Published on The Daily Femme- Monday, August 2, 2010
Contributed by Annamarya
When Tanis Miller started her blog, Attack of the Redneck Mommy, in 2006, it was her way of dealing with the grief of losing her son, Shale, just four months before. But now, four years later, what started as a means to connect with people and find support while working through profound heartache has become a soundboard for Miller’s life—the ins-and-outs of parenting, marriage, personal experiences and fierce activism for children with disabilities. From dying her pubic hair to lecturing readers on why the R-word is derogatory and (shouldn’t be used), there is no topic this Canadian mom/writer won’t touch. And it’s those witty, candid words that have gotten the attention of the world over–in addition to being featured in The Globe and Mail, various Canadian Dailies, and on CNN,Attack of the Redneck Mommy won the Bloggies’ 2008 and 2010 Best Canadian Blog awards, was named one of RotorBlog’s 7-Must Read Mommy Blogs, as well as one of Babble’s Top Fifty Mommy Bloggers, and has over 10,000 Twitter followers. In this interview, Miller discusses the power of blogging, her efforts to make life better for disabled children and why the term “mommy blogger” is offensive.
Tell us more about your blog, Attack of the Redneck Mommy. How did you come to call it Attack of the Redneck Mommy?
I’ll be honest, there was little to no fore thought about what I named my blog. I was sitting alone, in the dark, staring at my computer when I set up my blog, trying to think of something clever to title my site and I was coming up absolutely blank. The only thing I could think of was how my uncle always had a red neck and I used to ask him if that meant he was a redneck. I never quite understood what he meant when he always replied, “Nope, it just means I’m a hoser.” In a fit of nostalgia, I decided to name myself the redneck mommy as homage to my uncle and my childhood innocence. Looking back now, I wish I had googled “Redneck Mommy” before I named my blog that. I’d have discovered that rat farmer in Alabama and wisely chose differently. Ah, blogging innocence…
You started the blog in 2006, four months after the death of your son, Shale. Did you find writing a blog helped you deal with that grief? Do you think that you would have started a blog if Shale had not passed?
Before my son passed away unexpectedly, I didn’t even know what a blog was. We didn’t even have a computer. It was only weeks after he died that my husband surprised me with a computer. I started googling Moms+grief, looking for some kind of support while I was hip deep in grief and that is when I discovered what a blog was. The ability to connect with other people while working through my grief online, was and still is very cathartic. Losing a child is very isolating and the online community I found when I started my blog helped save my sanity. If Shale hadn’t passed I likely would be one of those annoying people who scoff at the idea of anyone reading a blog on a computer (who would waste their time?) while I shook my cane at them and yelled at them to get off my lawn.
Your blog deals with other topics, such as parenting and marriage. What has been the one piece you’ve written over the four years on those topics that has garnered the most attention?
It’s been a mixed bag really. The two posts that seem to have garnered the most attention have been polar opposites in subject matter. One post was talking about my child’s disabilities and the other post was a humorous account of when I dyed my pubic hair blue. One is slightly more respectable than the other, you could say.
Do you ever find yourself getting into battles with your readers over the contents of your blog or is the readership response overall positive and supportive?
There has been a handful of times when a reader of mine has publicly argued with me about the content of my posts. But for the most part, I try not to turn my comment section into a battlefield. Luckily for me, my readers have been really supportive and receptive to my content and the naysayers are few and far between.
With that, do you think it’s important for bloggers to developed some type of relationship with their readers? Have you developed any first-name-basis relationships with your readers?
I can’t speak for all bloggers, but for me, it is important to develop a relationship with my readers, especially since I started blogging due to my personal tragedy. My blog is my online home and I like to know who is visiting. I’ve not only developed real relationships with some of my readers but some of my bestest friends are people I met in my comment section.
I know you recently adopted the adorable Jumby, who is disabled, and your late son, Shale, I believe, was born with disabilities; you are also, to use your words, a “fierce advocate” for children with disabilities. Other than through your blog and by supporting a number of charities, in what other ways do you advocate for children with disabilities?
In my life offline, I am on a provincial government committee that continually reviews the benefits and supports available to parents who have children with disabilities. I speak at a rehabilitation hospital to a rotating group of new parents to children with disabilities and I make public appearances to talk about how to advocate for special needs children as well as how to survive losing a child. I also like to bust the balls of the local school system to ensure they are constantly improving the quality of education and services not only for my child, but every child that enters the system with a disability.
As a mother of children with disabilities, do you think enough is being done to help/support/advocate for children with disabilities?
I don’t think there can ever be enough done to help support and advocate children with disabilities. Our family is lucky to live in a province that is incredibly generous with its support for families with special needs but I believe it is an ongoing battle to protect those supports and encourage new ones. There will always be children with disabilities and there will always be stigmas and children slipping through the cracks. Until Utopia exists, there will always be more work to be done.
