My friend Rachel emailed me an article the other day from Yankelovich, a market research company. The article, produced just after Mother’s Day, heralded the arrival of “Beta Moms” and their “newfound acceptance that being a ‘just good enough for my family’ mother…speaks to a more forgiving, laid-back approach to parenting.”
Unlike “Alpha Moms” (or, as they are sometimes called, “Extreme Moms”—those “ultra-organized overachievers who approach parenting with the same intensity and quest for perfection that they take with them into the boardroom or the gym, treating parenthood as if it were an Olympic competition”), Beta Moms (or “Slacker Moms”) are more relaxed.
They are less anxious, less prone to perfection and less perturbed in general. And they don’t feel guilty about being that way.
The article mentions two book releases as bellwethers of the Beta Mom Age: Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box and Let Them Run with Scissors: How Over-Parenting Hurts Children, Parents and Society. In fact, there are a slew more, all of them more and more hilariously named: The Three-Martini Playdate, Confessions of a Slacker Mom, and Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay.
For every “baby whisperer” book, it seems, comes an antidote. Parents, pick your poison.
My own Mom was most definitely not an Alpha Mom. Was she a Beta Mom? I guess so, in a way, assuming there was an extra shot of “slack” in her Tom Collins. My oldest sister was born in 1952, so Mom raised her four kids over three decades, with me straggling at the rear. She seemed to spend much of my ’70s childhood a little weary of it all, like she’d started retirement before she actually had all her years in.
In my memories of her, she’s almost always in some sort of repose: smoking a Tareyton under the pine trees in the yard, paperback propped on her knee; sipping a cup of coffee in front of the afternoon soap operas, which she called her “stories”; flipping through a McCall’s.
But sometimes she was anything but: furiously vacuuming; pulling in laundry from the line; mauling top loin in a noisy, battering grinder clamped to the Formica countertop; ironing a stack of my father’s handkerchiefs, folding the edges so sharp they could slit an artery, which is possibly exactly what she felt like doing some days. Even in industry, she was a little edgy, bushed, and probably sick of it all.
There was no middle ground; there was no play, at least for my mother in the ’70s. Which in a way defines her approach to parenting, too: there wasn’t a lot of overthinking or nuance to it. Children were let outside in the morning, and in the afternoon, they always turned up again.
At least in their apparently utter lack of anxiety about us kids, the women of my mother’s generation were something of the original Beta Moms (a beta of the Betas, maybe?). But the label is not a perfect fit—clearly, so-called Slacker Moms today are more nuanced in their approach, and I’m sure their lives are entirely more rewarding than those of the moms who lived in our neighborhood. After all, we have blogging now…
My mother died more than 20 years ago; but if she were around today, she’d likely shrug off the notion: the very idea of an Alpha Mom would be as alien to her as SUVs and iPhones.
My mom didn’t choose to not micro-manage her children’s lives in response to any notion of an Alpha Mom. In fact, I doubt she gave much thought to her parenting worldview at all. She wasn’t nervous or anxious about it, certainly. And she didn’t feel guilty, either, because in her time and for her social class, society—and marketers—hadn’t yet created an alternative parenting philosophy.
In other words, the “Beta Moms” that Yankelovich writes about really aren’t all that different from the Moms I knew growing up, with the exception of being defined as a marketing segment.
Every generation, I’m convinced, thinks it reinvents parenting. Or, maybe, it’s every person who is reinvented as a parent—in part because we bring agendas to our roles as parents: Sometimes, we are inspired by our own upbringing, and sometimes we exorcise it.
Either way, we’re doing something pretty close to what’s been done for hundreds of thousands of years.