Last week, I came across an article in the December issue of Vanity Fair, “The Parenting Trap,” in which the author, A.A. Gill, laments the failings of the modern schooling system and the parental obsession with raising successful offspring. As he says, “No, scrap happiness—we’ll settle for success. We gave up on happiness at about the age of six. Childhood is a war of attrition, like some grisly TV game show where the weak and the kind and the quixotic and the dreamers and the gentle get dumped at the end of each year. Only the gimlet-eyed and the obsessively competitive and the driven make it to the finish line.”
This observation about success trumping happiness is interesting in the context of a somewhat surprising finding from a recent global Moms study by McCann Truth Central.
Whereas mothers have long been hyper-focused on the material success of their children, we found that in 2012, moms from the U.S. to China to Mexico appear to be unified by one simple value: They want to raise happy kids. In fact, globally, 83% of moms said they would prefer their child to be happy rather than successful or rich.
Not long ago, researchers assumed that “helicopter” and “tiger” moms were raising an entitled generation of kids who were obsessed with their own limitless potential and successes. They were teaching their children that rather than accepting failure or mistakes, they should set high expectations and meet them at all costs.
However, the “Truth About Moms” study suggests that this vision of entitlement and excess has been shattered by global economic realities.
Over the recent years, tales of political corruption and corporate failings have exposed faults in the system. In this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that the top values that moms say they want to instill in their children are: 1) respectful 2) honest and 3) smart. These values point to a more modern and moderated version of happiness, a type of happiness that does not come at the expense of others and the world around us. This new emphasis on happiness over success might seem like a positive evolution for a mother's aspirations but some are questioning whether even this is the right parental goal.
I recently attended a recording of BBC Radio’s “Four Thought” program where Amber Dermont, the New York Times bestselling author, spoke about the value of an “unhappy childhood.” Her thesis is that unhappy children grow into robust and interesting individuals who are better prepared for the roller coaster of adult life. I didn’t entirely agree with her point of view but I did find it thought provoking. It prompted me to think back over the flood of “happiness” literature that has been published in recent years and wonder whether it’s possible to become too obsessed with happiness?
For now, brands would do well to understand that the type of happiness moms want for their children today is significantly different from even 10 years ago. Armed with this knowledge, brands can play a critical role in helping moms to achieve today’s vision of happiness for her children by aligning with moms’ values -- respect, honesty and smartness wherever possible.
And as the debate about the best way to raise ones children rages on, brands may also want to avoid presenting a right or wrong way of parenting and instead celebrate the different types of moms in the world with their own unique approaches to raising their children.