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22 Mar, Wednesday
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Montreal Families

Blogs help parents feel less isolated

When Matlin has been up all night with her cranky toddler or is worried about parenting solo during her husband’s upcoming business trip, she writes about it for anyone to read.

“I have always lived my life very transparently, and I found it helpful to be open with others about what I was going through” explains Matlin. “When I had my kids, I realized I wanted to write about a kind of motherhood not everyone is willing to talk about.”

Blogs — a contraction of the words “web log” — appeared on the Internet more than a decade ago. No-one knows for sure how many exist worldwide, but there is no doubt that parents have embraced this technology as a way of exploring the challenges of raising kids today. Blogs written by moms and dads sometimes develop a loyal following, with readers leaving comments, sharing their own stories and offering mutual support. At the same time, the public nature of blogs have raised issues about what should or shouldn’t be revealed about children and families.

On her blog, Matlin posts an entry (similar to a short essay) about three times a week. Topics have included a hilarious exploration of her preschool son’s obsession with balls and stick-tac (the blue gum teachers used to stick papers on a bulletin board) to her desperation trying to overcome her 22-month-old daughter’s stubborn resistance to sleep. She’s posted pictures of her enormously distended pregnant belly and written about her post-partum depression, her subsequent choice to return to work and her difficult relationship with her “spirited” daughter.

Matlin’s goal is to make readers feel less isolated and overwhelmed by the demands of parenting. “I’m not the only one out there who feels lost”, she says. “Some of my best stuff comes from writing about the hard stuff.”

Heather Armstrong, of Dooce.com, echoes these sentiments. One of the top-rated mommy bloggers in the U.S., the Utah-based writer has written with great candour about her severe post-partum depression after the birth of her 5-year-old daughter, Leta. Most of those posts were recently published as a book collection called It Sucked and Then I Cried.

Blogging, she says, is a little like chatting with a group of good friends. “It’s therapeutic and cathartic and I love the great feedback [from readers]. I write not to feel so alone and I think it helps readers feel less isolated.”

Armstrong adds that readers respond to the honesty of many blogs, where writers are free to post whatever they like. “There is no editor or committee saying: ‘You can’t say that!’ It’s raw, pure and real.”

But that ability to write just about anything can be problematic. Armstrong, who began blogging long before she had children, wrote candidly about a co-worker as well as her rejection of the Mormon Church and many of her family’s values. Her blogging resulted in her getting fired — but she says that wasn’t even the worst part. “My family read the blog and it was an awful, awful period of my life. My dad didn’t talk to me for three months,” she says.

While Armstrong continues to write candidly about her two daughters, Leta and Marlo, she admits the boundaries about what she will or will not write are likely to change as the kids grow up and are able to read the blog.

Matlin has also thought long and hard about what she should publish. Unlike Armstrong, who uses her children’s real names, Matlin only refers to her kids as The Boy and The Girl. “I do protect my kids’ privacy, though I recognize that as they get older [and are able to read the posts], it may become more of a problem,” she says. “I have written some harsh stuff about my daughter, but I think the fact that it’s genuine and honest means something. I hope she will be able to look back at those posts when she’s older and understand. And if you look closely at my writing, you’ll see a lot of it is about me learning to admit my own shortcomings and see her strengths.”

There are mommyblogs (and daddyblogs) for everyone 

Montrealer Julie Matlin writes candidly about life as a working mom with two kids under 4 years old (and two old, incontinent dogs).

Tanis Miller, an Alberta mom of three, including one severely disabled adopted son, offers a no-holds-barred look on life.

The dad behind Matt, Liz and Madeline writes poignant, sometimes funny and always insightful posts about raising his baby daughter alone after his wife died after giving birth.

A freelance writer from Vermont writes humorously about life with a baby, sprinkled liberally with pop culture references. 

Heather Armstrong blogs about her kids, her dogs and life in general. 

A stay-at-home-dad blogs about his life, his two kids and his wife.

Francophone parents also have plenty to say about the ups and downs of family life. 

Caroline Allard chronicles her life and ideas as an “unworthy mother” (a translation of the blog’s title). 

Two sisters use their blog to take aim at the idea of a perfect mother who never shouts, only buys organic and wouldn’t dream of having a glass of wine at 6 p.m.

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