You are outspoken about the use of the R-word and why it shouldn’t be used, often citing the experiences your children and you have been through because of people who use that word and are less than wise when interacting with disabled children. How often do you encounter people who use that word shamelessly and how do you deal with them?
Unfortunately, I encounter too many people both online and offline, who use the R-word indiscriminately. Since I’m a “take the bull by the horns”’ type of girl, I have no compunction about pointing out to the people who use the word that I find it offensive and explain why. Most of the time, people are receptive to me but there is the odd time I get told where to go and how to get there. That’s when I get feisty and shoot my mouth off. I’m pretty sure one day I’m going to get my arse kicked for it, but until that happens I’ll continue to champion people who need it and campaign against the R-word.
In the four years of starting Attack of the Redneck Mommy, your blog has been featured on CNN, The Globe and Mail Canadian dailies. On top of that, you’ve won Bloggies’ 2008 and 2010 Best Canadian Blog awards, you were named one of RotorBlog’s 7-Must Read Mommy Blogsand Babble’s Top Fifty Mommy Bloggers, you’re part of Blogher, are a weekly contributor at CBC, and over 10,000 people follow you on Twitter (@redneckmommy). Did you ever imagine, when you first put your fingers to the keys, that those things would come to pass?
Never in my wildest dreams. I had absolutely no concept of the power of the Internet and how far my words would spread. But as my husband often likes to tell me, there is no accounting for taste.
You had a weekly segment on CBC titled “Real Life with Tanis Miller.” How is that segment different from your blog?
I was really lucky to be part of a show called “Connect with Mark Kelley” and do a weekly segment on national television. I was paid to appear on national television and prattle my personal opinions about news topics while the producers yelled at me through an ear piece to not drop an F-bomb on live television. The biggest difference about my blog and the television segment was that I usually had makeup on when on air. And a shirt and bra. When I blog I tend to do it on my couch in a bathrobe. The only real similarity is I never wore pants while blogging or while on TV. Luckily for the public, my contract expired and I chose to move in a different direction. It turned out I didn’t much care for watching my double chins wobble on the boob tube for complete strangers to mock. I much prefer the anonymity of blogging behind a screen where no one can see me scratch my boobs.
You were also on the Phase 1 judging committee of the Voices of the Year Gala for this year’s Blogher Conference. How was that?
[It] was a lot of fun and a nice way to pay it forward since I was one of the chosen speakers last year.
Being a woman in media, do you find yourself having to work and prove yourself harder than the men?
I personally believe that being a woman in any industry means having to work a smidge harder to prove yourself than most male counterparts. Especially once a woman becomes a mother. I also believe that regardless of your sex, if you bust your arse, opportunity will find you and knock on your door. But take what I say with a grain of salt. I am a stay-at-home mother who walks around topless and lets her children subsist on Fruit Loops. I’m not exactly the leading authority on females in the work place. Unless the work place is my couch. On that, I’m pretty authoritative.
There seems to have been a big boom of “mommy bloggers” in the last few years and a recent study conducted by BIGresearch for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, which says women with children at home are more likely to use social media appears to support the belief that this increase is real. As a mother with a blog, why do you think that is?
Personally, I think it’s because children are like little zombies who will eat your brains if you let them. There is only so much Disney and Nickelodeon watching a woman can do before she starts to lose her mind. Having the ability to connect with others through the Internet and have an intelligent conversation or read something stimulating all while making sure your children aren’t killing one another has got to be motherhood’s greatest invention. Next to the washing machine of course. Because who wants to wash the unending pile of dirty kids clothes on a rock in a river?
Continuing with that, there seems to be some uproar over the term “mommy blogger” with people finding that particular branding offensive. What is your take? Do you find that term offensive?
To be honest, I loathe the term “mommy blogger.” There is something slightly dismissive, demeaning and downright creepy when someone other than the child that sprung from your loins calls you “mommy.” I much prefer not to have my blog pigeonholed as one type of genre since I write about my boobs and my sex life just as often as I write about my children. Why limit my audience with a descriptor that isn’t accurate? Which is why, when one names their blog, they really should put more thought into what they are calling it then I did. Learn from me, peoples.
Other than the fact that you’re a funny, witty, strong, outspoken woman, what sets your blog apart from other female bloggers?
I tend to be hairier than most other female bloggers and have no problem posting the pictures to prove it.
What advice do you have for people dealing with the loss of a loved one?
Be gentle with yourself. Your world has changed without your permission and it is okay to be pissed off about it. To be sad. Take the time to deal with all the emotions swirling around you and feel no shame in showing weakness. Most importantly, I want people to remember to find joy in their life when they are grieving. It can feel impossible. But the simple truth is, one joy really can erase a mountain of pain, if only for a second. The world can be a dark place when you’re grieving; it can be really hard to remember there is light behind the clouds and it will shine once more.