This is a paper I wrote about social media, mothering, and ADHD children. It's a Comms paper but it really helped me understand some of the issues I was dealing with as a mother of ADHD children. This is the whole enchilada, 25 pages.
An Appeal to Authentic Mothering: Comparing Social Media Rhetoric
on Mothering Children with ADHD
In this paper I will compare the rhetorical appeals of two social media sites for mothers of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One site, A Mom’s View of ADHD: My Everyday Life with My ADHD Son (A Mom’s View), is a popular personal blog written by Penny Williams, the mother of a seven-year-old son, Luke. The other is a Facebook page (part of a social networking site) entitled ADHD Moms and sponsored by McNeil Pediatrics. Comparing the two, which appear similar at first and fall into the same genre of social media, exposed a wide gap in the messages and methods of the two texts. I chose to analyze social media discourse on ADHD and mothering because each of these elements alone is a popular contemporary subject in communication and culture. Analyzing the interplay of the three elements--social media, ADHD, and mothering--revealed even more fully the complexity of our Information Age (now moving into the Attention Age) and the corresponding changes in rhetorical strategies.
Social media is a relatively new form of discourse and is constantly evolving. Generally referring to online applications such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, video sharing, and social networking, social media includes any media that allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content. These kinds of interactive sites are becoming more popular than traditional websites, with those that encourage quick exchanges becoming the most popular. Steve Rubel noted, “We’re favoring what we can scan and skim over what we can read or watch. This is why Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook are so irresistible and dominating” (2009). Though social media began exactly as its name suggests, as a social exchange, it is rapidly becoming commercialized. Rubel directed advertisers, “Take your message to where the people are…. This will ensure that you’re taking full advantage of the two key ways consumers will find content—pull (e.g. search) and push (e.g. content that finds you increasingly through social networks).” This may be what McNeil Pediatrics had in mind when they created ADHD Moms, a hybrid of social and commercial media, on Facebook. Many blogs, a genre that began as a vehicle for self-expression, now contain ads that generate income for the blogger. While A Mom’s View blog is not a business-sponsored site, it does contain advertising.
Social media is tied to health issues such as ADHD because of the trend to search for health information online. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 80 percent of Internet users search the Web for health information, and a majority of these participants access user-generated health information (Fox and Jones, 2009). People looking for health information do not want just facts and figures from experts but also want to hear about the experiences of others in similar situations. They want to know what others say about medication and treatment, they want to get emotional support, and they want to build awareness around a disease or cause (Sarasohn-Kahn, 2008). This is likely the kind of ADHD information users are seeking when they go to A Mom’s View blog or ADHD Moms.
ADHD is an ideal vehicle for a contemporary rhetorical analysis because of its cultural implications, including its ambiguity and recent detection by the medical community. According to Malacrida, “It is a diagnosis that, since its discovery in the early-to-mid 20th century has engendered considerable controversy regarding its nature and treatment” (2004). Conrad and Schneider tie its legitimacy not to medical research but to “aggressive pharmaceutical marketing strategies” (cited in Malacrida, 2004). Because ADHD in children often manifests itself in behavioral rather than physical problems, the question arrises, Is the child misbehaved or suffering from ADHD? The behavioral problems then reflect not only on the child but also on the parents and their inability to control or discipline the child. Malacrida notes that ADHD, “because of its cultural and historical ambiguity, brings mothers into conflict with discourses of good motherhood” (2001).
Motherhood is the final element in this triad of contemporary culture. Though we may think of good motherhood as a static ideal, Medina and Magnuson stated, “The standards for mothering are socially determined and have changed over the past century” (2009). Sharon Hays found that since the 1980s, the standards for good mothering have been escalating into what she calls “intensive mothering.” Intensive mothering is “expert guided, emotionally absorbing, and labor intensive” (1996). Susan Douglas extended this term for the 21st century, defining “new momism,” and said that unlike today’s moms, a mom in previous decades was not expected “to pipe Mozart near her womb so this perfectly tuned child came out, or drill him with flash cards…or expect him to read The Iliad by the time he was four” (cited in Peterson, 2004). If the average mom in today’s culture feels pressure to be a perfect mother, then the mother of an ADHD child feels even more pressure. On top of the demands of new momism, she must find ways to help improve her child’s erratic behavior, do extra work with school and health professionals, make treatment decisions, and create an accommodating environment at home, among other tasks. Moreover, she must shoulder these additional burdens on behalf a child who may not appear to have special needs, and thus, the child’s behavior is unlikely to prompt empathy for the mother, but rather harsh judgment.
