Thursday, November 3, 2011

'Mommy Blogs' Influence Young Mothers

Matilda Jarvis
Mr. Lutz
English 151
16 November 2011 

'Mommy Blogs' Influence Young Mothers
Retrieved from personal archives
      Motherhood. The above picture captures the essence of motherhood, as heartwarming, yet trying on the nerves (the little girl has been taught not to pick her nose, yet she does anyways). That is what parenthood, especially for a mother entails: gratifying moments as well as learning times for both mother and child. I was talking to a friend the other day, who is both a young mother and an avid blog-reader. She mentioned how 'mommy blogs' influence readers. I was struck by this observation. And, yet, it is true; looking at how mother bloggers influence their readers, their blogs have great influence in the readers' lives; but those blogs need to encapsulate the complete, unbiased image of motherhood to be the most persuasive.

     Blogs have come to play a substantial role in today's online world, and Jacobsen further accredits it to have become "an amazing tool for mothers to help and inspire other mothers." Piersall reports on the eMarketer statistics that, in the United States, approximately 3.9 million blogs are written by mothers with children under eighteen; and the number of these blogs is expected to increase to 4.4 million by 2014. The number of blogs has increased drastically, and continues to grow. As the popularity of blogs has increased, so has the persuasive power they have on readers. One contributor to George Mason University's course material, Heidi Lawrence, describes in her research project, "Bless Me Blogger, For I Have Sinned," one reason blog authors are able to persuade readers:
Every possible personal oddity imaginable is confessed over these thousands of blogs. Their readers reply by sympathizing, agreeing, respectfully disagreeing, or reciprocating the confession by relating their own moment of weakness or sin... the use of confession rhetorically...enables the speaker to contribute to and become part of the community of subverting the power structure...—confession does not result in discipline, judgment, or punishment—it engages the reader through further confession, agreement, dissent, or even non sequitur discourse. In short, the confessions result in fostering community through interaction, no matter what the tenor of that interaction might be, because the confession appeals to the reader in a way that persuades the reader to respond. (19)
      Lawrence explains that authors influence readers through a confession the writers make through a blog. Not only do blogs allow a place to vent and share news, but by doing so, they create a connection between the writer and followers; readers feel sympathetic and can immediately respond to posts. Mothers who follow blogs can be characterized by Lawrence's statement. They are drawn to mommy blogs that capture their attention because readers agree or disagree with the author's confessions. Chelsea-Kay, the author of the blog Media in Focus, agrees that the interaction of blogging manages to influence readers on various topics because "blogs have become a vital part of the internet aesthetic." The 'aesthetic' refers to the 'guidelines of the internet' that have sway in how information is presented as the internet grows. As the internet expands, and more and more people follow blogs, blog writers have a stronger influence in shaping readers' opinions. That influence grows as readers learn to trust the writer, based partially on the bond created through confession. 

      Readers are influenced because of what the author writes, as well as the reason they read blogs. In a research experiment, Huang, Chou, and Lin studied blog readers' motives for following blogs. They found three main motives: affective (or emotional) exchanges; information search and entertainment; and fun. They found "readers who focus on affective exchanges tend to believe messages on blogs, interact with bloggers, and spread messages to others...The information search and entertainment [motivated] blog readers who focus on information can find something they trust, and blog readers who read just for fun similarly believe blogs are a trustworthy medium..." (Huang 354). In the study, they found the motivations behind internet users following blogs. Understanding how the younger demographic has stronger ties to the online world, proves how younger mothers are more greatly influenced by blogs, based on the motives that Huang, Chou, and Lin studied in the experiment.

      As a report by Krayewski, on the study entitled "Why Y Women?", explains that the rising generation, Gen Y, women were "found to be more influenced by blogs – those written by professionals, as well as those written by people with whom the women can identify." This growing influence of blogs on the rising generation corresponds to the increase in usage of social media networks that allow people to share opinions, information, and gossip, whether it be anonymously or not. Morrison says, "the emotional outlet offered by blogging provides a release unavailable elsewhere" (Morrison 41). This also relates to the growing popularity of the internet as a medium for emotional purges, as the generation Y has come to depend on the technology. And because of the confession aspect of blogs and the reader's motives for reading blogs, a personal bond between the author and reader becomes stronger, which increases the influence the author has as the reader develops trust in the writer.

