Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Is Blogging About Blogging Really Blogging?  

Bloggers get called a lot of things and I don't really give a shit about most of it. I'm just over here doing my thing. Everyone blogs for different reasons which makes jumping into some kind of debate generalizing the character of those who blog, particularly those who blog about their children, pointless. What could be said about one person doesn't exactly apply to the next person.

A charge I hear a lot is that mom bloggers are exploiting their kids. And maybe some of them are, who am I to say? But, I wanted to quickly answer that little question for myself over here so the next time some internet hag gives me shit I can just post this link instead of wasting my time composing a comment like I did this morning.

I've mentioned my struggle with writing for Famecrawler and am still testing the waters and seeing if it's something I can see myself doing for the foreseeable future. But, as with most things on this blog, flash a little weakness to the world and some warped ass is going to train their beak my way and try to hurt me. What happened was this: I tried to be different yesterday and wrote this post. A short time later I saw some photos on the photo service Babble uses and wrote this fluff post. It's the comments after that second post I'm responding to here.

The person tries to shame me for A) saying some paparazzi dudes are douchebags when I use the photos some of them provide and B) exploiting celeb children and my own. Listen, the charge of exploiting celeb children is not one I take lightly. You may think posting ANY photos of a celeb kid on a website is exploitation and that's fine, I can understand where you're coming from. I don't think that. I use photos I think the moms themselves would like and don't use photos of kids having tantrums or where moms look bad... I happen to think that being photographed in public is part of celebrity territory. Yes, the kids didn't ask to be the children of celebrities but that's part of the deal of being a super privileged kid. Does it go too far? Absolutely. All the bizarre commentary about Suri Cruise's outfits or how Shiloh Jolie-Pitt likes to dress like a boy is just straight up creepy. I don't do that. I post Look-How-Cute-This-Family-Is photos. I feel like that's appropriate. Do I think it's really weird that society is way into seeing pics of celebrity kids? Yes. But the whole fame monster is jacked up.

So, yes, I realize there is a debate to be had here, that not everyone feels the way I do, I'm just sharing my opinion. If I happened to be famous and someone snapped a photo of me with Violet in a public place I wouldn't be outraged. The most I'd be is bummed if I was having a bad hair day or a fat day or whatever. But outraged? No. Actually, that's not true. Who's to say whether or not I'd freak the eff out if some jerkwad stuck a camera in my kid's face ? I might just freak out. But even the celebs who freak out realize that, unfortunately, it's part of the trade-off for having a sweet job that affords them a really killer lifestyle. But yeah, the whole dilemma is what makes me reticent about writing this stuff.

Secondly, do I think blogging about my kids is exploitation? God no! Actually, I rarely blog a whole lot about them, it's mostly just pictures. Even then I feel like you guys are, like, Here we go, another picture of her damn kid. So how can the motivation be exploitation when I think the world is bored by my mom stuff? In fact, in direct opposition to the exploitation charge constantly leveled, I actually feel guilty for not writing more about them here. I need to be doing more. I feel badly that I wrote so much more about Violet's first year than Henry's. I want them to have these words to remember themselves by. So, exploitation... No. Even though I'm often lumped into the "mommy blogger" category I actually think this blog is way more about my marriage and my relationship with Serge and my kids are kind of a byproduct of that.

Do other bloggers exploit their children? I don't know their motivation and, whether or not they are isn't really for me to say anyway. It's a weird thing to accuse a parent of. I mean, if I was shoving Violet in Toddlers & Tiaras pageants then maybe I could understand the accusation, but I'm a loving parent who is super proud of her kids and wants to show the world how great they are. Additionally, this actual blog makes me no real cash. You guys clicking my Babble links is how I'm making my living. But yes, I post photos of my kids on Babble. Because they're cute as hell! If that's what you want to call exploitation then okay. But I don't see it that way.

Again, I realize the opinions on this are varied but I just wanted to throw this out there once and for all so that any would-be harassers know the old "you're exploiting your kids" comments are falling on deaf ears here.

Okay... First this and now today's yammering. See? This is what I mean, man. I gotta back away from the internets. Enough of all this blogging about blogging crap. It's making my eyes bleed. God, I'm such a drag lately. Okay, so what are your thoughts on the whole thing? Say what you want to say I won't be defensive, I swear. I may comment in the spirit of debate but that doesn't mean I'm being defensive! Wait. Is this me being defensive about being defensive?