But there is a backlash against this ideal of perfect mothering, some of which has been generated through the “mommy blogging” community. Lopez noted that mommy bloggers create a “different picture of motherhood to what we see in the mainstream media.” Through their realistic descriptions of life, “we see women who are frazzled by the demands of their newborn baby, who have no clue what to do when their child gets sick, who suffer from postpartum depression, and whose hormones rage uncontrollably” (2009). These are not the June Cleaver moms of the 1950s, nor are they of the Thelma and Louise extreme ilk. These women fall somewhere in between, trying to be good mothers but acknowledging the realities and difficulties of their role. I compare this to the heroes portrayed in current films. Superman and his superhuman, shiny, happy, persona is not currently quite as popular as the more human, flawed, Batman, whose weaknesses make him more rounded and believable. While the appeal to being a supermom still works as a rhetorical strategy the most up-to-date appeal comes from the realistic, mulitfaceted supermom.
This paper combines four elements: rhetoric, social media, ADHD, and motherhood. I did not find any literature that included all these subjects but found studies that researched one or more of theses areas.
Killingsworth’s study, “Rhetorical Appeals: A Revision” provided the framework for my rhetorical approach. As the title suggests, Killingsworth revised neo-Aristotilian rhetoric to create a definition of appeals that better suits modern ideas and genres. While traditional appeals often relate to authority or evidence, contemporary appeals may relate to gender, race, the body, etc. and allow for the designation of a great variety of genres. This broader definition of appeals worked well in my study of the developing genre of social media and appeals to identity. In further research, the contemporary view of appeals could be used to analyze a wide variety of genres and discourses.
All the research I found on social media came from 2009. It is the popular genre of the day, reflecting the culture of the moment. In “The Radical Act of ‘Mommy Blogging’: Redefining Motherhood through the Blogoshpere,” Lopez examined how mommy bloggers have exposed the myth of perfect mothering and are creating a new, more realistic conception of motherhood. She also discussed how mommy bloggers are creating a community of support and validation for themselves. My research examined the importance of understanding the mommy blogging concept of motherhood when reaching out to online moms.
Burns, in “The Misuse of Social Media,” discussed the ethical standards that bloggers must maintain as public relations practitioners and advertisers. Influential bloggers can criticize “flogs,” or fake blogs, through their blog comments and various social media. I extended Burns’ ideas to the genre of social networking, which is closely related to blogging.
According to Rubel, social media is shifting from a focus on blogs to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The popularity of these sites is gaining the attention of advertisers and social media is becoming commercialized. Rubel’s article was short, and while he advised advertisers to use social networking sites, he didn’t discuss how advertisers should approach this new medium. My research examined how a social media site’s approach can determine the appeal of the site.
Ellison and Mack commented directly on one of the texts in my study, the ADHD Moms Facebook page. Ellison warned that parents should be skeptical of McNeil Pediatrics’ presence on Facebook. She found the discourse was biased toward drug use for ADHD and that McNeil Pediatrics presented a false “friend” identity. Mack also reported the purging of Debbie Phelps as a group leader on the ADHD Moms site after her son Michael Phelps was caught using drugs. He lamented that readers were not able to hear what Mrs. Phelps had to say about a real-life problem with an ADHD child. These studies point out problems in social media rhetoric. My paper highlighted these problems by comparing individual and commercial rhetors and showing how their rhetorical strategies can improve or diminish appeal within the genre of social media.
Two studies I used intersected health and social media. Sarasohn-Kahn’s report on health and online social media defined social media, noted that people use a variety of social media tools in their searches for health information, and described how users were seeking information on personal experiences and treatment advice (2008). Fox and Jones published a report entitled, The Social Life of Health Information, for the Pew Internet project. The report listed statistics showing the cultural relevance of the Internet as a means for researching health information (2009). With an explosion of online healthcare information, not only “what” but “how” information is shared becomes critical.
