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The New Milk and Honey Mother

Blurb: The parent-child relationship in India today is going through profound changes and an exciting new concept of motherhood is beginning to emerge.

The New Indian Woman has been emerging since the early nineties. She has come to symbolize a new awareness, independence, and confidence. Much has been written about her but it is in her role as mother that we’ve seen new and interesting patterns emerge.

There appear to be three broad typologies of mother across most of the research we have done. The first one is the traditional, authoritarian model that does not seem to go away. She is demanding, possessive and increasingly anxious as traditional ideas of child rearing are clearly not working any more. Like all mothers she desires the best for her child, but is unwilling to make too many concessions or risk the implications of change. She seems to have a strong desire to mould the child and is torn by conflict as she realizes that she’s unequal to the task.

Typically she develops the life-script of a victim or martyr who does things for the child unthinkingly and more out of a sense of obligation. This is the lady who will adopt the traditional “safe” brand in most categories. She will respond more favorably to portrayals depicting the precocious Indian child as doing well academically, getting ahead in the rat race. The rampant materialism and consumerism of today has transformed this sort of motherly love into one that is conditional. This is a contradiction in terms, as a mother’s love is at its very essence one that is expected to be unconditional and therefore creates its own stress and conflict within her.

The second typology is that of the lazy, eager-to-please mother. Again she tends to be risk-averse but not quite in control because she tends to brush conflicts under the rug, instead of confronting them. She can be easy going and carefree and readily accedes to her child’s demands. Again like all mothers, she wants the world for her child but is reluctant however to involve herself completely in operationalising that dream. Typically she will give in and end up buying the chocolate flavoured product, despite knowing that her kids already eat too much chocolate. She will also respond to communication which is trendy and keeps her abreast of the latest fads. For instance, she will express all the “politically correct” views in regard to health and may well be aware of all the latest trends. But she would be reluctant to make any extra effort on account of her family’s health.

And then there is the third type of woman. She appears with unfailing regularity on average as the one woman in a focus group of about eight women who is thoughtful, relaxed, in control and altogether impressive. Slowly as the focus group progresses, the other women inevitably turn to her more and more to lead them in the discussion.

This is the New Indian Woman in her role as mother. She inevitably would have had a happy childhood and normally positive relationships with her own parents, especially her father. She is confident, articulate, progressive, and highly assertive. Her life-script is summarized by the idea that she can make life better for herself and others around her. She is wise, discerning and empathetic and her role model is the powerful Tulsi.

Her relationship with her child is characterized by mutual respect. She is an intuitive child psychologist who first of all, believes that her child is an individual in her own right and is different from herself. And her focus is to above all nurture and develop her child to her full potential. Interestingly, coming first in class by trampling over all the others is not really her idea of success. She wants her child to be healthy, bright-eyed, curious about many things and able to bounce back from life’s many disappointments. Above all, she wants her to develop the capacity to savour and enjoy life to the fullest.

She constantly dialogues with her child using a mix of reason and persuasion. She is not above a few white lies and some gentle manipulation and occasionally, if and only if absolutely necessary, a bit of force.

She tends to be well-read and extremely innovative for instance in making healthy food more interesting and appetizing. She is skeptical of brands on the whole and not so easy to persuade. However, she is a powerful opinion leader and can be a extremely credible advocate for a proper product with an authentic proposition.

When it comes to advertising, she resents patronizing, stereotypical, portrayals of women and responded very warmly for instance when we did a strategy for Ariel a few years ago ending up in a portrayal of a young Indian husband washing the clothes!

Above all, she creates quality time with her child and is effectively what the great psychoanalyst Erich Fromm brilliantly defined in his work as the “milk and honey mother”. According to him, “milk is the symbol of the first aspect of love, that of care and affirmation. Honey symbolizes the sweetness of life, the love for it and the happiness in being alive. Most mothers are capable of giving ‘milk’, but only a minority of giving ‘honey’ too. In order to be able to give honey, a mother must not only be a ‘good mother’, but a happy person- and this aim is not achieved by many.”

We have used this insight with much success for several brands recently because we find it resonates very powerfully with mothers in India today. Is there therefore a serious business-case now for marketing strategies that are based on this new, yet age-old idea of perfect motherhood?

Published in The Times of India, Mumbai Edition