Reader Comments (22)

The commenter at famecrawler is a hater. Period. Hard to ignore, but ignore you must. She wants to fight and engage, it is why keeps coming back. Keep doing what you are doing, your raw and honest take on things is why we love to read your posts.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Personally, I think at this stage of the game, you are documenting your kids' lives. Do I think a line can be crossed? Of course. Do I think you have crossed that line. No way. Amusing antecdotes are just that. When your kids get older and can express their opinions on being included in your various writing endeavors, by all means, listen to their opinions and respect them. If Violet or Henry someday say, "Mom, I don't want to be on your website any longer because it is too embarrising," respect that. If they say, "Mom, I LOVE being on your website and reading what you write about me" then I don't think you have anything to worry about.

In my opinion, what you include in your writing, be it photos, stories, whatever, is a PERSONAL PARENTING CHOICE. Just like when to potty train, whether to breast or bottle feed, etc. You are the parent, you get to decide, unless your kids are of the age and mind to request otherwise as I mentioned above.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKim Q

HI- I'm a new reader of your blog and wanted to say, "keep doing what you're doing." It seems I've heard this sentiment from several bloggers lately - they feel the need to explain themselves. And what I don't understand is the people who feel compelled to criticize bloggers. I look at it the same way I view TV shows or products. If you don't like it, click away, turn the channel or buy something else. I think this ESPECIALLY true with blogging because it is so much more personal and individual. Now, if you were puposely putting your kids in situations so that you could blog about them, that would be exploitation. Or, if they were old enough to have their own opinions of what they wanted private and you disregarded it for your blog, that would be bad. Not to mention, who has the time and energy to write negative comments? (I do see the irony of me saying that in a blog comment). Take care...

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanette

ha, ha, ha… you can be really feisty – this is in reference to your exchange below the “fluff” (your word, not mine) post…
in any case, you obviously struggle with the path… as i mentioned yesterday, you are forcing contradictions in your life… again, take a step back, take a deep breath, and let your mind and heart choose a path you are comfortable with… then stick with it…
back to the feistiness… keep in mind that your readers also love you because you respond to their posts… but, reacting the way you did will get you closer to the amateur bloggers out there… i know you can be just like everybody else (we all can)… but i also know you can be different (and not all of us can be different)… be different… be better…

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfahrenheit

Just had a read through the awful, aggressive comments on THAT ''fluff'' post. Isn't easy to be brave when one is anonymous?? I made a comment there also.

I would consider getting that person blocked from your comments if that's possible because it seems to be straying into troll territory. Of course opinions and views are fine to share, we can't always agree, but that is personal and vindictive and you shouldn't have to put up with it. It WILL get you down (which is what this rather sad, probably quite lonely person wants, infuriatingly), and who needs to be a punchbag?

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

I like seeing pictures of your children because they're cute children. I think if you can carve out a living doing what you do then you should. I respect the fact that you both stay home with the children while they're young and write for a living so you can BE there. If someone is offended by that then they can bloody well read some other blog. It's kind of like complaining about something you see on television...if you don't like it TURN IT OFF.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

I say f*** the haters. You're awesome. Seriously. I come here because you're someone I can relate to, who might have been a best girlfriend in another life. Which means I like the pictures of our kids and get that sometimes you need to just vent about how insane your brain is at the mo'. It's all good, girl. You just keep on keepin' on.

If we were in that other life where we actually knew each other, though, I would recommend taking a real life vacation from the internet, though. Sounds like you need it, and you know that but can't do it yet. That's alright. But point your compass that way and see if you can schedule it, even for a few days.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlydia

To Famecrawler hater commenter: Jealous and envious much? Monica, I love how you and Serge write and enjoy "He Said, She Said" and your beautiful family photos.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteralicia

I gotta say, people that are all, "oh did you just link to it for the page views!?" I mean, DUH. Don't click it if you don't want to give pageviews. Do they get pissed when the McDonald's drive through worker suggests getting a delicious new shack with their happy meal? No, but its the same thing- everyone is trying to make a living and yours includes promoting your work. Keep on keeping on Monica- the key here is not to figure out what's what, but to stand solidly by what YOU feel.
For what its worth- I loved the Bethenney post, I think it is an interesting take and a great direction to go in on famecrawler- show the "other side" of the pictures if you will!

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdrienne

I just think you're awesome. You're blog is one of the few I read because you are real and you explore yourself, your marriage and parenthood with great honesty and bravery. Keep doing what you're doing and try to ignore the crazies as best you can (though I think you were totally justified in responding to that a-hole over at famecrawler).