Malacrida authored two studies on various aspects of ADHD and mothering. The first, “Motherhood, Resistance, and Attention Deficit Disorder,” outlined how the cultural and historical ambiguity of ADHD has brought ADHD mothers into conflict with ideals of good mothering. She examined how ADHD mothers formed their personal knowledge and power to bolster their credibility (2001). “Medicalization, Ambivalence, and Social Control” built on Malacrida’s previous findings from a new perspective, analyzing ADHD mothers’ interactions with educators (2004). This study also touched on efforts of pharmaceutical companies to legitimize ADHD. I transposed these finding to examine ADHD and mothering within the contemporary context of social media discourse.
Finally, I looked at cultural ideals of motherhood and how they have evolved into the present model. Sharon Hays researched sixteen years of social evolution and applied the term “intensive mothering” to the labor intensive, child-centered parenting ideal (1996). This concept was further developed by Douglas, who defined the term “new momism” in her 2004 book. In an interview with Karen Peterson, Douglas described “new momism” as an impossible ideal that set mothers up for failure and guilt. Modena and Magnuson reviewed the literature on motherhood and addressed the social construction of motherhood and its impact on mothers. Lopez’s study brought the previous research up to date by defining the present ideal of motherhood in the mommy blogosphere as a backlash against unrealistic ideals for mothers (2009). I compared these definitions of motherhood to depictions of motherhood in my texts and analyzed how appeals addressed to mothers work in a cultural context.
RQ1: How do social media sites for ADHD mothers appeal to their audience?
RQ2: How do rhetorical strategies depend on contemporary culture?
Explanation of the Texts
When searching Google for “ADHD Mom” or “ADHD Moms,” both A Mom’s View blog and the ADHD Moms Facebook page appeared at the top of the search. I chose them because of their popularity and because they both fit the genre of social media.
By nature, social media sites consist of almost limitless discourse, with archived posts going back, in some cases, for years and theoretically unlimited future posts. I created parameters for the texts I examined by choosing a date, November 16, 2009, and analyzing the four most recent posts to the site on that date, along with permanent content. For Penny Williams’s blog, A Mom’s View, this consisted of a November 2, 2009 post entitled The “Wild Thing” Now Visits Every Morning!; a November 3, 2009 post entitled I’m Published; a November 8, 2009 post entitled Starting from Scratch; and a November 16, 2009 post entitled Mom’s Homework.
The structure of the ADHD Moms site is somewhat more complex than the average blog, with six tabbed headings: Wall, Info, Advice, Leaders, Mombassadors, and Boxes. I used as texts the messages that were linked to the four most recent Wall posts from November 16, 2009. These were ADHD Awareness Week: ADHD Moms Leader in Action by Ana Romero (which included a personal story), Learning to Fly Solo by Dr. Partricia Quinn, What Is a Mombassador? (anonymous), and ADHD Moms Welcomes New Mombassador Fan to Community Leadership by April White (which also included a personal story). I also analyzed the permanent content, the Wall posts, and the information and comment from the Boxes tab of November 16, 2009.
I analyzed the ethos of both texts according to a neoclassical interpretation of ethos as the argument from the character and credibility of the speaker. I then analyzed how ethos created a rhetorical appeal. I read the texts asking myself a simple question formulated by rhetorician Jimmie Killingsworth (2005), “What is the appeal?” (p. 253). Killingsworth’s contemporary definition of rhetorical appeals extended the meaning of Aristotle’s ethos, pathos, and logos and observed the interaction between the three. He argued that ethos focuses on the position of the author, pathos on the position of the audience, and logos on values. A rhetorical appeal moves the author, audience, and values into alignment, the values acting as a “star that guides the audience into the port of common interest with the author” (p. 252).
But while this structure of appeals is simple, the direction is not. Killingsworth noted, “One interesting thing about appeals is that they tend to proceed indirectly toward their goal” (p. 253). Killingsworth illustrated this with an example from a television toothpaste advertisement claiming to enhance the users’ sex appeal. Here the author and audience are easy to identify; the toothpaste company is the author and the television viewer is the audience, but the values are more complex. While the obvious appeal might be to the value of dental health, the author chooses a more indirect value, sex appeal. According to Killingsworth, “Appeals always involve such acts of transformation and substitution” (p. 254). In the case of ADHD Moms and A Mom’s View blog, the obvious appeal would be to the health of the child, but both sites focus more on the appeal to mothering identity.
