I was really nervous when I first started telling people I wrote a blog.
Despite 15 years as a professionally-trained journalist, writing for and editing newspapers and magazines for a living, I was nervous about putting myself out there.
Whenever I shared on social media a link to a ‘real’ article I had written, it felt validated. An editor had commissioned the idea and decided it was good enough for publication.
When it came to my blog, however, I was terrified people wouldn’t think it was any good because I wasn’t being paid to write it by a ‘proper’ publication. In fact, I blogged in secret for a while because I was scared to tell people.
I’m not saying my blog is perfect, and I’m learning all the time, but the fact that my monthly page views and social media following keep on growing suggests I’m doing something right.
I get lots of comments from readers telling me something I have written has helped them in some way. It might be something as simple as them finding my regular family-friendly events listings useful, or cooking a recipe I have posted.
Or it could be a more personal response.
Every time I write about miscarriage, for example, I am inundated with messages from people thanking me for raising awareness of an issue lots of people don’t understand. When I wrote that parenting can be hard, people told me it helped to know they weren’t the only ones struggling at times. When I admitted I fail to keep on top of the housework, there was a collective sigh of relief among readers that it wasn’t just them.
I’m grateful every day for the beautiful messages of support I get from people who read my blog. It means so much when I see people sharing my posts, or when you tag friends on my Facebook page because you think they will appreciate something I’ve written. Your responses spur me on to keep on writing.
Yet for all this positivity, there is a lot of negativity directed at people who blog.
I’ve had a few incidents where people have belittled blogging.
Recently, for example, I took part in a radio interview about a topical parenting issue. The other panellist was, like me, a mum. She was also, like me, a freelance journalist. She’s someone who I think is a brilliant writer. So when she spoke disdainfully about “mummy bloggers” – imagine how eye-rolling would sound and that was her tone of voice – I was gutted.
I’m not the only blogger to feel bloggers get looked down on.
Cathy Winston is a freelance journalist, blogger and mum. She writes the award-winning Mummy Travels, showing that it is possible to still travel the world when you have children.
“I think there’s two sides,” she says. “The older generation who perhaps don’t understand blogging and think it’s a bit pointless/self-indulgent. And on the other, some freelance journalists – which is why you and I, on both sides of the fence, perhaps see it more.”
She continues, “For some it feels like their years of training and experience aren’t being valued or paid for (true!) and there’s a market of bloggers doing it for free, plus the perception that bloggers are in it for the freebies and can’t even spell. Now I know there are some bloggers like that, although they don’t tend to last long, and they tar the name of many others. Equally there are some rubbish journalists (I know this for a fact) and some incredible bloggers. It does really annoy me when people disdainfully lump everyone together without actually having much experience of blogs or judging one thing by the rules of another (and conveniently ignoring anything which doesn’t fit that picture).”
Tim Liew, is one of the UK’s top daddy bloggers and writes Slouching Towards Thatcham. He says, “If mums think non-blogging mums look down at them, there is a certain (and far from small) segment of males who cannot get their heads around the concept of dads sharing their thoughts on parenting and family (the ‘feelings are for women’ brigade), who think that dad bloggers are somehow less manly. (Conversely, we think they’re all misogynistic dinosaurs, so it cuts both ways.)”
He adds, “I think a lot of the negativity towards mummy bloggers is a combination of a lack of understanding about blogging mixed with a degree of professional snobbishness on the part of professional journalists and writers.
“Yes, some bloggers are not good technical writers and could do with a crash course in basic spelling and grammar. But many are brilliant writers both technically and in terms of their ability to really connect with the audience. From The Unmumsy Mum to Rainbeaubelle and Headspace Perspective, there are some seriously talented bloggers out there who are just great writers, regardless of the medium they choose to publish in.”
He adds, “Equally, I am constantly appalled at the quality of writing I see in traditional media and that extends to mainstream national media where the quality of both journalism and technical writing has nosedived over the past 10 years or so – articles citing tweets as newsworthy that are both lazily compiled and look like they’ve been written by an illiterate teenager.
“So for journalists to cite the worst examples of bloggers as being representative of all of us is, frankly, about as credible as most things Jeremy Hunt has said in recent months.”
Jessica Powell writes Babi A Fi. She explains. “I think there’s a bit of the same feeling around mummy blogging as a community as there is around groups like Mumsnet – that sense of ‘oh, they’re only kicking up a fuss about that because they have too much time on their hands’. I love blogging, it’s a really social hobby and is certainly much cheaper than any of my others! We’re living at a time when there’s a big move away from just those in positions of relative power – those with the education and the employment opportunities – being able to air their views and actually be taken seriously.”
She adds, “These days the mainstream media tends to see the working class as either sob stories or a source of cheap amusement (Benefits Britain etc); I love that I can read blogs by people who are on the same budget as us and get some realistic inspiration.”
That’s one of the reasons blogging is so popular – it’s such a diverse platform where everyone has a voice, no matter what their background is. While some people look down on blogging, millions find comfort through the words of bloggers.
And that’s particularly true of parenting bloggers, because parenting can be challenging and, unlike in the past when new mums had their mother, grandmother, aunts and other female relatives at their side to help, these days mums often feel like they are on their own.
