THE BLOG

The New-Style Radicalism Of Parenting Bloggers

07/11/2016 14:22

Being a parent can be hard work, even if your life is generally A-OK. It can tire you out, use up your energy reserves and feel enormously stressful at times, not least because you care so much about the outcome. And that's if everything is relatively smooth. If you hit one of life's jagged rocks, if there are health difficulties, if the money just isn't there, if your relationship breaks down... it can very quickly start to feel like too much.

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Mumsnet has been going for sixteen years now, and over that time our users have offered each other spontaneous support for just about every kind of crisis or long-term issue you can imagine (and quite a few that probably haven't occurred to you). The internet has its downsides, doubtlessly - but there's nothing quite like it for finding others who have pertinent advice and empathy to offer, and who are willing to help share the load or just listen quietly when it's 2am and everything's getting on top of you.

Since we started the Mumsnet Bloggers' Network five years ago, we've seen these themes of support and openness develop in new ways. By their nature, people who blog about their families draw on close personal experience, and changes in their day-to-day realities are reflected in their posts. This kind of revelatory style has its detractors, but in the last few years it's become apparent that it can also be a powerful agent for solidarity, support and even societal change.

In the world of professional campaigning, the 'personal story' is the holy grail; activists put a great deal of effort into finding people who are willing to share relevant experiences publicly. Most of us find it easier to relate to a named, photographed, fleshed-out person than we do to the average bar chart or parliamentary report. In blogs and vlogs, many individuals are using their personal stories to build new campaigns, lobby for changes in attitudes, or (often with great bravery) simply open up conversations around issues that attract stigma and discomfort.

There's been some sneering about the growth in 'warts and all' blogging, but bloggers who write about more difficult experiences like grief or mental health alongside cheery accounts of everyday family life are doing us all a huge service. Normalising situations that people can find difficult to talk about, and squarely locating them in the mainstream of people's lives, can be quite a radical act. (There's been a powerful example of this recently in political journalist Isabel Hardman's graceful public discussion about her experience of depression.)

Writers like The Unmumsy Mum and Hurrah for Gin - both Mumsnet bloggers from the early days - have turned this interlacing of the rough and the smooth into an art form. It's a highly successful one at that: Unmumsy Mum writer Sarah Turner has an enormously successful site and huge Facebook following, and is a Sunday Times bestseller; Hurrah for Gin originator Katie Kirby has recently celebrated the publication of her first book. Their head-on approach towards talking about mental health - good and bad - helps to create real solidarity with their readers, many of whom remark that reading the blogs makes them feel less alone.

When it comes to more explicit campaigning, Hayley Goleniowska from Downs Side Up and Leigh Kendall from Headspace Perspective are among the bloggers who are showing the way. Hayley, whose daughter Natty has Down's Syndrome, is passionate about making those with special needs more visible, and she's written a book about talking to siblings of a child with Down's. Leigh's son Hugo died when he was 35 days old (she had HELLP and pre-eclampsia), prompting her to create the #HugosLegacy campaign, which focuses on good communication among healthcare professionals and between medical staff and their patients. MotherPukka (Anna Whitehouse) has thrown herself enthusiastically into the campaign for better flexible working options, as well as writing about her experience of miscarriage.

One of my biggest takeaways from running Mumsnet is that sharing experiences with an online crowd can have a truly powerful effect. We've long known that the personal can be political; modern tech gives real oomph to accounts of intimate experience, allowing them to be powerfully projected across an almost limitless canvas. Furthermore, now that everyone is a publisher, each writer can have a shot at finding their audience, and no perspective need be filtered out as being too unusual, uncomfortable or specialised. This innovative generation of writers isn't just being honest about the pressures of parenting; they're helping to clear a path for others.

The Unmumsy Mum, Hurrah for Gin, Mother Pukka and Hayley Goleniowska will appear at Blogfest, Mumsnet's annual celebration of great writing and big ideas, alongside Davina McCall, Ed Balls, Jess Philips and many more, on Saturday 12 November.

To claim 15% off tickets, visit http://www.mumsnet.com/events/blogfest/2016 and apply the code: BlogHuffPo15

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