Killingsworth also cited the importance of other rhetorical elements affecting contemporary discourse. Relevant to my analysis are medium and genre. The medium of exchange is the textual, historical, and cultural context of language and the genre is the form of language, such as an epic poem, a comedy film, or a blog (p. 262). Killingsworth noted that the old modes of discourse often appealed to authority or evidence but contemporary discourse tends “to form into genres rather than modes” and appeal to a variety of interests such as gender, age, or the body (p. 262). The texts I analyzed exist in a medium of online culture, fall into the genre of social media, and appeal to identity: the contemporary ideal of the ADHD supermom.
Ethos and Author Position
Both the blog and the Facebook page ostensibly provided objective information about the concerns of ADHD mothers, but since every author has personal values and a worldview, every text is imbued with implicit rhetorical messages. In these two texts, the rhetorical strategies were for the most part latent rather than manifest. The persona of the author, revealed through the text, varied in its power to create a rhetorical appeal. Because Williams reflected the contemporary “mommy blogging” ideal of mothering, her ethos was more influential than that of the ADHD Moms site, which presented a disjointed, disingenuous ethos and an outdated ideal of mothering.
Penny Williams, author of A Mom’s View blog, is a real estate broker and mother of two living in North Carolina. She described herself as a “t-ball/softball mom, a soccer mom, a working mom, and a mom of an ADHD child” (user profile). She is a top health blogger for the ADHD community (main page) and a recently published magazine writer. She explained in her I’m Published entry, “While I have a long way to go, I now have a published piece. I am elated! This piece, an excerpt of one of my blog entries, is printed in the upcoming Winter 2010 issue of ADDitude Magazine.” Her success in writing and the popularity of her blog lent to her credibility as an author.
Williams is also very knowledgeable about ADHD, providing detailed descriptions about medical treatments, nutrition, creating a supportive home environment, and interacting with health specialists. Discussing her son’s medical treatment, Williams mentioned the names of drugs, doses, side effects, and long hours with doctors. In her Mom’s Homework entry, she described,
“We saw the new doctor in their office…about medication. We spent over an hour with him going back over all the experiences and medication trials with Luke. He agreed the Vyvanse was the wrong medication and the amphetamines in general (Adderall too) were not right for Luke. He gave me the option of going back to Concerta and meeting every 3-4 weeks to try to make it work or to try Focalin which we hadn't yet tried. I decided to go back to the Concerta, without the Tenex, and then work with this doctor to try to make the Concerta work. We know the Concerta was very effective with very little side effects when it worked. The problem was that it lost effectiveness after a month or so. We bumped the dosage up once but the same thing occurred. We are at the last dosage (36 mg) and we are down to 1/2 mg of Tenex once a day right now and will be off of it entirely on Wednesday. After Thanksgiving we'll go back to the doctor and evaluate how things are going and make any adjustments we need to at that time.”
Williams showed interest in nutrition for children with ADHD and included a great deal of detail about her son’s diet as well:
“I borrowed an old-fashioned egg cooker from my mom to be able to make eggs for him...He ate the entire egg and half a piece of toast with peanut butter this morning. A full glass of Vitamin D milk too…. I have read over and over lately that lots of protein in the morning is the best thing for ADHD symptoms and for taking meds” (Wild Thing).
In her Mom’s Homework entry, Williams described how she works at “creating and maintaining the best possible environment for Luke” at home. She also takes care to make her home supportive for Luke’s sister and for her husband and herself. She has decided to limit screen time for the children and implement a rewards system for good behavior. She said of all this effort, “It is going to be a lot of work but I am looking forward to finally implementing all the systems… I knew were the right thing to do in the first place.” Williams is very aware of her son’s behavior, even noting changes from hour to hour. She described how Luke experienced “outrageous morning behavior and…the afternoon lull,” acting especially hyper “from about bout 2-4 or 5 pm every day” and finally settling down by 5 pm” (Starting from Scratch).