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLK

I don't think you blog ENOUGH about your kids! I read blogs of people who I can relate to because we have stuff in common. If I knew you in real life I imagine we'd often do the same thing I normally do with my girlfriends -- shoot the shit about our kids and swap stories about what crazy/cute things they've been doing lately. To me, that's the whole point of reading a blog and it's a far cry from exploitation!
Sounds to me like the "just saying" troll has a personal reason not to like you. And how is it lame to advertise your business through links in order to up your page views?? Isn't that the point? I get junk emails and clogged facebook newsfeeds from friends all the time advertising whatever they're soliciting at the moment - candles, food, donations for their kids school. That would be like me saying "why would you post this link at the bottom of your email? Are you TRYING to get me to buy your girl scout cookies?? How sad."

More importantly, you're not making money off Monetize this shit, Monica! Your writing is awesome, your stories are interesting and hilarious and frankly, you guys deserve it!

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLolaK

I've only ever been disgusted by one very famous mommy-blogger who I thought was exploiting her family and her horrible accident to pimp Mormonism and Mitt Romney. But you know what? That's her right. It's me that has the problem, not her. Haha... She can give away those Book of Mormons til the cows come home and I just have to deal with it. ;)

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWendy P.

I think some bloggers do. It depends on a lot of factors though. The difference between a celebs kid and a blogger's kid though, is that while a celeb is in the public eye for a number of reasons, their personal life is (usually, ideally) not what they are famous for. They are famous for their talent and often try to keep their personal life under wraps, although it's impossible to completely hide everything. With very popular mom bloggers (and reality TV moms) they are in fact making money off their kids and their personal lives. This is where it gets tricky. I think your blog is fine. But some others have definitely shared way too much information about their kids, or their kids are the main draw so they blog constantly about them. That is, in my opinion, not cool. It bothers me because the kid never gets a choice. Some bloggers say their kids love being written about, but sorry a 5 or 6 or 10 year old is not old enough to fully comprehend the implications of having their life splashed across the internet. And of course if you grow up that way, you think it's normal....but do you think if any 25 year old suddenly learned that millions of readers knew all about their lives when they were young, they'd be happy about it? Probably not, because they grew up with privacy and respect as the norm.

Eh, it's a tricky subject. Don't worry about it though. I've been impressed with how little you've written about your kids. I prefer your other stuff anyway. The kids are cute though.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLuzy

Personally, you are among a handful of "mommy bloggers" that have helped me survive this first year as a mom. I visit because I connect to what you write about and enjoy the way you write about it. I am a PhD student who just finished teaching my first graduate class. I gave students an open ended anonymous feedback form (similar to your online commenter section). I should be overjoyed that 90% of the feedback was really positive - this from a research methods course! But what runs through my head at night? Those 4 students who were unhappy or were overly critical about something they wanted and didn't get. We can't make every one happy when we put ourselves out there. Probably if we connect and engage with the majority of people, whether this be in a classroom or on a blog - we are doing pretty well. Critique can make us better, but sometimes people are also bitter assholes and sometimes we just don't connect with everyone. I think you are being too hard on yourself. Why not use our time the way the feedback comes? 90% on the positive and 10% on the negative that will help us improve? I am trying to do this - and hope you can too. Thanks for your writing. It really does help connect us. And in the end, I think that may be what this crazy life is about.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersandy

