Mommy bloggers: are some using their kids to get rich?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the trend known as “mommy blogging”, it’s, well, mothers blogging about being mothers and whatever else in their lives (or interests) they care to talk about. These blogs vary quite a lot, and I want to be clear on that. Some of the “moms” are slick corporate-backed celebrities being written by committee. Some are just ordinary people who started an engaging blog and found an audience. It seems to me the vast majority are upper-middle-class and white.

Many people find mommy blogging a rather vapid and self-obsessed trend – but that’s the usual reaction whenever women do something for themselves that men haven’t sanctioned. Mommy blogging may also be the first time in history that any type of mother has exposed her life and thoughts through her own publicity for her own purposes. And finally, marketers are realizing that moms have money. That they spend. On stuff they decided to purchase. Like, ohmygod, not all purchases are made by 18-25 year old males! So there’s definitely something egalitarian and potentially women-advancing going on within this trend.

That said, CNN wonders if there is one thing in particular very wrong with it. They talk about a very well-known mommy blogger, Heather Armstrong, who’s been blogging about post-partum depression and her experiences raising her children in intimate detail. That’s an example of what can be awesome in these blogs: how many women suffering post-partum depression and/or wondering if any other mothers have these embarrassing or very private problems they’re experiencing with raising their kids can benefit from reading about similar stuff at a stranger’s blog? The problem is: it seems Armstrong’s older daughter, Leta, no longer wants to be photographed or written about in her mom’s blog. You see, her real name and photographs have been used from the beginning on Armstrong’s blog.

Which begs the question: if she was too young to consent to being part of the blog when her mom first started writing about her, was writing about her in the first place wrong? Maybe. But it’s really interesting to see hand-wringing about this while we’re still waiting to hear whether Larry Rivers’ daughters will get possession of the naked videos he verbally bullied them into making while they were too young to consent. Man videotapes naked daughters while emotionally abusing them: he’s a tad confused. Woman writes about daughter under real name with dressed photos: bitch!

And, surely, Leta is not alone. A whole mini-generation of kids provided fodder for their parents’ parenting blogs, and, in the case of the Armstrongs, those intimate confessions enabled their parents to have a very generous income. Recently, the family moved into a big new home. Their office remodel will be sponsored by Verizon.

What do you think? I think in hindsight Armstrong definitely should have made her kids somehow anonymous, but male politicians have been putting their kids in commercials for years, and CNN didn’t get upset about that. It bothers me. I’d like to see the end of parents using their kids for publicity, but it feels like CNN might only be concerned when mothers do it.

Comments

  1. I. Scott says

    I’m impressed that a stay-at-home-Mother is apparently making £40k a month. That’s like the earning power of 12 full-time workers…

    I can’t tell why anyone would be hand-wringing over Mothers talking about their children (especially with the much more hand-wringing worthy story you linked). My own Mother will tell from any number embarrassing baby/toddler stories given half the chance (there are naked pictures too…).

  2. Mel says

    I’d like to see the end of parents using their kids for publicity, but it feels like CNN might only be concerned when mothers do it.

    This.

    @Scott: Yeah, but I don’t really want my parents putting toddler/baby stories on the internet, or naked baby pictures (even clothed baby pictures–I used to work for various educational orgs and we always, always got signed parental releases to use photos of kids on our website and in promotional materials because a lot of people don’t want photos of their kids out there for safety reasons. And while I’m an adult, I don’t really want to contemplate someone wanking to my baby bathtime photos).

    I’m not sure what I think about child-blogging and other parentally determined uses of children’s photos and information. The law says the parents can decide, and preverbal children can’t even be asked for an opinion. Certainly I think “no kids in the media ever” would be ridiculous. But I think it’s a place where parents need to tread carefully with their own kids, especially once those kids are old enough to understand that Mom or Dad is writing about them for a public audience. I’ve seen some columns in newspapers and the like that I can imagine causing a whole lot of pain to kids when they’re old enough to read them, and potentially a lot of damage if the kid is in an emotionally vulnerable stage.

  3. Gategrrl says

    Didn’t Erma Bombeck write about raising her children and about being a Mother for years in a syndicated newscolumn? I don’t see much difference between her and some of these “mommy” bloggers.

    I DO think, however, that children have a right to not be publicized with their real names and faces if they don’t want that. And that includes their use by their political parents. Smart politicians keep their children out of the spotlight (IMO), and while their focus isn’t their children like the Mom Blogs are, not all Mom Blogs talk exclusively about their children. Moms have other interests as well that have little to do with their children.