Williams described a life full of interactions with medical specialists, including physicians, counselors, and occupational therapists, sometimes seeing more than one specialist in a day, “We see the therapist again Wednesday morning and have occupational therapy again Wednesday afternoon” (Starting from Scratch). She and her son meet weekly with a counselor for help in “managing and resolving any issues we are having” (Mom’s Homework). Physician visits occurred regularly because of the difficulty in prescribing and managing medication, “[The therapist] was able to talk to the doctor in their office directly Friday morning and get him to squeeze us into his schedule at noon this Monday so we can get the medications straightened out” (Starting from Scratch). Williams’s extraordinary knowledge and efforts bolster her character as a hard-working, loving mother, further increasing the strength of her ethos. She is striving to reach the cultural ideal of the perfect mom, and in dealing with ADHD, she has elevated herself to an ADHD supermom.
But Williams’s discourse also contained an undercurrent of self-effacement, venting, and confession, revealing her partial rejection of the perfect mom myth. The subtitle of her blog, “My Everyday Life with My ADHD Son,” is an attempt to identify herself as an “everyday” mother with whom her readers can relate and not as an expert or authority from outside the group. This identity reinforces her membership within the ADHD mommy blogging community. In her entry on getting published, Williams admitted to being disappointed about the photo chosen to go with her piece, “I’m working really hard right now to not obsess about how much I hate the photo and ruin this monumental moment.”
Talking about limiting screen time for her children, Williams confessed, “I got lazy. It got hard, and I gave up. I have always rationalized that we live where the kids can’t go outside to play.” When talking about creating a reward system for her children, she said, “That is just too much of a change all at once for children who are set in their ways of controlling me!” (Mom’s Homework). Williams shared her dejection at the thought of starting from scratch with her son’s medical treatment, “Thinking about all we have been through for the last year being for nothing is painful. Depressing really….” And Williams admitted that with his bad behavior, she “was reduced to tears at least three times yesterday” (Starting from Scratch). While some may see Williams’ admission of flaws as detracting from her credibility, other mommy bloggers and social media moms likely see it as a strength. As Lopez said, “Mommy bloggers are developing their own voice for discussing motherhood, and it is distinctly different from the radiant image of the good mother that has dominated our media, with its impossible demands and assumptions about women” (2009). Williams identity as an ADHD supermom is buffered by her admission of flaws and failings, making her what the mommy blogging community might call an authentic mom.
The ethos of ADHD Moms is much more complicated than that of A Mom’s View blog, authored by Williams. To analyze the ethos, I needed first to discover, Who was the author of ADHD Moms? The “who” was not immediately apparent as the first page on which the user arrives did not mention any authors or make the company affiliation clear. By clicking on the Info tab I learned that “ADHD Moms is sponsored by McNeil Pediatrics,” which sounded to me like a pediatric physicians’ practice or group. The Info tab provided a link to www.mcneilpediatrics.net where I learned, after some investigation, that McNeil Pediatrics is the manufacturer of the popular, long-acting stimulant drug Concerta, often used to treat ADHD. I later noticed that on several pages the ADHD Moms site had McNeil Pediatrics logos incorporating the text “Division of Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,” but the text was so small that it was almost unnoticeable and very difficult for me to read.
So who is ADHD Moms? It is a large pharmaceutical company that manufacturers ADHD drugs and hides behind the more appealing name of McNeil Pediatrics that hides behind the name of ADHD Moms. I would not describe this as a total lack of transparency but enough to put a dent in the site’s ethos armor. In Burns discussion of the misuse of social media, she noted, “Transparency is paramount and blogging programs that lack transparency will be criticized by the blogging community….” (2009). Though McNeil Pediatrics seems to have learned—in part—its lesson from the past mistakes of others such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s who were criticized for creating “flogs,” or fake blogs, to promote themselves and their products, McNeil has nevertheless created a phony identity. ADHD Moms calls itself an “online community where mothers of children with ADHD can hear directly from other moms” (Info tab). However sincere its desire to help mothers of children with ADHD, McNeil is still a for-profit company with a stake in establishing the legitimacy of ADHD and ADHD medication. McNeils’s attempt to meld their social, commercial, and even therapeutic identity into one created a confusing and counterfeit ethos that decreased ADHD Moms’s credibility.
