Moms Seek Support Online

In an age of growing technology, more parents are turning to the Internet to gain support and offer parenting advice. Moms Leslie Morgan Steiner, Mia Redrick and Gita Saini discuss "Mommy blogs" and why they find value in online communities.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I am Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, so yes, I am a journalist, and I host a radio show. So why do people think I can't cook? My commentary in just a few minutes.

But first, they say it takes a village to raise a child. But maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. Today, we talk blogging, not just any blog, but mommy blogs. An increasing number of moms has staked their claim in the blogosphere, creating an online village where parent share their experiences and lessons learned.

So today, we're all about mommy blogs. And I'd like to welcome back our regular Tell Me More contributor Leslie Morgan Steiner. She's is the editor of the book "Mommy Wars" and a former work-family blogger at the Washington Post. Mia Redrick is a parenting blogger at the Baltimore Examiner. And Gita Saini who blogs at Desi Mamma. Welcome, ladies, moms, bloggers

Ms. LESLIE MORGAN STEINER (Author, "Mommy Wars"): Great to be here Michel.

Ms. MIA REDRICK (Parenting Blogger, Baltimore Examiner): Happy to be here.

Ms. GITA SAINI (Blogger, Desi Mamma): Thank you for having us.

MARTIN: So, let's start with you, Leslie. Why blog? What got you blogging?

Ms. MORGAN STEINER: Well, for me, I had published "Mommy Wars." And the Washington Post where I had worked asked me to start writing a blog on the same subject, and I thought that at first that it would be the same audience as was interested in "Mommy Wars," i.e moms. So I started writing a daily blog about just the struggles that moms face, whether they are working or staying at home.

And to my surprise, what happened right away is that the people who weren't moms got attracted to it - dads, women without children, doctors, babysitters, teachers, and it turned into this incredible experience for me, probably one of the most profound professional experiences I've had because it really exploded.

The first day, we had a hundred comments, and then we were up to about 700 comments a day. It was sort of like getting a view inside people's heads about what they thought about motherhood. And I learned really quickly that every single person in America has an opinion about motherhood.

MARTIN: OK. We'll hold that thought because I want to hear more about that. But, Mia, what about you? Why did you start blogging?

Ms. REDRICK: I started blogging because I write and teach workshops about time for mom issues and all kinds of issues for mothers. And I thought it was a wonderful way to connect what my message was with other people.

My blog is literally what's going on with me every single day or every other day - in-law problems, best recipes, how to make a costume in a second when you can't sew when your daughter wants you to, and people love that because it absolutely connects with their experience.

MARTIN: Gita, what about you? And tell me about the name of your blog, Desi Mamma.

Ms. SAINI: Well, Desi is an actual - it's a slang word for Indian. So, if you're Indian, you tend to say, oh hey, are you a Desi and to find out if somebody else is Indian in ancestry. And so...

MARTIN: Is it from Hindi? It's a slang Hindi word?

Ms. SAINI: It's a slang kind of. Yeah.

MARTIN: Is it American slang?

Ms. SAINI: Yes. Yes, yes. And I think even in India they do use it, but I think it's more used outside of India. And so we got started just because we felt there was a need for some kind of parenting support network out there for people of Indian culture, and we just couldn't find one. So we just decided to start it ourselves, me and my sister-in-law.

MARTIN: What kinds of things do you talk about on your blog?

Ms. SAINI: We talk about things like Diwali, which is like Christmas for Indians. So we'll talk about Indian cultural items. But we also talk about self-identity crisis because that's a big deal since we were raised outside of India. And also, we actually talk about things like how to help your kid learn about puzzles - like how do they puzzles, like simple parenting issues that we might all have, even if you are not Indian.

MARTIN: But you have issues that are specifically relevant Indian - like you have everyday, like, Hindi words, like how to teach your child to count in Hindi.

Ms. SAINI: Yes, we do.

MARTIN: And you blog your Hindi word of the day. And like Leslie, I notice a lot of men post on your site as well. Why did you think that is?

Ms. SAINI: Yes.

MARTIN: They don't have any desi daddy sites?

Ms. SAINI: No, there probably isn't. A lot of the guys, though they do get their wives on there, we noticed pretty quickly, but it's a pretty open site, so a lot of people have the same issues whether you're a guy or a girl.

You know, you could be a dad, and the dad issues are the same. They all have the self-identity crisis situations. You know, how do you give your kid a strong self-identity growing up as an Indian in America because when you go to India, you're certainly not called Indian.

