Cancer

OG mommy blogger Jill Smokler on fighting brain cancer and life after selling Scary Mommy | by Amy Cuevas Schroeder | Jul, 2024

“I think I had a great vision for where I wanted the Scary Mommy brand to go, and I wish I had been able to pursue that instead of bailing on it.”

That’s the caption of Jill Smokler’s Insta post on May 3, 2024, just a few weeks after I interviewed her for The Midst to talk about anything but cancer. When we talked, she hadn’t been diagnosed yet, and we talked mainly about her new midlife lady project, She’s Got Issues, and Scary Mommy, her first publishing megahit that she sold in 2015. No thanks to health issues, Jill emailed her network in mid-May to say she’s “decided to step back from She’s Got Issues so I can focus on navigating this new road with my kids.”

Glioblastoma is an aggressive brain tumor that can be fatal if left untreated. Jill is in treatment and as Today.com reported May 21, she’s feeling “Not great. I keep alternating between feeling so profoundly sad and so pissed off.” That’s the kind of honesty that Jill’s known for — and rightfully so. The Cleveland Clinic reports that Glioblastoma has no cure and life expectancy is 12 to 18 months. Roughly 7% of glioblastoma patients live beyond five years.

“It’s just hair. It’s just hair. It’s just hair,” Jill Smokler writes on her Instagram in late June 2024.

When I checked in with her in July 2024, Jill said she’s almost through her first course of treatment, but needs to wait three months for follow-up scans to know the effects. “So we’re in this sort of holding pattern for now. The next step is either more chemo or going with some sort of trial instead,” Jill says.

When Jill, now 47, started Scary Mommy as a personal blog in 2008, she became one of the first wildly successful “mommy bloggers.” She wrote raw, unapologetic stories about the chaos of life at home with three kids under 4. Her work drew millions of readers and created community around modern motherhood.

Burned out after seven years of extreme growth on a shoestring budget, Smokler sold Scary Mommy in 2015 — which then averaged about 10 million monthly readers — to a company called Some Spider Studios. She became chief content officer and in 2018, Jill stepped down from the website, which is now owned by Bustle Digital Group.

If acquisition stories tend to make you think about glamour, think differently.

Jill Smokler on The Queen Latifah Show in 2013.

In this interview, we’ll dig into the acquisition story, the joys of menopause, and the learnings along the way.

Amy Cuevas Schroeder: Why did you start She’s Got Issues?

Jill Smokler: I started it because I got older and was no longer in the mommy phase of life. I grew out of Scary Mommy and found myself in the same position that I was in at the beginning of Scary Mommy, where I felt like there was nowhere to go to talk about the things I wanted to talk about.

She’s Got Issues really picks up where Scary Mommy and I left off. We have older kids. All the fun stuff — aging parents, being the sandwich generation, menopause.

I’ve been talking with like-minded writers, community builders, and entrepreneurs in the midlife women’s health and empowerment space. It seems less about competition and more about sharing information, resources, and building community with each other. Are you finding that, too?

Yeah, there is such a need. A bunch of us sort of felt like we had to rise to the occasion and fill it, you and I being part of that. But I think you’re right. We have to attack it as supporting each other. When I look back, that’s how Scary Mommy was built — sharing blog posts and swapping and promoting each other. It became a very inclusive and collaborative environment.

We have the chance to do that again now. I think as much as it may feel like there’s so many of us on the content creation side who are suddenly here, I think compared to the general audience, there could be so many of us. There are so many Gen Xish women out there, I feel like there is a need for a plethora of places to provide information.

I like that you’re focusing on Gen X. At The Midst, because we’re targeting women in their 40s and into their 50s, that means we’re focusing on women who are Gen X and also Millennials! The oldest millennials turn 43 in 2024.

It’s funny, I’ve been surprised how many millennials follow us. But you’re right. I mean, they’re growing up like we are. And I don’t want to alienate them, but I think we’re really trying to hone in on that sort of sweet spot that we are in … sorry, I just lost my train of thought.

You have brain fog? I have brain fog. It’s so frustrating.

I’ll be in the middle of a sentence as now and then I just totally lose my train of thought. It sucks.

I’m more just kind of putting it out there as an observation. I agree with you that there’s such a need for multiple publications and businesses that are trying to help and support and empower women in midlife.I just think it’s going to be interesting to see how all of us evolve.

At The Midst, we really want to lean into the 40-something experience and into the 50s. For me, as a Gen Xer, I have a lot to learn about what Millennials think about turning 40 and entering midlife. There are similarities and differences between how our generation looks at the midlife experience. I feel like I’m hearing more Millennials saying things like, “I’m just not going to put up with this lack of information about perimenopause, and I’m going to go out there and find it.” Millennials don’t want to be ignored.

I’m also hearing from some Millennials that they’re curious about what it’s going to be like to turn 40. When I was about to turn 40, I definitely had a lot of loaded connotations of what it means to turn 40. Like, when I was growing up in the ’80s — I remember my mom going to over-the-hill parties.

How did you feel when you turned 40?

I think I finally felt like an adult because I vividly remember when my mom turned 40 and feeling like, God, that’s, like old official. She’s like a real adult person. And I think I sort of felt that way when I turned 42.

It was a weird year in my life that sort of led up to all of this drama and heightened stuff. It was like a calm before the storm, which I didn’t realize at the time. But now when I look back on it, that’s sort of how I think of it. I went to this ranch retreat for my 40th, and it was very Zen and relaxed, and I was like, This is my future. I will have a house with a pool and spend all of my time in the water and reflect and meditate. And then shit hit the fan and it didn’t pan out that way.

My 40s have been interesting. I can’t say they’ve been great. I’m kind of looking forward to my 50s, but haven’t loved my 40s. I heard that “your 40s are the best.” It’s all, your kids are older, you don’t give a shit about anything anymore. You’re finally all about you, and you find yourself, and I didn’t especially find that, did you?

Same. You could call me an older mom. I had twin girls through IVF when I was 39. Now my twins are 9. I think that’s also a characteristic of the modern midlife experience — there are more “older parents.”

I think that might be an area that we differ too. Motherhood having been the focus for so many years, I don’t want that to be a focus at She’s Got Issues. I mean, it will be an element of She’s Got Issues, but I don’t want it to be one of the main pillar topics that we’re tackling because, frankly, I’m kind of sick of it. We’re touching on it but really focusing on friendship, parental relationships, and the stuff outside of at parenting, before empty-nesting, like high school kids.

With Scary Mommy, I was always so surprised with the number of childless people who read the site, either older, without kids, who’d be like an aunt, or maybe as birth control or just morbid curiosity for people in their 20s. But the audience skewed younger than I was, which was interesting.

Why do you think Scary Mommy attracted some readers who are child-free?

I think it’s fascinating to look at other people’s experiences. We’re so fascinated by celebrities lives. I think people who have kids …




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