The authorship of various entries on the ADHD Moms site proved to be just as problematic. Many entries were anonymous, some were marked with an ADHD Moms icon, and three others were attributed to various authors. Dr. Patricia Quinn is a pediatrician who treated children with ADHD and mother of three children with ADHD. Ana Romero and April White are also mothers of ADHD children, and they share personal stories in their entries. Each of these authors, however, “is a paid spokesperson for McNeil Pediatrics” (Mombassadors, Flying Solo, and Leader in Action). I do not know to what degree the authors’ entries are limited and edited by McNeil, but some level of censorship is likely. In fact, John Mack noted on his Pharma Marketing blog that Debbie Phelps, mother of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, was a paid spokesperson for the ADHD Moms site until Michael was photographed using illicit drugs (2009). Thereafter, Debbie Phelps’s entries were censored from the site. McNeil responded to Mack’s blog, saying, that Debbie Phelps’ departure had been previously scheduled to occur at that time. Thus, just as the ethos of the site as a whole was diminished by commercial interests and censorship as well as a misleading identity, the ethos of the authors was diminished in the same way.
As noted above, Williams’s credibility was strengthened by her success, knowledge, efforts, and identity as an online ADHD mother. Romero, White, and Quinn each had some degree of legitimacy simply by being mothers of children with ADHD. The authors of the ADHD Moms entries laid some claim to credibility through these elements, but couldn’t match the vitality of Williams’ ethos. Quinn’s credibility was strengthened by her position as an expert—a physician, and as a mother of ADHD children. Romero gained credence because, as described in a short, anonymous introduction, she “stood before Congress to advocate for greater awareness of ADHD” (Leader in Action). Romero was praised as having “unwavering dedication to raising awareness of the condition and advocating for her son.” April White was described anonymously on the site with this glowing appraisal: “April’s positive attitude and determination to learn as much as she can about ADHD is truly an inspiration to our community” (New Mombassador). Delineating these virtuous characteristics seemed to be an attempt at bolstering the credibility of the authors, but because the language was so overdone and came from a disembodied voice, it had the opposite effect. The language appealed to the concept of the perfect mother rather than the modern authentic mother.
Romero, White, and Quinn share their knowledge of ADHD treatment but not in the detail that Williams does, and each of the authors only describe using medication for treatment leaving out any discussion of the potential benefits of nutrition, for example. Romero includes a personal view covering her son’s entire life and gives us a general idea as to her ADHD knowledge and experiences but no day-to-day details. She mentions that she began her son on stimulant medication twice a day in first grade and then changed medication when he was a teenager (Leader in Action). White also described treatment for her son, “We recently changed medications to use a non-stimulant, which greatly improved his daily ‘rebound’ when coming off the medicine…working with the dosage and type of medicine has helped control his outbursts” (New Mombassador) Quinn’s entry is not a personal story but an advice column about helping young people with ADHD make the transition to college. She mentioned medicine in general terms, “Will he remember to take his medicine?”, “College students must develop the ability…to independently form daily routines for…taking their medication,” and “[t]he student should focus on developing the skills needed to function on his own. That may mean…scheduling medical/dental appointments and filling prescriptions” (Flying Solo).
None of the authors mentioned specific treatments or drug names or doses, as proscribed by McNeil: “We will not post comments about any specific products or treatments” (Boxes tab). Perhaps McNeil did not want to appear to be pushing Concerta on the “Moms” site. Nevertheless, the frequent mention of drugs and their benefits, and the absence of discussion regarding other treatments, suggested that drug treatment for ADHD was the only legitimate and beneficial option. This latent bias emphasized McNeil’s commercial motives over social or therapeutic, again undercutting the site’s ethos. Not mentioning specifics also left out important information for mothers of children with ADHD that was present on A Mom’s View blog: what drugs children have taken, doses, side effects, and effectiveness.
Romero, White, and Quinn do include discussion about their efforts in creating supportive environments for children and working with various specialists. Romero described significant mothering efforts,
“I was a single mom, working 50 hours a week at a fast food restaurant to make ends meet,
“I decided to work even longer hours and received a promotion so that I would be able to place him in a [parochial] school. In my mind, all Richard needed was a stricter environment and more discipline.” (Leader in Action).
She related, “I learned all I could about ADHD, reading books, magazines, anything I could find,” and “I have learned how important it is for me, as the caregiver, to educate myself about the disorder.” She also briefly talked about putting her son in therapy and taking a recommendation from her doctor to have an educational evaluation for her son.
