issues with “mommyblogging” because their audience is their families and their future selves. However if we’re writing to reach a larger audience, it does have to do with the audience – and do I love your vacation photo analogy! Spot on. We should all think about it that way.

    Interesting though, I recently stumbled on the blog of a reader of mine who wrote that she doesn’t always check Mom101 first thing anymore because it’s sometimes too political or topical. “I just like reading about the mom stuff,” she wrote. Touché.

  13. Erin Blaskie says:

    Hi Pam!

    Great post! As someone who does not yet have children, I can see both sides of the situation. I have actually been asked before by potential clients in our ‘getting to know each other call’ whether or not I have children. When I responded with ‘no’ I was met with a sigh of relief and a “Good!”

    It actually creates this weird phenomenon in which I am fearful of thinking about children yet because I am afraid what it may do to my business (based on the attitudes of those people I spoke with). I want a family and will do so at some point in my life (I’m still relatively young) but being a business owner and a mom is a scary thought.

    Kudos to you for bringing up this topic – I think it’s something that needs to be focused on a bit to relieve some of the stigma attached to children and entrepreneurialism.


    Erin Blaskie
    Business Services, ETC

  14. Great post Pam. When I was starting out my business, I remember hiding in a closet to get away from my daddy-fixated 2 year old daughter while trying to have a critical transatlantic call with an executive client …

  15. lilalia says:

    After reading your blog regularly for a year or so, I’d say it is possible to feel your reticence to cross the borders between private and professional worlds. There are grey zones you can explore either light-heartedly or seriously concerning how the one affects the other. Our children change just about every aspect of our lives: politically, socially, economically, emotionally, and philosophically.

    You don’t have to become a parenting evangelist to talk about how your parenting experiences have altered your professional practices. You don’t have to tell “mom stories”, or only if they underline a point of conversation particularly well. An exchange of experience that acknowledges how being a mom influences your professional thinking can be very interesting for both men and women alike.

    In the end, I think that many women (myself included) worry way too much about crossing over into the grey zone. As you said, children are such miracles. Their existence plays a huge roll in our professional lives. Perhaps, we just don’t trust ourselves to calmly remark about the elephant in the china store for fear of the reaction these comment will make.

  16. This Mom/disclosure dilemma is not confined to bloggers. Some female academic researchers in the entrepreneurship field are also reluctant to publish on female entrepreneurship as they fear it could pigeonhole them in a way that they find disadvantageous. Perhaps a forum rather than a blog presents a better medium for Mom type disclosures/discussioins. I think, works well in this regard. Admittedly, as it’s founder, I could be biased!