The Good Enough Mom: Shifting Portrayals of Moms in Advertising

Esther Fabian, Account Director

This Mother's Day, let's celebrate the real, imperfect journey of motherhood. The pressure to fit the mold of the "perfect” mom is suffocating. But here's the truth: good enough is good enough. 

The "good-enough" mother is flawed, real and relatable, and shatters the facade of perfection, allowing working moms to bring their whole selves to work, interruptions and all. 

So what can advertisers do in this new era to embrace the imperfect? 

On the pregnancy/new parent website “What to Expect,” a 2023 article summarized the results of a survey of more than 7,000 current and expectant moms. The survey indicated an overwhelming majority of moms believe brands are missing the mark on realistically portraying their lives with their advertising, placing too much emphasis on things like appearance, keeping a clean and tidy home or keeping their kids busy. The article goes on to explain that in reality, moms care most about protecting the mental health of themselves and their children. 

No kidding. 

As a mother of a 16-year-old young lady, I’m pretty sick of seeing this heroic portrayal of mothers. I sometimes realize less than 24 hours in advance, that I have a schedule conflict that requires me to blow something off to make something else work. I remember the days of encouraging my daughter to wear a ponytail so it wasn’t so obvious the shower that should’ve happened last night didn’t. Now she’s 16. Sometimes I come home from work and she’s not there. The reality is, I occasionally leverage Find My iPhone because I can’t remember if she’s at work, at practice or if she had plans with a friend. Something all moms can relate to – no matter your financial situation, how many kids you have or whether you’re married, divorced or single. We all feel terrible when we think we don’t measure up. 

EMBRACING IMPERFECTION: HOW COVID-19 ALLOWED WORKING MOMS TO BRING THEIR WHOLE SELVES TO WORK

When the movie “Bad Moms” came out in 2016 (has it really been that long?), there was a surge of interest among the mothers in my life who couldn’t wait to see it. And let’s be honest, this movie was no cinematic gem, but it was something we moms who “think-we-have-to-do-everything-perfectly” needed. 

And what a welcome change. The trend toward portraying the “good-enough” mother in media and advertising was taking hold (which I’ve learned is a real-life theory in psychology developed by Donald Winnicott in the 1950s). 

Then we were hit with COVID-19. Suddenly it became more difficult – impossible, even – to hide the fact that working moms are often drowning in chaos. We all know the negative effects the pandemic had on mental health, professional lives and more, but one interesting thing happened: it also started to give working moms permission to allow their identity as parents to cross over into work. Remember when Professor Robert Kelly’s BBC News interview was invaded by his two children? If you search “kid interrupting interview” on YouTube, that’s all that shows up. That was six years ago. Why is that all that shows up in the search results? Because now it’s no big deal. The pandemic was good for at least one thing! 

Now virtual meetings often include a hello to the little ones at the beginning or end. When the kid has a fever, we can feel okay telling our managers and coworkers we’re going to work from home that day, no longer contemplating if we should shove Children’s Tylenol into our kid and hope we don’t get called in the middle of the day to pick them up from school (and thank goodness). We’ve seen messy closets, sweatpants instead of dress pants, cats walking across the desk – I’ve even shared the audio of my daughter belting out Alanis Morrisette from upstairs on a client call. 

Isn’t that ironic? 

So in this respect, the pandemic gave us some permission to be less than perfect. 

WHAT CAN ADVERTISERS DO TO LEVERAGE THIS SHIFT IN AUDIENCE PERSONA?

There’s more to it than just trying to look like you “get” us. 

As an advertiser, does your understanding or celebration of the good-enough mom help solve an actual problem for the good-enough mom? Or are you just patronizing me? If you can’t make my life easier, I don’t have time for you. If I’m simply part of your target audience, I’ll feel like you’re trying to invade my personal space when you have no business doing so. Go bug someone else. 

1. Emotional Connection: Whether it’s through humor or tears, your good-enough mom needs to emote. Sometimes we want to laugh, other times we want to cry. Make us do one of those things and we’ll remember you. 

2. (Moving) Target Audience: If moms are an important audience for your message, you need to recognize there are many mom “personas” to consider. For example, in 2019, Psychologies magazine rolled out its five mother types

    • The perfectionist mother 
    • The unpredictable mother 
    • The best friend mother 
    • The me-first mother 
    • The complete mother 

Helpful? Absolutely. I have mom friends in all of these categories. But many brands want to market to all of these mom segments. So what resonates with all moms? 

How about “we’re all doing what we can” and “we’re all hoping we’re good enough.” 

THE SHIFT THAT NEVER ENDS

In 2021, Carhartt highlighted “the shift that never ends” in an ad showing moms in all kinds of roles and all kicking ass, but also falling apart. Dove is another brand that continues to play to our maternal feelings. What mom who has ever cared for a newborn can’t relate to parts of this Under Pressure/Postpartum spot? 

Recently, Hart developed a spot for Children’s Minnesota called “Being There.” The approach embraces “parent guilt” – it’s not an experience anyone is truly ready for, and that’s okay. 

Let’s say that again. 

And that’s okay. 

By acknowledging no parent knows everything, we’re able to position Children’s Minnesota as a welcoming place to turn to when your child needs help the most. 

 

GOOD ENOUGH IS GOOD ENOUGH

In a world where we’re pressured to convey our less-than-perfect lives as falsely perfect, allowing moms (and all parents) to feel okay about simply “being there” can be a genuine relief. By embracing the idea that good enough is good enough, brands can connect with mothers by providing support, not unachievable depictions of the perfect mom. 

Want to learn more about what these insights mean for your organization? Let's start a conversation!