OPINION11 July 2023

Tune in to the silence

Opinion Trends UK

In an age of ceaseless commentary via social media networks, Louise McLaren argues why it is important to look outside of the noise to cohorts of people whose needs are perhaps not being met.

neon megaphone with red cross next to it

The other morning, I took a walk along the canal while having a catch up with a friend over the phone.

We found ourselves getting very quickly into an honest, raw conversation about parenting, and what it looks like with kids of the age ours are at now. Exams, social media pressure and social dynamics at school, mental health concerns and more. ‘Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems’, commented my friend.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about that line. I’ve been doing work related to parenting of babies and toddlers. I know all about the pressures and profound tensions experienced by parents (often most acutely by mothers) of children in that age band. I know where the strains come from, how they’re evolving and why, and how they’re nuanced across countries. I’ve lived it, I’ve studied it.

There’s energy in exploring the issues experienced by parents of young children because there’s much that remains poorly resolved, and there’s money in addressing it. There are diverse categories and brands circling in different spheres that speak to the needs of these parents. And there’s a lot of social media content to study to make sense of the experiences and attitudes of mothers today.

In spite of the myriad factors that make each family situation completely unique, there is much commonality in the early experiences – post-birth pain; sleep deprivation; weaningThere is so much exhaustion and emotion in these early months, anxiety and uncertainty, you’re bound to find endless threads in places like Instagram and Mumsnet, of worried mothers projecting into the void, seeking reassurance and answers.

Couple the volume of noise about motherhood in the early months and years with the fact that there are specific unresolved needs that brands can address, and you get a clouding of our collective judgement. That parenting in these early days is really hard, and then it gets easier. Because who’s out there saying it’s hard when you have pre-teens and teens? Not so many people.

Well, it might get easier. It does for many. But for many others, it just gets a different sort of difficult. Maybe even – dare I say – more difficult, by some measures.

We’re not talking about this so openly and actively in society for a few reasons. One is the complexity and nuance involved in the challenges experienced by parents of older children – what they are navigating becomes much more individual, based on that child’s personality and context. Answers can’t so easily be found, so questions are not so openly asked.

Another is taboo, aligned closely with how much scope we have to talk publicly about our challenges when our children are of the age they can see what we are saying, and understand it. It’s not uncomfortable to talk about your kid refusing to go to sleep without a dummy, or throwing their food on the floor. What about parents whose kids are self-harming, engaging in risky behaviour, or just being downright odious to live with? They can’t talk openly about that stuff, can they? Not outside of very closed communities.

So what? Well, so what goes unheard, when our judgement is coloured by tuning into the places the noise is loudest? We do ourselves a disservice, and we neglect unmet needs that could be addressed. The solutions may not be so obvious to find, but the tensions are there.

When we don’t see and talk about these tensions, we form a really incomplete, sometimes fundamentally wrong view of what people in a certain ‘life-stage’ are experiencing and how they are living. Which then has implications when you consider solutions they may need in very different areas of their lives – banking, healthcare, funeral services, travel booking. You get the idea.

Looking outside the noise challenges us to think beyond what social media and media lead us to believe, and where the energy seems to lie based on where there’s obvious money to be made in selling products and services.

It’s considering where there’s silence – where there’s cohorts of people we don’t hear so much from, where there might be topics people simply aren’t discussing openly, or which are so specific they just don’t rise to the surface easily. The silence doesn’t mean a lack of need – it could be quite the opposite.

Tuning into this silence requires a reorientation of how we consume cultural content and analyse what’s going on in the world around us. It requires us to stop and think – but what about people in a different stage? Living in a different place? In different circumstances?

I’ve told this story through the lens of parenting, but there is wider applicationit lies in looking around the edges of what we’re discussing openly, and the obvious cohorts we’re thinking about.

Simply put, what happens when you step outside of looking at the common experiences, and you look outside the noise?

Louise McLaren is managing director at Lovebrands