Last week the New York Times Magazine published an article by Lisa Belkin (of Motherlode fame) in which she profiled Heather Armstrong, the writer behind Dooce, one of the most popular (and lucrative) Mommy blogs out there. Belkin describes Armstrong’s rise to fame, and also comments on the culture of the Mommy Blogger, and the ways in which mothers are seeking (and finding) support and money by sharing their stories of “poop and spit up… and
countless other banalities of one mother’s eclectic life that, for some reason, hundreds of thousands of strangers tune in, regularly, to read.”
Before I go on, I must tell you that I am also a Mommy blogger. I don’t make any money from my blog (although donations are most welcome, either in cash or chocolate), but I do shamelessly (and mostly unsuccessfully) promote it on Facebook and Twitter. Yet if not for the money, then why? Because, like most writers (aspiring or otherwise), I have stories to share, and it makes me happy when others read them and share their thoughts. And like most Jews, I find great meaning in reading and telling the tales of our shared history, from Queen Esther saving her people to my grandparents getting rejected from the local country club.
But Judaism doesn’t unequivocally support storytelling. Many of us have heard of lashon ha-ra (gossip, slander, etc.), a phrase we usually mumble and laugh off as we continue shoving bagel chips in our mouths while we share the latest story of our crazy Mommy friend or daycare provider or whoever we are casually badmouthing at the moment. According to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, lashon ha-ra “forbids saying anything negative about another person, even if it is true, unless the person to whom one is speaking or writing has a legitimate need for this information”. This gossip can range from innocuous chatter about the details of other people’s lives to negative, but truthful information about others, to the sharing of blatant lies.
That Heather Armstrong engaged in lashon ha-ra is beyond question; in her article, Belkin describes how Armstrong was fired from her job because of what she wrote about her co-workers, as well as the pain her family experienced when they discovered her blog, including her angry rants against the Mormon church. Yet Armstrong may have committed another form of lashon ha-ra—against her daughter. Recently, she has been writing less about her older daughter, Leta (age 7), noting cryptically that she “didn’t expect [their] relationship to become so complicated so early in her life”.
It’s a question I have struggled with as I share my own tales of dirty diapers, dinners gone wrong, and tantrums that leave me on the verge of tears. Although I am careful never to share anything that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face, that rule doesn’t necessarily apply to my daughters. Ok, I might say it to their chubby little faces, but they won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, nor can they tell me how they feel about it. Perhaps more importantly, though, is it lashon ha-ra?
Technically speaking, I guess it is. Although I do share stories about the good times, I have been known to complain about them from time to time. But as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a halachic Jew, and I’m still going to write about my daughters. Call it a modern version of the baby book, but I want my daughters to know a bit about what it was like in our house when they were growing up, and what I was thinking about and struggling with as I faced the challenges of raising them each day. Hopefully when they read my blog in the future, they will realize how much I love them, and that I share my stories, their stories, as a way of getting support from my family, friends, and other mothers who feel like they might not make it through another witching hour if they don’t have the words of a fellow Mommy to get them through.