The Ultimate Mom Hack Marketing Hack

(Yes that was clickbait. Don’t worry about it, just read the article. Also, the answer is “use vague language to make people anxious about everyday things.” There, saved you a scroll.)

If you’d like an audio version of this essay, head over to SoundCloud to listen for free. https://soundcloud.app.goo.gl/A5guacpmyLzvipZe9

The other day I came across a dinner time mom hack on Facebook. If your small child is “starving” when dinner is almost ready, you can hand them an ice cube tray loaded up with little bits of fruit, protein, cereal, veg, or whatever you’re cooking to take the edge off their hunger without spoiling their dinner. You want to give them things that take time to pick up (and you want to hope they don’t just dump it all immediately, but that’s not on the infographic).

The author, a speech and language pathologist named Melanie Potock, also offers the following tips for harried parents:

If the kids can join in by setting the table, adding some herbs to the top of the lasagna or just participate in the next few minutes of final touches, that’s often enough of a distraction to do the trick. ‘I hear you, I am so hungry too! Let’s get dinner on the table together and see how fast we can do it! I’ll set the timer. Do you want to set the table or put the menu on the chalk board for everyone?’” (emphasis mine).

(She doesn’t say whether or not you should use your customer service voice, but it feels like you should use your customer service voice.)

If that doesn’t work, you can offer the nibble tray, which shouldn’t take more than a minute to assemble (citation needed).

And that’s that! Problem solved, toddler is busy and no longer hangry, and the snack is small and thoughtful enough that you don’t have to worry about compromising your child’s nutrition or appetite for dinner!

I know parents who do cute, well planned snacks like this, and I am in awe of how their brains work. And I firmly believe they should cook and eat whatever makes them happy! If you love the idea of a nibble tray, I both love and fear you and wish you well!

However, when I realized that this lady was telling me to do more meal prep during my meal prep so I could meal prep better, I felt the tiny, shriveled executive function nubbin in my brain wither away completely. (RIP nubbin).

After I stopped feeling terrible about myself, I started to wonder whether she was really addressing the right problem here.

Let’s start with a look at all of the labor involved in dinner prep, since that is the scene of our woes. And I’m not starting at the part where you put the macaroni in the pot (ha). I’m starting at the grocery store.

  1. Go to the grocery store. You should probably have a list. (lol)
  2. Survive the grocery store. Load the groceries into the car. Go home.
  3. Carry everything from the car to the kitchen. Do not let the children run into the road and die. Do not let them get into the groceries to dump or otherwise maim them.
  4. NOTE: The more ingredients you buy, the more time and work you’ll have to do, including inventory management.
  5. Situate the children with snacks or toys or whatever so you can wash the food and put it away with less disturbance. Hopefully you already cleaned the pantry and fridge so you have space.
  6. *I know most people don’t go to the store every day, but it’s a critical task, and the planning and inventory part of that process are ongoing, so I’ve included it.
  7. Okay cool now you can make one of those easy meals
  8. …on your clean counters with your clean pots, pans, cutting boards, utensils and dishes that you can quickly locate! (lolsob)
  9. …with all the ingredients that you definitely didn’t forget to buy/thaw/ hide from your family
  10. Now you can cook! Yay! This is the 30 minute part all the recipes are talking about!
  11. Oops. Clear the table. Especially if that’s where your kids do virtual school/playdoh/absolute nonsense
  12. Portion food onto clean dishes (waaaahhh). Don’t forget drinks, napkins, and silverware.
  13. Eat (2 minutes)
  14. Deal with dirty dishes and leftovers (fuck).

Okay, now take that whole list and multiply it by the emotional labor of managing your toddler’s needs and chatter and feelings and worrying that they will somehow be irreparably harmed if you feed them incorrectly or are not cheerful enough about telling them that dinner isn’t done yet.

Yay!

To me, the real problem in this scenario isn’t that I don’t have the correct snack to keep my toddler happy and healthy, it’s that I’m only one person, and I’m tired.

I don’t need a nibble tray. I need a goddamn nap. And maybe even permission to let my toddler be cranky, and to let myself be cranky, and to let life be cranky, because that’s just the way it goes sometimes and that’s okay.

If you haven’t guessed by now, many parenting coaches aren’t here to discuss structural inequality or to dismantle unreasonable standards — they’re here to create them. And they do that by generating massive baby optimization anxiety. Sure your baby is fine, but what if they could be BETTER and you are denying them the opportunity to reach their final form?! Of course a savvy parenting coach isn’t just going to come out and say “hey, you people suck.” Instead they subtly neg readers, just like the “pickup artists” of old did to you at the bar.

For example, leaving snacktime behind for a moment, the uh, helpful, writers at Montessori Downtown ask “ARE SIPPY CUPS HURTING YOUR CHILD?” (https://www.montessoridowntown.com/are-sippy-cups-hurting-your-child/) The article opens, “As parents, we all want what is best for our children. However, with so many different feeding products available, it’s easy for us to unknowingly make bad choices.”

Did you hear that? OMG you’re so amazing and loving! Oh, you’re using *that* cup?

