Making a living, in part, as a questioner means projects in my personal life are subject to the same intense research.
Finding childcare required its own agenda book to accommodate program information, phone numbers, updates and wait lists. Planning summer vacation becomes a passion pursuit to find the best excursions, local eateries and flight deals.
In 2014, I approached becoming a mom with the same vigor. I read books and watched documentaries, talked to family members, friends and consulted my midwife. I felt as prepared as I could be.
But there was one thing that surprised me; something no one talked about. I felt lonely. This was perplexing given I had four friends on maternity leave, family visitors every few months, supportive neighbours and a very engaged husband.
Looking back, I think a few things were at play. It was winter in Edmonton (read: stretches of -30 C led to hibernation). This was also the first time I had retreated to quiet solitude in 30+years as a raging extrovert.
I found company in an unlikely place. In the cold, early months following childbirth, I read mom blogs. They ranged from inspirational and educational to relatable and flat-out funny.
The common thread was feeling like someone else was in it with you, which is so important as you navigate a new body, a new baby and a new purpose.
Over the six years since, the ‘mamasphere’ has expanded and transformed dramatically.
Laurel Gregory: Tell me what you’re working on as a PhD candidate?
Kathryn Jezer-Morton: I’m writing a thesis about how mothers, right now, are using online platforms and community that happens among them online as a way of handling some of the harder aspects of life in a kind of precarious working environment. Long-term well-paid work is harder and harder to find. The stresses of life – especially in the States – are really kind of becoming acute for families and so a lot of mothers are turning to really light-hearted, fun online communities as a coping mechanism now.
LG: I’m interested in what inspired you to look at that.
KJM: I think I became interested in this type of thing before I had kids, maybe 10 or 15 years ago. I was just a voyeur. I liked reading mommy blogs. I thought they were a little bit wacky, a little bit out there and it was entertaining. And then when I had my own kids, starting in 2010, I began reading them out of personal interest. It just seemed like things were happening. It was changing year to year. The tone of the blogs and the articles were changing and I began noticing that and it started to really interest me.
LG: How have mom blogs shifted when we look at them as the personal, almost diary entries or almost like letters to families in the early days to now where it’s like a culture?
KJM: What’s happened is there became a lot of money to be made, when it started out as a form, an activity. You’re exactly right – it was online diaries. It was really just meant for family and friends and then as the audiences got bigger, advertisers became interested in this kind of new audience. So, they started making deals with these bloggers. And then advertisers wanted more aspirational content. They wanted more attractive photos. They wanted it to look more aligned with their brands. So that created a shift to a more polished, shiny — maybe some people would say fake, artificial, kind of online mom culture. It was really driven by brands and what they wanted.
LG: Do you see that continuing or do you see a pushback?
KJM: That’s a really interesting question. I think overall it’s continuing because that money is still there to be made. The brands are still there making deals with a lot of these bloggers. They want the content to look good. That being said, consumers or the audiences are more and more sophisticated so we like authentic content. We like things to seem real, to seem unstaged. We’ve become more and more sensitive to things that we perceive as fake. So now a lot of content creators are having to walk this really, really specific line between looking perfect and aspirational but also showing a little bit of authenticity and realness. So that’s a very challenging thing for them to do.
LG: One thing that fascinated me about your recent piece in the New York Times was talking about the way these moms have been able to open up in ways that were socially inappropriate prior to this forum. Can you describe that?
KJM: There were a lot of topics that, I would say 20 years ago, really weren’t discussed publicly, even in women’s media. For example, post-partum depression, women struggling with mental health as mothers, breastfeeding and how challenging that can be was something that no one talked about publicly. Even just issues to do with sexuality and parenthood was just totally taboo – moms didn’t talk about that stuff. So all of this was new between 2005 and 2010.
LG: What happened with the shift in 2010? Is that when we started seeing the monetization of these blogs?
KJM: Around there, when Instagram was launched (I think it was 2011 or 2012) it was this new platform. It was completely visual and that really shifted things into a more polished direction because suddenly it was all pictures and not just long essays and diary entries.
LG: Do you have a sense of what some of these mom bloggers are making in being supported by these brands?
KJM: There have been little reveals to that effect over the years. Definitely there are mom bloggers that make in the millions. Ree Drummond, who was The Pioneer Woman, she still is, she now has incredible brand saturation where she’s on the Food Network. She has cookbooks. She has a magazine. She has a hotel. People like her who have fully diversified their brands are making a ton of money. People who just on, say, Instagram and getting sponsorships, I think six figures is not crazy for successful people. I think it really ranges and that number is always changing as economic conditions change. I also want to add, I think it’s a lot harder work than people realize. These momfluencers work really, really hard and I think it’s a very exhausting type of work to do, although I think many people wouldn’t necessarily assume that.
LG: Where do you see mom blogs going from here?
KJM: I think that the combination of career and work and motherhood is the kind of future of this media niche. I think it’s what people are most interested in. The idea of, “How do you work full-time and have a family today?” because that’s what most women are doing and it’s been underrepresented. A lot of the earlier mommy bloggers really didn’t write about work; they wrote about family. And I think this kind of hybrid identity of working motherhood is what is going to be most relevant in the next few years.