Portraits of parenting (effective or ineffective) almost always involve some indication of who holds the reins in their relationship. Successful parenting might have once looked like a mom or dad who is obeyed. More recently, the powerful parent is a positive one – a mother or father who can get what they want without raising their voice, or even saying “no.” And more and more parenting ads position the truly powerful parent as one who is willing to relinquish control to their kids. In other words, a truly in control mom or dad makes their child feel like they’re in charge.
Perhaps it’s the promotion of kinder, gentler parenting, or the modern mothering mandate that it’s all about the kids that have led to a (somewhat) recent deluge of depictions of dads and moms who parent with pride (and a healthy dose of humor). Millennials are often described as a cohort whose parents told them they were stars right from the start…So is it any surprise that today’s parents who are Millennials, and those who parent Millennials, have put parenting back in what might seem to be its rightful place? Today’s parents prefer to promote an image of parenting that shows them strutting, even when they’re stressing, and keeping it real even when they’re riding in a minivan.
First, the soundtrack of parenting today is more rap than nursery rhyme. Rather than retreating when times get tough, parents play a pep talk on YouTube! Subaru started this trend with their ad for the Sienna SE, affectionately referred to as the “Swagger Wagon” by the mini-van driving mom and dad who star in their spot. This duo defies notions of proper parenting by breaking all the rules, and following their own, despite giving in to the inevitable need for a vehicle that prioritizes volume over vroom. While dad does ask, “where my kids at” in a funny moment in which dads’ casualness turns to momentary concern, this spot and song stay watchable because they show parents who clearly keep the kids in the picture, but haven’t fully given up on their adult aesthetics.
Fiat U.K. made media waves recently with its Gangsta Rap, in which a stressed out mum describes the sometimes grim reality of her “Mother-hood.” The psychology lives close to the surface – when babies scream, cereal spills, or, as she notes, “work and home is a mental combination” – mom doesn’t meltdown. She gets gangster. And she doesn’t give in, she shows off.
And parent pep talks aren’t just for moms. The most recent viral video that position parents as real and righteous at the same time came from a stay-at-home dad.
He’s daddy and he knows it. This dad doesn’t cope, he controls. Today’s parents see themselves as superheroes. But these superheroes aren’t the shiny, one-dimensional kind that we’ve seen on screen in the past. Instead, they are the flawed figures, who feel conflicted and challenged and committed to their mission, all at the same time. They have back stories and pasts (they were once real people!) and they expect to be acknowledged for it. At the same time, they’ve undergone a transformation. Like any good superhero, they’re hoping to be seen not as being weakened by the loss of their “regular” self, but to be embraced for the resilient and resourceful stars they are now.