Embracing Your Inner Mommy Warrior

A Milk White Flag

A Milk White Flag (Photo credit: Vintaga Posters)

No one likes the so-called “Mommy Wars.” At the BlogHer 2012 conference last weekend, the speakers I heard were unanimously opposed to them, calling on all of us to move past these bloody battlefields to someplace more productive – a greener pasture of peace, tranquility and mutual appreciation. Where, I presume, we get to have tea together under a white flag and our children serve it to us with ceremonial perfection and crisp, clean napkins draped over their small forearms.

Which certainly sounds good to me. No one’s been more disdainful than I have about the media’s over-simplification of these issues. But then I got to thinking about how characterizing disagreements as disagreeable can be its own kind of social censure, and about all the playground conversational tangos and tangles that general impulse may be creating, even as it attempts a truce.

If what we mean by “Mommy Wars” is a tedious mud-wrestling match in which we hurl well-worn clichés at each other about stay-at-home moms versus working moms, I’m all for moving on. It’s a yawner, to begin with.

On the other hand, though, call me crazy, but I do have opinions on things. I maintain these developing viewpoints on all things mommy because, first, I have to make decisions for me and my family that impact how my daughter is raised, and second, with apologies to Kahlil Gibran, I’m not merely a vessel through which my daughter arrived into this dubious and sometimes wonderful place.

In this battle, I’m a frontline trench warfare expert, and I came by my stripes honestly. I’m not about to abandon my albeit modest rank of Captain-of-One-Child readily. As anyone can read here, I do not lack my own nutty perspective on a host of questions concerning how I’d like to be a parent to my kid and what impacts her health and experiences.

And it sometimes feels like the call to halt the “Mommy Wars” is about never, ever passing judgment, about anything. As though we must subscribe to an indifferent laissez faire attitude as a prerequisite for holding onto whatever shredded tatters remain of our coolness, post-child.

I do live in fear of being labeled – that horror of horrors – a “Sancti-mommy,” and have no doubt that I’ve crossed that line, at least in my heart. But given that moms are called upon to – and do – make 85 percent of the household purchase decisions, and that we, er, have brains and the concomitant opinions those brains freely generate, how do we tiptoe across these Mommy War minefields?

For example, when my sister, whom I dearly love, offered my not-yet-two-year old daughter a “princess pancake” a few weeks back, was I remiss in recoiling in horror and saying, with my typical grace, that “Maya will be happy with the obesity-shaped one.” Ok, I’ll admit the appalled look on my face was likely unnecessary, and that Cinderella may in fact one day eat my daughter, but in the meantime, durnit, Maya doesn’t yet know what a princess is and I hope to keep it that way for as long as possible.

Or yesterday, at a concert, was I wrong to be annoyed when another mom asked me to get out of the way of her 2-year-olds’ view of the show? First, the kid was catatonic and not even really paying attention, and second, IMHO, kids should be moved around adults and not the other way ‘round. Anything else just teaches the inmates that they are in charge, and dangerously sacrifices what little power we grown-ups may retain.

But clearly that’s just me. It’s also just me on the playground when I don’t want Maya grazing opportunistically from some other kid’s plastic bag o’ Cheez-its and have to find a semi-gracious way to say why I’m declining their generous offer to share. (“So sorry, we don’t eat sodium-packed, processed junk at our house” seems a tad ungrateful somehow.)

And when I happen to mention that Maya’s a little big for her tender age, I’m not being a Competi-mommy, I swear. I’m merely trying to cover for her lack of social grace. She looks like a 3-year-old, and so people are often puzzled when she won’t take turns – like, unless I beg her – without a dramatic amount of squealing and/or physical violence.

And even along the critical fault line of the SAHM vs. working mother, there are important things to say about how hard it is in ways it shouldn’t be, and about everyone’s ambivalence concerning the choices they’ve made. None of it is easy, as I’ve noted. And I’ve also been gratified to see “Grass: Greener” posts from far more gifted self-observers.

In short, moms have to navigate this world, trying to preserve their own peculiar take on parenting and choices for their kids. There will be judgment involved in this. There will also be provisional decisions pending more data, and lots of agony. Certainly, so long as we otherwise “click” as people, we can be friends and support each other regardless of these somewhat petty distinctions.

But some eye-rolling is also likely to be involved, particularly if we don’t know each other personally. We’re human, after all. We bring our discernment and pre-formed views with us wherever we go. And I, for one, get a lot out of reading even contentious comments on particular hot-button mommy topics, as they help inform where I come out on critical issues like whether investing in a Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag is cute or been-there-done-that. (My vote is the former, but I’m always behind on what’s hip by a decade or two.)

Even as we call for tranquility and tea, let’s be careful not to think that whenever a Mom – or Dad – expresses an opinion of any kind, that’s verboten under peacetime, post-Mommy War conditions. And let’s create an environment that allows us to compare notes on parenting without fear that any act of comparison at all is an odious attempt at competition.

