“Pittsburgh families are usually very connected to the extended family,” says Deborah Gilboa, who blogs locally at Ask Doctor G. “I think it’s great for kids.” Having other people in their lives certainly holds kids accountable for their behavior, but it also gives them the sense that they are not alone in this world.
That’s what local mom bloggers say keeps them going. Gilboa is just one of a new crop of Pittsburgh parenting bloggers who are gaining notice online for their ability to make readers realize that other adults are right beside them, in the neighborhood down the road, trying their hardest but often stumbling through childrearing’s tougher moments.
Pop City’s Kidsburgh focus area featured a profile of some of the Burgh’s original child-centric bloggers and tweeters, such as Burgh Baby, My Very Last Nerve, and jayesel. Since then, blogs like Gilboa’s have sprung up to focus on raising kids of one gender, or on finding affordable fun for kids, or, in Gilboa’s case, on giving advice from the perspective of a family physician who is also a mother herself.
Gilboa started blogging in mid-March because she’s writing a parenting book. She just couldn’t find a great one for the parents of her patients.
“Pretty much every medical question with kids comes down to a parenting issue,” says the Squirrel Hill mother of four kids ages 3-9. “There’s not a time in my day that I’m not thinking about parenting.”
She gets questions most often from parents of pre-schoolers and middle-schoolers, “the most self-involved phases of childhood,” she says, when kids’ own behavior is most difficult for them and their parents to control. The conversation continues on Facebook and Twitter, where the briefer, more frequent exchanges let Gilboa see the outcome of her advice – and let people see the parent in Gilboa. “It’s a way for people to see that I’m really genuine, that I’m also saying, ‘Argh, I don’t know what I’m going to make for dinner,’ or ‘Three more days until we don’t have homework …’”
“There’s no real, objective measure of good parenting,” says Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, who blogs at Try It And You May. “It’s so individual, so varied, so nebulous. I’ll never know how I did as a parent until my kids have kids and I see how they operate as parents. So blogging is a way for me to seek some advice and perspective from other parents … when I’m too hung up on little details.
“And last,” she adds, “I sometimes tell my husband, ‘I have to do some writing’ and I work on my blog, just to get a break from parenting.”
Pagel-Hogan has long written – in fact, she writes about great winter activities for kids elsewhere in Kidsburgh – but only began blogging in June, when she struck out on her own from a full-time job.
“Many people who do read my blog comment to me via email instead of leaving their comments on the blog,” she says. “To the casual observer, it probably looks like I’m talking to myself. But I’m okay with that, because I also use this as a memoir of our family’s good and not-so-good times. I’m a historian by training and value the creation of a record of the everyday. Maybe someday I’ll be in someone’s thesis.”
The highly personal and the newsworthy seem to resonate with readers of mom blogs, she says, as she found out when she disagreed with a DailyWorth item about a mom who stayed in Alaska to finish a degree while dad took the kids to Texas. Or when she discussed boys’ propensity for horseplay and physical aggression. Or when she reviewed“bittersweet tweets” from a moment in 2010 when the end of maternity leave and the reality of three kids and a move proved to be a bit much.
“I’m fairly optimistic, so I wanted to show that even I struggle and break down and screw up and feel bad. But I get up and keep going.”
Keep going and keep blogging is what Chaton Turner did after her daughter, who is now 15 months old, opened up her diaper when mom wasn’t looking and did indescribable things with the contents …
… which Turner described, at Chaton’s World, where she’s been writing since 2006.
“I thought maybe I had a little crazy baby,” Turner says, “but people responded that their kids do crazy things too. I try to find the lesson in everything, and I couldn’t find the lesson. I try so hard to preserve her environment and keep everything pristine. That just let me know there’s a little flexibility. It’s unlikely that I’m going to break her.”
Public support came pouring in from her first mom post about her experience with natural childbirth, says the North Side lawyer who is raising her daughter with her fiance.
“I’m a bit of a control freak and my blog is the only place where I control every aspect — the design, the content, the deadlines,” she notes. “That feeds my inner control freak, which has been harder to feed since becoming a mom. As a mom, very little is in my control. It’s all about the baby!”
Rachel Blaufeld of Point Breeze started a personal blog, Back’n Groove Mom, in 2010 that has since morphed into a “mompreneurial” blog about both her two boys, ages 8 and 11, and her adventures as an inventor of “something bra-related” that she won’t describe until it is launched later this year.
“I love the connections that are made,” Blaufeld says. “There are so many little stories that come back to me” from readers. “I love having this voice and being able to inspire others.”
On the other hand: “It’s a lot of stress to be a blogger. You open up your world to the public. I have to submit my family to embarrassing moments…
“I write for the moms who have school-age kids and tweens who are dealing with a lot of decision-making with sex and drugs and bullying,” she adds, not to mention over-use of computers and social media. “It’s a funny contradiction. As a mom who navigates social media hourly … how do we role-model appropriate behavior in shutting down for our kids, when this is how we work?”
Her most popular posts proved to be one that compared raising a business to raising a baby, another about taking her boys to a Steelers game when she once thought having kids would mean playing with baby dolls, and a third about the summer her boys left for a month-long sleepover camp. Rather than feeling free, she felt “the mojo was gone. I felt I worked better as a mom … I actually felt more lost than when I lived my fast little world of doing a million things at once.”
Mom bloggers have power, she says, and not just to influence other moms to use particular products. Blaufeld takes credit for cajoling Good Morning America’s Tory Johnson to bring her Spark and Hustle conference to Pittsburgh on Aug 9, for the benefit of her and other women entrepreneurs.
Allison Sciullo started blogging a year ago at Mother Allie with items that began as Facebook stories, including a parody about making it into the Pittsburgh magazine’s “40 under 40” feature just because of her role as a parent.
“I don’t pretend that parenting is easy or always joyous,” Sciullo says. “I’m apt to look at the darker side, the side that no one wants to admit is happening — like, when you watch your kid furiously searching through the garage for a leash so he can ‘take his brother for a walk.’
“When you look at another person’s public parenting, you are looking at smoke and mirrors. You are looking at what they are putting on display for you. When you write about being a parent, you are able to be more honest. You can explain your choices more. You can describe the chaos. It’s like therapy.”
She cites a recent post about her father, who died in 2007, as another one that caught readers’ attention. “I think that if people enjoy your writing, they enjoy reading about other parts of your life, parts that made you who you are as a parent today.” She also started a page solely about Burgh activities – which is the entire focus of Pittsburgh Frugal Mom blogger Dana Vento.
Vento began her blog in August 2010: “My girlfriend and I wanted to go somewhere with the five children we have between the both of us, and we both had different economic challenges …,” she explains. Today, Vento is dedicated to educating parents in the same predicament. “Knowing how to work a sale, where family events are going on, et cetera, are all key to knowing how to go around and not break a budget …”
Whether highlighting the unheralded powers of AAA card discounts or detailing a fresh walking trail find, Vento feels her blog is doing its job if readers “feel safe in the information they are taking away.” If it’s reliable, she adds, “they will come back over and over again for more information. Then … and only then have I appropriately done my job!”
Then again, there’s one more piece of mom blogging advice that Allison Sciullo doesn’t want to forget to add: “No one wants to hear about how cute your kids are.”
Pictured, top to bottom: Allison Sciullo; Chaton Turner; Dana Vento; Rachel Blaufeld; Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan.