"Redneck Mommy" on how blogging saved her life and her sense of humour
It was a searingly painful tragedy—the loss of her youngest son—that inspired rural Alberta mom Tanis Miller to start blogging. Eight years and countless poignant, hilarious, and unflinchingly honest posts later, her blog, Attack of the Redneck Mommy (now the more minimally named tanismiller.com) has popped up on a slew of "best blog" lists from the likes of Good Housekeeping, WE Magazine, Canadian Family, and Reader's Digest. We caught up with Tanis in between haranguing the kids and wiping up dog slobber to talk about how she manages to so adeptly capture "the seriousness and silliness" of life.
How would you introduce yourself at a party?
Hi! I’m a happily married mother of four. I have freakishly hairy toes, an apparently unending supply of chin whiskers and the sense of humour of a thirteen-year-old boy. I am passionate about advocating for families with children with special needs and for the survivors of domestic violence. When I’m not parenting, writing or advocating I’m running around mopping up the trail of slime my Mastiff, Abbott, leaves behind him.
You started your first blog in 2006, four months after the sudden death of your son. What were you hoping would come out of blogging?
When I started my blog, I was desperately alone and struggling with my grief. I felt isolated and hopeless. I started blogging with the hopes that somehow, by writing out my feelings about life and loss I’d be able to remember how to live once more. I was keenly trying to feel anything but pain. I wanted to learn how to feel joy once more.
Was your blog helpful to other people going through a deep loss? What did you hear from readers once you started blogging?
I was very fortunate to find such a receptive audience when I started blogging. There weren’t many bloggers who were blogging about grief, especially the grief of losing a child, and I worried that sharing pieces of my raw experience would alienate or discourage readers. I discovered the opposite was true. I was overwhelmed with support from readers who were grieving themselves or knew people who were. Grief of any sort is very isolating and my audience rallied around in support and found comfort in knowing that someone out there understood the pain they were in.
Just over a year ago you decided to stop your popular blog, Attack of the Redneck Mommy. What made you decide to change the name? How does your current blog differ?
It was as simple as I needed a change. After seven years, I was tired of introducing myself as ‘the Redneck Mommy’ when meeting strangers. It appeared that as my kids were growing up, so was I. Other than lifting the veil on the identities of my family members when I dropped their pseudonyms, the content on my blog hasn’t altered much. I’m still spinning stories out of the silliness and seriousness of our lives.
Your blog has won, and been nominated for, a number of awards and prizes. What do these kinds of awards mean for blogs and bloggers?
I won’t lie, winning is awesome. But beyond puffing up my ego, and (sometimes) increasing my blog’s audience size, life doesn’t really change. I’m still wiping up my dog’s slobber and I’m still chastising my kids to put their dirty dishes into the dishwasher. The very honest truth is, for every blogger (like myself) who is nominated or wins an award, there are countless others who are doing it better and just haven’t been as fortunate to be noticed. Yet.
That said, my kids think I’m way more important than I truly am, and that is never a bad thing.
What kind of community have you found online?
I’ve found the very best community online. I’m not even a little biased. They’re the brightest minds, the geekiest geeks and the coolest people. Plus, in my community, everyone is extremely good looking no matter what they look like. It’s a fact. It’s a community comprised of people from all over the world, male and female, who all share a passion for social media, justice, politics and the written word. And yet none of them can come to an agreement over whether Star Wars trumps Star Trek. #Trekkieforlife
You say that blogging saved your life. How so?
Blogging saved my life insofar as I was isolated and grieving and I was closer to quitting on myself than I am comfortable admitting. I had slid into a deep depression and felt absolutely hopeless. The support and comfort I found online really was a life preserver that helped me find a path to healing.
One of the great things about your blog is your honesty and how expressive you are. You also have a great sense of humour. When did you know you were funny? Is humour a way for you to deal with difficult subjects?
I always told my mother I was funny. She never believed me. (I’m so telling her you think I’m funny.) I’ve always found humour to be the very best way to cope with the difficulties of life. My therapist thinks I use it as a shield to protect myself. I say po-tay-to, she says po-tah-to.
You write about your family. How do you decide what to write about? What not to write about? Do you censor yourself?
When I first started blogging, I had a no-holds-barred policy. Nothing was off limits. It’s easy to be lured into a false sense of safety when you believe you are shielded by the anonymity of the Internet. Then I realized actual people were reading my blog, and my words weren’t really disappearing into the ethers of cyberspace. (See also, I looked up the definition of PUBLISHED and PUBLIC.) Over time, I’ve cultivated a few simple rules. If I wouldn’t tell my grandmother, I won’t write about it. If my husband and/or children will be humiliated or hurt, I won’t write it. And I never use my words as a weapon to hurt others. I started writing to learn how to feel joy. I continue writing to share my joy. But I do try to censor my cursing on the blog. I find I have a bit of a potty mouth in real life (okay, so I swear like a mother trucker) so I like to pretend I have more class than that while I’m writing online.
How have you changed since starting blogging in 2006?
Simply put, I’m happier (and healthier) now. I still grieve my son, but since 2006 when I started blogging, I’ve adopted a son, watched my older two kids grow into the fine young almost-adults they are today, and I’ve learned how to laugh once again. Writing and sharing online has expanded my world by giving me opportunities I could never have dreamed of, brought me friends from all corners of the world and taken me to places I’d likely never have visited if it weren’t for the community I found online. Blogging is better than sliced bread.
Where does the expression “Bless his cotton socks” come from?
I have no idea. I figure I must have heard it somewhere, it cracked me up and then stuck in my brain like a burr on a dog. However, if you knew my husband and his annoying obsession with buying new socks instead of just washing the dirty ones, you’d bless my cotton socks too.
Images courtesy of Tanis Miller.
Read profiles of other Canadian bloggers:
Toque and Canoe by Kim Gray and Jennifer Twyman
Straight from the Arse by Ryan Arsenault
Couple of Yuppies by Jamie Munro and Kyle Foot
Obscure CanLit Mama by Carrie Anne Snyder
Le Blog du Rob by Rob Watson
The Art of Doing Stuff by Karen Bertelsen
Man on the Lam by Raymond Walsh
Ironic Mom by Leanne Shirtliffe
Clockwork Lemon by Stephanie Eddie
OffQc by Kevin Felix Polesello
Caker Cooking by Brian Francis
Maple Leaf Mamma by Michelle Tarnopolsky
Rolling Around In My Head by Dave Hingsburger
Les Incorrigibles by Mali Navia and Jasmine Papillon-Smith
Ginger and Nutmeg by Carolyne and Andrew
The Book Dumpling by Andrea Borod