It can be tough for today’s parents to hear their own voices above the prattle of advice and opinion from the pediatrician’s office to the playground. For over 10 years, though, one voice—that of journalist, author and XM Radio host Lisa Belkin—has grown a steady following among parents and non-parents alike, first through her “Life’s Work” column at the New York Times, and now as the author of “Motherlode,” the Times’ parenting blog. A wife and mother herself, Belkin feels her best posts are the ones that let readers do the talking. Judging from the comments section, she’s doing a pretty good job.
How did you become the New York Times’ parenting blogger? My children are so amused that anybody thinks that I am an expert at parenting. I have worked at the New York Times for 25 some-odd years. They published a cover story of mine about two years ago on equally-shared parenting and asked if I wanted to blog about that. There was a real interest in talking about parenting. So, now I do.
Do you like the blog format? I love the interactivity. I think it’s the best way to talk about this subject, because who are the experts but other parents? I can’t imagine just doing it as a one-way conversation.
Where do you find topics to write about? I write from my life some, although my children do put limits on that. Some of it comes off the news. A lot of it comes from readers. My inbox is filled every day with people who say, “What do I do about this?” “Will you talk about that?”
Which topics seem to resonate most with readers today? There’s real tension between people with kids and people without kids. I’m surprised at how many of my readers don’t have children and feel like the world is being taken over by children. Time comes up a lot; just how to physically fit everything into the day. Also, just what is responsible parenting nowadays. That’s a constant topic.
Have you figured those issues out for yourself? Nope!
I think it’s day to day. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve rethought a lot of my
expectations or assumptions, but I certainly haven’t figured it out. I
don’t claim to be an expert; I don’t claim to have the answers. The
beauty is I start a conversation and hundreds of people jump in and
start talking to each other. In there somewhere is an answer.
How do you handle reader criticism (of yourself or other readers) in the comments section? Interestingly,
my readers don’t beat up on me; they beat up on each other. I moderate
the comments, but for the most part I actually think the conversation on
this blog is of a somewhat higher level than you read in a lot of other
places and I’m proud of my readers for that.
What other blogs or publications do you read? I read everything! I
make the daily rounds of 50 blogs and websites. I have Google alerts on
everything. I read endless newspapers. Fortunately, it’s a subject I’m
really interested in, so reading everything doesn’t seem like work.
What do you love most about your job as Motherlode blogger? I
really like the interaction. It’s like the game where you say a
sentence and then the person next to you adds a sentence and you’re
telling a story. I start a conversation and then I watch all these
people add things.
How old are your children now? They’re old! Evan is 19; he is a sophomore in college. Alex is 16; he’s a junior in high school.
How is parenting older children different from younger ones? Interestingly,
there is a lot more advice out there for younger children. With older
children what you are beginning to do is let them go, and that’s not
what any of the parenting books teach you how to do. I’m finding it
emotionally challenging and intellectually intriguing.
talked and written about how your children won’t “friend” you on
Facebook. Are you okay with that or do you secretly wish they’d hit
“accept”? It’s worse than that— they’ve actually blocked me! For
them Facebook is their living room. They wouldn’t have me come and sit
in the living room when they talk to all their friends for the evening
either. I also know that they are (Facebook) friends with my
sister-in-law, cousins and various other family friends, so there are
people there who would let me know if they’re really doing the things
that parents spend all of their time worrying that their kids are doing.
What’s your take on how “plugged-in” kids are today? I’m
pretty sure that when the telephone was invented there were parents who
were lamenting the end of civilized society, but pulling your hair out
doesn’t make it go away. I think that my kids know more about the world
than I ever knew at their age. It’s at their fingertips, literally.
Does your family read your blog? Yes,
mostly to make sure I haven’t said anything embarrassing about them.
There was a wonderful moment when I dropped Evan off at college and I
wrote what is one of my favorite posts about “How to Send a Son to
College.” I moderate all the comments and at the end I read one that
says—I’m paraphrasing here—“I’m sure your son will do great because he
has had a great mother who has really prepared him for the world.” It
was Evan, my son.
Do your sons have veto power over what ends up in your writing? Yes,
they absolutely do. The post that I just told you about I sent to Evan
to read before I posted it. My husband has veto power, too. They rarely
veto because I know where the lines are in the first place.
once said in an interview, “Parenting is the only relationship that’s
successful if it ends.” Once your children become adults, will you still
write about parenting issues? It
never ends…my mother will tell you it never ends! The intensity
certainly ends, the responsibility, the being in charge, all of that
ends. There is interesting stuff to say about the transition to being
the parent of an adult. That’s the next chapter.
For the couple expecting their first child who may feel a bit daunted by the road ahead, what’s your advice? Have
fun and it gets better once you start getting some sleep—that’s the
first thing I tell people. You’ll figure out your way. The one thing you
don’t want to do is be looking over your shoulder to check whether
that’s the way that everyone else approves of.
Over the years, has your opinion of the phrase “having it all” changed? I
no longer think that “all” means to be the highest, wealthiest, most
famous or most powerful. I think “all” means a feeling of basic
satisfaction and sanity. You’re never going to have a hundred percent of
all the factors for your life; it’s mathematically impossible. So, yes,
I’ve changed my view of what having it all is because I’ve changed the
definition of what “all” is.
For more from Lisa Belkin, visit the Motherlode Blog at parenting.blogs.nytimes.com.