It’s something Rachael Robinson who writes Lukeosaurus and Me can relate to. “My blog literally kept me sane through a really tough period of my life. I didn’t have anyone in my world to share my thoughts with or what I had been up to with Luke, so I took to blogging. I’ve been made to feel like being a parent blogger is actually the worst thing to do – over-sharing, compromising my child’s safety, being just after ‘free things’ and people just generally laughing at what I’ve written about parenting and judging me on what I have chosen to share. If I hadn’t started blogging when I did, I would have spiralled into depression again. It kept me sane, gave me something to focus on, taught me new skills and allowed me to connect with like-minded people.”
As well as the general ups and downs of parenting, bloggers write in depth about everything from miscarriage and still birth to complex children’s medical conditions and battling cancer, raising awareness and offering continual support through their regular postings in a way that the mainstream media just can’t.
Emma Bradley blogs at Emma and 3. www.emmaand3.com. “I know my blog has helped lots of people,” she says. “As a direct result of writing about my daughter’s hip health and surgeries I have had countless emails from parents going through the same. I also was asked to speak to trainee nurses and qualified midwives on a training course after the lead tutor read my blog. I also was on a recent carers’ panel with some really high profile people – again as a direct result from blogging about caring.”
Oana Papaconstantinou writes Mama’s Haven. www.mamashaven.com. Her blog documents how she is trying to make sense of the tragic death of her baby boy, Georgie, from acute megakaryoblastic leukemia, in July 2014, and her attempts to move on to a new normality. She says, “I have gained a lot of insight into grief from other parent bloggers here and in the States. My blog has also helped tons of parents going through a cancer diagnosis with their child or through bereavement.”
Sian Ganly of Quite Frankly She Said, agrees. “I was originally a beauty blogger,” she says, “but after a really awful birth experience and suffering from PTSD I blogged my birth story. I thought that writing it down may help me deal with it in some way. So many mums reached out to offer comfort, to say they had been through similar, that I wasn’t alone and that they felt less alone. I love being able to share my experiences and be like a virtual friend during the lonely 3am feeds. I love reading other blogs to realise I’m not alone, that others go through the same.”
Mim Jenkinson has written honestly and openly about her experiences of breast cancer on her blog Mama Mim She says, “My blog is definitely helping me through my cancer treatment, giving me a place to share the highs and lows and help connect me to a community of others going through it and survivors. I haven’t experienced any negativity as such but I only very recently told my friends and family about my blog after 2.5 years of writing it and some refuse to read it because they’re ‘not into blogs’. If I gave them the change to read my diary, they’d jump at it! I think some people have a negative view on blogs for no good reason.”
Even before I started properly writing and promoting my blog, I was an avid reader. As a mum, I felt like the media didn’t cater for the everyday realities of parenting. Parenting magazines seemed to rotate the same articles offering practical advice on different stages of pregnancy, breast feeding, weaning, potty training and so on. There are some excellent journalists in the UK focussing on parenting issues – but many of the national newspapers seem to thrive on creating divides between mums by criticising our choices on working versus staying at home, breast versus bottle, what we should and shouldn’t eat during pregnancy, not to mention the photos of mums with washboard stomachs two weeks after giving birth. I found it all quite demoralising to be honest, whereas blogs gave me an honest insight into the emotional roller coaster that is parenting.
Brands and businesses have cottoned on to this too, with companies of all sizes desperate to get bloggers writing about their products. Most bloggers might not have the huge audiences of newspapers or television shows – but all bloggers have their own loyal readers, meaning brands can be sure they are hitting their niche market.
Bloggers also help raise awareness of and funds for charitable causes – Ty Hafan Children’s Hospice, Deki, and From A Mother To Another are some of the recent campaigns I’ve personally been involved with.
As a journalist and blogger, I notice that there are certain issues that unite us all. The issue of people expecting us to produce content for free being just one. Every day, the Facebook freelance journalist groups I am a member of, plus the parenting blogging ones, are filled with posts frustrated about being asked to work for free or for the promise of “exposure” in a magazine or a brand’s website – “exposure won’t pay my bills” is a constant refrain for both bloggers and freelance journalists, as indeed it is for most of the creative industries.
Yes, there are bloggers and freelance journalists who work for free and make it difficult for the rest of us– but many of these are just starting out and looking for experience. With the cost of university so expensive, and the job market so competitive, and employers wanting experience but not prepared to give it, a blog is a great way to learn your trade and carve yourself a career. Many mums find themselves seeking out more family-friendly careers when they return to work after having a baby; blogging is one such career that offers a chance to work your own hours, around your children, and to put into it what you can.
Just like the karaoke regular at the local pub who loves to belt out a good ballad but will never become a professional singer, or the member of a Sunday league football team who won’t ever make it to the premiership, or the retired lady who loves to paint local landscapes but will never see her work in a gallery, there are different levels of blogging. Some bloggers may well find their natural writing talent leads onto other opportunities – and why shouldn’t it? Some bloggers will only ever write “for fun” – and why shouldn’t they? But most bloggers I know enjoy being part of a community, regardless of whether people look down on us or not.
As Rachael Robinson of Lukeosaurus and Me concludes, “Honestly I feel like the mum blogging community is the best – as far as blogging goes, everyone helps out and is lovely – and I feel as though in a way, we’ve all helped each other or read something we’ve resonated with.”