Months of Intensively Parenting Is Impacting the Way We Intensively Parent
As we approach the three-month mark in the work-from-home + school shutdown + social distancing power combo, every industry is evaluating the shifts in consumer behavior to assess potential medium-to-long-term impact. Certainly, the most obvious change comes from the sudden undesirability of density. As HBR points out, “entire schools of thought related to business strategy — from asset utilization, to cost leadership, to economies of scale — need to be fundamentally re-assessed for their viability in a post-pandemic world.”
For the early childhood industry, the implications are profound (as I write this, my children’s favorite play space as toddlers in NYC has just announced it is shutting down). The advantages of attending in-person activities at a Gymboree, Kidville, and its ilk as opposed to the online experience is based on families wanting to share an enclosed, small space with other families. Unlike the fitness industry, which can rely on social distancing parameters, babies and toddlers roam around the classroom space, mouthing, and touching everything.
I admit I’ve wanted to dismiss COVID-19 as a temporary impact and have continued to refrain from using the term “new normal.” However, I’ve since learned that 44% of Americans fall into the “Panicked-to-Alarmist” part of the pandemic anxiety spectrum, and Millennials overwhelmingly fall into this bucket. These “Panicked Millennials” who take more extreme measures to socially distance are also the ones parenting young children right now. Even if and when the heightened fear abates, the impact of these intense months of sheltering in place will undoubtedly leave a mark.
And the shift in behavior won’t just come from the ones in the panic end of the spectrum. We have been hearing more and more from our families that one of the things they’ve enjoyed about shelter-in-place is the “slowdown” in their lifestyles. As one parent wrote in a recent New York Times article, “I’ve had more time to reflect on my family and our obligations than ever before, and it’s only now that the activities we used to fuss over have been stripped away that I’m starting to rethink how much of it is necessary.” See, Millenials are Intensive Parents®. Or at least we were.
Part of what led me down the path of Circletime is that “intensive parenting” didn’t quite sit with me. On the one hand, I couldn’t ignore the warnings that the first five years of my children’s lives were critical for brain building and development. And that meant ensuring they were appropriately stimulated, engaged, etc. On the other hand, trying to attend an expensive, 30–45 minute class at some random, inconvenient time has always felt like a hassle that was more trouble than it was worth. Once the twelve-week class is paid for, nap and meal times inevitably shift. And coordinating everything to leave the house on time in itself is a massive stressor — when you do manage to get everyone to the door on time, all it takes is a diaper blow out, a missing shoe, or a sudden tantrum over putting on a jacket for the whole mission to go awry. The one time you miraculously pull off Mission Impossible and find yourself settling down on the rug for the class welcome song, nothing can feel more disheartening than realizing your child couldn’t be more uninterested or unengaged.
In person classes also supposedly offered isolated new parents the opportunity to meet and socialize with each other. For me, that never really panned out. Meeting other moms in these types of situations generally felt contrived and awkward — like a really bad version of picking up someone at a bar. I actually think that for Millennial parents the virtual medium, when used correctly, can be better at connecting the like-minded among us. In fact, features to seamlessly make this part of the Circletime experience has always been part of our product roadmap (stay tuned).
The fork-in-the-road, then, is that we still have the legacy problems: 1) parents struggle to engage with meaningful and developmentally appropriate activities at home with their children. 2) in-person classes have a challenging business model — they are not particularly convenient for users or scalable for providers. This has always made it difficult to rightsize capacity in this business.
Most parents don’t want to spend 24/7 with their children and many are counting the minutes to send their children back to their old systems of caregiving. In-person child care solutions and drop-off early childhood programs will continue to thrive, as will competitive sports. Technology can’t really displace these.
But, as life slowly resumes, I wonder if we will find a new balance. The pandemic has introduced new behaviors to Millennial parents. Families are now broadly adopting immersive online experiences as an alternative and complementary solution. They are also learning to spend their “free time” together doing simple things offline, without as much structure, and the stress that comes with it. As a result, I expect a much more discerning consumer who will think carefully about the time and money spent on children’s extracurricular activities. After all, do you really need to pay $50/session for your 3-year-old to do ballet on Tuesdays at 11:15 am?
Learn, Play, Grow,