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Advertisements are meant to sell us things, but they also sell us ideas. When we were growing up in the 1990s the commercials on TV weren't just selling us toys and junk food, they sold us stereotypes, too. Boys and men were depicted as more aggressive, professional and important than girls, while girls and women were often depicted as caregivers or simply sexual objects.

Back then, we were just kids who couldn't always think critically about the messages we were taking in, but now we millennials are the parents, the providers and the purchasers. And we are letting advertisers know that if they want us to buy things, they have to serve up ideas that we can buy into.

A survey by market research company Kantar found 76% of women and 71% of men believe the way they are portrayed in advertising is completely out of touch. We're grown-ups now and this isn't just about stereotypes in children's advertising (many parents are very conscious about reducing screen time and advertising exposure), but also reflections of our own realities.

Today's dads don't see themselves as bumbling caregivers but as competent parents, and mothers see themselves as complex people with a ton of purchasing power who are deserving of speaking parts, authority and respect, even in a 30-second commercial.

It's 2019. Moms are buying everything, dads are buying diapers and we're raising our kids to reject stereotypes and accept themselves. Corporations that want to sell to millennial families have got to buy in to that, and the good news is, many are.

Building brands by tearing down stereotypes

This month the CEO of Unilever, Alan Jope, took the stage at the world's largest conference on gender equality, Women Deliver, and committed 100% of the ad spend for Unilever's Dove Men+Care line to media representations of dads in caring roles, or what Molly Kennedy, Brand Manager for Dove Men+Care, called "positive dadvertising."

Dove Men+Care's commitment to positive representation of men as caregivers comes as the company is strengthening its parental leave policies and encouraging dads (both those who work for Unilever and those who don't) to actually take any parental leave that is available to them.

The idea is that dads may be more likely to take leave if they see positive role modeling in media, which will help moms, too, because research suggests that taking paternity leave results in fathers doing more unpaid care work as their kids grow. And dads are certainly seeing more caring reflections of fatherhood in advertising, and not just from Dove Men+Care.

Changing diapers and the narrative 

Budweiser just launched an ad showing step-fathers surprising their children with adoption papers, and brands like Gillette and Pampers (owned by Unilever competitor Procter & Gamble) have received a lot of attention for the way their ads are questioning traditional ideas about masculinity and fatherhood. Gillette's stand against toxic masculinity was a viral sensation and Pampers' spokesdad John Legend is now part of a corporate campaign to get change tables into more mens' restrooms.

Donte Palmer—the father whose grassroots viral campaign, #squatforchange inspired Pampers' campaign—says he's pleased to see all this positive dadvertising, telling Motherly, "it means a lot, it's just changing the narrative."

He continues: "To have fathers like John Legend, who has a powerful name in his industry and a huge following, showing the world that we as fathers are the caretakers for our babies means a lot. It shows the 'average Joe' father that he can go to his 9 to 5 job and still come home and take care of his children."

Dr. Michael Kehler, a professor of Masculinities Studies at the University of Calgary says he applauds these companies like Gillette, Pampers and Dove Men+Care for challenging gender roles in their advertising, as "the long-held views of masculinity that have kept men out of caring roles has been intentional and maintained by advertising agencies."

He hopes big brands will consult with masculinities scholars for deeper insight and direction as they craft a new narrative in the media.

"More diverse portrayals, richer and complicated images of masculinity can't help but dislodge privileged white masculinity from its perch," he tells Motherly. "The disruption of these images and the re-writing of a narrative of complex masculinities, less linear, less simplistic, less predictable can similarly be a powerful invitation to rethink masculinities in the future."

According to Kehler, it is incumbent on companies to show a whole spectrum of ways of being a man, but "whether or not the portrayal of adverts reflecting men in caring roles has the desired effect of men taking up unpaid work is yet to be seen."

Walking the walk

What we have seen over the course of the last 15 years is that when big brands make big changes there can be lasting culture change.

Under dim lights in a fifth and sixth-grade classroom, 22 boys and girls are watching a short video that shows all the-behind-scenes magic that goes into making an Instagrammable selfie. When the video ends the facilitator invites questions. A student raises his hand and asks, "Does everyone really do this?"

This incredulous tween and classmates are learning about self-esteem and body confidence in their school in Vancouver, Canada, but similar presentations have taken place in more than 140 countries, because the Dove Self-Esteem Project is now the largest provider of self-esteem and body confidence education in the world.

