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How Did Mothering Get Hip?

You can't get away from the pictures: They stare back at you from the checkout counter like so much strategically placed candy. If it isn't photos of Angelina with her adopted child du jour, it's Gwyneth cuddling her two towheaded spawn – as ridiculously cute as they are ridiculously named. Children, it would seem, are the new black.

Or rather, as my dry cleaner probably assumes, baby puke is the new black. Just one generation ago, moms were identifiable by their unflattering clothes, nagging, and tendency to kiss boo-boos. Now they flaunt their $800 strollers, dress to fl atter their milk-swollen breasts, and then jump onto their mama blogs to tell the world all about it.

For more proof, just open any copy of InStyle or watch E! for five minutes: Parenting, they'll tell you over and over and over again, is one of the biggest lifestyle trends in decades. What's the next big fad after this, breathing? But absurdity hasn't stopped the marketing machines from churning out everything from ICA exhibit-worthy highchairs to personal baby yoga coaches.

How did it come to this? Kersti Yllo, a Wheaton College professor of sociology, has an idea. "We fetishize children in that we're expecting them to be status symbols," she says. "And that isn't necessarily good for kids." She's right, of course, but sometimes I can't help doing a little fetishizing myself. Couldn't it be considered a good thing for parents to have a little fun, throwing off the stodgier child-rearing styles of previous generations? Let's be honest: It's also probably a survival skill. After all, if playing lullabies by Radiohead makes a four-hour bout of colic seem to go by quicker, then it's working, period.

But while some of the new products and services can make parenting easier and arguably more fun, the sheer volume of stuff clogging the market belies the fact that the work of being a parent can be damn hard. Lot of good my toddler's pricey Kingsley hoodie does him (or me) when he's in the throes of a meltdown. Being a mom isn't for people who just want to see little versions of themselves in cool gear and then haul them around like little accessories. That's why, when you glance at the parenting shelf in any bookstore, for every title like The Mother Trip: Hip Mama's Guide to Staying Sane in the Chaos of Motherhood, you'll also spot another, more bittersweet screed like I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids.

Besides, isn't childhood supposed to be a time of innocence? Kids used to be safe from the pressure until adolescence. Then, suddenly, it moved forward and affected the tweens. Now we're supposed to buy $200 jeans for 2-year-olds? As my own mother – an oldschool mom if there ever was one – would say to that kind of price tag: "There are children starving in Africa." And, hey, even Angelina knows that.

Alexandra Hall is the editor of Fashion Boston.

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