Ultimately, we’re tougher than that. If we can deal with a red-faced two-year-old’s tantrums over absolutely nothing, we can also weather a little judgment concerning things that might actually matter. Making these decisions about our lives and families, is, after all, our prerogative as parents. We should be strong enough to debate the issues on the merits and indifferent enough to do what we decide is best. And, for the most part, to be friends (or sisters) after the disagreement, just as we were before.

Cinderella (Disney character)

Cinderella (Disney character) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

10 Fascinating (and Sometimes Hard) Things I Learned at BlogHer 2012

My little moment of snark about Martha Stewart notwithstanding, the Blogher12 conference was amazing and worthwhile. It was full of energy and wit, I learned things from each of the panels, and the workshops, in particular, were incredibly helpful.

The highlight for me was today’s lunchtime conversation with Katie Couric, who was insightful, substantive, funny, honest and warm. I hope that her new daytime program finds the viewers it deserves, both because it sounds great and because its success would flag the need for smarter programming for both women and television talk shows generally.

Second, I loved meeting all of these interesting, talented women. At lunch, I just happened to be sitting next to Globetrotting Mama, who recently completed (and blogged about) a year-long trip around the world with her family. She was full of practical advice about how to take that kind of a trip, and really clear about its value for her two sons and their family bonds.

Then, as the coup de grace when things were winding down this afternoon, I stumbled upon Beth Terry, one of my personal eco-heroines, who just published an incredible book, My Plastic Free Life. I’ll be posting a book review soon, thanks to my newly purchased (and signed!) copy. Beth and I had lots to talk about!

Below are a few things I think I learned (subject of course to your review, correction and further explication):

  1. Blogging is just one platform for increasing social influence. While it may be the heart of what you do, as it is for this wonderful blogger who led my workshop, in the end its traffic, readership demographics, time of stay, etc., measures just one form of social media footprint. Your value will be judged by the total picture across platforms, i.e., your blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc. As this implies, shortcomings in one platform can be compensated for by connections and influence in another.
  2. Metrics and stats matter. This is true not only because they will help to measure your social influence (what old timey poli-sci types call “social capital”), but because you can and should use them to see what kinds of materials, posts and tweets gets your community revved up and rarin’ to go. Then you can give them more of the good stuff they like, and, if you’re lucky, the virtuous cycle takes over.
  3. Social influence =’s trust in you. There are two main pathways to monetizing your activities, neither of which are really about your blog so much as they are about your social influence, and marketing you: 1) becoming a trusted, reliable marketing pathway for products and services (sponsorships, product reviews, give-aways and all that); 2) becoming a trusted, reliable expert on an issue or segment of the market, which can include freelance writing or a book, and/or selling yourself as a spokesperson or writer on other platforms or to traditional media. For both, you need the basic materials in your “media kit,” and the saucy Cecily K even gave us a link to her terrific guide for using picmonkey to make one. (I’m mainly in the second bucket, if I’m in any bucket at all. As both Cecily and the incredibly helpful Marcy Massura pointed out, if you’re pitching yourself as a writer, obviously including published clips and highlighting those in the kit is key.)
  4. Be your best self. Despite the sneers that mommy bloggers often surreptitiously receive, expectations for people working in this space, unsurprisingly, are the same as in any other profession. You’re ideally supposed to be organized, professional, truthful, be aware of and follow the law, and generally be nice.
  5. There are a truly unfair number of platforms, technologies, applications and measuring systems to try to get your head around. Of course they also change all the time. In one session alone, panelists mentioned Klout, Peer Index, Cred, Alexa, and Picmonkey. Others talked about Google Analytics, Google+, Survey Monkey, instagram and Tumblr. Many of these are useful tools, I’m sure, but I was unnerved by visions of myself floating aimlessly from platform to platform managing my Interwebs identity, and wondered when the writing and research might actually get done to make decent content.
  6. Connections, as in anything, still matter. But making connections, thanks to the unabashed, and even sometimes forced, intimacy of Twitter, is now far easier than ever before. From panel to panel, the advice was the same: be bold in approaching people, once you know what you want to accomplish and have your materials and story straight. Talk up your strengths and value, and advocate for yourself and your ideas.
  7. Be inventive with DIY publicity and promotions. In the book talk, one very crafty craft blogger shared her kamikaze marketing tactics, which included calling up the sewing machine company featured in her novel for a give-away, barnstorming the book signings of authors she liked to build goodwill towards her own book blurbs, and holding workshops with the purchase of her book built into the cost. Another made satirical videos to promote her book, as well as educational guides for schools. The takeaway was that the more channels and promotional avenues you have for your content, the better.
  8. There are a lot of people trying to do this, and (understandably) to make some money at it, and it’s not easy to do it well. While the Expo Hall was full of potential sponsors who want to engage the viral marketing potential of female bloggers and their audiences, it also seemed clear that the number of people who will dramatically succeed – at least enough to make a living at it – is far smaller than the number of us interested in making a go at it.
  9. Many people just use the Web – and blogging and other social media – for connection, personal journaling, and to give voice to fears and feelings. There was the wonderful woman I met who blogs about her depression and thoughts of suicide anonymously but courageously, and the woman with an autistic child who studies and writes about the science on autism. Blogs are places to share, build community, and get a comforting and perhaps even therapeutic confirmation that the things about us that make us feel alone are almost always things that other people are experiencing right now.
  10. This avenue for expression is not going away. It remains a very powerful way to find like-minded people and to give a thousand voices to the many ways we navigate our lives. While there were nice breaks for informal networking, if I had one suggestion for the next BlogHer, it would be that there should also be space on the official calendar for like-minded bloggers to find each other, so that they can better get to know each other in-person and discuss common interests. BlogHer could be a place to create networks across many more spaces – with less being talked to, and more talking to each other. In this kind of space, bloggers could hatch ideas to help each other out, pooling technical or other expertise, or maybe even share their ideas for changing the world to reflect the many things we all dream of and hope for, both on-line and off.