    • Dom Camus says

      When you say children have that right, do you mean it literally or do you mean that it would be nice if they had that right?

      The reason I ask is that I strongly suspect that in twenty years the current mainstream concept of privacy will look laughably dated whether anyone likes it or not.

      • Gategrrl says

        Far as I know, children have few to no rights of their own. They’re below the age of consent, and up until a certain age, can’t think through consequences of their actions. And exposure on television ([Jon &]Kate + 8, 19+Counting, etc). There’s a reason California now has the Coogan law, named after Jackie Coogan, a child actor who made millions, but got none of the money himself because his parents stole from him.

        Looking at it from the mother’s POV, well, why *shouldn’t* she be able to write about her experiences on the internet? And earn money from it if she can? I do think a smart parent who doesn’t have a child who enjoys being a “star” wouldn’t abuse the trust they have with their children.

  4. Anne says

    This probably also plays into that mentality that dad are omgsoawesome when they are good dads but for moms raising kids should be reward enough! It’s like when people talk about single moms and dads. One is ostracized, the other heavily praised.

    While I think the privacy of the children should be upheld, and that to divulge TOO much could harm the children, there should be no reason to keep a mom from making money off of being a mom. It’s a hard job! And it’s not a job people get paid for, since it’s not seen as a job. A boy I know was ranting about how “women GET to stay at home while the husband works his ass off, and then she gets custody of HIS kids and takes HIS property when they get divorced!”

    And I was like, okay, waitaminute. HIS property? GETS to? HIS kids? It’s weird to me that he would call it a privilege to stay at home, and at the same time granting ownership of house and kids to the father.

    Eh. Good on many of these women, and hopefully they will decide to give privacy to their children while still being successful!

  5. The Other Patrick says

    I think that this is partly a growing pain of the internet. For the moment, these images are out there and embarrassing, but there will either be an extreme movement towards privacy (unlikely) which makes it unacceptable to use these, or they will be so commonplace as to not account for anything.

    That said, of course once children voice their non-consent, that should be honored. I just think it is not likely that parents will start thinking of their children’s wishes when following their own, and the tradition of having your kids’ pictures in your wallet is now your kids’ pictures on facebook.

  6. Casey says

    IDK, I might douche-chill a little if my mom had a “mom-blog” and used it as a platform to talk about my childhood constipation/mental instabilities/the supposed “failure” of my childhood therapist (she helped me stop my penchant of crying at school for no reason, I call that a victory), but because of the double standard you brought up, I’d probably just internalize my feelings and grow to seethe with resentment instead of saying “could you at least be more ‘anonymous’ when talking about me?” ‘cuz I wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite. YAY I FAIL

  7. Jaynie says

    I agree with the poster who said this is part of the growing pains of the internet. I absolutely think that if the child says “please stop writing about me/using my name/posting my photos” than the mommy blogger should stop, but that’s less a “privacy-law” thing and more a “thinking that children are autonomous beings and should be granted a right privacy by loving parents” thing. I don’t think blogging about them should stop altogether though — I mean, we blog about people all the time without their consent, and most of it is harmless and loving. But maybe it would be sensible to either disguise the child’s identity or avoid the sort of stories or pictures that will embarrass them in middle school when someone thinks to Google their name. Actually I’d be inclined to use a false name for the child anyway, because it doesn’t really change the story if you use DD instead of Jane Smith to identify them…

    • Scarlett says

      Well, when I posted some photos of me with my friend’s one-year-old daughter on my facebook page, I asked her (the mum’s) permission. I figured that was common courtesy, but I seem to be in the minority like that.

      While I agree with using pseudo-names for kids, hell, for anyone who has expressed a desire not to be referred to by name, keep in mind that it wouldn’t be that difficult for someone who knows the family to work out who is who. (Ie, someone who knows my family could work out who I’m referring to both by the context and the fact I swapped names for fictional characters in the same sibling order.) But still, I think that’s a vast improvement on anyone who stumbles onto the site know who you are from the get-go. AS OP said, it’s one of the growing pains of the internet and I’m curious as to where we stand in twenty years or so; will we evolve into a mentality of respecting the anonymity of ‘private citizens’ or will it be seen as open slather?

      But Jen brought up a completely different issue; we have a complete double standard when it comes to what rights fathers have to their minor children’s images/identities and what rights mother’s do. Blogging about your experience with your children and posting photos that were taken consentually, if not posted consentually vs emotional bully and naked videos which were, at best, taken coersively? That the media is making such a big deal out of the former instead of the latter says a LOT about what rights we think men should have over their children as opposed to women.

