Online Momming in the ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ Age

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Over the past year I’ve noticed a shift in tone among the mom-influencers I follow on social media. They’re fed up with feeling judged by other moms. Other moms — ordinary moms like me, it would seem — are full of negative feedback about their choices. But no matter, because these moms want to reclaim and celebrate their flaws. They’re #perfectlyimperfect members of the #motherhoodrising #mamarazzi and they’re sharing their authentic, unfiltered #motherhoodunplugged, #candidchildhood moments. There are nothing but good intentions behind these hashtags, but as I’ve scrolled through them, I’ve pondered the obvious question: This is supposed to be imperfect? Did someone move the goalposts and forget to tell me?

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When Kids Realize Their Whole Life Is Already Online

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For several months, Cara has been working up the courage to approach her mom about what she saw on Instagram. Not long ago, the 11-year-old—who, like all the other kids in this story, is referred to by a pseudonym—discovered that her mom had been posting photos of her, without prior approval, for much of her life. “I’ve wanted to bring it up. It’s weird seeing myself up there, and sometimes there’s pics I don’t like of myself,” she said.

But it’s not just overzealous mommy bloggers who construct a child’s online identity; plenty of average parents do the same. There’s even a portmanteau for it: sharenting. Almost a quarter of children begin their digital lives when parents upload their prenatal sonogram scans to the internet, according to a study conducted by the internet-security firm AVG. The study also found that 92 percent of toddlers under the age of 2 already have their own unique digital identity.

When Ellen, an 11-year-old, finally decided to Google herself, she didn’t expect to find anything, because she doesn’t yet have her own social-media accounts. She was stunned when she found years of swim scores and sports statistics on the web. A personal story she wrote in third grade was also published on a class website with her name attached. “I didn’t think I would be out there like this on the internet,” she told me.

Ellen said that while she didn’t find anything too sensitive or personal, she was frustrated that all the information about herself had been posted seemingly without her consent.

My daughter asked me to stop writing about motherhood. Here’s why I can’t do that.

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“What’s all this?” she said. The screen was covered with thumbnail sketches of her as a baby, a toddler and preschooler — each paired with an essay or blog post I’d written on the subject of parenting. “Why are all of these pictures of me on the Internet?” She wanted to know, and she had a right to know.

I read through some of my old pieces, and none of them seemed embarrassing to me, though she might not agree. A few years ago, I wrote about a disappointment in her social life — a girl she counted as her best friend abruptly stopped talking to her. While I wrote about the experience from the perspective of a mother trying to help her daughter through a rough patch without succumbing to anti-girl stereotypes about so-called mean girls, she might not appreciate seeing a painful episode from her past splashed across the Internet.

The Best Influencers Are Babies

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Any old influencer can market tea-toxes or gummies that claim to give you better hair, but not everyone with 100,000 loyal followers on Instagram happens to be pregnant. “If you’re a baby company or if you’re putting out a product for a mother that’s about to have a baby or if you’re currently pregnant, you’re kind of limited in the amount of influencers out there to work with,” he explains. “So, as you can imagine just for supply and demand, it makes you a lot more valuable because the pool of talent is very limited.”

And then there’s the fact that many of these moms are American millennials selling to other American millennials, all of whom are well acquainted with the act of making a purchase on their phones. Instagram shopping in general has boomed, in part thanks to a new class of brands existing mostly or entirely on the platform.

How the Mom Internet became a spotless, sponsored void

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This is the “mommy Internet” now. It’s beautiful. It’s aspirational. It’s also miles from what motherhood looks like for many of us — and miles from what the mommy Internet looked like a decade ago…

But the biggest stars of the mommy Internet now are no longer confessional bloggers. They’re curators of life. They’re influencers. They’re pitchwomen. And with all the photos of minimalist kitchens and the explosion of affiliate links, we’ve lost a source of support and community, a place to share vulnerability and find like-minded women, and a forum for female expertise and wisdom.

The death of the mom blog has something to do with shifts in how people consume and create on the Internet. Blogging on the whole has fizzled as audiences and writers have moved to other platforms. And parents with young children have made the transition along with everyone else — although their hours are somewhat more erratic. In 2016, Facebook (which owns Instagram) reported that new parents are especially active “in the wee hours,” starting their first mobile visits as early as 4 a.m. By 7 a.m., 56 percent of new parents have visited Facebook on their mobile devices.

Some bloggers use social networks to push people to their websites, but more and more, Instagram or Facebook is the destination. Mom bloggers “used to be able to easily reach their audience through search, RSS feeds or newsletter updates,” notes Elizabeth Tenety, a former Washington Post colleague who co-founded the website Motherly, “but now that their core audience is trending towards hanging out on their phones — and by extension social media sites like Instagram and Facebook — the digital environment overall is less of a fit for those types of blogs.” The shift to shorter posts and an emphasis on likes and hearts has changed the tone and content of what moms find online: more pictures, fewer words, less grit. The personal-essay industry has absorbed some of the fare that used to appear on mom blogs, but reading a viral post that shows up in your Facebook feed is very different from following a particular blogger.

Instamom

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[Barefoot Blonde]’s portrait of domestic bliss has earned her a top spot among the second generation of so-called mommy bloggers. She joins a clique of stylish women, among them Naomi Davis of Love Taza and Rachel Parcell of Pink Peonies, who have acquired loyal followings (and incomes rumored to be in the seven figures) by showing themselves excelling as ordinary wives and mothers. If the feats these blogs capture are familiar—dressing well, attending to children—this is a key part of the appeal; the women epitomize a new breed of celebrity, as public fascination expands beyond the rich and famous to the well-off and above-average. “We’re seeing people following almost idealized versions of themselves,” said Rob Fishman, a co-founder of Niche, an ad network for online influencers that is now owned by Twitter. “It’s this attainable perfection.”

… They were already planning ahead to ensure their new home would offer attractive backdrops. “So we’re thinking of having an indoor gym in our home because if we could even say yes to one or two fitness campaigns, then that would pay for the gym itself,” Fillerup Clark explained. They’d sprung for an outdoor shower for similar reasons. “Sometimes we’ll have a campaign where we’re doing shaving cream, and it’s a little awkward to be indoors in your shower, so it makes more sense to have a beautiful outdoor shower and do it out there.” They were incorporating picturesque window seats, and had come up with a special design for what they called “Amber’s hallway”: It would be extra wide and lined with windows and, according to Clark, was partly “based off of ‘I want to take pictures there.’ ”

“The more our house becomes Pinnable, the more it leads back to the website,” said Clark. “We want it to traffic well. We want it to go viral.”

Mormon mommies have the best blogs

Salt Lake City blogger Meredith Ethington with her family.

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They’re women who’ve had three kids before age 30, whose family photos look straight out of a J Crew catalogue, who’ve never had a sip of coffee or beer.

They’re Mormon mommy bloggers.

For the past decade, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have taken the blogosphere by storm, documenting their daily lives and amassing huge followings of Mormons and non-Mormons in the process. Atheist followers say the attraction is the escapism of picture-perfect lives filled with wholesome values and DIY crafts, while scholars say various tenets of Mormonism — sharing the faith, the value of creativity and the importance of family — make the religion a perfect fit for the blogging medium.