Dove's been doing this work since before the kids in that Vancouver classroom were even born, since its Campaign for Real Beauty launched in the early 2000s and became a controversial turning point in the way women's bodies are presented in advertising. That campaign is often credited with creating a blueprint for modern advertising that includes more authentic and diverse body types and has brought us to a place where we're seeing real stretch marks and postpartum bellies on underwear models.

"Dove definitely changed the conversation," says Andrea Benoit, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario and author of a new book on corporate philanthropy.

"There is no question that Dove opened up a space for other brands to start dipping their toes in that conversation without feeling like they were treading in uncertain or dangerous territory. Now it seems like if you're a brand you can't not be inclusive and accepting of diverse bodies," Benoit tells Motherly.

According to Benoit, the continued existence and expansion of the Dove Self-Esteem Project shows that brands can use their resources for good, but she is uncomfortable with how society and governments have downloaded this kind of social responsibility onto brands like Dove to the point that corporations are providing classroom resources and presentations in schools and through non-profit organizations.

It probably shouldn't be up to a soap company to teach self-esteem, but, at least someone is doing it. Just this month UNICEF announced a 3-year partnership with the Dove Self-Esteem Project aimed at helping girls between 10 and 18 in Brazil, India and Indonesia.

"This is a partnership that we really think can help change how girls view themselves and how the world views girls," UNICEF's Executive Director Henrietta Fore said at the Women Deliver conference. While UNICEF explicitly states that it doesn't endorse any brand, the deal with Dove does suggest UNICEF views the company as a worthy philanthropic partner.

Changing the way we see ourselves

When we were kids the commercials playing on Saturday morning taught us that gender roles are confining, that boys are loud and girls are quiet. But now, you might turn on TV and see a dad changing a diaper, or flip to Cartoon Network and catch spots Dove produced with the popular kids' show Steven Universe, which reinforce body confidence, gender equality and self-esteem rather than stereotypes.

Brands have a lot of power these days (some would argue too much power) to shape how we see ourselves, but we have more power than ever to make informed choices about the brands we support and the power to hold companies to account for their actions. According to Benoit, it's not clear what came first: Inclusive advertising or this generation's desire for it. But what is clear is that it is here to stay and that consumers now demand it. We expect companies to not only make good ads but do good in the world, too.

We are demanding to be seen in a way we couldn't as kids. We're no longer passive children absorbing messages from the television, we are participants in an exchange—both a financial transaction and a conversation about the future of society. Having a good product isn't enough anymore. Brands have got to have a message and a purpose worth buying.


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Each day, licensed clinical social worker Ofra Obejas has appointments with a number of parents—with the idea that this is a designated time for them to decompress, turn their attention inward and concentrate on the counseling session. Yet, Obejas says she has noticed a disappointing trend: Many clients don't disconnect for that brief period.

"Parents have sat in therapy session with me and checked every time their phone alerted them, 'In case that's my kid calling me,'" she tells Motherly. "The smart device allows parents to never be away from the child."

Unlike in generations past, today's parents can be always "on" due to everything from high-tech baby monitors to a stream of pictures and updates sent to their phones. That's what we at Motherly have termed "continuous parenting," and the risk is it not only sets parents up for fatigue, but also sends children unhealthy messages about their own boundaries.

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The answer isn't to erase our kids from our minds every so often—because that simply isn't possible. But we can benefit from making the effort to step back from actively "parenting" every now and then.

Parents spend more time than ever with their kids

According to a recent study from The Economist, American moms now spend twice as much time with their children compared with women 50 years ago. That works out to be an average of 125 minutes per day of devoted mom-child time. (Kudos to dads, too: Since 1965, they have tripled the time spent with their kids. It's now up to an average of 59 minutes daily.)

Experts credit this to increasingly flexible work schedules and options to punch in from home. Likely also at play is the fact that the newest generation of moms and dads are embracing the duty like few before, with 99% of millennial parents reporting they truly love parenting.

We're leaning into parenting—but are we overdoing it?

It's one thing to identify first and foremost as a parent and take pride in that role. It's another thing, however, to confuse our sense of worth with our children's accomplishments, which is something former Stanford University dean of freshmen Julie Lythcott-Haims says was commonplace among the parents she encountered.

"When I ask parents why they participate in the overprotection, overdirection, hand-holding frenzy, they respond, 'So my kid can be happy and successful,'" she writes in How to Raise an Adult. "When I ask them how it feels, they respond, 'Way too stressful.'"

