Forget Supermum: it’s time for marketers to recognise the pressures of parenting

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Seeing Paloma Faith’s views in the press and her new album The Architect shooting to No.1 in the album charts reminded me that some celebs can actually have a refreshingly honest take on life. In her recent spate of set-piece interviews to promote her latest creation and as a sequel to a pretty barnstorming rant on Women’s Hour last year, she pulls no punches about becoming a new mum.

She gave birth to her first child a year ago and admits it was hellish - emergency caesarean, womb infection and she was in bed for three months. She also talks about breastfeeding pressures and searching Mumsnet in the middle of the night for advice and affirmation she was doing things right.

“A living hell,” “a drag,” “the worst six months of my life,” she called it. She’s of course not the only woman ever to have a baby and suffer issues. And she probably does have the fortunate position of economic stability which can help with support, but she believes that many parents could do with being more honest about the realities of childbirth.

There’s an argument that with Mumsnet, Netmums and countless other online communities and the various social platforms there’s never been so many great sources of advice for new mums. We looked at the issue of support networks for new mums with one of our clients last year and it served as a salutary lesson in the dangers of false idols…most notably the Supermum.

The 'Pushed Parents' generation

Oversharing on social media is creating a generation of ‘pushed parents’ who feel caught up in a race to achieve with their baby, we learnt. It revealed that 93% of parents believe social media encourages parents to ‘overshare’ about their babies and over a quarter (27%) feeling under pressure to keep up every week - with 12% admitting to feeling this pressure ‘almost daily’.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, a mother of four and best-selling parenting author said: “Social media can be a great virtual support network for new mothers, building a community on which they can lean and go to for advice. For a lot of new mothers, this is an incredibly positive experience. However, the comparison with others online can cause some mothers to be overwhelmed by the feelings that they aren't good enough and that their children should be doing better.

The research carried out for a leading brand in the baby wipes market showed the top three posts that make parents feel under pressure:

1. ‘SuperMum’ posts, e.g. mums who seem to fit in a thousand things a day and still look glamourous;

2. ‘Unrealistic’ achievements, e.g. ‘Back in my skinny jeans after two weeks’;

3. New baby milestones – e.g. baby’s first steps, sleeping through the night.

The rise of Achievement Anxiety in parenting

This is leading to achievement anxiety with more than half (55%) of parents admitting to looking forward so much to the next baby ‘milestone’ that they struggle to stay in the present. In fact, over a third (34%) of parents found baby milestones to be one of the biggest topics of conversation they have with their friends.

Parenting blogger Olivia Siegl summed the issue up beautifully in Huffington Post at the turn of the year: “Nothing in motherhood is as it seems and we are all at times guilty of saying or looking like everything is fine when all we really want to do is scream a tirade of abuse at the universe, cry uncontrollably and the drown our sorrows in a vat of wine. I'm here to lay the myth of the Supermum to bed. None of us are Supermums, with it all under control in our picture perfect lives. We are in fact battling through every day and doing the damn best we can, which in turn makes us instead, pretty super.”

Global report findings from Pearlfinders show that 33% of brands across Europe want to improve messaging to women this year, which is no surprise with so many global cultural shifts occurring. Brands must learn that it’s not just about soft focus, cutesy, gurgling campaign communication with mums. We need to change the cultural conversation going on about motherhood. It’s also about women demanding and deserving straight, open and honest talk and being listened to.

I’ve been in the PR industry for over 20 years and I still see a sector that does not do enough to let clever, talented and highly experienced returning mothers come back into its agencies. Recruitment agencies treat them like second class citizens as God forbid, they may ask for flexible working.

As parents we must be stronger in protecting ourselves and more honest with our lives on social media so that we can accept the difficult times and pull together in the communities who welcome us. Brands must listen to that and make sure their communications echo what is real in parenting to gain or maintain our trust.

Alan Twigg is group head of consumer at Way To Blue

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