Catholic Mommy Blogs: Blight or Blessing?

This post might seem a funny coming from someone who is more or less a "mommy blogger" but everything I write comes from the bias of my experience so... I'm writing. I think of myself as more than that title but who am I kidding? I'm a mom. I blog about some mom-ish things. The cringing comes in when "mommy blogger" is used in a derogatory sense. That usage stings and makes me want to come up with some alternative that feels better, such as...

"Catholic Womanhood" blogger
or maybe...
"Middle Aged Woman With Lots of Children, Unsolicited Advice, and a Keyboard" blogger

Definitely the second. 

But I get it. I've been annoyed by mom blogs. Heck, I've been annoyed by my own blog. There does come a point where a Christian writer legitimately asks: "Maybe I should just shut up and live life. Pray more. Find a bridge club."  Except there's this...

The world is full of colorful people: artists, writers, dreamers, teachers, healers, leaders, achievers, contemplatives, activists, musicians ... and God made all of us to seek expression for those gifts. We were created with the innate desire to use our unique talents as His hands and feet... to serve and to love passionately. 

The way God created you to spread the Gospel cannot be duplicated. For some - incredible as it may seem to others - that expression is through blogging. 

The problem with too broadly categorizing a Catholic blogger is precisely the problem with categorizing any soul. It reduces the unique expression of grace to a word or a phrase. To say that I am a "mommy blogger" doesn't offend me at all and I embrace it... but I doubt it accurately and wholly captures what I try to do here or who I am.  

WHY DO WE FOLLOW PEOPLE?

We read blogs for reasons that are as varied as the reasons that we use Google on any given day. Today you might be searching for a better way to clip toddler fingernails. Tomorrow you might be seeking an excerpt from the Summa. We are deliberate in our searches and generally have a purpose. When following individual blogs, that purpose is slightly different because a blogger is on a journey herself and does not necessarily write to a reader's tastes daily. Not all of the reasons for reading blogs are hugely noble, but they are all common to a seeking humanity...

Curiosity
Common interests
Practical tips
Relationship advice
Inspiration
How-to
Consolation
Time killing
Personal connection

The last one is a biggie. For 10 years, it has been a big reason that many of my regular bloggers continue to read. Some of those connections have blossomed into real friendships. And to be boldly honest... during my years of chronic illness and isolation, the blogging internet was an incredible consolation to me. It was my community when my local community was less physically accessible. It was different years ago... not so "professional"... but the common reasons remain the same.

WHY DO BLOGS DISAPPOINT?

  • Because they are created by human beings. Messy people. Messy lives. 
  • Because they are read by human beings: people who filter what they read through their own lens of experience and baggage and suffering and joy. 
  • Because bloggers change when we don't want them to...
  • And don't change when we do want them to. 
  • Because we forget that blog authors are human beings - beautiful, suffering, busy, beloved daughters of Christ - and we hold them to an unmerited standard.
  • Because nothing and no one can truly fill the empty holes that we often go seeking to fill on the internet.

There are two basic complaints against Catholic mom bloggers that I hear most often (and truthfully, have personally expressed)....

1) Everyone is an expert. 
2) Too much money-making/selling

I don't disagree necessarily (and depending on the blog) but there are some lessons in charity to be learned here as readers. I have grappled with them and want to share my ever-evolving thoughts...

1) Everyone is an expert. 

I concede. This periodically annoys me. I (a 39-year old mom of 8) don't want to be told by a 24-year old mom of 2 that she has the perfect parenting tips for raising perfect children. It annoys. But to be fair, there are some 24-year old moms of 2 who could write that post brilliantly and not offend, come off arrogant, or disrespect more experienced humans with a crass click-bait title. In fact, I could actually learn something. 

But it is an unfortunate fact that...

Some beautiful , faithful women are not excellent at blogging, whether it be the writing, communicating, charitable expression, or knowledge of the faith.  

So if those limitations bug me... I don't read those blogs. And consequently, I don't have to grapple with the temptation to react inappropriately. I assume most people who don't care for my work do the same. 

 In fact... I have regular readers who can't stand me. When I manage to write a post that is born out of sincere love and affection... I can guarantee it's still going to drive someone into a bloody rage. (I believe some people must follow my blog out of a sheer morbid fascination with what irritates them.) I do some things well and encourage some people, but I fail miserably with reliable consistency. 

What annoys people the most about me is generally what annoys about others as well... and that is a perception of unmerited authority. I do understand. 

For Catholic bloggers, that can certainly present a problem.... because not every Catholic thinks, believes, or talks like other Catholics. Like the Church herself, we are somewhat wandering, seeking, and clinging to what we believe and how we seek to implement that belief. Add our flawed personalities and... 

That is messy. Incredibly messy. Truly... The blogging community reflects the whole Church. 

My advice to those who are driven to anger and distraction by those bloggers who rankle? Get them out of your feed. Just do it. Stop the drama. Follow a path to greater peace. Focus on Jesus Christ. And if you feel that true damage is being done through the vehicle of a blog and that you are being called to spread a little more truth? Go ahead... start your own. It's fun. It's work. But just know that you'll still need to go to Confession a lot... and maybe more than before. 