This constant investment in children's lives can take a toll on the parent-child relationship when the parent doesn't take time for him or herself, too. "The parents feel that they 'sacrificed' their own time for the benefit of the child, even though during much of that time there was no direct engagement with the child," Obejas says of those hours spent shuttling kids around town or waiting outside the doctor's office. "The parents' own emotional and mental cup becomes empty, and when the child asks for more attention, the parents feel like they have already given enough."

The expectation of constant contact 'is draining for the brain'

Even outside the category of helicopter parents, the expectation that we should constantly know what our children are doing is problematic. "'Always on alert' didn't start with children," says Obejas. "It started with devices and apps designed to be addictive. It overtaxes our fight or flight response and leads to toxic stress when levels of cortisol and adrenaline don't ever subside."

Compared with the days when it was the norm for kids to roam free until the streetlights came on, it's commonplace today for parents to expect regular updates of their kids' exact whereabouts either by texts or GPS tracking tools.

"While this can be a safety backup, it increases the type of hypervigilance we know is draining for the brain," says Urszula Klich, licensed clinical psychologist and president of the Southeast Biofeedback and Clinical Neuroscience Association. "[This] can also cause incredible anxiety as parents hear and read things they wouldn't normally be subject to, that is, let's face it, a normal part of kids growing up."

Roles have reversed

Not so long ago, parents would go to the store or out on a date only with the faith that everything was fine at home. Now? That's almost unthinkable—as we've instead shifted to the mentality that our children or their responsible caregivers should be able to contact us at any given moment. Despite the good intentions at play here, this comes at an expense.

"In what other job do you never get a break? It is truly exhausting to never get to turn off the parent brain," says LMHC Jasmin Terrany, author of Extraordinary Mommy: A Loving Guide to Mastering Life's Most Important Job.

Driving this is the trend toward maternal gatekeeping, which describes the subconscious desire to micromanage child care even when someone else is perfectly capable of holding down the fort. As uncomfortable as this may feel, it's healthiest for everyone when parents can hand over the reigns on occasion.

"We must have regular practices to refuel," Terrany tells Motherly. "We don't need to feel guilty about taking this time for ourselves—our kids will not only learn that self-care is essential, but when we are good, they will be good."

This is also how we let our children know another adult can attend to their needs, which is an important step in fostering their sense of independence and confidence. As Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, previously told Motherly, "Let your partner actually figure it out on their own and know that the system survives even when you are not there."

Being 'always on' can degrade quality time, too

Much of being "always on" is a two-way street: Not only do we bring our children into our work days and social lives, but we also bring other obligations home with us in the form of emails sent to our smartphones and mid-playtime breaks to check social media.

"Our children need us, the parents to be 'there,'" says Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist and author of Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. "They need us to talk to them, play with them and be present with them. This is literally impossible if we are multitasking between the iPhone and our interactions with them."

As expert as we may consider ourselves at multitasking, there is also something to be said for setting boundaries. "In today's world it's become difficult not to carry that phone around you all the time, even more so when your job is tied to it," says Klich. "Set boundaries for yourself for when you will check, even if it's once an hour, and stick to that making it clear to the kids what you are doing and why."

And when we're away from the kids, remember this hack: Calls from favorite contacts can still come through when you're on do not disturb mode. So tell your partner or your babysitter or your kids to call if it's a true emergency—and then allow yourself to go off the clock. You'll be better for it.

[This post was first published June 25, 2018.]

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A short work week provides the perfect opportunity for us to teach our children about kindness—and to look at the world around us and see all the beautiful things others are doing.

Whether it's standing up for ourselves against unfair criticism (we see you, Meghan Markle!) or wishing good things for people all around the world, there's good happening out there. Mothers are making things happen for their kids every day despite a lack of support from society—and there are people seeing the pressure society is pushing on new moms and saying "no, this is not okay."

And to prove that, here are the stories that went viral this week:

This mama perfectly sums up what everyone gets wrong about maternity leave

I took four and a half months away from work after I gave birth to my twins. And yes, those days were full of sweatpants and dirty hair and Netflix and couch cuddles—but make no mistake: They were grueling. They were mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. And they were certainly not a vacation.

Of course, that didn't stop the comments about how I must be "getting so bored" or questions about how I was "passing the time." Because we have this weird societal idea that parental leave is a vacation. And newsflash: It's not.