Oh boy...I'm going to try to speak to all this mainly by way of sharing about myself. I know that when I was a bit younger (am a few years older than you for whatever that's worth) I met most criticism with defensiveness and that I would respond to someone calling me out on my defensiveness with more defensiveness. Why? Because I felt the criticism was attacking some fundamental part of me, of my identity. Feel attacked? Get defensive! Very logical and indeed Darwinian. The thing is...after an enormous amount of work on my self I began to be able to separate what anyone else thinks or says about me FROM me. Not identifying (and this is where I think your instincts towards Buddhism are great and I encourage you to follow them) with praise or criticism but only with what I believe is right/true for me is really fucking hard...but when you get there (and it's not a linear path at all) it is remarkably freeing. I feel so much more at peace now in most any given situation and therefore in my life as a whole and I reap the emotional rewards of it on a daily (if not hourly basis). Which is not to say I don't backslide into old behaviors at times, I definitely do, but the difference now is when i do I recognize it as such and can sort of right the ship, as it were. But as I say, it took going through enormous amounts of pain on many levels in many ways for me to reach a saturation point where I said: enough...I don't want to be this angry reactive person who can spin on a dime. Now, maybe you don't recognize yourself in any of what I just shared and that's fine...but, the other thing I found, mainly in retrospect, was that when more than one or two people were saying similar things to/about me or when I was generally receiving a certain kind of energy from the rest of the world, that was not really so much about those OTHER people as much as it was about me. If you'd told me this at the time I'd have likely rolled my eyes or mentally told you to fuck off...but in the end, it was the truth. So now if I notice a pattern of response towards me I look at myself and ask the hard questions before assuming it's everyone else's problem or failure to understand me.
As for the celebrity question itself: I have a couple very famous friends who live with this on a daily basis and it's gotten exponentially worse in the last 20 years (the paparazzi did NOT used to photograph celebrities kids as a general rule). 95 percent of these actors do not want pictures taken of their kids in their day to day lives.Apart from it being specific harassment, their insanely aggressive, reckless behavior often puts lives at risk. And I think saying you should know what you're gonna get if you get famous is a bit of a cop-out, a way of not taking personal responsibility for your own moral code. The bottom line, in my opinion, is you can justify it any which way to sunday but using any of those photographs is tantamount to actively contributing to not only the problem of a creepy stalky way of life but also to the mass mind numbing of our whole culture. We all contribute to it by clicking, buying the magazines etc, but some of us have a more immediate/influential way of perpetuating the madness or not. My impression from what you've shared recently is you totally know all that which is why you are so conflicted about it. Follow your heart, seem to have such a big and good one.

ps:I do have one question since you seem genuinely open to a real conversation on these issue--in terms of The Girl Who: why do you have all the love letters and serge's journal published on here? I genuinely cannot fathom wanting to share all that incredibly personal and intimate stuff with the entire world...

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterE.

just do what you do and
don't let anyone steal your joy

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershuga

Hi Monica, I've only been reading your blog for a few months, but really like your honesty! I'm a writer also, and would love to find a way to make it more of a paying job, I think it is awesome you are doing it. Thanks for posting

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJT

I think the celebrity watching/photographing/commenting is a HUGE waste of time. It's a waste of energy, in my opinion, to spend any thought on these people that WE DO NOT KNOW. They are actors or 'celebs'-- who cares? Who!!? Enjoy them as you watch them play a character in their film or TV show, and then move on. Let's take those extra moments, after we -mute- the noise of celebrity, and do something meaningful--- something that is uniquely important to us.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Okay--I'm posting here kind of late so I hope that you do eventually make it around to reading this.

I've been a (silent, never commenting much) reader here for years. I've never in any way thought that you have exploited Violet or Henry. Ever. So that's totally out of the question.

However, I have noticed a bit of change in your writing since starting Famecrawler. I don't know if it has to do with some things you mentioned in your Crossroads post, but when I read some of the material at Famecrawler it just doesn't feel like I'm reading something that came from Monica. I highly enjoy reading what both you and Serge write, but Famecrawler has lost its appeal. It's obvious that this gig is stressing you out. Have you thought about just dropping it and moving on to something else with babble? I know it's a personal question--and not one that you will know the answer to overnight. I just feel like if you did move on to something else with babble, the readership would increase and the hate would decrease. Truth is, it's hard to write about hollywood moms without writing about the kids, simply as the kids are what make the mom.

Best of luck always

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I'm another one of those longer-term, albeit mostly "silent", readers. I don't comment very often on blogs, period; I have little patience for wading against a current of sycophants when I disagree with something, and I suspect that I'm not alone there ... it seems pretty pointless to take the time to formulate a cogent, meaningful response that will sit as a lonely speck in a sea of innumerable "you go girl!" posts. (Particularly since you don't seem too enamored of people who may disagree with you or the choices you make.)

But - and I hope I don't regret this - I'll bite this time, and comment.

I think that you are a talented writer, Monica. But I also get the feeling that you are growing more unhappy with your life - more bitter and angry, more dissatisfied and resentful - the longer you pursue this gig full-time. And those feelings are, to me, coming through loud and clear in your writing.

However, the fact that you've chosen to put all of your eggs in the blogging/writing basket means that you're between a rock and a hard place.

