The Media Are Stoking Fires That Don't Exist

by , Aug 17, 2012, 7:33 AM
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The great parenting debate has been a center-stage topic for some time. Catalyzed by the famous Wall Street Journal article, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” and the radical picture it painted of “tiger moms,” it has recently reached its boiling point. This past spring, Time magazinepublished an article, “Are You Mom Enough” which sparked public controversy with its divisive classifications of parenting styles and bold cover photo.

And even more recently, The New York Times’ opinion piece, “Raising Successful Children,” illustrated how the media adds tension to the heated parenting conversation. To find out what moms really think about the media’s portrayal of parenting methods, we turned to the Moms Human Experience Center and discovered that the media exposé of the mommy wars is far from reality. 

Turns out, moms were equally disturbed about the misrepresentation of their roles in the press and reject the notion that parenting styles are mutually exclusive. Most consider these articles as fuel to cause friction between moms when most opt for a blend of methods and ideologies.

 “Yay for moms who do what they think is best for their babies, boo on the magazine for trying to stir up controversy.”

“I have no objection one way or the other to attachment parenting but I have an objection to driving a public wedge into an already heated controversy over parenting styles.”

“Don't worry about labels. I suspect that a lot of strict AP (attachment parenting) rule followers might accidentally be ignoring some instincts in favor of being attachment'ier-than-thou.”

No one is claiming one parenting type is right vs. wrong, and the discussion of radical methods has developed into an area of frustration for all moms. These labels are not as absolute as they are portrayed, and, rather than picking sides, moms are open to investigating all parenting methods and cherry picking what they like and feel comfortable with. 

 “I have a copy [of ‘Bringing Up Bébé’] and I really liked reading it. It gave me ideas of parenting that we can use in the US because she is an American and shows how she incorporated ‘French’ into her children. It definitely has different ideas than what the hip attachment parenting style that is becoming more main stream now. And one of my other fave baby book as a FTM [first time mom] was ‘The Baby Book’ by Dr. Sears, pro-attachment parenting guru; give and take a few parts, of course.”

While moms in the U.S. are engrossed in the topic of parenting, and the media are ever-ready to fuel debate, we did not find the same friction overseas. In France, China and countries across Latin America, the notion of intuitive parenting still reigns supreme vs. new schools of thought. So why are U.S. moms engaged in the battle of parenting styles?

Based on culture alone, U.S. moms are more inclined to seek out and compete for information on any subject. After all, the American way boasts freedom in all areas of life, so parenting is just the same. Moms want the freedom to pick, choose and design their parenting lifestyle based on what works for them. And with the increased access to information, they are able to make decisions with all of the pros and cons available in a click. 

“The value is this: American parents praise the rebel, the dreamer, and the outcast above all else….We’re about remaking society one amazing, breathtaking, shocking risk at a time. We question everything. Americans take the best from every culture, avoiding destructive mistakes, because we’re not culture-bound.” 

“I find that, with these new, neatly categorized parenting styles, I don't fit in anywhere. I breastfeed because I can. I like that it's natural, and cheap and it's easy for me. I use disposable diapers because it's easy. I babywear (sometimes) because it's convenient. I sometimes use jar food. I sometimes make my baby food. I'm not all the way crunchy. I'm not silky. I do some things that AP moms do, but I'm not all the way AP. I do what I can. I do what feels natural to me and what I think is best for me and my children.”

While parenting styles are not something brands typically tread on, marketers can absolutely play a role in helping moms navigate through this ongoing journey of trial and error. 

  • Always remind mom that she’s doing a great job. Moms will always want access to opinions, but at the same time they need positive reinforcement when it comes to their journey and decisions. 
  • Be a listener. This parenting conversation will go on, but it’s important for the brands to stay neutral and just be supportive. Focus on how moms’ needs evolve as these styles of parenting change. 
  • Recognize that, ultimately, each mom has a unique style that works for her family. Her beliefs, attitudes and values are unique from mom to mom around the world. 

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