How to turn critical blog comments into corresponding clarity

Have you ever been sent spinning by negative feedback on your work? I have! Blogging can be exhilarating at times, can't it? There's the thrill of instant connection and rising page hits… the wonderful sense of being of service... and then, the sting of a verbal slap in the face. Recently, we received the following comment from EJ regarding the post entitled "Power: Struggle or Sharing between Moms and Stepmoms?" from 5/29/08. (You can read it in full by going here.)

...I get kind of upset sometimes when I read this blog because I feel like I'm consistently being scolded for something I didn't do. In this instance, the ex-wives seem to be painted as inflexible and power hungry. Really? I don't know that I agree with that assessment individually or on a grand scale. Sure we all tend to mis-trust the unknown...and sharing your children, even with their FATHER can be hard sometimes. But the fact that we do it anyway despite the friction, despite the struggles, says something to our interest in the greater good for our children. What if instead we give moms a break and thank them for doing the very best that they can for their children.

1. First stop: feeling ba-a-d

When I first read this, it really threw me. Were we, or more specifically me, since I'm the writer, consistently chiding and reprimanding people? Not acknowledging their hard work and sacrifices? This was the last thing in the world I wanted to convey! We want to HELP people! Inspire them, cheer them on as they attempt to do something difficult, unusual and brave, but ultimately so worth it....

My emotional reaction to EJ's words ran the gamut, as I felt a bit scolded myself. With the tiniest sprinkling of sarcasm added to her post, I felt my hackles rise in self-defense. I was slightly pissed, then embarrassed… and ended up at self-righteously indignant (I'll explain that part in a sec').

But then… I wondered….

Was there any truth to her comments?

First, I had to sit back and spend some time thinking about the purpose of this blog.

2. Check your flight instruments

What IS our purpose? (No, not special purpose, just our purpose.)

This site grew in February of 2007 from the loins of a book proposal, so we've been at it for almost a year and a half now. Sure, when the blog began, we already had a complete proposal we were hoping to sell (with nonfiction, you sell the proposal first, then write the book) -- a blog seemed like a great way to connect with a potential audience and learn even more about this topic from the people living it, just like us. But sharing real estate right up there with our hopes of selling the project (which we did, yay!) was also the hope that our blog would actually support people in resolving some hairy issues. We had found our way out of some pretty serious misery. We figured there were plenty of people in the same situation, flailing around.

This blog was basically supposed to be a way of saying, here's what's possible.

Here's why we did it.

And here's how...

Not necessarily saying… here's the best way. Here's the only way. And certainly not: we're the experts on how to do this. And if you're not doing it this way, you're an idiot or just… buck up.

So the question was... was I?

3. Use a flour sifter

Well, actually, yes....

I was! In part....

I was a bit surprised to see this and, you know how those things go…. It didn't feel so hot either.

Carol and I talked about this for a long time on the phone (she lives about thirty minutes away and sometimes, it may as well be in a foreign country). The bottom line: I realized I had painted myself into a bit of a corner.

There's all the stuff that I'm trying to "save" for the book (after all, the subtitle is Ten Secrets to Strengthening Families, One Ex-wife/Stepmother Partnership at a Time), trying to write about it -- while also writing around it. A mind-@#%* at times….

There's also the pressure of trying to crank out content of substance that people might actually find useful two to three days a week. Stuff that will hopefully be good enough to live on the internets for a while, more than day-to-day posts that are outdated just weeks later. Sometimes I look at stuff I've written and think, I'm going to put up this crap?! Nothing sounds right....

Do I sound like I'm whining? There's more!

Sometimes I run out of things to write. I mean, what more can I possibly say on this topic? I cast a line into my brain, pull out the fishing line and… nothing. I've got the privacy of all the family members involved, especially the kids. While Carol is extremely open and is more than amenable to telling stories about us, I haven't quite figured out how to write about parenting things that we've worked through, either separately or together, without also mentioning WHAT those things were, and that involves young people whose lives should not be dragged online without them fully understanding what that means. Which they cannot know until they're adults.. Which unfortunately leaves me with a lot of material in a closet, never to be used.

As it should be….

But it's one more avenue closed. And sometimes... you know -- those pesky limits stump you.

I know I’m also trying to write posts in a "nice" way, hoping to not offend anyone or piss anyone off. Why? Well, doesn't everyone want to be liked? Some more than others, of course. I know I like being nice. And can this be crippling? Or simply a pain in the ass? Absolutely. Even I've felt frustrated with the blog at times, like what I was writing was a namby-pamby version of what I really wanted to say.

Which was, right or wrong (and here I'm saying it's wrong, make no mistake, and don't quote me on this as though this were the crux of the issue - I'm just trying to be honest) sometimes this: would you just get off your ass and stop being so lazy? Would you just stop blaming the other woman so much, pretending that you're living in a hell that she and she alone has made for you? Would you, please dear god, think about all the animosity you're creating in the house that these poor children have to live in, whether full- or part-time? They didn't ask for these adult living arrangements, they just get thrown around in them! And if they act like little hellions, maybe there's a good reason!

Like I said, I know it's wrong. Should never be said. Or thought. But hey, I'm human. And hey, it's in there.

So that's where the righteous indignation comes in…. Some of it comes from a healthy, compassionate place of love and concern for the shit that a lot of kids are going through, (like the exes I know who cannot speak to each other on the phone six years after their divorce, and make the kids do all the talking between the mom and the stepmom - ridiculous), but some of it is sorely misplaced. And for that I truly apologize.

4. Take a cue from the Census Bureau Because… what a lot of these feelings of angst come down to is the need to more accurately understand who our audience is.

Who's going to be reading this blog? Ex-wives or stepmothers with real and serious mental issues, drug and alcohol problems? Women that are actively abusing their children, or severely getting off on trying to make the other woman so miserable that suicide starts to seem appealing for the intended target?

Hardly.

Those women that I'm so frustrated with are not receptive.

Those women are not reading!

Our average reader is probably somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, in terms of problems and possibilities. There's hope for them. They're willing to look at their own failures and shortcomings and see how they might be feeding into any difficulties. They're working. They're trying. They're open to learning, willing to listen and watch and soak things up in the spirit of change and improvement and creating harmony.

That's who you are....

So if I've lectured anyone or scolded anyone, out of frustration, or irritation, or a sense of judgment, I am truly sorry. I usually try to be an equal-opportunity kind of gal, when it comes to nailing people. :-) But I can see how I may have inadvertently started to sound like a bit of a harpy. And I guess I do sometimes feel a little crazy, like I'm talking into a void…. You try typing all these words!!

I promise to keep a closer eye on all this in the future. And I'm always open to feedback, as long as it's handled respectfully.

5. Learn the lesson and regroup

So… what actually came out of all this was something really good. I can actually say thank you to EJ for taking the time to speak up, to hammer out her thoughts, to care enough to actually engage in a dialogue with us. So thank you, EJ!

We've come at this from several different angles, we have a better sense of what we're doing and where we're trying to go, and we've made some much-needed course corrections. Hopefully, our blog will continue to be helpful to some of you. Hopefully our words will support and inspire. And as always, we love knowing that you're out there and are reading.

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

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