I know that this is pure marketing bullshit and I still felt anxious for a second there. But I have to admit it’s a great hook. Hell, I’m using it myself. “ARE INFOGRAPHICS HURTING YOU?”

Potock’s site has plenty of additional anxiety provoking language as well. From her “Picky Eater” course description (https://mymunchbug.com/picky-eater-course/):

Make sure that babies have a joyful feeding experience right from the start!From pacifiers to purees, we’ll share the pros and cons! How about spoons — do you know the correct way to use it and which one is best for each stage of baby’s development? There’s so much more to learn.” (emphasis mine)

Spoons! You’re doin it wrong! Who knew!

Don’t forget to make sure baby’s mealtimes are joyful! (Even though babies are famous for their constant growth spurts, AKA inscrutable angry spells)

The course description continues:

Kids ages 3 to 6 are exposed to so many influences outside the home — and that includes unhealthy food choices. If you have a picky eater, it can add to your concern that they are not getting enough nutrients throughout the day.” (emphasis mine).

Citing influences outside the home as a source of potential contamination is like Jesus camp level fear mongering, but let’s also briefly hit the nutrient concern.

This absolutely deserves its own lengthy article, because nutrition guidelines have a long and weird history, but it is very rare for children from affluent families to suffer vitamin deficiency diseases in the absence of some underlying medical condition. Your average Park Slope child who eats at least 2–3 different foods on a pretty regular basis is basically fine in our era of fortified, plentiful food. Could they be even better? Sure, but they’re unlikely to turn up with scurvy, rickets, pellagra, night blindness or other diseases of malnutrition that were so common in previous generations.

You know which kids are at a higher risk of malnutrition? The 16.2% of American children living below the poverty line. (https://www.childrensdefense.org/policy/resources/soac-2020-child-poverty-tables/) And their parents probably aren’t the ones downloading printables about the evils of long straws (https://mymunchbug.com/free-toolbox). I’m just saying.

The other major optimization anxiety hook consists in stopping just short of calling everyday items dangerous. This is where the language gets really careful. Sippy cups could harm children’s musculo-facial development, teeth, and speech development if used too much, whatever “too much” means exactly. The important thing is not to specify. Just put a worst case scenario out there as a possibility and let your audience’s anxiety fill in the blanks.

Potock describes the potential dangers of sippy cups in this Facebook video (https://www.facebook.com/MyMunchBug/videos/552149315713295), citing studies in dentrstry journals in passing, but not in detail.

The American Dental Association does recommend against allowing small children to carry around sippy cups full of sugary drinks, since this behavior is associated with early cavities (https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(14)61211-3/fulltext), but I wasn’t able to locate studies saying that children’s faces were deformed by sippy cup use. Kids who suck on a thumb of pacifier for multiple hours a day run the risk of shifting their teeth (https://www.ada.org/~/media/ada/publications/files/patient_77.pdf?la=en), but it’s hard to imagine a child using a sippy cup in quite the same way or for the same duration.

In the video, Potock also notes that most of the children she has worked with in her 20 year career as a speech and language pathologist use sippy cups. Which… given the popularity of sippy cups, is kind of like noting that they use diapers. Not terribly meaningful.

Right. This is all a lot of anxiety. Where’s the payoff?

(Behind the paywall, duh.)

Okay some of it’s free too, but really the payoff comes when the coach gives you the RIGHT answer. They tell you which cup or snack tray is endorsed by the latest research, you buy it, and every time you use it, it reminds you that you’re a good mom who does her research — not like those other moms. And it can act as a beacon to the other good moms who did their research, and then maybe you can be friends, and then maybe you won’t have to feel so alone.

That tangible object of affirmation can be a huge deal, especially for isolated young parents who feel invisible and adrift. It’s part of why so many young parents get so emotionally invested in their feeding and sleeping methods. It’s not really about the method. It’s about being okay, especially when no one is there to let you take a nap when the kids dump their nibble trays everywhere.

***************************************************************

If you’re an isolated young parent who feels sad a lot 1) talk to your doctor or another trusted person, especially if you’re having suicidal ideation. 2) keep an eye out for negging, fear mongering, and vague “studies say, x COULD literally kill us all” type language on the Mom internet. If looking at an article or infographic leaves you feeling horribly depressed and inadequate, there’s a good chance it was written to do exactly that, because that’s capitalism, baby.

--

--

--

Your philosopher pal!

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Busy As A Bee

Seven tips for choosing a sperm bank

How I Achieved The Unthinkable: My Kids Willingly Chose Experiences Over Gifts

Consumerism During The Holidays: Thank You, Next!

Helping children learn without helping them to read is a disservice.

Wine Mummy Wakes Up

Education Success: What to Teach our Kids?

I’ll Never Be Able To Give Birth.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Robin Wilkins

Robin Wilkins

Your philosopher pal!

More from Medium

How accepting mistakes gives you Power.

You feel powerful: Things I learnt after ‘living alone’ for the first time

5 stages of mourning

5 Steps to Breaking Up the Monotony of Boredom to Experience New Levels of Joy.