The Blair Koenig interview: Editor of STFU, Parents

April 5, 2013

Today's interviewee's site is up there on my daily reads, except for the days when the site involves poop or placentas (I read my blogs during lunch.) STFU, Parents has skewered the strange world of parental social media overshares and given me lots of laughs, silent commiseration and a bit of a guide on how not to behave online. Blair Koenig's published the STFU Parents book this week with Penguin and I can't wait to check it out. When she's not running the blog or promoting the new book, she's also got a blog at Mommyish. Disclaimer: Blair and I are (Internet) friends my child has appeared on the site...as a Mom's Gold Star.
 
What made you decide to come out as a “real person”? Wasn’t it feasible for you to publish the book anonymously?
I had written the site for three and a half years when I "came out," and I was more than ready. It's weird to write something every day and not feel like you're fully representing yourself. I've never had much interest in sharing details about my personal life on the blog or on social media, but I was forming friendships with readers and other bloggers as a result of the blog, and I wanted to be more transparent. 
 
I do think it would've been feasible for me to write and publish the book anonymously, but I'm guessing that it would've been hard to promote the book anonymously. If I went on Good Morning America with a bag over my head, my mother would be so ashamed.
 
What, if any, were the legal issues of publishing social media updates from real people? Did you need to get permission from the “subjects” and or the brand of media? 
I did not get formal permission from anyone who is featured in the book. However, we didn't use any pictures, because that would require permission, and aside from that, I think it'd be odd to have a picture of some stranger's kid's poop in the book. That doesn't sit right with me. Plus, who wants to thumb through a "funny" book at the store and then open it to the poop page? That's an eye assault. Pictures like that don't need such permanence, in my opinion. 
 
I did change a few minor details in the submissions in the book, and all of the names have been changed, too. I tried to do the names justice by choosing a comparable name. If a toddler's name was "Jazzlyn" in the submission, I might've changed it to "Maddisyn" or "Jaymee" for the book.
 
How often do you receive submissions from people that don’t qualify as STFU worthy events? What are some examples?
I'd say at least 70% qualify as "STFU-worthy," though I might not take all of those. Like if it's a mommyjacking submission, and the mommyjacking comment is good, but the comments leading up to it are all disjointed or equally crazy/rude, that won't make the cut. Or if it's the millionth nude kid sitting on a potty with his penis flashing the world, I might pass on that. 
 
Some people submit stuff that's pretty mild, but they're submitting because their friends post hourly kid updates and it's driving them nuts. So, individually the submissions aren't worthy of the blog, but I'm assuming that the person might be worthy. Those updates will just say something like, "So proud of Mykynna, she loved her first day at school!", or "My son is a smiley, stinky boy!" Sometimes those submitters are even just emailing to vent, and not because they expect the submissions to get posted.
 
What are some of your favorite “yoonique” kid names?
I'm impressed with names like Espn (pronounced "Aspen") or Abcde (pronounced "Ab-sid-ee"), because they're so unnatural to sound out, and only an idiot would give their child those names. I also have a fondness for the names Vagena Tamphen Pohtaytar and Vadgesty Foxi Maiden, because that's what this woman supposedly named her twin daughters, and those names are unforgettable. 
 
I get a little tired of names like "Danger" or "Rocket" or "Zombie." Yawn. I'm also over names like Brayden and Camden. Enough already. 
 
What are some of your actual favorite kids' names (If you had a kid tomorrow, what names would you choose?)
Hmm, I'm not sure what I would name my own kids. My name was pretty uncommon growing up, and my boyfriend's name was extremely common, and we both like our names, so I don't think being "yoonique" is really as important as having a name that fits your personality. The problem is, every time one of us suggests a name just for fun, the other is like, "Ugh, that was my 8th grade chemistry teacher's name," or, "That's the name of my first roommate who stole all my jewelry." So we don't tend to discuss baby names much.
 
Every now and then you post some “mama drama” that makes me start seriously pitying the child in question (like mothers calling out negligent fathers, for instance.) How often do you receive submissions that border on truly unfortunate circumstances, as opposed to annoying or funny, and have you ever felt compelled to follow up or notify the authorities?
Once I asked a person to consider alerting someone about a picture of a kid with radiator marks on his back. The caption said that the child had climbed up and fallen asleep on the radiator because it was warm, and then he woke up with the marks on his back, but um, why wasn't the kid being watched? I was relieved that it wasn't a picture of physical abuse, but it was definitely an example of bad parenting. Even posting the pictures on Facebook showed what a giant moron the person is. That submission bummed me out.
 
What do you do when you receive a comment or email that starts sounding threatening or violent?
I've thankfully received very few of those, and usually I ignore them. I did get a couple of emails that freaked me out and were written by the same person, but I told that person that I'd report the next one. I try to use judgment without overreacting, but weird or hateful emails are a downside to blogging, especially if they include someone's fantasy about you getting killed in front of them. 
 
You say online that you do hope to have kids someday. What have you picked up, either ironically or practically, in terms of what you do/don’t hope to do as a parent someday, beyond, of course, not posting photos of poop?
Not posting pictures of poop is a great start. Generally, I still think teaching kids basic skills is important. Whenever I read an article that says it's normal for 9-year-olds to not be able to tie their own shoes, I feel like we set evolution back. Also, I've never understand the hatred some parents have for strangers who don't pay attention to their children. Not everyone feels like waving back at your baby. Who cares? The last thing I want to teach my kid is that he or she is the center of the universe.
 
Some other fun facts I've learned about parenting in recent years that I hope to employ:
 
- Just because you can bring along your kid's training potty to the beach, or an outdoor concert, doesn't mean that you should. 
 
- Being well-versed in a particular area of parenting can be friend-repelling. Don't be a sanctimommy and lecture people on breastfeeding, car seats, diaper landfills, stroller recalls, etc. 
 
- Baby contests (cutest baby, best baby dressed as a ladybug, etc.) are almost always fixed.
 
- Mommyjacking is a bad habit, but people can reform.
 
Who are some of your favorite real life parents?
Well, my own of course. :) My friend Andy inspires me because she and her husband have two small kids and run their own businesses, but she's always taking on new projects or training to run the Marathon or something. And my best friend in Atlanta has two kids under 3, and the older son is so smart and patient. He's like a little helper. She and her husband seem to have taught him the fun in doing things rather than having things done for him.
 
What writing have you been doing and do you intend to do outside the realm of STFU Parents? 
It's been a while since I contributed to another site under my real name instead of STFU, Parents. I'd like to write a book of humor essays, and I've been working on the outline for that. I also think about collaborating with other writers, either for TV or maybe on a screenplay, because I've never done that before. It seems like that could be interesting.
 
What tips do you have for bloggers on how to walk it off when the comments get too hateful? 
I think the easiest way to avoid hateful comments is to not read the comments at all, but I also think it's important to engage with readers and listen to criticism. I've gotten defensive in the comments before, and it backfires on me every time. It's better to accept that some people will always disagree with you and try not to take stuff too personally. Also, physically walking it off helps. Taking a 10 minute walk will put things in perspective. It's not life or death. It's the Internet.
 
How does it feel to be the 343rd person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
It feels like 343 high-fives exploding in outer space. Thanks, Claire!
 
Follow Claire Zulkey on Twitter  @Zulkey. Want to read other Zulkey.com interviews? Go here.
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