###

What did you get out of the conference? What nuggets of wisdom do you have on the event or blogging in general? I’d love to hear!

Could Martha Stewart Ever Wake Up and Be a Force for Good?

English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair par...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s amazingly easy to like Martha Stewart, despite what comes out of her mouth. An interview with her Blondeness was the lunchtime entertainment at the BlogHer 2012 conference today, and it didn’t disappoint.

In her tapered orange pants and matching sandals, Stewart appeared relaxed, or at least as relaxed as she ever probably gets. Yet she still managed to project a dizzying number of expectations about women, the priorities they should have, and the preeminent importance of “perfection.”  Even some of her attempts to relate were drolly inept – at one point, she actually said that feeding and patting her horses in the evenings is an example of how all of us should “keep it real.” Yes, she said that.

Also, when her dog jumped up and busted her lip, she made sure to mention that her driver was there at 10 pm in a blizzard to drive her to the hospital where she had bought a wing, or something. Yes, that does ring so real to me.

Predictably, she extolled the virtues of home-cooking and talked proudly about the number of home and consumer products her team designs, 8,500 of which are for sale in stores today. She also made clear that her team works long hours, and was breathtakingly judgmental about the talented women who work for her and decide not to come back after having a child. (Um, could it be the grueling hours?)

It’s not just Stewart, of course. After the dismissive statements by incoming Yahoo exec Marissa Mayer about “working through” her maternity leave, I for one think that it’s about time we ask women in positions of tremendous power to send a more respectful message on work-life balance.

But Stewart missed that opening, despite the thousands of moms in the audience. Instead, about two seconds after she admitted that her career drive had cost her marriage, she said, kind of creepily, that she could always pick out the women who were and were not coming back after a child, and, without a trace of irony or self-reflection, that “you just have to decide whether you want it all.” She almost growled this line, in an implied threat to any women who choose, unaccountably, to step off the career ladder at her much-coveted design juggernaut.

Apparently, her keen sense of the Twitterverse and social media excluded the recent heated debate over the Anne-Marie Slaughter piece on the impossibility of “having it all.” Even Slaughter has recanted that theme, noting that no one, not only women, gets to have it all.

That is, except maybe, possibly Stewart. Or at least that what she really, really needs us to believe. While she talked a good game of how social media has influenced her to get more personal about her own life, when asked in a final question to come clean about something she’s “bad at,” she produced a perfectionist tic in lieu of a genuine admission, actually offering us the lame “something I haven’t tried yet?”

In fact, the DIY emphasis she’s so famous for is just something else on the long list of self-improving, pure activities we should be doing and can’t. But Stewart has an answer for us: when we run out of time, her products side stands ready to sell us all the stuff we didn’t have time to make.

After all, our lives don’t look at all like the image of relaxed afternoons picking raspberries that Stewart (patently falsely) claimed she enjoys and that are all over her media marketing channels. And she knows that, of course. As she put it, “women don’t have time to sew anymore, because you’re busy blogging or whatever, so you need a place to buy that dress you saw in the magazine.”

This really makes her the worst part of both sides of the problem. On the one hand, we get to feel guilty for not making the damn dress, while on the other, she gets our money so that we don’t have to do without the thing she just guilted us into wanting. She creates desire and then is there to fill it, albeit always in a way that leaves us chasing the dream of that more authentic garment that we could have, should have, made ourselves.

What was so sad about her taut, demanding version of femininity was the utter lack of mission reflected in her choices. While selling us the unhurried, authentic life, she’s really all just lifestyle marketing, with emphasis on the stuff. I kept thinking about how her power is enormous, but it remains untapped for real good.

While it’s likely the case, as she remarked, that partisan politics could be damaging for her, that certainly wouldn’t bar her, or her company, from taking on any real social justice issue. Really, any position would be better than none. She could pick toxics, and work to reduce the chemicals in all the consumer stuff she sells, or worker’s rights for her factories around the world, or even, better work-life balance for the talented moms she obviously loses from her own company.

Perhaps when she’s out patting the horses of an evening, she could reflect a little more on why DIY became DIMS, and whether American “home cooks” really need another newly designed dishtowel, or her hard-working designers could go home early, to spend a little more time with their kids. Now that would be keeping it real.