Before I became a mom, I was an academic. During my first pregnancy, I was scrambling to finish my PhD – and teaching, and preparing papers for conferences, and applying for jobs – but even though I was acting as if I was preparing for my future as a tenured professor and fusty academic, I was pretty certain once the baby came, I was going to slow my pace on that path. In fact, I was probably going to circle right off of that path. I wasn’t sure what alternate path I’d end up on, but still.
Something about the future I'd planned for myself didn't feel quite right. I loved my research, but I didn’t see myself on departmental committees. I loved working with bright students, but I didn’t love teaching massive undergraduate seminars. I loved thinking and writing, and exploring ideas, but I didn’t see myself secluded in the ivory tower. I didn’t mind the road I was on, but it wasn’t one that I was leaning into.
But it was the only road that I knew, and I was wary of the other roads that intersected with it. After Emilia was born, the road of motherhood opened up and I struggled with my desire to lean into that new journey. I continued to teach – in spit-up stained tweeds – missing my daughter to the point of distraction (contrary to the opinion of certain crusty old philosophers that mothers’ attachment to their children needn’t compromise their pursuit of intellectual or political goods). I continued with my academic research, writing papers and doing lectures on motherhood in the history of political thought, even as I grappled with my insecurities around my lived experience of motherhood. I dug into the question of what it meant for stories about motherhood to be relegated to the private sphere, and how that shaped our understanding of the place of women and the family in politics, even as I wrestled to make sense of my own stories. And in the midst of all this, I blogged.
I blogged through my ambivalence about my academic career. I blogged through my struggle to reconcile my maternal desires with my feminist self-identity. I blogged about grappling with the archetype of the ‘good mother’ – something that I had explored academically – and about my conviction that there was something powerful about claiming the identity of the ‘bad mother.’ I blogged about how the distinctions between the private lives of mothers and the public lives of mothers – between the very idea of public and private – were collapsing in the age of the Internet. I dug into conversations with other ‘mommybloggers’ about the intersections of our public and private motherhoods, and about the ways and means by which we were changing the public discourse about motherhood. I leaned into interrogating my own motherhood, and motherhood in general, on the Internet. And I kept on leaning in, and then one day I realized what I was leaning into was the road that I had been trying so hard to find. I was already on that road. I had been on that road the whole time.
Marx wrote in his Theses on Feuerbach that philosophers have only ever interpreted the world – and that the point is to change it. As an academic, I had been interpreting the cultural discourse of motherhood; as a mommyblogger, I was changing it. What I wanted to do, I was already doing. So in May of 2007, when my teaching contract came to end and the university asked if I would be interested in renewing it for another course in September. I thought about it for about 15 seconds, and then I said no. By that end of that same day I had incorporated as a business (Bad Mother Media, I called it, with my tongue only gently in cheek) and hung out my figurative shingle: I would, from that day forward, be a full-time, professional teller of stories of motherhood, an advocate for public storytelling about parenthood, and a promoter of public conversations about motherhood and the family and the place of these in our culture and in our communities. I leaned in to a future in which telling stories about motherhood would change the way that we think about motherhood – and fatherhood, and family, and community, and the collaborative work of men and women in making the most and best of these, for the better of all of us.
I leaned in to mommyblogging. And that has made all the difference.