The Lighter Side of Parenting

Jill Smokler (right) on Today.

Posted by Rosalind Early June 19, 2017

 

This story first appeared in the summer 2017 issue of Washington magazine.

According to her New York Times–bestselling book, Confessions of a Scary Mommy, when Jill Smokler, BFA99, found out she was pregnant, she was not excited. "I couldn't be pregnant," she writes. "We lived in a third-floor walk-up downtown; I'd had three vodka tonics last weekend; I was rocking the super short denim skirts; I didn't even like kids for crying out loud." Funny and relatable writing like that is why Smokler's blog about parenthood, Scary Mommy, became an Internet phenomenon, attracting millions of readers and leading to two book deals.

"When I started, there were very few people [online] talking honestly about motherhood," Smokler says. "Everything was really pretty glossy and perfect looking."

Smokler started Scary Mommy in 2008, after her third child was born. "I had a friend who had started a blog, and it seemed like a decent way not to be the annoying person who is sending out updates with pictures to family members," Smokler says. "I had no idea that there was this whole phenomenon with blogging."

Smokler quickly learned otherwise when a stranger ­commented on one of her posts. "I was like, 'Who is this person, and why does she care about my life?'" Smokler says. She clicked around and discovered the mommy-blogosphere.

"I would comment on other blogs like it was my job at the beginning," Smokler remembers. "My husband would be like, 'You're not getting paid to comment on these mommy blogs. What are you doing?' I was like, 'I have to! This is how I'm going to get readers!'"

For Smokler, the blog gave her something to do other than being a mom to her three young children and dialed her into a supportive community. "What I love about blogging is the connection with people," Smokler says.

At the time, the family had just moved to a ­neighborhood that was, according to Smokler, a "terrible fit." Smokler realized the site could be a source of camaraderie and support for other moms, too, but she wanted more than just her ­viewpoint. She recruited contributors and added an anonymous confessional for "parental sins"—everything from love affairs to accidental (or purposeful) breast milk-consumption. ­Readers could anonymously like, hug, or agree with the original post.

With that and help from social media, readership exploded. In 2011, a literary agent contacted Smokler about writing a book, which was on shelves by Mother's Day 2012.

"I didn't sleep," Smokler says of her five-month writing timeline. "I don't sleep anyway, so that was definitely helpful."

Confessions of a Scary Mommy: An Honest and Irreverent Look at Motherhood—the Good, the Bad, and the Scary became a bestseller. Smokler appeared on Today, did radio and print interviews, and went on a national book tour. By 2013, she had a second book, Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies). This time around, though, her publisher was fighting with Barnes & Noble, which pulled her book. Her book tour was canceled.

"The book experience is definitely full of very high highs and low lows," Smokler says. "I had to pick myself up and dust myself off and try to get back in the game." (Lately, Smokler has been dusting herself off again after announcing that she is divorcing her college sweetheart and husband of 23 years, Jeff Smokler, BA99.)

Smokler returned to her blog, which was demanding even more of her time. "I was not sleeping at all," she says. "I knew something had to give."

In 2015, she sold the site for an undisclosed sum. Smokler still remains president. The voice of the site—though written by a growing number of contributors—is still humorous and relatable. Recent headlines include "Some days, parenting just plain sucks" and "I will never give up cheese—I don't care what your book says."

Scary Mommy still offers moms (and dads) a place to go for support and a bit of humor. "Because as wonderful as motherhood is, it's also the hardest job in the world," writes Smokler in Motherhood Comes Naturally. "And we'd all go crazy if we couldn't laugh at ourselves."