Being a FT writer/blogger means that you need to actively pursue sponsors and paid gigs - neither of which I object to in principle, btw - but you don't seem to have made your own peace with that. And that particularly shows in the Famecrawler posts, and in some of your sponsored posts (I'm thinking of the breakfast meats one specifically, though there are others that fit this category, as well). On those occasions, your writing ceases to sound "organic" and genuine, and starts sounding forced and even cloying. I won't read your sponsored posts anymore - NOT because I think that blog sponsorship is selling out (yada yada), but because those posts simply aren't very enjoyable to read. I can almost sense you smirking - or cringing - as you write them. There are only a handful of bloggers who I think are able to seamlessly integrate the sponsored posts into their regular output, and I have to say that I don't count you on that list ... yet. That doesn't mean that you can't successfully learn to accommodate that style, but that you haven't yet done so, in my opinion.

In that same vein, I don't mind to people writing about their kids as long as they bear in mind that it's content that their kids will almost inevitably come across later in life ... i.e., keep it real, but also keep it to very surface-level stuff. I don't click over to Babble very often, although that's nothing personal; I just don't happen to like the editorial content or style over there. Nothing I've read from you on this blog, or in the few pieces of yours I've read at Babble, has crossed the line into what I would consider to be intrusiveness or lack of respect for your kids and their privacy - you are certainly not in the same realm as the "Sophie's Choice" blogger over at Babble. As your kids get older and start to live more complicated lives, I hope that you will continue to be circumspect in writing about what they do, think, and feel. Or (personal preference) branch off into "non-mom-blog" writing altogether.

I totally understand that living through a horrific experience such as a fire and losing your home would rock your world. My sense of you as "lost", though, transcends and pre-dates the fire. You seem fragile, and angry, and just ... lacking in the positivity and spirit that you used to have. You seem to lack inspiration, and passion. And subsequently, your life, as you communicate about it at any rate, seems to be drying up your "well" of blogging fodder. You're seem to be having a difficult time getting out of your own head, and transcending to write about - or possibly care about - subject matter in the world-at-large.

You are also incredibly quick to jump into self-defense mode, even when people disagree with you respectfully, and your defensiveness can come off as abrasive and off-putting. But your commenters are all, presumably, strangers who are typically responding to queries or topics that you, yourself have "put out there" (e.g., the issue of drinking during pregnancy; the question of whether it's "kosher" to blog about one's kiddos). Why does it seem to bother you so much when people you don't even know don't agree with your point-of-view - even if they express themselves respectfully? Could it be that you're inwardly not so secure in your own choices? (BTW, this is something that I struggle with myself, as a lifetime achievement award winner in the "People Pleaser" category, but as I've aged - and I'm considerably older than you are - it's become somewhat easier to let more of the negativity slough off before it cuts me too deeply.)

I know this comment has been all over the place, and I apologize for that. But it's all led me to this point: I'm not you, obviously. But if I were, I would definitely think very seriously about finding a paying job, even part time ... yes, to give myself more of a reliable financial cushion than you and Serge seem to have, and to be confident that I could support myself and my kids on my own if circumstances dictated that I'd have to do so.

But I'd also consider it to give myself some time to stretch my "non-mom muscles" and experience the outside world a bit more, and to allow myself to find JOY in writing again - without the pressure inherent in relying upon my blogging/writing to support my family. (kind of the "Katie Granju" model of blogging.) Working outside of your home allows you to get outside your own head, as well, and - for me, at least - helps me maintain a better sense of perspective about things. Not to mention providing more material to write about. Again: Maybe it wouldn't matter to you so much if people disagree with you if the blog were actually a smaller part of your world, or if you were feeling more confident about your choices?

I wish you well, and hope you find a path that makes you happy.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRuth

Wow, you've got some concerned readers now. Anyhow, my quick two cents. Blogging about the children is not exploitation. At least I don't think it is. What's so bad about sharing life to the world? I don't understand why people are hating on mommy bloggers lately.

April 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLes @ LPN Salary

Monica, I've loved reading your ongoing story ever since I stumbled across your writing by accident one day and got absolutely drawn in by it. (Before you became as well known as you are now.)
My thought is this: just be Monica. Be true to yourself. Try not to worry. Of course sometimes your writing will be brilliant, and sometimes simply workmanlike. We're human. We all have ups and downs and off days and "on" days, and inner conflicts about things. But one thing you are NOT is boring!
Just be Monica.
And please, don't let the negative ones get you down. If they could write half as well as you do, they'd be out there doing it, (and copping their own flak) wouldn't they?
All power to your pen!

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamsin
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