Dear Marketing Geniuses,
We don’t watch a lot of television in our house, but I guess the little that we do watch is geared towards women of a certain age because all of the commercials are targeted towards moms.
You paint such a lovely picture of motherhood. The mom is always well-rested. She’s usually quite attractive and dressed in something that very easily could have come off of the racks at J Crew. She’s never sick of cleaning. We can tell because she smiles wistfully at the shine her new cleaning product produces on her suspiciously clutter free kitchen counters. She never gets frustrated at her kids, but I guess that’s easy because her kids are quietly playing with a featured product together or smiling their toothless grins at each other over their newest processed convenience food.
These moms look so nice. They look like someone I would like to have over for dinner. The problem, dear marketers, is that they really aren’t moms, and clean counters and simple, no-prep meals aren’t what matters most to moms anyway.
See, being a mom is messy.
Those commercials with the mom sitting on the floor with a smiling, peaceful toddler simply do not depict reality. In the commercials, the mom and tot are always playing with a single toy as directed. The toddler never hits the mom over the head with the toy. He never uses it to beat up his little brother, and he surely never tries to flush it down the toilet.
Then there are the cleaning commercials where the mom takes a roll of paper towels and the bottle of cleaning liquid and calmly scrubs down her counter, vacuums her floor, and cleans her toilet. She always has time to stop and smile happily at the sparkling surface because she never actually has children running around trying to smudge up those clean surfaces as fast as she can clean them.
Some of my favorites though are the shampoo commercials. To think that a mother can sit down in nice clothes next to the bathtub her toddler is bathing in without being drenched from head to toe is about as realistic as most science fiction movies. There is the occasional time in real life when a child doesn’t dump soapy water all over her mom’s lap, but those are usually the days when the child ends up pooping in the bathtub, so the peaceful little bath time is ruined anyway.
See, what I’m trying to get at, marketers, is that being mom is about being real. Those myths about the supermom and the Earth mama are just that -- myths. No mom can do it all, all the time, all by herself. Moms need help - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And if a mom seems to have it so much more together than the rest of us do, it says more about her acting skills than her mothering skills.
And I guess that’s why I view you so suspiciously, marketers. Your products may or may not work as directed. They may or may not make my life easier or less chaotic. They may or may not bring me joy.
But the version of motherhood you are trying to market to us... that causes damage. That teaches us that we are never good enough. It teaches us that in order to be better or more close to your ideal, we need to buy your product. It teaches us that there is an ideal, a right way, a better way.
See dear marketers, motherhood can’t be bought because motherhood is about being real and being ourselves and taking the very deepest and truest parts of our humanity and giving of all that we have to our little ones. It’s about authenticity and trust, compassion and empathy. It’s about sacrifice and self-care and modeling and patience. It’s about making mistakes and living in the messy homes and living the chaotic schedules all so that we can teach our children that this is a messy and imperfect world and the best any of us can do is the best that we can do.
We can’t buy motherhood from you, and we can’t buy a product that will make us more of a mom. And you, marketers, will keep trying to sell us this sanitized version of motherhood because your job is to make money. It’s my hope that maybe we will stop listening and will learn instead to define motherhood on our own, non-commercial, terms.
We can’t change our culture. We can’t stop making these messages appeal to our society at large, but we can work in our own homes, in our own lives, to define motherhood on our own terms. We can take a stand and make a difference when we remember in instances like these, the personal is political.
(Not a Super) Mom
Amanda Knapp is a stay at home mom who spends her days in her messy house, chasing her three kids around and writing about it on her blog, Indisposable Mama. She never smiles wistfully at her sparkling kitchen counters.