White brought up her mothering efforts and work with specialists in her entry:
“Last year we worked with a therapist on social skills and ways he could express his feelings and frustrations. I ask his doctor questions on new topics and research different behavioral techniques…. Staying as engaged as possible is the key to our success.” (New Mombassador)
Pointing to the home environment White created, she said, “Having a release that he enjoys is important to allow him to blow off steam and have fun.” By sharing personal stories, knowledge, and efforts, Romero and White built an ethos more akin to that of Williams.
Romero and White included some self-effacing comments on the difficult realities of ADHD mothering in an attempt to identify themselves with the authentic ideal of “mommy blogging” moms. Romero described having a broken heart and “crying myself to sleep” (Leader in Action) after a school open house at with her son. She talked about the challenge of having a teen with ADHD, saying, “We were once again a mess.” And she closed by saying, “My struggles…are far from over.” White noted that her life with her son “continues to be a struggle as he gets older” (New Mombassador) and that he had a daily “rebound” with one particular medicine. And while anonymous authors described them along the lines of impossibly perfect mothers, their personal discourses did reflect an understanding of the new mommy ethos in social media, even if they are unable to fully assume that ethos.
In contrast, Quinn offered detached advice for mothers working with specialists in her Flying Solo entry, “Most colleges provide services for students with disabilities. In some circumstances, it may be beneficial to also consider working with a coach.” And the anonymous author in What Is a Mombassador? referred to ADHD mothering efforts in general by defining a Mombassador as “someone who is passionately committed to ADHD caregiving, and believes in doing everything she can for her child with ADHD.” The Flying Solo and What Is a Mombassador? entries lacked personal descriptions and seemed too formal, authoritative, and affected for social media. Overall, the disingenuous identity and the lack of understanding of current, online mothering ideals weakened the ethos of the ADHD Moms Facebook page.
Killingsworth noted that “[t]he success of the appeal depends upon the movement of the audience toward that of the author. Such a movement always takes place through a medium” (2005). The medium of discourse is the language and contextual elements such as social, cultural, and historical factors. Medium is crucial to the appeal of these texts because mommy blogging, and by extension mommy social networking, has a culture and language of its own. Lopez described the format of blogs as having “the potential to capture this multifaceted portrait” of mothering “in a way that no other medium has been able to accomplish thus far” (2009). Lopez described how mommy blogs show that “motherhood can be overwhelming and exhausting, hilarious and exuberant, dirty and disruptive, all at once.” Mommy blogs differ from other discourse on the web in that they are self-expressive, cathartic, creative, and influenced by the community. Williams’s A Mom’s View blog likely appealled to online moms because it incorporated these elements, in essence, she spoke their language. She likely appealed specifically to ADHD moms because her discourse reflected a concept of mothering that they can relate to: the authentic mom who makes extraordinary efforts but also extraordinary mistakes. On the other hand, the ADHD Moms page does not seem to grasp this online mommy culture or language.
Williams’s A Mom’s View blog followed typical blog format, displaying online entries that were updated frequently and archived in reverse chronological order. It was accessible to social media users because it fit the genre.
What ADHD Moms was—its genre—was unclear. Though it was housed on Facebook, a social networking site, it did not seem to fit the social media genre. Most people are familiar with Facebook, a popular site commonly associated with individual users who post photos and information about themselves through online profiles, but they may not be familiar with the expanding commercial uses of Facebook. A Facebook page, unlike a profile, is an online community sponsored by an official business, organization, or entity and not simply an unofficial fan page. A Facebook page could also be confused with a Facebook group, which is an unofficial group of users with a common interest. ADHD Moms’ presence on Facebook was also confusing for me because I expected much of the content to be similar to that of a Facebook profile or group, in other words, informal, spontaneous posts from friends or fans.
Though the ADHD Moms Wall tab is overflowing with encouragement for users to “share your answers” and “share your experiences,” there were only three second-party posts on the entire site. That seemed to disqualify it from categorization as a social networking site. Furthermore, these comments were strictly controlled and limited by sponsor McNeil Pediatrics. The Boxes tab on the site described these restrictions,
“For a limited time you will be able to provide your thoughts on the topic listed below.
“Our ADHD Moms community wants to share moments of ADHD caregiver pride with, by and for you. Simply answer below to share your story.
