Post-80's Chinese Moms Spoil Their Kids...and Themselves

Young Mothers Trust Social Parenting Sites More Than Grandma's Advice, says John Solomon

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SHANGHAI (AdAgeChina.com) --Ask any child born in China during the 1980s about the way their parents raised them, and tough love, strict rules and discipline are sure to come up. But those principles are seldom indoctrinated into the lives of the post-80s generation of Chinese mothers.

John Solomon
John Solomon
They are abandoning the pressure, pushing and prodding they faced during childhood and transforming their homes into relaxed environments filled with abundance, both for their child and themselves.

This shift has changed the traditional family dynamic, not only in consumption behaviors but also in the spheres of influence for a whole new generation of children.

If you believe kids born after 1990 are the most important consumers in China right now -- and perhaps the world, given the importance marketers have put on growth in this market -- then post-80s mothers are the most important emerging parent group. Even the term "mom" is taking on new meaning in China. Gone are the days of the whole family sacrificing comfort and convenience for one cherished child. An emerging group of forward-thinking mothers feels their own happiness and identity outside of the family is just as important as that of the so-called "little emperor."

China's one-child policy is an easy explanation for these shifts in parenting, but there are other factors at play in China's complex society.

Lisa Zheng and her son
Lisa Zheng and her son Credit: John Solomon
Consider Lisa Zheng, a 26-year-old with a one-year-old son. Her home in Shanghai contains quality products purchased from massive western supermarkets and trendy clothes for her baby purchased in hip, Japanese clothing boutiques.

A day spent shopping might also include a quick stop at a high-end "grown-ups only" store like Marc Jacobs, or an hour or two chatting with other new mothers at a nearby Starbucks.

Maggie Hao, a 27-year-old from Hangzhou, chose to go back to work a few months after giving birth because she did not want to feel too removed from society and her pre-parenting lifestyle.

She believes modern mothers in China "are willing to go back to work because they need their own identity and not necessarily because the family depends on them for money."

When asked about any changes to her purchasing habits after her daughter was born, Ms. Hao said, "I will not spend less on myself just because I had a baby," and while she will ask her parents to help watch her daughter when she goes back to work, she "doesn't like their way of educating children."

She wants her daughter to have a more well-rounded upbringing and therefore purchases educational toys like colored cards and music toys -- following advice she has received from other mothers online.

Fannie Huang and her daughter
Fannie Huang and her daughter Credit: John Solomon
And Fannie Huang, 28, has a six-year-old daughter and has currently gone back to fashion school. The Shanghai native went back to school two years after her baby was born "to improve herself." Her mother helps her take care of her daughter during the day.

When asked about parenting advice from her mother, she said, "I remember my mom sent me to piano class when I was young and I just hated it. I will let my daughter grow as she wishes, see what she is interested in and never push her to do stuff she doesn't like."

When asked about the brands she purchases for herself or her daughter, she proudly proclaims that now that her daughter is not outgrowing clothes so fast: "I always introduce her to luxury brands such as Gucci and other western brands such as H&M and Top Shop."

This generation of Xiao Zi women (Chinese yuppies) has become La Ma. Translation? "Spicy Moms." They are socially minded, progressive middle class women who are balancing jobs, body image, and baby food all at once.

Of course, these spicy moms have an advantage that most women in the West don't have -- their own mothers and grandmothers are happy to step in as babysitters when mom needs some down time. But attitudes towards these free babysitters are starting to change. In the past, a new mother's own mother and grandmother were the go-to advisers for questions or worries.

Today, social parenting sites like BabyTree.com or BaiCare.com are the hot spots for young mothers. These sites offer not only a cool platform for new parents to show off their well-dressed bundles of joy, but also provide a place to garner advice on parenting, early education, and hip baby accessories. It both limits the traditional familial roles while creating a countrywide digital network of friends and "family." To put it bluntly -- online info in China is more advanced than Nai Nai's sage advice.

John Solomon is the director of Enovate, an insights and design firm in Shanghai focused on China's youth market.


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