2) Too much money-making/selling.

I concede. I hate feeling like a target. It is one of the things that has caused me to balk at the idea of increasing monetary opportunities for my blog. I have stopped following blogs that feel like giant commercials (although I do go back when I need some purchasing direction and sure do visit plenty of secular sites for the same purpose!) But my thinking about monetization has evolved a bit over time and I'll tell you a couple reasons why...

I think it's okay for Catholic moms to make money. 

When I was a new mom, I assumed that my ability to stay home with my kids would remain constant. If things got tougher, I figured we'd just tighten our belts. But experience has taught me that sometimes things get much tougher and that solutions don't fall out of the sky, but must come through much labor and hard choices between undesirable options. I've also learned that good planning during smooth times can hold a family up during the storms. I would not begrudge families the opportunity to earn an income from home through blogging. The details of their need are not my business. 

I want you to know what I know about Catholic mom blogs when it comes to money...

  • Most blogging moms I know do not profit substantially from their blogs even though it does cost them time and possibly money.
  • I have friends who were unable to stay home with their kids until they figured out a way to replace their necessary income at home. They have worked very hard toward a great family good and have been successful. I applaud them.
  • I also know moms who have been able to support their families during a financial or personal crisis or to help toward worthy family goals such as moving to a safer neighborhood or paying off medical bills.
  • Some "mommy bloggers" give blog earnings to families or individuals in need. You wouldn't know because they don't tell people about it. 
  • Many bloggers turn down far more income opportunities than they accept. Because they do care about their readers and being people of integrity. 
  • Bloggers know their readers. Just because I don't follow a blogger who has a talent for frugal fashion (to choose a random example), doesn't mean that others don't. If she is successful, it means that she is working hard and providing value to a lot of people. Good for her. 
  • Financially successful Catholic bloggers work very hard. And like any small business, this effort supports and nourishes Catholic family life. 

Do we really believe that we should be able to read a blog any time we like but that the owner/author doesn't have a right to compensation for time and investment? That is a question worth pondering.

Here is another reason I have softened to the idea of monetizing blogs...

I TRUST YOU.

We live in a consumer culture... and the tension present anytime business meets faith does exist. Heck, our entire interaction with the world is full of tension between the sacred and the profane. Materialism is a beast and one of our first world crosses is that we must constantly fight it. But...

I trust that Catholic readers can navigate the reviews and affiliate links of a blog without overspending just like I trust my readers to go shopping at Walmart or the mall without spending their life savings. I shop. You shop. We all shop... online and at brick and mortar stores. Secular box stores, Catholic small biz, whatever... we shop. I love finding small Catholic businesses and handmade items and knowing what other Catholic moms enjoy reading and wearing and using. If I overspend? That's on me. If I spend too much time online and am tempted beyond my weakness? That's on me. I own it... I don't blame bloggers.

Bottom line? I trust my own readers to make good choices. 

The spiritual struggle for Catholic professionals of any kind is real and the post that I would write for my sister bloggers would look a little different than this one. It would be more demanding, challenging to look deeply into our choices... to remain authentic even while we pursue our individual goals. That's what sisters do for each other. Sisters also know what is true, good, and beautiful about each other in a way that others don't. And that's really what I want readers to remember... the humanity behind the posting... and to exhort to a greater level of charity.

ONGOING DISCERNMENT.

In 10 years of blogging, I have received "perks" but I have never made more than I spent. I have turned down most opportunities to grow because I didn't feel at the time that it was consistent with my purpose here. When my $200 hosting bill comes due in September, I probably won't have made enough via my piddly affiliate links to cover it. What usually happens is that I'm forced to discern whether or not to continue... and then I justify the expense by reminding myself (and my husband) that I save us money by never getting manicures or gym memberships. This IS my splurge. That has been my choice and I issue no complaint...

But as I get older and the needs (physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, and financial) of my family increase, I am more and more comfortable placing real value on my time. I begin to wonder if my failure to use this space more for the benefit of my family is actually a squandering of God's gifts. I could ask for donations... I can continue to donate my time... or I could just work really hard to put this investment in the direct service of my family by accepting some compensation.

The question always before me is: Does it serve my vocation? If I can reconcile that to the demands and fruits of blogging, then I sign on for another year...

It is constant discernment. And I trust that all of my Catholic blogging sisters are constantly placing those same questions before their families and their Lord. In charity, let us grant each other a bit of grace in that regard. 

So? Are Catholic mom blogs a blight or a blessing? I guess the answer depends on who you ask, what time of day, what kind of mood they're in, and which blogs we're talking about. Because it's kind of like asking:

Humanity.... blight or blessing? 

In truth, perhaps we have to answer: Both. But in truth and charity... the answer can't really be answered in a blog post. It's like trying to fit a rainforest in a bottle... a star into a mason jar... or a human soul into a "mommy blog."

Posted on January 21, 2016 and filed under blogging, Faith, parenting.