That's why we're applauding Anna Whitehouse, the founder of Mama Pukka, for posting about this very idea. "A reminder to businesses: Maternity/ paternity leave is not 'a holiday'. It's not 'a nice break' and it is not time off," Anna writes in a LinkedIn post.

"It's a heady cocktail of anticipation, expectation, arrival and survival. It's stripping yourself back to a primal state and nakedly navigating blocked milk ducts, torn stitches, bloody sheets, broken minds, manically Googling blackout blinds," the mother continues. "You are needed. Every second you are needed—if not in person, in mind. It is a job. Without sick days. Without fair remuneration. It is the most privileged position in the world but it takes balls, guts (often with no glory), boobs and any other extremity you can put to work."

👏👏👏

Maternity leave is the perfect representation of motherhood's demands: You're in pain, recovering from serious physical trauma, dealing with an unfathomable hormonal shift—but you can't really stop to take care of or even check in with yourself because there's a little person (or a few little people) who depend on you for survival. And the weight of that? It can feel crushing.

Maternity leave is a perfect exercise in selflessness and tenacity. It's certainly not the stuff vacations are made of, that's for sure.

So thank you to this mama for making a truly important point. Because there is this unfair idea that mothers have a few weeks or months to simply check out...when in reality, that's simply not the case. Maternity leave is demanding. It's hard. It's isolating. It's essential. It is so many things happening all at once...and none of them feel anything like a break.

This viral video shows a mama helping her baby walk for the first time 

A beautiful 4-year-old girl named Kinley and her mama are inspiring people everywhere with an incredible viral video in which Kinley learns to walk. Kinley was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects motor skills, at age 2.

Kinley's mom, Shanell Jones, shared the footage of her daughter walking in January of 2019 and another video a year later—and the progress is remarkable. The post has been viewed nearly 3 million times.

"It brings joy to my heart that my daughter is bringing hope to people," Shanell tells Good Morning America. "People reached out saying, 'I didn't feel like my child was ever going to walk, but this video helped me have faith.'"

It's not just the progress the little girl is making that inspires. It's also her mother's constant encouragement. We love listening to this mama cheer on her beautiful daughter. What an amazing, inspirational duo!

This viral hospital sign shames parents for phone use when we really need empathy

Think back to when you first welcomed your baby. Do you remember how you felt? How exhausted, how dazed, how vulnerable you were in those early days? If you've been through it, you know that the last thing a new parent needs is to feel shamed...especially a new parent who is still at the hospital.

Unfortunately, parents at one hospital likely did feel shame...and it's thanks to a very questionable sign posted on its wall. British parent Dr. Ash Cottrell posted a photo of the sign Twitter...and let's just say it's rubbing users the wrong way.

"I'm on SCBU [special care baby unit] with my 5 day old. This poster makes me sad…," he writes alongside the photo of the sign.

The printed sign essentially shames new parents for looking at their phones.

"Mummy & Daddy . . . Please look at ME when I am feeding, I am much more interesting than your phone!!! Thank you," the signs reads.

The special care baby unit is for babies who don't need the NICU but still aren't well enough to go home. A baby may go to the SCBU to be put on oxygen or a feeding tube or to treat low blood sugar or jaundice. It's a stressful time for parents who might want to send updates to family or just check their feed for a moment of relief.

"When your baby is in SCBU you have no option than to sit and look at your baby. All day. For hours. You can't take them home & cuddle & snuggle & be mum. If, for some of those hours, you look at your phone to relieve the tedium of hours on the ward, nobody should tell you off." one Twitter user replies.

This sign is SO not what a new parent needs to see—especially a hormonal mom who is likely putting immense pressure on herself already. So mama, take it from us: You're allowed to look at your phone. Because you're human.

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When we buy baby gear we expect it to be safe, and while no parent wants to hear that their gear is being recalled we appreciate when those recalls happen as a preventative measure—before a baby gets hurt.

That's the case with the recent recall of Baby Trend's Tango Mini Stroller. No injuries have been reported but the recall was issued because a problem with the hinge joints mean the stroller can collapse with a child in it, which poses a fall risk.

"As part of our rigorous process, we recently identified a potential safety issue. Since we strongly stand by our safety priority, we have decided to voluntarily recall certain models of the Tango Mini Strollers. The recalled models, under excessive pressure, both hinge joints could release, allowing the stroller to collapse and pose a fall hazard to children. Most importantly, Baby Trend has received NO reports of injuries," the company states on its website.

