As it stands, there is no official instruction manual for managing motherhood. But Heather Armstrong's Dooce.com makes for a compelling substitute.
What started as a personal pop culture blog 10 years ago has quickly gained traction within the blogosphere, thanks to Armstrong's candid disclosure of her daily life. The 36-year-old has found colossal success as a mom blogger---a somewhat controversial term that many blame her for coining. Today she finds herself in a world where a single post is read by millions, her site gets 100,000 hits each day, more than 1.5 million people follow her on Twitter and she was listed by Forbes as one of the Most Influential Women in Media.
But the road that led to such rampant success was hardly easy, nor was the road leading from there to present day. As Dooce.com humorously concedes time and time again, life---though full of beauty and happiness---is one heck of a ride. And Armstrong has a knack for capturing it with a dash of wit, humor and vulnerability.
In October 2005, Dooce.com became a professional family endeavor. Armstrong's husband, Jon, handles the business and advertising components of the site, while Armstrong heads the creative product.
"I think it's a unique situation, and I'm not sure that everyone could do this," Armstrong said. "But he and I are well suited to each other in this way. It may have taken us a couple of months to get our groove, but other than that, it's been pretty smooth sailing."
Now Armstrong works an arm's length from her husband, running the business out of their home. Though a luxurious notion, it takes quite a bit of effort to adequately set boundaries between professional and personal time. Armstrong has a literal divide between her loft office and the rest of her home. When she needs to make the commute to work, she simply walks upstairs and closes the door. Likewise, when she is done for the day, she leaves the office and refrains from returning until morning. She is always sure to put time with her husband and children first.
"A lot of people say it's a hard routine to manage, but if you stick to just those couple of rules, a lot of stuff sort of falls into place," she said.
This is somewhat of a modest claim. If following the rules brought everyone fame and success, we would all be the world's next rising star. But it is Armstrong's work ethic and passion for her site that sets her apart from the rest. She has seen Dooce.com through unemployment, living in her mother's basement and her struggle with postpartum depression. Not to mention her marriage to Jon, giving birth to her two children, an invitation to the White House, two book deals and her present reign as Queen of the Mommy Bloggers, a title given to her by the New York Times magazine earlier this year.
Armstrong credits her mother---whom she fondly describes as loving---for instilling such work ethic and passion within her.
"I get my ambition, and my drive, and my desire to see things work well from her," Armstrong said. "I think that she saw that in me as a direct DNA passing."
It was under her mother that Armstrong was raised a Mormon. However, upon graduating with an English degree from Brigham Young University, Armstrong decided to leave the church. She says the one useful skill she learned as an undergrad was how to distrust organized religion. The familial schism that developed as a result of that departure has since mended, but Armstrong's stance on the Church has remained unchanged.
Despite her current views towards religion, Armstrong upholds one practice from her Mormon upbringing: Journaling. Upon purging her life of Mormonism, she found she still loved recording her thoughts, feelings and day-to-day routines. It is through writing Armstrong often best expresses her emotions, she said.
"They encouraged us to sort of keep our wit in history, which I think has definitely carried over into my blogging," Armstrong said. "I missed that sort of sitting down and jotting down my thoughts."
In addition to scratching her itch via writing and expression, blogging was appealing to Armstrong because of the connection two people can have over the Internet. She originally created Dooce.com in 2001 to stay in touch with her college friends across the country. In essence, to make a miniature Facebook before there was such a thing. She posted music, photographs and written entries about her single life. Also, when Armstrong started this endeavor a decade ago, little did she know she was inadvertently blazing a trail for the 4 million women who currently have mommy blogs today.
"It would be really fun because I'd be designing it, and I would be editing it," Armstrong said. "It would be my own little space. And it grew into this little hobby that I never thought more than a couple dozen people would read."
To her surprise, Armstrong's audience soon surpassed that couple dozen. This is largely thanks to her controversial dismissal from work as a web designer in Los Angeles. She was fired due to posts she had written on Dooce.com about her coworkers. The fire took flame, and people began talking.
"The story picked up and sort of spread crazily throughout the community," Armstrong said. "There were a lot of message boards about 'Should this be legal?' Then conversation started about the separation between our online lives and our professional lives."
And the conversation never stopped.
As a result of such heated controversy, Armstrong began connecting with others in the blogosphere, and her readership continued to grow. Since then, the relationship between her and her readers has been invaluable. They have helped her through extremely dark times in her life, particularly through her postpartum depression.
"I would give hints about how I was feeling, and people would respond," Armstrong said. "Many of them reached out to me with their own story, saying, 'Please take care of yourself.' I really credit their support of me to the willingness of me to accept that something was wrong."
Even with all the love Armstrong feels on a daily basis from her readers, there is also quite a bit of hatred aimed at her. Most of this hatred stems from the fact that she writes about her two daughters, which many believe is an invasion of their privacy. The initial shock of such unwarranted hatred was enough to keep her up at night. But years later, Armstrong has learned to embrace it.
"As little as my fame is, I live with the notion that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there who really hate my guts and really think I'm a bad person," Armstrong said. "That's a weird reality to live with. It really does keep you in check. It's not that their opinion necessarily matters, but it's a weird, humbling, in-your-face way to live."
So as not to spur any further scorn from her crowd of critics, there are a number of topics Armstrong does her best to avoid. Blogging for 10 years has taught her organically self-censoring is necessary, especially when writing about her family or her husband's family. Also, as her eldest daughter Leta Elise grows up, the amount of content about her has decreased.
"I know Leta is much more aware of what we're doing, and who she is, and who her peers are," Armstrong said. "At this point, her story is a lot her own. I want her to tell that story."
Even with her daughters' stories soon being theirs to tell, there is no need to worry that Armstrong will run out of stories of her own.
"Even as my daughters have grown, I find myself drawn to other parts of my life to write about, like running the marathon and music that I'm listening to. Things other than the act of being a parent. It's just sort of been what I'm most inspired to write about. I haven't really changed the world---I'll never think that about myself. At the core, I'm just a blogger."
To learn more about Heather Armstrong, follow her on Twitter at @dooce or check out Dooce.com.
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