Ten years ago, Jill Smokler founded a little blog for her family and friends when her three kids were just babies and toddlers. It became the wildly popular website Scary Mommy, which is known for its irreverently honest approach to parenting. Smokler recently sold and began to step away from the site, just as her kids were reaching their teen years.
What made you first sit down and write your first blog?
Smokler: It was just feeling completely alone in raising three kids. I had a newborn and a 2- and 4-year-old. My house was madness all the time. I was in this new, ill-fitting neighborhood. And I couldn’t relate to anyone I knew.
“Scary Mommy” Blog
You were trying to take away this notion of perfection in parenting that we all are burdened with, and you did it in a way that resonated so well. Now that your kids are getting older, has it changed how you write?
Smokler: Absolutely—I barely write anymore. It is much less entertaining. When they are little all the stories are universal—they use a swear word or whatever, little things they get into that are funny and relatable. But now that their stories are really their own, it’s so much more complicated. Being in the moment with them now, I don’t want to share with strangers. If I want to share something I will put it on my personal Facebook page. I don’t need to be sharing with 3 million people about what my daughter is going through. I am uncomfortable with it in a way that is different from when they were little.
Do you have a sense that people wish you would keep writing about your older kids?
Smokler: Yes. Occasionally when I post something on Facebook, people say that they miss my voice. I do miss the connection. I miss communicating over commonality. I’m trying to figure out how I can do that without compromising my kids and their trust in me.
You will figure it out. Do you feel like you are a better mother having done the blog?
Smokler: I would have answered “yes” five years ago. When the kids were little it gave me perspective. My mom would come over and say my house was so loud and insane and ask how I wasn’t a drug addict or alcoholic, and I would say it was the blog. Whenever they were driving me crazy, I would get on and tell people and they would laugh with me and I would feel better. That really served that purpose so well.
Now I would say no. I think the only thing that makes me a better parent is talking to parents of kids the same age. I am realizing I need to write again. It would help me, but I haven’t written in so long.
One of the things we try to confront at Your Teen is this Facebook world of family life where it looks like everyone else is always having the perfect vacation.
Smokler: Even the lighting. How do they all get it to be so perfect? It’s miraculous where they are.
No one had rain except for us.
So as your kids enter the teen stage, do you have any sense that you are prepared to mentor them in this online world, and draw that line between what is honest and what is cultivating an image?
Smokler: It is so frustrating. Last year on Mother’s Day, my daughter posted a picture of the two of us. She must have taken 20 pounds off me, fixed my hair, and gave me higher cheekbones. I told her I was not comfortable with that—that wasn’t what I looked like and I didn’t want that out there. I made her take it down. She was really unhappy with me, but I felt like it was a really important stance.
I can empathize with her when she is having a rough day or dealing with a mean girl. I can tell her I understand and I remember what it was like—but we didn’t have this real-time witnessing of what you are missing out on all the time. If you weren’t invited to a party on a Saturday night, you maybe found out about it on Monday. But you weren’t watching it happen on Saturday night when you are home alone. It is tough.
You make it clear you are not a parenting expert. How do you define your expertise now? At the end of the Scary Mommy journey, what are you?
Smokler: I am definitely stronger. I thought I always knew who I was, because I didn’t care what people thought, and I thought that was the same thing. But this last year—separating from my husband, moving into a new house, and taking care of the kids all on my own—I realize I can have my own rules in my own house. I just sort of realized what I want, and what I want my life to be. That has been empowering, realizing I can make the decisions now for us.
This was my biggest fear, the life I am living right now. I didn’t want to do it alone. And yet—I can’t say it’s the happiest I’ve ever been, but I don’t remember the last time I cried. Whereas I cried every day before, all the time. So that feels better. I wish I had the ability to see that my “worst-case scenario” was better [than where I was], and I couldn’t see that when I was in it.
That is great advice for our kids, too. It is so hard to tell kids that don’t have the same experience that we adults have that it gets better, because they have nothing to draw on to prove that.
Smokler: Exactly. And life evolves and you just don’t know. It is crazy, it just is. You never know how things will evolve and what relationships will resurface and how it all happens.
Interview by Susan Borison