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The strollers were sold through Amazon and Target in October and November 2019 and cost between $100 and $120. If you've got one you should stop using it and contact Baby Trend for a refund or replacement.

Four models are impacted by this recall:

  • Quartz Pink (Model Number ST31D09A)
  • Sedona Gray (Model Number ST31D10A)
  • Jet Black (Model Number ST31D11A)
  • Purest Blue (Model Number ST31D03A

"If you determine that you own one of these specific model numbers please stop using the product and contact Baby Trend's customer service at 1-800-328-7363 or via email at info@babytrend.com," Baby Trend states.

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[Editor's note: While Motherly loves seeing and sharing photos of baby Archie and other adorable babies when the images are shared with their parents' consent, we do not publish pictures taken without a parent's consent. Since these pictures were taken without Markle's permission while she was walking her dogs, we're not reposting them.]

Meghan Markle is a trendsetter for sure. When she wears something the world notices, and this week she was photographed wearing her son Archie in a baby carrier. The important thing to know about the photos is that they show the Duchess out for a walk with her two dogs while wearing Archie in a blue Ergo. She's not hands-free baby wearing, but rather wearing an Ergo while also supporting Archie with her arm, as the carrier isn't completely tight.

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When British tabloids published the pictures many babywearing devotees and internet commenters offered opinions on how Markle is holding her son in the photo, but as baby gear guru Jamie Grayson notes, "it is none of our business."

In a post to his Facebook page, Grayson (noted NYC baby gear expert) explained that in the last day or so he has been inundated with hundreds of messages about how Markle is wearing the carrier, and that while he's sure many who messaged with concerns had good intentions he hopes to inject some empathy into the conversation.

As Grayson points out, these are paparazzi photos, so it was a private moment not meant for world-wide consumption. "This woman has the entire world watching her every move and action, especially now that she and Harry are leaving the umbrella of the royal family, and I honestly hope they are able to find some privacy and peace. So let's give her space," he explains, adding that "while those pictures show something that is less than ideal, it's going to be okay. I promise. It's not like she's wearing the baby upside down."

He's right, Archie was safe and not in danger and who knows why the straps on Markle's carrier were loose (maybe she realized people were about to take pictures and so she switched Archie from forward-facing, or maybe the strap just slipped.)

Grayson continues: "When you are bringing up how a parent is misusing a product (either in-person or online) please consider your words. Because tone of voice is missing in text, it is important to choose your words carefully because ANYTHING can be misconstrued. Your good intentions can easily be considered as shaming someone."

Grayson's suggestions injected some much-needed empathy into this discourse and reminded many that new parents are human beings who are just trying to do their best with responsibilities (and baby gear) that isn't familiar to them.

Babywearing has a ton of benefits for parents and the baby, but it can take some getting used to. New parents can research safety recommendations so they feel confident. In Canada, where the pictures in question were snapped, the government recommends parents follow these safety guidelines when wearing infants in carriers:

  • Choose a product that fits you and your baby properly.
  • Be very careful putting a baby into—or pulling them out of—a carrier or sling. Ask for help if you need it.
  • When wearing a carrier or sling, do not zip up your coat around the baby because it increases the risk of overheating and suffocation.
  • Be particularly careful when using a sling or carrier with babies under 4 months because their airways are still developing.
  • Do not use a carrier or sling during activities that could lead to injury such as cooking, running, cycling, or drinking hot beverages.

Health Canada also recommends parents "remember to keep your baby visible and kissable at all times" and offers the following tips to ensure kissability.

"Keep the baby's face in view. Keep the baby in an upright position. Make sure the baby's face is not pressed into the fabric of the carrier or sling, your body, or clothing. Make sure the baby's chin is not pressed into their chest. Make sure the baby's legs are not bunched up against their stomach, as this can also restrict breathing. Wear the baby snug enough to support their back and hold onto the baby when bending over so they don't fall out of the carrier or sling. Check your baby often."

Meghan Markle is a new mom who was caught off guard during a moment she didn't expect her baby to be photographed. Every parent (no matter how famous) has a right to privacy for their child and the right to compassion from other parents. If we want people to learn how to safely babywear we can't shame them for trying.

Mama, if you've been shamed for wearing your baby "wrong" don't feel like you need to stop. Follow the tips above or check in with local baby-wearing groups to get advice and help. You've got this.

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