      • Jaynie says

        Oh, I totally agree, and I think it’s disgusting that people even think that way, that the mommyblogger is being exploitative and the video-making dad is, eh, probably not that bad really. I have trouble even conceptualizing a world where people think like that, even though I know they do. I’m sorry if I seemed to be adding to it by focusing on the mommyblogger (in hindsight, yeah, bad move, ’cause isn’t that exactly the problem) — it was just that the issue of internet privacy was on my mind already, so I got a little focussed. (I will stay more on topic in future, I promise! :D)

        • says

          You weren’t off-topic, because I did raise both the question Scarlett referred to AND the question of what rights kids should have. And I agree with you – I think the solution is to keep the kids anonymous. Let the politician talk about his kids. Let the blogger talk about her kids. Just don’t say their real names and post pictures of their cute faces.

          • scarlett says

            To me, using the real names and posting pictures of children is making a peadophile’s job a damn sight easier. Obviously, I am in no way saying that it would be the mother’s fault if a peadophile targeted her children, but that kind of exposure, to me, feels like tempting danger. Though 40K/month would buy an awful lot of security…

  8. says

    I talk about my kid in my blog a lot, but I don’t mention him by name and and try to avoid putting up pictures in which he is recognizable. It would piss me off if someone used my picture and real name on their blog, so why would I do that to my kid?

    But I do tell stories that involve him, like the time the cat tried to teach him to hunt, and they were both put out with me when I intervened. I’ve also shared the story of him shooting the chicken with a water gun after she knocked his hat off his head. IMHO, those are cute, funny little stories that may carry a small embarrassment factor, but don’t carry a humiliation factor. I see no need to immortalize things like baby vomit, runny poop, constipation, etc…

    Basically, triumphant things like ‘he took his first steps today’ and ‘first complete sentence’ and ‘the kid can read’ are okay, but frankly, if I wouldn’t want my mom telling a similar story about me with a bunch of folks, I don’t put it on my blog.

  9. Jennifer says

    I’ve been wondering for years when this issue was going to crop up with Dooce. If she’d kept the kid’s name (and/or possibly picture) off the Internet and just went with a cute fake nickname, it might go easier at this point.

    I am still baffled that mommyblogging makes 40k a year, though. It really does kind of seem like you’re making money off your kids to some degree. And well, that might bite you in the ass once the kid is old enough to figure out what’s going on.

  10. says

    The great irony here is that if, say, an adult sexually abused child decides to blog under his real name, and talks about his abusive parent without identifying the parent by name, but someone in the parent’s community figures it out and the parent ends up losing her job, the abusive parent could sue the abused child. For, you know, sharing his life experience just like Armstrong did here.

    So it’s not really about age; it’s about parent privilege, which we have in spades in this country. Parents have the right to share their life stories even if it affects their kids’ lives in unexpected and unwanted ways, but kids have no right to talk about their experiences at any point if it would affect their parents in unexpected and unwanted ways.

    While this article was mainly about the intersection of gender privilege with legitimate concerns about parenting, I’m also thinking more and more about how a child can wind up NEVER having the right to tell his own story without disguising his identity.

    • says

      Yup. It all has to do with whether or not you consider children worthy of full, independent personhood status, and how long it’s acceptable for parents to exert ownership over their child’s/children’s identity/ies.

      HUGE part of the reason I take issue with ANY parent “giving” a bride away to her groom. Hopefully there will eventually be some legal movement toward delineating the difference between guardianship/responsibility for a minor vs. “ownership”/possession of a minor.

      Not to mention the idea that, even without legally being forced to do so, it would be really nice if adults in a child’s life would, you know, TALK to them about possibly revealing their identity online. Even if you framed it in a fun way, e.g. “Mommy’s codename is Blue Moon Potato! What do you want YOUR codename to be?” is more responsible, I think, than using full names. Same with going by a pen name or a stage name. YOU CAN STILL CASH THE CHECK, YO.

  11. megs says

    Yeah, I’m definitely picking up the double standard here, genderwise, but there’s also the understood “it’s okay when the media makes $ off photographs of minors who are only famous because of their parents”.

    I do think it’s a little thoughtless to blog or even write more traditionally about your children using real names. There are simply so many cases where the kids have grown up and resented the hell out it – hasn’t every parent heard of Christopher Robin? Besides, I for one love the nicknames parents give their kids for blogging purposes. “Spawn”, “Boobman”, “Sprout”? Hilarious.

    At least, I assume they are code names…

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