MARTIN: That makes sense. Leslie, you started talking about this is the kind of things that surprise you about writing the blog. And one of the things I heard you say is that you were surprised by just how eager people were to participate and to weigh in on these parenting issues. But I have to tell you, one of the things that surprise me is how nasty some of the people were who wrote to your blog.

STEINER: Right.

MARTIN: I thought maybe it's because I know you felt protective, but I thought, leave her alone. I mean, what - I don't know.

Ms. MORGAN STEINER: The nastiness that was directed at me still kind of baffles me, but I think I was, you know, writing in a very opinionated style, and that people, because their comments were anonymous, they were completely free from our cultural norms to be polite. And I had to develop a very thick skin to deal with it on a daily basis.

But it is my favorite thing about writing the blog was that I'd always wondered what people really thought about issues such as breastfeeding, or was it really OK to, you know, use in-vitro fertilization to freeze your eggs? What were the tensions truly between child-free women at work and women who are working moms?

And I found out, you know, probably more in some ways than some people wanted to know, but I'm grateful to know that - to know how angry some people are about the challenges facing moms and how angry and judgmental people are of other moms.

MARTIN: Gita, what about you? Any surprises in blogging?

Ms. SAINI: Actually, we were surprised that we got a lot of positive response. We didn't know what the response was going to be when we started, and the positive response was huge. And we thought we would get a lot of negative comments, especially like we talked about terrorism, you know. How do we talk to our kids about terrorist acts and those kinds of things. And, you know, the response was positive, like thank you for putting that out there instead of oh my gosh, you know.

MARTIN: What is - I'm sorry - what did you - what were you afraid of? What was your worst-case scenario? Did you think people would direct racist language at you...

Ms. SAINI: Yeah.

MARTIN: Because you are a desi?

Ms. SAINI: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Or because you are about exploring that aspect of your identity, like kind of go back to India thing, and that hasn't happened.

Ms. SAINI: Yes. Yeah, no, not at all, which we were really kind of worried about at the beginning.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with mommy bloggers Leslie Morgan Steiner, Mia Redrick, and Gita Saini about their blogs.

Leslie, what do you think the anger is all about? And I must say, I'm a big fan of civilized discourse, so, you know, the fact that people utilize certain norms in speaking interpersonally. I'm a fan of that. So what do you think the anger is all about? Or you just think that - is there something about being online? And I'm also wondering if it is a little exaggerated because people are online? But...

STEINER: I think sometimes it is exaggerated. You can have an immediate angry reaction, and you'll write an angry comment, and then 30 minutes later or a day later, you might have calmed down. So I think there is immediacy that makes people sound angrier than they might actually be.

But I think that people are really angry about many, many issues, and they're jealous of other people who seem to have it all figured it out or have something that they do not have. But I also want to say that through the blog that I wrote for two years for washingtonpost.com, I have developed life-long friends, and that's another shocking thing to me.

MARTIN: Mia, what about you? What do you think the anger is all about?

Ms. REDRICK: I think the anger is the fact that they haven't had time to think about whatever it is they are going to say. At the computer, they just write it, and they hit send, and it's done. I would say that the balance on it, though, is I do a lot of examining of local events and best tips locally or best resources, best restaurants for your children, and what I find is people love that also.

So while I get the group of people who totally don't agree with whatever it is that I'm talking about, I also get people who love the fact that I say the aquarium has a wonderful exhibit. We just went. You guys should go tonight. For example, I just wrote about four New Year's Eve last minute plans, take your children bowling. I had so many people write saying, I loved it. Oh, we didn't have plans. So, you know, that's a balance.

MARTIN: You don't deal a lot with race in your blog, or do you? Or do you think that maybe it's just the times - I've caught it. I've seen it more as a resource guide....

Ms. REDRICK: It's a resource...

MARTIN: And you're African- American, for those who aren't aware. Is that OK that I'm telling people, letting people know that?

Ms. REDRICK: Yeah, it's fine. I recently wrote a piece, "Driving While Black in Towson, Maryland." And it was a very controversial piece, and it was about my son and husband having fencing lessons and dropping a little boy off, and someone called the cops on my husband in this one neighborhood.

And it was really a very sensitive topic obviously because I mentioned the neighborhood, but what I like about blogging is, that's my experience. I write exactly what happens to us every single day, and people have a great appreciation for that because other people are experiencing the exact same thing.