“All submissions will be reviewed and must be approved by McNeil Pediatrics before being posted. Comments that do not directly relate to the event topic will not be posted. Comments which are off-topic, offensive, or promotional, will not be posted. Please note that we will not post comments about any specific products or treatments, whether they are sold by McNeil Pediatrics™, affiliated companies, or competitors.”
Sharing “your story” did not seem particularly simple. Ellison described the ADHD Moms Facebook page as “atypically non-interactive” (2009) and said that though the drug Concerta helped her family during a crisis, “that doesn’t mean McNeil Pediatrics is my ‘friend.’” Though ADHD Moms purports to be a unique online community of moms, the community is highly controlled by McNeil Pediatrics. Entries on the page come overwhelmingly from paid spokespersons rather than independent fans. It is an unsocial social networking site.
Appeals “are directed from an author to an audience by way of an established position of value” (Killingsworth, 2005), and as mentioned above, the appeal is often indirect, substituting an obvious appeal for a more alluring one. An obvious appeal to a mother of an ADHD child would be to the health of her child, but both sites focused on a more indirect appeal, the appeal to identity as a good mother. In each of the analyzed discourses, the authors sent a latent message to the audience: I am a perfect mother and you can be to.
The mommy blogging ideal of the perfect mother does not mean perfect in the sense of flawless but authentic and unapologetic of her role. Lopez noted, “Showing the ugly side of motherhood has the potential to be liberating and beneficial for all women” (2009). This new definition of motherhood is intended to inspire mothers to be their best but free them from the impossible demands of ideal mothering myths. The appeal of this new concept of mothering is especially attractive to mothers of children with ADHD because of the added demands on them and because others may see their child’s problems as an indicator of unacceptable weakness in them (Malacrida, 2004).
Williams’s discourse generated strong appeal because she exuded this ethos of ideal ADHD motherhood, because she used the language of the mommy blogosphere, and because her blog fit in the popular contemporary genre of social media. The ADHD Moms Facebook page did not create as strong an appeal because it did not reflect the contemporary cultural concept of authentic motherhood; it did not seem to understand its online mom audience. The site also lacked appeal because its identity was confusing and false and it did not fit within its intended genre.
Social media sites for ADHD mothers appeal to their audience by reflecting the ideal of authentic mothering being created by mommy bloggers. Motherhood--as most concepts in the social media environment--is constantly being redefined, and rhetorical strategies must adapt to this cultural shift. Though content on traditional websites may reflect mainstream media, effective social media content is customized to reach the highly digitally literate social media user. Rhetorical strategies are closely connected to contemporary culture because we are experiencing so many changes in how and what we communicate. Medium and genre are becoming more relevant than the old modes of discourse such as narrative, exposition, and argument because of changing cultural values and the development of new kinds of communication. Even the tools of communication are affecting our discourse. Because we text and tweet on phone applications, messages are becoming shorter and more succinct. Ethos can be communicated in just a few letters.
Subjects such as ADHD are relevant to current rhetorical theory because they reflect cultural currents. What effect does the $250-billion drug industry have on the legitimacy of this recently discovered condition? Can drug companies and other businesses create an acceptable place on a social networking site? The implications of new concepts of motherhood also relate to ADHD mothers. Will the ideal of authentic mothering created by mommy bloggers relieve ADHD moms of their guilt, empowering them to make independent healthcare decisions for their children?
The dynamic nature of social media creates limits for further study in this area. For instance, the ADHD Moms site seemed to have disingenuous ethos in part because it was a commercial site trying to carve out a presence on a social networking site. But the commercialization of social media is inevitable—where the people go, the advertisers and business go. If commercial pages become ubiquitous on sites like Facebook and Twitter, we will likely come to accept their presence in the social media. We will not be so offended that they are trying to be our “friends,” because we will know that the social media genre is not longer exclusively social.
For now, it seems the average Internet user may not recognize the messages and authors in the new media. In the flux of digital communication, how can we be more aware of who is speaking to us and what rhetorical strategies are influencing us? How can we become more critical users/interpreters of social media communication, which is becoming ever more prevalent? As more ways to communicate evolve, it seems this problem will become even more complex. We will have to be more skilled, discriminating, and sophisticated in our communication and recognition of rhetoric in social media and its future iterations.
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