      Lee-Ann Khoh says, "The blog has enabled more and more ordinary citizens to become "manipulators" of information and the media. Bloggers have the freedom to express themselves however they like, whenever they like." While some mothers use blogs as a way to share happy details, or the exciting events that happen, some use blogs as a mode of venting their struggles, worries, and mishaps from the view of a parent. Both types of blogging styles may somewhat manipulate, or influence, readers' opinions about motherhood, but without sharing the encouraging experiences as well as the trying times, blogs prove to not influence as greatly.

Retrieved from personal image archives.

         How often do you see pictures like that on the left where a child is clearly not enjoying life, as opposed to pictures similar to that below, where a child is all-innocence, completely happy? Some mother bloggers may wish to keep circumstances that are not all 'fine and dandy' to themselves; others don't mind sharing. Negative experiences can help mothers reading the blog learn from them. C. Jane Kendrick gave a presentation on her experiences as a professional blogger. One of the media arts students, David, wrote on his own blog is response, saying, "Mommy blogs that are not an accurate representation of motherhood (either in utopian or dystopian way) are not empowering." He refers to the fact that blogs representing only the good or the bad, fail to influence with the same power because they are ineffectual in illustrating the complete picture of motherhood.

       Meagan Francis, referring to falsely positive blogs, says: "There's always a downside to seeking all that beauty and possibility. When you're drawn to inspiring writing and inspiring people, it's easy to start wondering if you're really good enough, just they way you are..." She says she was influenced by the blogs to feel inadequate. But, she goes on to relate how she "started to realize that a whole lot of [bloggers] weren't exactly the people [she] had wanted to believe they were. You know. Perfect." Francis's experience expresses that the blog could not maintain persuasive power over her because she realized that it lacked all of the frustrating aspects of motherhood, the side of motherhood that would not be described as perfect. Another blogger, Allison, describes her situation as a mother, portraying the gratifying role she plays, without camouflaging any unpleasant details:
Motherhood is a multifaceted job – much like a gemstone that you hold in your hand turning in the light watching the angles and corners and surfaces glimmer and shine different, unexpected ways, only with more poop. As a mom I’m both hero and villain. I’m playmate and disciplinarian, teacher and student, and a bunch of other less glamorous things like...insomniac, bathroom coach...I have more roles than I can list because new ones arise every day. Am I an expert nail cutter, splinter-getter-outer? I am now. And, as a feather in my lovely mom-cap, as one last sexy thing I do, I plunge toilets. Often.
      As she states her role so openly, Allison shares with her audience not the utopian world of motherhood, but her reality, which includes many unfavorable jobs. Because Allison discusses many hardships she faces, her readers will not be influenced into feeling dismal about their own abilities as mothers; but rather, they can take comfort that things do not always happen as planned. Her blog relates blurbs from her everyday life that characterize her family's personality, struggles, and triumphs in a way that does not glamorize her role as a mother, neither does it condemn motherhood, despite ever-present trials. An example of a trying time for a mother is shown in the video below. A mom blogger Katie put together an entertaining video for her blog, showcasing her son and his unwillingness to eat solids, which frustrated Katie. She shows her readers that life is not all-fun-all-the-time, but that raising a child is hard work. However, she does so by connecting to her readers using a comical approach. Perhaps the technique of humor is a way to take her exasperating experience, such as baby Kai's refusal to eat solid foods, and try to make it into a better situation.

      During the conversation with my friend, I asked if blogs that depict a seemingly ideal life, affected her as a mother. She laughed and replied, "Life isn't that perfect." This simple response shows that she is not influenced by one-sided views of motherhood, which supports David's statement, as she remained unswayed. I realized that she is now a mother of three, so perhaps she was more influenced when she was starting out as a new mother. She pondered the question and answered that her attentiveness to the 'cheesiness' (as she called the too-cheery impression some blogs give) was not as fine-tuned at first; but, by enduring her own experiences as a parent she came to realize that life is not as flawless as some blogs wold have readers believe.

      By understanding how blog writers influence and 'manipulate' readers, as well as the motives readers have to follow posts, it is evident that mother bloggers influence young mothers. Moreover, blogs that impact mothers the most are the ones that display motherhood in all of its glory and hardship, not burying true, honest insights into motherhood. For those are the blogs that will provide the most guidance and comfort for new mothers, and those are the blogs that truly have a great influence.

Works Cited

Huang, Li-Shia, Yu-Jen Chou, and Che-Hung Lin. "The Influence of Reading Motives on the Responses after Reading Blogs." CyberPsychology & Behavior 11.3 (2008): 351-355. Print.

Morrison, Aimée. "'Suffused by Feeling and Affect': The Intimate Public of Personal
           Mommy Blogging." Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quartely 34.1 (2011): 37-55.