MARTIN: Does anybody say, oh, you yuppies make me sick? You know, who cares what you do every day? We actually talked to a group of daddy bloggers for Father's Day, and there are a lot of people say, well, who cares? You yuppies - that kind of thing. I'm just - I'm sort of...

Ms. REDRICK: You get that.

MARTIN: Fascinated by that.

Ms. REDRICK: You definitely...

MARTIN: Because, again, I don't understand. If you're not interested, you're not under subpoena. You know, I don't understand why people just don't ignore it if they are not interested but...

Ms. REDRICK: I think because they are interested. I think sometimes people are interested in disagreeing, and that you provide a forum for them to be able to do that. I don't agree with you. You're not the expert. I don't like what you've said. And so, that is the draw for many people in terms of - particulary with me with parenting tips and things like that that I provide, and when I talk about potty training, you'll get a mother that potty-trained their child in three minutes, and she wants to say what you said absolutely doesn't work. Try it my way. So you get a lot of that.

MARTIN: Leslie?

Ms. MORGAN STEINER: I got a lot of nastiness on my Washington Post blog for being over privileged. I am white. I have blonde hair. I went to Harvard. And I got attacked a lot for being out of touch with real problems and...

MARTIN: By people who are probably white with blonde hair and went to Harvards, excuse me. Hello!

STEINER: Thank you, Michelle. I wasn't able to say that myself...

MARTIN: I'm not trying to be mean but...

STEINER: Because then I'd get attacked even more, but yes, that was true. And, you know, that was one of the good things about the blogs is that you could tackle subjects that made people mad, and I didn't do it intentionally, but it was interesting that they will get mad. And call me...

MARTIN: Did you ever fight back? Ever fight back and go, you know...

Ms. MORGAN STEINER: Oh, I did. The first couple of times, I really got angry back. And it backfires so much because you as the blog writer, there's a different standard for you. And even the people who I love, you know, wrote and said, even if you feel like it's a bully on the playground taking advantage of you, you're not allowed to. You've got to rise above it. You have responsibility. And so I stopped doing that because it didn't work. It didn't mean that just I didn't disagree, but I disagreed as, you know, politely as possible.

MARTIN: Mia, how do you handle disagreement on the blog or heated discussion on the blog?

Ms. REDRICK: Sometimes I do push back, and some things that are brutally nasty I will delete, those comments that don't add any value to the discussion. But for example, when the Towson, "Drive While Black in Towson" article, I thought, you know, a lot of white people were saying was important because it shared a different perspective, and so I didn't delete - I think I've deleted like two of the comments that were just - just didn't add any value.

MARTIN: Well, is there anything, Les, that you're working - you're doing once a week now? Do you have any advice for people who want to get into this blogging business?

Ms. MORGAN STEINER: I think one of the most important things is to keep your entries really short and to say something opinionated in a short space. And that's what really worked for me, and I think it's what people want to read online.

MARTIN: Gita, what about you? Do you have any advice for moms or dads, for that matter, who might want to start blogging?

Ms. SAINI: Yeah, they can come out and get up there and just do it, and that's what we did. We didn't think we would ever do this. And all of a sudden, we said, you know, let's just do it on our own. And we did. So it's just a matter of trying it out and see what happens.

MARTIN: Mia, what about you? Any advice for people who are thinking about starting this journey into the blogosphere?

Ms. REDRICK: I would just search other blogs and read blogs that you like and that you connect to, and then you just write what's in your heart. That's all I write about. It's what I do, and I examine the things that I do with my family, and that's what connects with people. So there are tons of people out there just like you and want to hear what you have to say.

MARTIN: Mia Redrick writes a parenting blog for the Baltimore Examiner. Leslie Morgan Steiner is the editor of "Mommy Wars." She's a frequent contributor to our program, and she writes a weekly blog on balancing work-life issues. Mia and Leslie where both kind enough to join us from our Washington, D.C. studio. And Gita Saini's blog is Desi Mamma, and she was kind enough to join us from KUCI in Irvine, California. Ladies, moms, thank you so much.

Ms. REDRICK: Thank you, Michel.

Ms. MORGAN STEINER: Thank you.

Ms. SAINI: Thank you.

MARTIN: If you want to check out the blogs we just talked about, you can find links at our website, the Tell Me More Page at npr.org.

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