In Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate, Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic brings together hard data on the way we taste to challenge one of many measuring sticks that she claims parents use to compare how well they’ve done at raising respectable, reasonable rugrats. A self-proclaimed picky eater, Lucianovic resists the notion that kids don’t eat whatever is on their plate because of their parents prep (or lack thereof). Instead, she suggests that proclaiming one’s own child to be a good eater is just one more front in the mommy and daddy wars. In a New York Times blog, she points to this politicization of parenting’s predecessors: breastfeeding battles, sleep-habit superiority, and the stay-at-home mom hostility, just to name a few. And she asks, what if being a picky eater has nothing to do with bad parenting, as your friend, whose child eats everything might imply?
Lucianovic seems to pick a side in the parenting wars versus truly catalyzing a truce (which she claims to be her goal). But wherever you stand on the nurture/nature continuum, it’s hard not to see that Lucianovic has identified an insight about parents and parenting today. Whether the subject is sending a kid with a fall birthday to kindergarten at 4 or at 5 (see the 60 Minutes piece from this past weekend entitled “Redshirting: Holding Kids Back from Kindergarten”), or the ideal age for cell phone acquisition, today’s parents’ decisions might be based on what’s right for their child, but whether they’re concerned about it or not, are likely to face the scrutiny of others. Thus, whether their child’s choice of afternoon snack seems like a big deal to them or not, the amplification of advice from all aspects of the expert universe might make them place more importance on the specific ways they scaffold their children than they might naturally do.
So how can brands and organizations navigate the new obstacles that their parent purchasers or influencers face?
- First, don’t assume that all parents are on the same side of issues – regardless of the demographic markers they might share. Although issues like holding back kids from kindergarten may be one that is on the radar of middle and upper income families more than lower income families, don’t assume they all fall out on the same side.
- Look for ways to solve the problems that many moms and dads face, but don’t pile on the judgment that they’re likely to be feeling already.
- Finally, don’t assume that parenting decisions are “set” early and remain the same. Today’s parents are constantly confronted with new information and changing contexts in which to evaluate them. What worked today (or what worked for one child) might not work for another.